• Dvar for Toldot (Genesis 25:19-28:9)

    While living in Gerar, Yitzchak (Isaac) reopens the wells dug up by his father Avraham and digs a few of his own. The passuk records that one well “was named ‘shiva,’ and that is why the city is named Be’er Sheva until today” (26:33). Why does the Torah claim that Yitzchak named it Be’er Sheva when Avraham named it (21:31)?

    The Sforno and other commentaries explain that while Avraham named the place to commemorate his treaty with Avimelech, Yitzchak rededicated that name and based it on the number of wells. While the concept of rededication makes sense, why does our Passuk add the fact that its name is Be’er Sheva “until today”? One explanation could be that basing a name on something tangible (wells vs. a treaty) has a more enduring and permanent effect. Another possibility is that continuing the work of those before you has the capacity to perpetuate that work eternally. In these turbulent and uncertain times, it is essential to focus on continuity and consistency in all our efforts to build a better future.

  • Dvar for Toldot (Genesis 25:19-28:9)

    Parshat Toldot tells the story of Rivka bearing twins, Esav and Yakov, and how Esav was drawn to brothels when she walked them, and Yakov was drawn to study halls when she walked by those (25:22). Considering the Midrash that babies learn the entire Torah inside the womb (and forget it once born), Rav Chaim Shmulevitz asks why Yakov would want to leave his situation to enter a study hall.

    Rav Chaim Shmulevitz explains that while in utero Yakov was able to learn Torah, he was still missing the effort and challenges associated with gaining that knowledge. It is natural for us to appreciate challenges once we overcome them, but adopting this attitude will help us embrace life’s hurdles and enjoy the process of overcoming them. 

  • Dvar for Toldot (Genesis 25:19-28:9)

    Sefer Bereishit is full of stories about Avraham and Yakov, but there are very few stories exclusively about Yitzchak (the Akeida is really Avraham’s story, and Yakov tricking Yitzchak over the blessings is really about Yakov). This week’s Parsha, Toldot, does include one story about Yitzchak, and it’s a strange one that requires analysis: There’s a famine in the land, Yitzchak wants to go to Egypt but G-d tells him to “sojourn in this land (Gerar), and I’ll bless you.” (26:3) G-d blesses him by making the land produce 100-fold, to the point where the locals become uncomfortable with his success, and ask Yitzchak to leave. So he moves to the valley, unplugs a well that Avraham initially dug up, and the locals claimed it as theirs (on his way out he names the well Asek, or “contention”). He moves to a second well, unplugs it, and the locals claim that one as well (on his way out he names that well Sitnah, or “hatred”). He moves to a third well, unplugs it, and gets no resistance from the locals (and names the well Rechovot, or “expansion.”) Why did the locals suddenly leave Yitzchak alone? Also, generally, what is the point of this seemingly superfluous Yitzchak story?

    Imu Shalev and David Block of AlephBeta.org suggest an interesting and insightful answer: When Avraham is blessed with wealth, he pitches tents and maintains temporary residence, for the intended purpose of not showing off. When Yitzchak was gifted with wealth, G-d asked him to do the same, instructing him to sojourn in the land, rather than to settle down. Yitzchak settled down, which made the locals jealous, prompting him to leave. When he dug up the wells, he once again provoked jealousy, and was challenged. However, for the third well Yitzchak first “removes himself from there” (26:22) before digging the well. Ironically, removing himself from the land, or becoming a journeyman, allowed him to keep the well he dug, and inspired him to call the well “expansion” – freeing himself of a home base allowed him to expand. This leads to a beautiful discovery that Yitzchak made: If you free your mind of earthly possessions, your world suddenly expands. While physical possessions are important and sometimes powerful tools, they should be used to expand our experiences, not burden them.

  • Dvar for Toldot (Genesis 25:19-28:9)

    Parshat Toldot tells the story of Yaakov (Jacob) and Esav, two brothers that couldn’t be any more different. When their father Yitzchok (Isaac) decides that it’s time to bless his two sons, Yaakov ends up getting the better of the two blessings. In comparing the two blessings, though, the Chafetz Chaim observes: When Yaakov gets the blessing, the Torah says “And may G-d give you of the dew of the heavens and of the fatness of the earth” (27:28). However, when Esav gets his blessing, Yitzchok says “Behold, of the fatness of the earth shall be your dwelling and of the dew of the heavens from above” (27:39). Why was the order of the fatness and the dew reversed?

