Torah Weekly

For the week ending 29 November 2008 / 2 Kislev 5769

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 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.


Living Under Siege

“When the boys grew up…” (25:27)

In exclusive restaurants where the cost of a meal could be double the average monthly salary, they thoughtfully omit the prices from the menu to avoid spoiling your appetite.

While it’s common knowledge that there’s no such thing as a free lunch, the price of that lunch may be far more than you bargained for.

Israel is a war zone with two fronts: Not only are we constantly threatened and attacked by our cousins, the children of Yishmael, a billion of whom surround us, but also right in our own backyard we are often vilified by a secular culture inimical to Torah values. Calvin Klein does not like Rabbi Klein.

This latter challenge has created a “siege mentality” in the Israeli Orthodox mind. For example, in England to play or be interested in soccer is no harbinger of incipient atheism. Here in Israel, however, a child who is more interested in kicking a ball around a field than learning Rishonim runs the risk of being marginalized, and consequently associating with the least salubrious elements of Israeli society.

Soccer in Israel is not a game or a sport. It’s akin to “avoda zara” — idol worship.

Abroad, the lines that distinguish acceptable from non-acceptable Torah-observant behavior are much grayer. Here in our Holy Land the divisions are as sharp as black and white.

Not all children are cut out to sit over a Gemara for 10 hours a day.

Those who are forced to do so against their nature and against their will either go through the motions, bored out of their minds, spending more time engrossed in the coffee machine than in Tosefos, or ironically, if they are more honest, they will buck the whole system and end up “on the streets”.

Everyone will agree that in an ideal world it’s better for a young boy to learn for three hours and then go and kick a piece of leather around a field than to find himself on skid row with junkies and other evils.

The priceless advice of our Sages: “Educate a child according to his way” is but one casualty of living “under siege”.

Our Sages never shrunk from pointing out both small and major mistakes of our Forefathers, for we can learn as much from their mistakes as from their virtues.

They point out that the striking differences between Avraham’s grandchildren may come more from mistakes in their upbringing than in their innate temperaments. When Esav and Yaakov were little, it seems that no attention was paid to the slumbering — and vast — differences between them. Both had exactly the same education.

To send Esav to the same Yeshiva as Yaakov was courting disaster. Given a studious, sedate and meditative life, a Yaakov will imbibe knowledge with ever-increasing zeal and zest, while an Esav will count the hours and minutes until he can throw out the old books, and with it an entire purpose for life — since he sees nowhere that he can integrate this one view of the world into his nature.

There is nowhere in the world that one can bring up children with such love and attachment to Torah, and with such separation from the lures of the world, than in the black-and-white world of Eretz Yisrael. For some of our children, however, that purity comes at a steep price.

And please don’t think that I’m suggesting that things could or should be otherwise. I’m just saying that if we don’t want to end up with a tab that would put an exclusive French restaurant to shame, we must find a way for those embryonic Esavs to find their niche too amongst the Twelve Tribes of Yaakov.

  • Sources: Based on Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch

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