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This week’s Sedra, Toldot, starts with the birth of Jacob and Esau. We are told that Yitzchak was barren, and he prayed to G-d for children. Why did this have to happen? Our Rabbis tell us that while shady trees grow by themselves, fruit trees need nurturing. In the same way, the wicked bear children by themselves, whereas the righteous must first pray. That Yitzchak and Rebecca were barren before they prayed showed that they were righteous, and that G-d longed for their prayers, as He does all righteous people.
Rebecca becomes pregnant with twins, and we are told that “Whenever Rebecca stopped near a synagogue or yeshiva, Jacob would struggle to exit, and whenever she passed a house of idolatry, Esau would struggle to get out”. Our Rabbis were very careful with their choice of words: Rebecca ‘stopped near’ the synagogues, but ‘passed by’ the houses of idolatry. However, the question can be asked, if there was this struggle, why did she not stay at home? Rabbi Zalman Sorotskin zt”l tells us that at home, she struggled with both, because each of them wanted to kill the other!
Up until age thirteen, both boys studied in yeshiva. It was only after barmitzva age that their interests assumed a sharp distinction. Esau committed every abomination hateful to G-d. It is therefore remarkable that the Torah mentions none of these abominations explicitly, telling us only that Esau sold his birthright and merely wished to kill Jacob for taking it. Why were Esau’s deeds concealed?
Apparently, the Torah is teaching us to see Yitzchak in a favourable light. Evidently, he knew no more of Esau’s wickedness than what was explicitly stated in the Torah. Why? Because he did not keep a proper watch over Esau, or inquire what he was doing. This teaches us an important lesson in child rearing; wayward children tend to conceal their deeds, and the father must watch them carefully, so that they can lead them on the right path. For any improper act that goes unchecked will bring a more serious straying in its wake: ‘Aveira goreret aveira’ (one sin leads to another). Yitzchak gave Esau the hunter the benefit of the doubt, as fathers do - “Well, not everyone is cut out to be a rabbi. If he has made himself a profession of hunting, there is nothing wrong with that.” If Yitzchak would have examined things carefully, he would have found out that Esau was worshipping idols. This could be because Yitzchak had never seen deception in his father’s house, whereas Rebecca had, and could distinguish between good and evil. Therefore, she was the one who noticed Esau’s evil deeds, and she advised Jacob to acquire the birthright.
We all know that Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of lentil stew. However, the verse subsequently says “Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew”. Why the bread? Esau was tired and hungry, and had he remained so during the exchange, he would later have been able to claim that the deal was done under duress of hunger. Jacob therefore filled him up with bread first, after which Esau ate the stew, having been partly satiated, and so he didn’t make a claim that he had acted out of hunger. Further to this, Jacob gave him wine (as was customary) but not enough to get him drunk. Therefore the sale was valid - Esau didn’t give a hoot about his birthright. In fact, he truly ‘despised’ it.
Yitzchak then moves and settles in Gerar, land of the Philistines. He became very prosperous as a farmer. At first, Abimelech and his princes thought Yitzchak had become rich at their expense. As a result, the people grew envious and threw him out. Subsequently, all the wells dried up and trees no longer bore fruit. This set a precedent that we see until today - as soon as the Jews become prosperous in a certain land, the government throws them out; but, like in Yitzchak’s time, the country suffers as a result of their departure. With the Jews gone, however, the country loses its most energetic element and begins to suffer economic and cultural ruin, while the Jews rebuild their fortunes in their new place. So it was with Yitzchak; he made his new home in Be’er Sheva, where he was as successful as ever.
Esau takes two wives, Yehudit and Basemath, both idol worshippers. It seems strange, then, that one of them should be called Yehudit. The Midrash tells us that her real name was Aholibama, but Esau changed her name to deceive his father into thinking that she had ‘converted’. As soon as these women entered Yitzchak’s house, the Shechina departed. One wife was given a sterility drug to keep her from getting pregnant and losing her beauty, and the second wife was for children. Yitzchak and Rebecca suffered greatly because of them; Yitzchak more so, as he had never been subjected to idolatry before.
