Torah Weekly

For the week ending 30 November 2019 / 2 Kislev 5780

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 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 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, and so Rivka sends Yaakov to her brother Lavan where he could find a suitable wife.


The Spell of the Older Brother

“The children agitated within her…” (25:22)

One of my daughters just started her Master’s degree at the best university in Israel for her particular subject. Almost all the other students are Tzfon Bonim from Tel Aviv and Hod HaSharon. She is the only charedi woman there. Every week they have a group lunch, when one of the members brings food for everyone else. Now, some of them are vegetarians, some are vegans, one of the girls has a rule that no plastic can touch her food — and, of course, no white sugar. It’s a different world completely. The guidance counselor who is there to help her “navigate” is an Orthodox man who wears a knitted kippa. He brought the first lunch. He told her not to worry about the kashrut — everything was “Rubin.” But she still felt uncomfortable. She joined in the meal with them, but, somehow, she felt she hadn’t been careful enough. She hadn’t drawn the line strongly enough.

The next week when each of them had to speak to the class, she got up and said, “I am charedi. I have four children,bli ayn hara” (which makes her less useful because she will have less extra-mural time for research). She said, “I am married to an avreich who immerses himself in Torah night and day, and I have no interest in changing who I am.” She said, “I am different from you. I respect you. I respect what you have to teach me here, but I have no interest in becoming like you. And if I do become like you, then we will both have lost, because I treasure my Yiddishkeit – and you need skilled charedi women professionals in this particular field.” She spoke about her parents. About her father who had given up a successful career in the music business to learn in Yeshiva, who found his way to Torah by reading a book called Mesillat Yesharim.

After she had finished speaking, a young girl came over to her, wearing tight jeans and whose tousled blonde hair made her look like a depressed Barbie doll. She wanted to speak to my daughter. She was interested and respectful. She said, “Please tell me more about your parents.”

People will always respect you if you make your position clear in a respectful manner, and stick to it — much more than if you try to gloss over the differences and blend in and be cool. That’s not to minimize the challenge. It’s still very difficult on a daily basis not to be influenced by people who are very nice but opposed to almost everything you believe in. It’s like entering a toxic environment, but here your radiation suit and mask is youryirat Shamayim. My daughter says she’s now extra careful about tzniyut (modesty). The way she might dress to take the children to play in the park is not the way she would dress for work. Unlike before, when she barely had time to daven, now she has a long bus journey and she prays all of Shacharit. She always says bircat hamzon with an open Siddur, in full view of the class. And she reminds herself that she is an ambassador for the “Torah world.”

The modern Israel is relatively young, and, yet, the age-old strife between religious and secular sectors seems to continue unabated. In a sense it appears that both the ideology of Esav and the ideology of Yaakov exist “together” nowadays. The struggle in the womb of the two twins symbolizes the future struggle of two world views. Our Sages teach (Megilla 6a) that the two will never dominate simultaneously. When one falls, the other rises. However, ultimately the older will serve the younger, and then we will welcome our brothers and sisters who have so long fallen under the spell of the older brother.

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