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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Toldot

Parshat Toldot

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


   "The TorahAnyTimes"

Parashat Toldot                                                              Print Version
2nd of Kislev, 5783 | November 26, 2022

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Mr. Charlie Harary

And Giving

Every week, there are lessons in our Torah portion. Sometimes they are words and stories. This week the lesson takes place in a letter. This week is the famous giving over of the blessings. Isaac received the blessings of spiritual and material wealth from Abraham and was going to give it over to his children. He thought it would be Eisav, though it ended up being that there was a ruse and Jacob ended up taking it. It was a big deal. This blessing was it. This was God's giving of material wealth and spiritual wealth of leadership. This is the blessing that the boys fought over, and that for the rest of their lives there was tension because of this one blessing. And if you look at the blessing, you'll see that the first thing out of Isaac's mouth is a grammar mistake. The blessing reflects the most beautiful words, you’d think. The Declaration of Independence was written grammatically perfect. Isaac, we’d expect, would speak in a way that is grammatically proper, and yet the first word out of his mouth is grammatically incorrect. The first word of the blessing is, “V’yitein lecha – And God should give you.” And then he tells Yaakov what God will be giving him, including the dew of the heaven and leadership. The commentators ask why the Pasuk begins with the word, “And”? And God should give. Who starts a sentence with “And”? Isaac should have said, “God gives you …” How can it be, without any previous statement, that the verse picks up by saying “And” God gives you. There's nothing beforehand. How did this famous blessing start with a mistake?

It wasn't a mistake. It was wisdom and brilliance, of course. No mistake.

I remember when I was younger, I was in Israel for the year, and we were out to dinner once with a friend of ours. “I'm going to cover the bill,” he said. The waiter comes by, takes the credit card and swipes, and gives it back. My friend then remarked, “My parents don't even know. My parents gave me the credit card when I was in 11th grade, and they haven't even looked at a bill yet.” “Wow,” I said. His parents either had incredible amounts of money or just never cared to check his bank statements. I'll never forget the next words out of his mouth. “Yeah. Pretty lucky I get to spend whatever I want, whenever I want. But every once in a while I wish they would look at the bills and call.”

It was an amazing moment sitting in that restaurant and watching someone who's ben egiven everything. But he wanted more than the money his parents gave him; he wanted his parents. The credit card was a symbol to him of, “Whatever, just do what you want.” But he wished his parents would have every once in a while said, “Hey, what'd you spend for dinner?” because at least he would have had his parents.

Isaac gives the blessing to Jacob, and says, “You're going to get everything. But here's the thing. If God gives it to you like a credit card, you know what you're going to lose? God. Because you're going to start to condition yourself to have it all. You're never going to need Him, never going to turn to Him. So you'll have material wealth and you'll even have spiritual wealth. But you'll never look up. You'll never need to.” So you know what the blessing is going to be? “And” He will give, which means that He's not giving it all to you. He'll give “and” He’ll give “and” He’ll give. Rabbi Elimelech Biderman makes this point. He will give you a little bit and then you're going to need, and He'll give you some more, and then you're going to need, and He'll give you some more. It won't be giving. It'll be “and” giving. And “and” giving means a little and a little and a little. And that’s because if I give you a little at a time, you're going to need. And when you need, you're going to look up. And when you look up, you're going to have Me. That’s the real blessing.

We can go through our lives and think that blessing is when God just gives to us. But sometimes the blessing is when God holds back a little bit so that it reminds us to look up to Him. And when we consistently look up to Him, we don't only get the thing that we want; we get Him. We don't have God to fulfill our needs. We have needs to find God. And when we look at our lives and we recognize that the needs that we have are really opportunities to connect to God, then we're living a life of blessing. Because the greatest blessing we can have is the relationship with our Father in Heaven. That's the blessing.

And so, in this week's Torah portion, embedded in that one little letter “vav,” Isaac gives Jacob the blessing and says, “You're going to have everything. But let me tell you the greatest part. It's going to be ‘And giving.’ You're going to have and then you're going to have some more. Because then, not only will you have material success and spiritual success; you’ll have something even more. You’ll have a relationship with God.”

