Torah Weekly - Parshat Toldot

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Parshat Toldot

For the week ending 5 Kislev 5761 / 1 & 2 December 2000

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    After 20 years of marriage, Yitzchak's prayers are answered and Rivka conceives twins. The pregnancy is extremely painful. Hashem reveals to Rivka that the suffering is a microcosmic prelude to the world-wide 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 day's 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 to escape to Egypt; but Hashem 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 Plishtim, where, to protect Rivka, he has to say she is his sister. The Plishtim 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.




    "And these are the offspring of Yitzchak." (25:19)

    At some point in the recent history of spelling, the word "light" became too heavy, weighing in as it does at five letters, and was thus "lightened" to a mere four letters and became "lite."

    We live in a world where everything has to be lite. Heavy has become, almost exclusively, a pejorative term. "Don't be so heavy! Lighten up! (Sorry, that should read "Liten up!")

    Lite is what we want from our drinks and our foods. Lite is what we want from our bathroom scales. Lite is what we want from our relationships.

    We are so involved with being lite that we are in danger of taking off and floating away.

    In Hebrew, the word for heavy is kaveid and comes from the same root as the word kavod which means honor or respect. We don't like "heavy." Respect. Honor. These are "heavy" words. Difficult words in our times.

    Each of the forefathers of the Jewish People represents a certain force, a certain aspect in Creation. The aspect that Avraham personifies is chesed -- kindness. The nature of kindness is that it requires a recipient. And thus it was that Avraham's tent was always open on all sides to receive guests. Avraham's nature was expansive. He went out to the world. He wanted to be close to others.

    Yitzchak is the antithesis of his father Avraham. Yitzchak represents limitation, staying within one's own borders. Yitzchak's quality is the quality of fear. Fear of making a spiritual error, an error which might blemish the entire universe.

    Fear is about as un-PC now as possible. But we all need a healthy dose of fear in order to live. A world without fear looks something like a natural history film of lemmings on holiday in Alaska.

    And Yaakov is the synthesis of his father, Yitzchak, and his grandfather Avraham. What do you get when you synthesize expansiveness that desires to be close, the quality of Avraham, with a fear of being too close, the quality of Yaakov?

    You get honor. You get respect. You get kavod.

    Being worthy of true kavod is something almost completely lost from the world in our pursuit of "lite." My teacher says the only time he saw genuine kavod in his life was when he looked at his Rabbi.

    When we wish to give kavod to someone, we feel an equal feeling of a desire to be close to that person and a fear of being close. My very love for that person whom I wish to honor and give respect is coupled with a fear of being too close, of making an error in his eyes. The very reason that I love them -- their greatness -- is the reason that I am afraid of them. This is the essence of respect, of honor. Love and fear in equal doses.

    It is for this reason that Yaakov is the personification of honor, of respect, of kavod, because he is a synthesis of Avraham and Yitzchak. This is why Yaakov personifies Torah, because true honor is the honor of Torah.

    It's heavy, man.


    Malachi 1:1 - 2:7



    Yaakov's destiny has been formed. His descendants must uphold the entire Torah -- all 613 mitzvot. They must live their lives as G-d's holy nation, subjugating their own will to that of their Creator. This is an opportunity to reach the most sublime spiritual heights, but opportunity is always accompanied by responsibility. "Become My holy nation,"says G-d, "and all of the reward of this world and the next world will be yours; deviate from this path and I will 'turn away My face' from you."

    The prophet Malachi relates this message to the Jewish people: It is precisely because G-d loves you that He has given you this deal. Opportunity and responsibility -- there are great rewards for you to earn but only if you answer to your calling.


    The Torah is replete with lessons about the power of speech. Indeed, many of the mitzvot are performed solely by speaking. For example, the Torah commands a person to make a declaration of thanks when bringing the first fruits to the Temple. This declaration is a separate mitzvah with equal status to the actual "action-mitzvah" of bringing the fruit to the Temple.

    We tend to think that actions speak louder than words, but in reality the mouth is the loudspeaker of the mind. The mouth expresses a person's deepest thoughts and feelings. Therefore, words are often just as powerful as actions. The prophet Malachi warns parents and community leaders that a few derisive words about the Temple service pollute the minds of the young and impressionable.

    Written and Compiled by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair
    General Editor: Rabbi Moshe Newman
    Production Design: Michael Treblow

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