    The Chafetz Chaim explains that since Yaakov preferred the spiritual to the physical, his blessing came from heaven (dew) to earth (fatness of the earth). On the other hand, since Esav valued the physical more, his blessing was customized to his desires by focusing on the physical first.  While that answers the question, there’s a much deeper lesson to be learned: Because Yaakov focused on heaven and the chain of where things come from, he realized that he’s being given of the dew of the heavens, which produces the fatness of the earth, and consequently thanked the source, G-d. Contrarily, as the verse adds, Esav’s fatness was simply his “dwelling”, as if it were there all along, with no connection to where it came from, and therefore no appreciation for its source. Yaakov was blessed with the ability to see beyond what was in front of him, and therefore appreciated it (and G-d) more. We too are given that same opportunity every day, and all we have to do is stop and think about what we have and where it really came from. Only then will we ever truly be content, fulfilled, and most importantly, blessed.

  • Dvar for Toldot (Genesis 25:19-28:9)

    In this week’s Parsha, Toldot, we are told of Esav selling his birthright to Yakov in exchange for a bowl of beans. The Medrash says that on that day Esav also committed murder, denied G-d’s existence, denied the resurrection, and belittled the birthright. Why does the Torah only mention the belittlement of the birthright, if Esav also did all these other horrible things? Also, in this story Yakov seems to be a schemer. His brother comes in from the field, starving and tired, asking for food, and the first thing Yakov does is bargains with Esav in his moment of weakness?

    The Rabbis answer both these questions: The Torah is not just a history book, it is an instruction manual for living. Knowing all the horrible things Esav did doesn’t teach us the way that we’re supposed to live. However, the Torah does tell us that the root of all the sins Esav committed was that he belittled his birthright, and therefore his history, his place in history, and his responsibility. Conversely, Yakov’s actions prove that he did understand and appreciate his role and responsibility, and acted like he had a part of G-d/royalty inside him. In stark contrast, Esav’s perspective that he will die anyway, and therefore his birthright was meaningless, shows his lack of understanding his intrinsic value and self worth, and repudiated the greatness and dignity within him.

    There is nothing more important than understanding one’s worth and significance. We are all royalty, we are all destined for greatness, our behavior should reflect those higher moral expectations, and this positive reflection should be clear to our children. We can accomplish this by constantly reminding them of how special they are, in so many ways and for so many reasons.

  • Dvar for Toldot (Genesis 25:19-28:9)

    Parshat Toldot tells the story of Yaakov (Jacob) and Esav, two brothers that couldn’t be any more different. When their father Yitzchok (Isaac) decides that it’s time to bless his two sons, Yaakov ends up getting the better of the two blessings. In comparing the two blessings, though, the Chafetz Chaim observes: When Yaakov gets the blessing, the Torah says “And may G-d give you of the dew of the heavens and of the fatness of the earth” (27:28). However, when Esav gets his blessing, Yitzchok says “Behold, of the fatness of the earth shall be your dwelling and of the dew of the heavens from above” (27:39). Why was the order of the fatness and the dew reversed?

    The Chafetz Chaim explains that since Yaakov preferred the spiritual to the physical, his blessing came from heaven (dew) to earth (fatness of the earth). On the other hand, since Esav valued the physical more, his blessing was customized to his desires by focusing on the physical first.  While that answers the question, there’s a much deeper lesson to be learned: Because Yaakov focused on heaven and the chain of where things come from, he realized that he’s being given of the dew of the heavens, which produces the fatness of the earth, and consequently thanked the source, G-d. Contrarily, as the verse adds, Esav’s fatness was simply his “dwelling”, as if it were there all along, with no connection to where it came from, and therefore no appreciation for its source. Yaakov was blessed with the ability to see beyond what was in front of him, and therefore appreciated it (and G-d) more. We too are given that same opportunity every day, and all we have to do is stop and think about what we have and where it really came from. Only then will we ever truly be content, fulfilled, and most importantly, blessed.