Rebbetzin Chaya Sora Gertzulin
Change … We Can Do It

In this week’s parshah, Toldos, we learn of both Yitzchak and Rivkah turning to HaShem with heartfelt prayer. Each praying on the other’s behalf. Yitzchok asking that Rivkah be the mother of his children, and Rivkah beseeching HaShem that Yitzchak be the father of her children. Together, they pierced the heavens and their prayers were answered. After twenty long years, Rivkah was finally expecting.

Rivkah’s pregnancy was a difficult one. She experienced an inner tug of war. “Vayisrotzitzu habanim b’kirbah, and the children struggled within her.” (Bereishis 25:22) Rashi cites a Midrash that the word vayisrotzitzu, and they struggled, comes from the Hebrew word rotz, to run. Rivkah literally felt an internal sensation of running. When she would pass a house of Torah study, she felt a push towards that direction. And when she passed a place of idol worship, she felt a push towards that side. (It is interesting to note that studies have shown that not only are babies busy developing physical adaptations to function after birth, they are also eagerly sensing the world around them, starting from a very early gestational age.)

Rivkah’s pain was so sharp, so intense, that it drove her to proclaim “lamah zeh anochi, why is this happening to me?” A loaded question.

Rivkah knew she was to be a matriarch of the Jewish nation. To continue the legacy of Avraham and Sarah. That the future twelve tribes will be her progeny. To be the mother of a nation who will live by the words of the Ten Commandments. How worried she was when she felt that inner turmoil going on. How concerned she was, as to what kind of a leader will she be giving birth to, if already in the womb there is a struggle between two ways of life.

Not wanting to worry either her husband, Yitzchak, or her father-in-law, Avraham, she went to the study hall of Shem (Rashi to Bereishis 25:22). There she received her answer. “Shnei goyim b’vitnaich, two nations are in your womb.”

Rivkah now understood her inner pain. Twins. Each one going his own way. Twins that will become two nations, always quarrelling, even at times warring against each other. This news was at the same time both calming and painful.

Rivkah felt a crisis in her life, and turned to Shem, a man of G-d. In her own quiet way, Rivkah leaves us with a powerful message. “Lidrosh es HaShem, to seek out the word of G-d.” To find a Divine explanation as to what was going.

While this doesn’t negate seeking medical advice and intervention, Rivkah teaches us the importance of having a religious leader, a rabbinical mentor to turn to. As Pirkei Avos, Ethics of Our Fathers teaches, “Asei lecha rav, make for yourself a teacher”. (Pirkei Avos 1:6). Lecha, for yourself. Find a rav whom you can have trust and confidence in. Who will be there to answer your questions. Who will provide appropriate counsel, guidance and advice.

Rivkah understood this, and sought a solution to her dilemma in a place of Torah study.

“…Rivka, daughter of Besuel from Padan Aram, sister of Lavan the Aramean…” (Bereishis 25:20). While we were first introduced to Rivkah in last week’s parshah, this week’s parshah once again tells us of her family background. Rashi explains that it is repeated in order to praise Rivkah. “Though she was the daughter of an evil man, the sister of a sinful man, and was raised in a negative and decadent society, she was able to leave it all behind and change her life around.” She joined Yitzchak in living a life of morality, ethics and spirituality.

The Talmud (Avodah Zarah 17a) tells us the story of Elazar ben Durdia, who lived a corrupt, hedonistic lifestyle and associated with women of ill repute. At one point, one such woman shamed him, telling him that he was beyond hope, and should not even attempt to repent

That was his wakeup call. He realized that he had to make change in his life. He went outside and called out, “Harim u’gvohos, mountains and hilltops, pray for me… shamayim v’aretz, heaven and earth, pray for me.” Elazar ben Durdia continued, calling out “chamah u’levanah, sun and moon, kochavim u’mazalot, stars and constellations, beseech mercy for me.”

Failing to find anyone of these to assist him, Elazar ben Durdia finally comes to the realization that only he can help himself. He cries out “Ain hadavar tolui elah be, it all depends solely on me”. Enough of playing the blame game. Responding to his heartfelt cries, a Heavenly voice proclaimed Elazar ben Durdia to become a Rabbi Elazar “who has now been readied for the life of the World to Come”.

How do we understand this story?