Next follows the incident of the blessings, in which Jacob poses as Esau and gets the blessing from Yitzchak. Jacob uses Esau’s coat as a disguise - this was in fact Adam’s Heavenly Garment which Esau had taken from Nimrod, which in turn were taken from Shem, son of Noah. Esau did not trust his wives, and kept the garment with his mother while he went out to hunt game for his father. Esau’s honour of Yitzchak was exemplary - although it was for entirely selfish reasons. He was scared that his father would banish him, as Abraham had banished Ishmael. As a result, he only honoured his father and not his mother, but in his heart he wished that his father would soon die.
Jacob, weeping and unwilling, enters his father’s room, and the scent of Gan Eden filled the room. As Jacob was speaking, his father thought that it was him and not Esau who was before him, as Esau did not use the name of G-d, or say ‘please’. Jacob was trembling with fear and unable to walk forward, and G-d sent the two angels Michael and Gavriel to hold him and bring him forward. Yitzchak then gave Jacob ten blessings, corresponding to the Ten Pronouncements with which the world was created, indicating that in the merit of his son the world would continue to exist. Jacob departed from his father in a happy state of mind, as a bridegroom leaving the chupa.
Meanwhile, Esau was busy hunting animals. Whenever he found an animal and tied it up, Hashem’s angel untied it and it fled. Finally, he killed a dog and cooked it’s meat. He entered his father’s room just as Jacob was leaving; Esau didn’t spot him, as he would surely have killed him. When he approached his father, the fires of Gehinnom (hell) opened up, and Isaac trembled more than when he was bound to the altar to be sacrificed by his Abraham. When Esau found out that he was deceived, he let out a bitter cry and shed two tears, corresponding to the two Temples. A third one remained suspended in his eye - this meant that the third Temple will never be destroyed. As a result of having taken the blessings, Esau hated Jacob with an unquenchable hatred and sought revenge.
He thought of killing Yitzchak, and then Jacob, so that he could rule the world. His reasoning was “Cain foolishly killed Abel while Adam was still alive, and then Adam had another son, Seth. I will do better. I will wait until my father dies, kill Jacob, and then be the only son and heir.” As much as he hated Jacob, he dare not murder him openly, as the court of Shem and Ever sentenced any murderer to capital punishment. He planned to assassinate Jacob through a third party. He married Yishmael’s daughter for this purpose. He would arise Yishmael’s anger against Jacob by reminding him of how his Yishmael’s younger brother Yitzchak had usurped his place, as Jacob was now doing to Esau. Then, Yishmael will murder Jacob, leaving Esau entitled to kill Yishmael and avenge his brother’s blood, leaving him heir to both families. However, just as Esau became engaged to Yishmael’s daughter Machlas, Yishmael died.
Jacob was advised by his mother Rebecca to run away to her father Bethuel’s house in Padan Aram. Before he went, he received blessings from both his father and mother. According to one opinion, he hid in the yeshiva of Shem and Ever for fourteen years, until Esau’s anger had abated.
Ten more things you probably never knew about Abraham:
1 G-d wanted to bring forth the priesthood from Shem, son of Noah, but because Shem blessed Abraham before blessing G-d, He brought forth the priesthood from Abraham (Nedarim 32b).
2 The name of Abraham’s mother was Amatla’i bat Carnevo (Baba Batra 91a).
3 The first cradle was rocked in the house of Abraham (Bereishis Rabbah 53:10).
4 Esau did not rebel during Abraham’s lifetime. Ishmael repented during Abraham’s lifetime (Baba Batra 16b).
5 Why didn’t Abraham bless Yitzchak? Because he foresaw that Esau would descend from him (Pesikta d’Rav Kahana 31).
6 As long as Lot clung to him, G-d did not speak with Abraham (Pesikta Rabbasi 3:36).
7 Abraham was the first of the proselytes (Chagiga 3a).
8 G-d said “I am grateful to Abraham, Yitzchak and Jacob, who were the first to make Me known in the world” (Menachot 53a).
9 Abraham’s deeds did not become known until he was thrown into the fiery furnace (Tzeror HaMor, Shir Hashirim 1).
10 Abraham was saved from the fiery furnace only in the merit of Jacob (Bereishis Rabbah 63:2).