• 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.

  • Daily Aliya for Toldot, Revii (4th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: Yitzchak sets himself up in Be’er Sheva. G-d appears to him and reiterates the promises for prosperity made to Avraham. Yitzchak builds an altar to G-d and continues to prosper. Avimelech, realizing that his own prosperity was due to the presence of Yitzchak, comes with a delegation to Yitzchak in order to enter into a covenant with him.

    The Baal HaTurim notes that when G-d speaks to Yitzchak, He does not use the name associated with Divine Mercy, as He had done with Avraham and will do with Yaakov. Avraham and Yaakov went through difficult times, but they were treated, so to speak, with an element of Mercy. Yitzchak’s trials and tribulations were without G-d’s mercy, because Yitzchak had a certain extra strength of character that can withstand powerful trials. Is that fair? Or was Yitzchak tested because he needed to be (for his and our sake), because he could pass those tests, and because his reward is that much greater than those tested less?

  • Daily Aliya for Toldot, Shlishi (3rd Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: Isaac became extremely wealthy. He also re-dug some of the wells that his father Avraham had dug, but had since been stopped up by the Philistines. The Philistines eventually became envious of his wealth, and asked him to leave. Isaac complied, moving away from the city and settling in the Gerar Valley. There, Isaac’s servants dug two new wells but the Philistines contested his ownership over these wells. The third well he dug was uncontested.

    Some see these wells as a hidden reference to the first and second Temples, which fell, and the third which will stand forever. The Gemara in Brachot says that anyone who sees a well in a dream will see peace, because this Aliya is immediately followed by the peace treaty between Avimelech and Yitzchak. Others say that anyone who sees a well in their dream has found Torah, equating water with Torah. These varied references have one thing in common: They acknowledge the symbolism of this Aliya’s story. So whether it’s salvation, peace or Torah, this story of our past is one of hope for our future.

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