  • Daily Aliya for Toldot, Shvii (7th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: Esav sees that their father has sent Yakov to Padan Aram to find a wife, because he does not want him to take a Canaanite wife. Yakov goes on his way and Esav takes as another wife, the daughter of Yishmael, Machalat b. Yishmael…

    Talmud Yerushalmi exclaims that this is Bosmat, and asks why her name was changed. The astonishing answer is that all Esav’s sins were forgiven when he took a wife intended to please his parents. The Talmud generalizes and gives this as the source that the sins of a bride and groom are forgiven when they marry.

  • Daily Aliya for Toldot, Shishi (6th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: Isaac blessed Jacob with the “dew of the heaven and the fat of the earth,” and granted him mastery over his brother. No sooner than the blessing ended, Esav arrived from the field, only to be informed by his father – who now understood what had transpired – that the blessing was already given to his younger brother. Esav was furious and Isaac comforted him with a minor blessing. Esav was determined to kill Jacob, but Rivka, who got wind of this plot, asked Isaac to send Jacob to Charan to find a wife. Isaac did so, and blessed Jacob again before he departed.

    Yitzchak gave Yakov the blessing of being a master over his brother, and gave Esav the blessing of serving his brother. How can they both be blessings? Perhaps when everyone fulfills their roles in life, everyone is blessed. If there is a master, there must be a servant. Yet the Passuk immediately says that Esav hated Yakov because of the blessing that he got. Wouldn’t Esav instead hate Yakov because of the blessings that he didn’t get? Unless Esav refused to play his role as follower, thereby abandoning and losing everything. We too have roles in life, sometimes different roles simultaneously (i.e. leaders at home and followers at work, or leaders at work and followers in Shul). The truth is that Yakov is better off now being the leader, but he would have made it work just fine as a follower, had that been his role.

  • Daily Aliya for Toldot, Chamishi (5th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: Isaac agreed to Avimelech’s request. On that day, Isaac’s servants informed him that they had successfully dug another well. At the age of forty, Esav married two wives. Their idolatrous ways anguished Isaac and Rivka. Isaac had now advanced in age, and he became blind. He summoned Esav and told him that he wished to bless him, but first he should go to the field and hunt some game for him to eat. Rivka heard this conversation and advised Jacob to don Esav’s clothing and trick Isaac into blessing him instead. Rivka prepared meat and gave it to Jacob to bring to his father. She also took hairy goatskin and put it on Jacob’s smooth arms and neck. Jacob approached his father and presented himself as Esav, and Isaac ate from the repast Rivka had prepared.

    Rivka took upon herself the potential curse if the deception were to be discovered. Targum Onkeles adds a very significant phrase to his translation, adding “to me was told as prophecy…” This way of looking at the episode is that Rivka was, in essence, commanded by G-d to arrange that the blessings go to Yaakov, and in specifically this way. Why is this way of attaining the blessings so important? It might be because wanting something often means going out and getting it, and psychologically helps us appreciate it more.

  • Dvar for Toldot (Genesis 25:19-28:9)

    From Rabbi Michalowicz:

    In this week’s Parsha, Toldot, we are told of Esav selling his birthright to Yakov in exchange for a bowl of beans. The Medrash says that on that day Esav also committed murder, denied G-d’s existence, denied the resurrection, and belittled the birthright. Why does the Torah only mention the belittlement of the birthright, if Esav also did all these other horrible things? Also, in this story Yakov seems to be a schemer. His brother comes in from the field, starving and tired, asking for food, and the first thing Yakov does is bargains with Esav in his moment of weakness?

    The Rabbis answer both these questions: The Torah is not just a history book, it is an instruction manual for living. Knowing all the horrible things Esav did doesn’t teach us the way that we’re supposed to live. However, the Torah does tell us that the root of all the sins Esav committed was that he belittled his birthright, and therefore his history, his place in history, and his responsibility. Conversely, Yakov’s actions prove that he did understand and appreciate his role and responsibility, and acted like he had a part of G-d/royalty inside him. In stark contrast, Esav’s perspective that he will die anyway, and therefore his birthright was meaningless, shows his lack of understanding his intrinsic value and self worth, and repudiated the greatness and dignity within him.

    There is nothing more important than understanding one’s worth and significance. We are all royalty, we are all destined for greatness, our behavior should reflect those higher moral expectations, and this positive reflection should be clear to our children. We can accomplish this by constantly reminding them of how special they are, in so many ways and for so many reasons.

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