Harim u’gvohos, mountains and hilltops. “Harim” can also be understand as “horim”, our parents. One may try and place blame for their failings on parents, saying that they came from a dysfunctional family, that no one was ever there for them, that they weren’t treated properly. It’s so easy to say “If only I would have been born into a different family, I wouldn’t have these problems”.

While this all may be true, there comes a time in every person’s life when they must accept responsibility for their own actions.

Shamayim v’aretz, heaven and earth. One’s society and culture. One’s surroundings. The community and neighborhood one grows up in. Here too, a person may say “I was a born on the wrong side of the tracks, it’s not fair”. Or one may claim that the influence of the community is so strong, that they couldn’t help themselves. Even in such a situation, one must own up to their own actions.

Chamah u’levanah, sun and moon, kochavim u’mazalot, stars and constellations.  The excuse of “I just don’t have any mazel. It’s not my fault. I was born on the wrong day, under an unlucky star. It’s beyond my reach.”

Rivkah could have easily said, “I grew up in the house of Besuel. I can’t help myself. It was a dysfunctional family. Even my brother was bad news. Not only that, I lived in Aram, a society that was lacking in morals. I am what I am.”

But Rivkah said none of this. She rose above it all. She said, “Eilich, I will go.” I will leave this all behind me and live a new life.

How amazing is that. What a beautiful Torah message.

Rabbi Daniel Staum
Always Young

The Torah describes the development of Yaakov and Eisav, describing the latter as “A man who knew who knew the hunt; a man of the field,” and the former as “A wholesome, simple man who was sitting in tents.” This Pasuk is teaching us about the development and foundations of Yaakov and Eisav. But what is really the difference between them?

Rashi says that Eisav, as a “man of the field,” was someone who didn’t have much to do when he wasn’t hunting. He “knew the hunt” and had mastered the craft, so there was not much time spent on things to improve upon. We live in a world where everybody is trying to get letters after their name. It’s about celebrating the accomplishment. Well, Eisav had accomplished it. He was already there; he was the master. He knew how to hunt and he had already grasped it, but that left him as someone who didn't have much ambition to grow, to keep going. He already had the letters after his name. What more did he need?

But Yaakov sat in tents. It doesn't say that he was someone who “knew how to study Torah.” It says that his time was spent sitting in the tents of Torah. Yaakov was always striving to learn more.

Reb Leizer Silver zt”l, in an earlier position before his role as a Rav in Cincinnati, was taken in by a different community to be the Rav, though he was shortly thereafter fired. Why? Because he was always sitting and studying. Whoever heard of such a thing? To see a doctor always reading from the books! You're supposed to know how to be a doctor! You don't need to study everything. Why was this rabbi, who is supposed to know all the Torah already, studying so much? He must obviously not know a lot. So unfortunately, these simple folk fired the great genius that Reb Leizer Silver was.

But Torah is not about mastery in the sense of knowing everything. It's about sitting and learning and constantly growing; never ending or losing that ambition. I once heard someone say that you could be 15 years old and you could be 90 years young. It depends if you have an ambition and a drive to live, to accomplish, to grow.

Rav Chaim Kanievsky zt”l may have been well into his nineties, but he was young because he never finished learning. He always felt that he had so much more to do. To be people like Yaakov Avinu, no matter how much we've accomplished, we must always have goals for ourselves and always have ambitions. That's the Yaakov within us. That is the feeling of always reaching at the heel, just like Yaakov reached for the heel of Eisav when he was born. He lived that way his whole life: always reaching to grab the next rung, to live a life of meaning, accomplishment and growth, and always stay young.

Rabbi Label Lam
Continues to Give

George Bernard Shaw cynically said, “No good deed will go unpunished.” All too often when doing good things for other people, we not only expect thank you's but certainly don’t expect insults. But it happens. What then do we do?

At the end of the davening, every day, we launch a private petition. “V’nafshi k’efar la’kol tihiye – Let my soul be like dust to all.” The dust does not answer back. Somebody explained to me that not only is it silent, but like the earth, it continues to give. And so too we can be those people, who even upon receiving an insult, remain silent and continue to nourish and respect those around us. We can be just like the dust and the earth and Hashem Himself, Who continues to feed the world and help those who ignore Him and insult Him. No matter what, He continues to give.

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