Torah Weekly

For the week ending 18 November 2023 / 5 Kislev 5784

Parshat Toldot

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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After 20 years of marriage, Yitzchak’s prayers are answered and Rivka conceives twins. The pregnancy is extremely painful. Hashem 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 on to Esav’s 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 day’s 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 Hashem 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 that were dug by his father, prophetically alluding to the three future Temples. Avimelech, seeing that Yitzchak is blessed by Hashem, 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, and so Rivka sends Yaakov to her brother Lavan where he could find a suitable wife.


Don’t Get Shanghaied!

“These are the generations…” (25:19)

The Rambam, in his commentary on the Mishna, describes how a king commands his servants to build a palace of perfect beauty, and to plant a world-class vineyard fit for a king. Says the Rambam, “It’s possible that the whole reason that this palace was built was that one day a righteous Jew will come and find shelter from the sun in the shade of one of the walls of this palace, and be saved from dying. As it is states in Iyov (27:17), “A Rasha (evil person) prepares it, and the Tzadik (righteous person) wears it.”

In other words, this entire existence, this entire world, was created for the Jewish People. Every being, every city, everyone in China, the entire world, was brought into existence for the Jews. When the Mir Yeshiva escaped from Europe, Rabbi Meir Ashkenazi, a Chasid who served as the spiritual leader of the Jewish refugees in Shanghai, arranged for the yeshiva to occupy the Beth Aharon Synagogue. The Synagogue was built in 1927 by Silas Hardoon (1851-1931), an assimilated business tycoon, in memory of his father, Aharon.

The story goes that Silas Hardoon’s father appeared to him in a dream and asked him to build a shul in his memory. For some reason, Hardoon didn’t build the shul in the center of town, but far from the community. The shul had two hundred and fifty-two seats, a huge kitchen and dining hall - and it remained empty for years. That is, until the Mir Yeshiva arrived - with exactly 252 bochurim.

Nowadays, China is a popular business venue for many Jewish businessmen. And just as Hashem arranged events so the shul would be there for the Mir, so every test was created for us to be righteous. Maybe you’re on a China Airways flight to Shanghai and there’s a challenge, such as a movie that you shouldn’t watch. Maybe that entire movie was made just so you shouldn’t watch it? And by turning off your screen, you reap an eternal reward. That’s a really successful business trip. Maybe the only reason you went to China in the first place was not for your business meeting, but to succeed in this test - and not get “Shanghaied.”

Every temptation, everything out there, was put there for you to succeed. Don’t get Shanghaied!

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