Torah Weekly

For the week ending 13 November 2004 / 29 Heshvan 5765

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. 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 Avrahams 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 thinksof 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.



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

The word now nah in this sentence is sometimes translated as please. Could it be that there is a hint here that Eisav is saying please? Its difficult to fit a word of sucha delicacy into Eisavs behavior here. Having just returned from the fields, he is so hungry, so involved in his animal side, that he does not even use a noun to describe the stew of lentils that he so desires. He describes it just with adjectives - that red, red The word please would seem totally out of place hereOr is it?

Some fifty years after the event, we are still trying to come to terms with the destruction of European Jewry. How could the most cultured nation in the world turn to savage and merciless barbarism? How could the nation that produced Goethe and Beethoven produce monsters, unrecognizable as human beings?

If the Germans prided themselves on anything it was their politeness -- derech eretz - as it is called in Hebrew.

I once heard a lady who had been in Auschwitz recount her reception at that terrifying place. Miraculously, she had been saved from the line that led to the gas chambers and was waiting to have her forearm tattooed with the number that would be her only identification in that hell. She was about to become a number. As she reached the man whose task it was to tattoo those numbers on her arm, she froze for a second in front of him and he said to her mechanically,

Bitte (Please).

Please hold out your arm! Please become a number! Please disappear from the face of the earth! Please!

How polite! In that hellhole of death and misery - Please!

Pour into me, please, some of that red, red

Esav has the veneer of politeness, but he uses it merely to mask his animal nature. Our Sages teach us that Politeness comes before the Torah. (Avot) However, when politeness is not followed by Torah, it is no more than the mask of hypocrisy.

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