Torah Weekly

For the week ending 10 November 2018 / 2 Kislev 5779

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.


Belief and Disbelief

“The voice is the voice of Yaakov…” (27:22)

In his youth, the Vilna Gaon studied together with a group of boys. Many years later after the Vilna Gaon was famous far and wide, one member of that group met up with his old friend and asked him how he had managed to become so great in learning. The Vilna Gaon replied, “Do you remember the gemara in Chagiga where Hillel says: You cannot compare someone who reviews his learning one hundred times to one who reviews his learning one hundred and one times?” “Yes,” replied the friend. Said the Vilna Gaon, “Did you really believe that gemara without any iota of doubt?” “Of course,” the other replied. “I didn’t” replied the Vilna Gaon, “and so I checked it out for myself.”

“The voice is the voice of Yaakov…”

Inspirational stories about great Rabbis can very often have the reverse effect. It’s easy to become uninspired by the enormous and seemingly unbridgeable gap between our own efforts and the stories of self-sacrifice and extraordinary commitment.

My Rebbe once told me of a conversation that he had with a young man, who, at a relatively young age had mastered the Mishna Berura. My Rebbe asked him how he had managed such a feat. He replied, “Well, every day since I was quite young I made a set period of time for Torah study lasting 45 minutes every day — without fail — learning the Mishna Berura.” “That doesn’t sound so hard” said my Rebbe. “No, it wasn’t. But I did it.”

In life, the difference between failure and success is often the difference between not opening the book and opening it. Something quite magical happens if you can go beyond your comfort zone. One hundred and one is not one more time than one hundred. It’s an entirely different world.

Once there was a competition to climb the stairs of the tallest building in the world — all 163 floors — without stopping. Most of the contestants gave up around the 90th floor, but one determined climber wouldn’t quit. On and on he pushed: 120, 130, 140, 145 and 146. With nothing but will power he pulled himself to the 147th floor. He crawled up to the 148th. He lay sprawled on the floor listening to the wind howling around the heights. A little voice inside him wouldn’t let him rest. He clawed his way on. Each step felt like a huge platform. Just one more… He reached the 149th floor and collapsed. He had failed. He just couldn’t go on.

Then he saw a sign in front of him. It said, “If you got this far, you can take the elevator.”

When we reach up to G-d with all our power, He reaches down to us and sends the elevator.

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