Torah Weekly

For the week ending 14 November 2015 / 2 Kislev 5776

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 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 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.


A Myrtle or a Thorn?

“The boys grew up and Esav became one who knows hunting, a man of the field; but Yaakov was a wholesome man abiding in tents.” (25-27)

Rabbi Levi said, “The boys can be compared to a myrtle bush and a thorn bush intertwined; once they have reached maturity and flowered, one gives forth its aroma and the other its thorns. For thirteen years together Esav and Yaakov both went to school, and together they both returned. After thirteen years, one went to batei midrashot, the houses of learning, and the other to places of idol worship and debauchery.”

There are no guarantees when it comes to bringing up our children. All that parents can do is to take good advice; to be examples of what they would like their child to be. (“Don’t do as I do, do as I tell you” rarely, if ever, succeeds); to follow the 3F’s: Firm, Friendly and Fair; and to pray very hard.

Rabbi Eliezer said, “A man needs to nurture his son until 13 years old, then he says, “Baruch she’patrani…” — “Blessed is He Who has exempted me from the punishment of this one (the son).” Until the age of thirteen the sins of the son can be visited upon the father. Thus, the father blesses G-d that he has delivered him from the punishment due to his son, and that henceforth the son will be liable for his actions.

There is dispute whether this blessing should be said with “Shem u’Malchut”, meaning whether we mention G-d’s Name and Kingship in the blessing. In the Shulchan Aruch Code of Jewish Law, Rabbi Moshe Iserles, the Rema, adjudicates that one should omit G-d’s name when saying the blessing, and this is the accepted ruling.

It once happened that a certain boy was brought by his father to the Rabbi of Jerusalem, Rabbi Zvi Pesach Frank (1873–1960) on the day of his bar mitzvah. Rabbi Frank said to the father, “Even though the halacha is that one should say “Baruch she’patrani” without “Shem u’Malchut”, in the case of this boy you could certainly say it!”

The boy looked quizzically at the Rabbi.

Many years later, it happened that on the boy's wedding day, Rabbi Zvi Pesach Frank was amongst the guests. In the meantime this young fellow had matured into a distinguished scholar. The groom made his way over to the Rabbi and introduced himself, reminding him of their meeting at his bar mitzvah. He said to Rabbi Frank, “Could I please ask the Rabbi what he meant by saying that in my case my father could certainly say Baruch she'patrani with Shem u’Malchut?”

Rabbi Frank replied, “The Mishna Berura’s gloss on the Rema says the reason for the blessing is that until thirteen the father is punished when the son sins because he has failed to educate his son properly in the ways of the Torah. Once the son becomes thirteen it’s up to the son to strengthen himself in the commandments of G-d. However, the Mishna Berura continues that even though the father ceases to have a mitzvah to educate, he is still obliged to rebuke his son for his actions if necessary. In many cases, the responsibility of a father for his son’s spiritual life extends way beyond bar mitzvah.

“In your case, I knew that you would be capable of being responsible for yourself, and that your father was truly acquitted of his responsibility for you.

“Thus I told him he could make the blessing using G-d’s name.”

  • Sources: Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 225, Mishna Berura footnote 7; Rabbi Noach Orloweck; Story heard from Rabbi Dovid Cohen, Rosh Yeshivat Chevron

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