Torah Weekly

For the week ending 2 November 2013 / 29 Heshvan 5774

Parshat Toldot

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair - www.seasonsofthemoon.com
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

Overview

After 20 years of marriage, Yitzchak's prayers are answered and Rivka conceives twins. The pregnancy is extremely painful. G-d reveals to Rivka that the suffering is a microcosmic prelude to the worldwide conflict that will rage between the two great nations descended from these twins, Rome and Israel. Esav is born, and then Yaakov, holding onto Esavs heel. They grow and Esav becomes a hunter, a man of the physical world, whereas Yaakov sits in the tents of Torah developing his soul. On the day of their grandfather Avraham's funeral, Yaakov is cooking lentils, the traditional mourner's meal. Esav rushes in, ravenous from a hard days hunting, and sells his birthright (and its concomitant spiritual responsibilities) for a bowl of lentils, demonstrating his unworthiness for the position of firstborn. A famine strikes Canaan and Yitzchak thinks of escaping to Egypt, but G-d tells him that because he was bound as a sacrifice, he has become holy and must remain in the Holy Land. He relocates to Gerar in the land of the Philistines, where, to protect Rivka, he has to say she is his sister. The Philistines grow jealous of Yitzchak when he becomes immensely wealthy, and Avimelech the king asks him to leave. Yitzchak re-digs three wells dug by his father, prophetically alluding to the three future Temples. Avimelech, seeing that Yitzchak is blessed by G-d, makes a treaty with him. When Yitzchak senses his end approaching, he summons Esav to give him his blessings. Rivka, acting on a prophetic command that the blessings must go to Yaakov, arranges for Yaakov to impersonate Esav and receive the blessings. When Esav in frustration reveals to his father that Yaakov has bought the birthright, Yitzchak realizes that the birthright has been bestowed correctly on Yaakov and confirms the blessings he has given Yaakov. Esav vows to kill Yaakov, so Rivka sends Yaakov to her brother Lavan where he may find a suitable wife.

Insights

The Red, Red Stuff

"Pour into me some of that red, red stuff" (25:30)

Neoteny is the retention of immature characteristics into adulthood.

It happens in the animal world. If your dog grew up, it would start to act like a wolf and devour your neighbors’ kids. This would not make your neighbor very happy and puppy sales would plummet. So we arrest a dog’s development so that it remains ever juvenile.

The same is true of TV sitcoms. The silly plots and sillier characters in which heartbreaks are resolved within minutes (usually just before the commercials) only make sense if they are seen as pubescent children trapped in adult bodies. So much of social and political life only makes sense if one sees in it the influence of neoteny.

The spiritual Masters tell us that the world we live in now is the world of Esav. It is a superficial world where appearance is all. Yaakov, the Jewish People, stands opposed to everything that is superficial. Our job is to teach the world there is reality beyond what you can see with your eyes. There is a G-d and He is One.

Esav and Yaakov (the Jewish People) share a symbiotic adversarial relationship. They are like two ends of a see-saw in a children’s playground. When one is up, the other must be down. It can never be that both are up or down at the same time. We learn this from the verse in this week’s Torah portion: "Two nations are in your womb; two regimes... the might shall pass from one regime to the other, and the elder shall serve the younger."

Esav’s superficiality is revealed when he bursts in on Yaakov — who is cooking lentils for the funeral meal of his grandfather Avraham — and demands, "Pour me some of that red, red stuff!" Why does Esav repeat the fact that the lentil stew is red? Because Esav is overly interested in the surface, in what things look like.

A small boy once came to visit Rav Shach, zatzal. The great sage proceeded to pull out two lollipops. "Which one would you like?" asked Rav Shach, "The red one or the green one?" Rav Shach’s personal secretary turned to him and said, "The Rosh Yeshiva will teach him to be Esav!" Rav Shach replied "He’s a young boy. He should be interested in the way things look from the outside. Esav’s problem was that he never grew up. He acted like a yingele even when he was supposed to be an adult."

Esav was the prototypical neotenist.

  • Source: Tracate Avoda Zara 11b

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