Dedicated L’eilui Nishmat
Rina bat Jemileh, Renee Natkin, A’h
by Steven Natkin.
Changing the Course of History
Parashat Toldot begins the story of Yaakov and Esav. When Rivkah was expecting her sons, it says, “The children struggled within her (25:22).” Rashi comments on this, elaborating, “When she passed by the entrances of the Torah academies of Shem and Ever, Yaakov would run and struggle to come out. When she passed the entrance of a temple of idolatry, Esav would run and struggle to come out.”
Rav Moshe Sternbuch asks a question in his book On the Parasha. How could it be that Yitzchak Avinu would have a son predestined to serve idols? The answer is that although he was inclined to serve idols from birth, his task in life was to overcome the inclination and to have a hand in completely eradicating it from the world. Yaakov’s task was to realize his potential for perfection and ultimately achieve that. The goals were equally difficult, but only Yaakov was able to accomplish his mission and be successful.
Had Esav realized his potential and achieved his life’s task, the world as we know it would be entirely different. There would have been no heresy, no Paganism, no Christianity, Buddhism, or even Atheism. The complete course of human history would have changed.
Each Jew is born with a different task, as well as the potential to fulfill it. Many people with simple backgrounds or mediocre abilities work hard and achieve the impossible. No matter the hand dealt, we all have the potential to change the course of history.
Are You Tired?
“And Esav returned from the field and he was ayef—tired.” Rav Nisson Alpert noted that this is the first time in the entire Torah that we find the word ayef, that someone was tired. If we examine the life of Avraham Avinu, we certainly find cause for him to be tired, but the Torah never says that he was. Avraham lived a long, hard, and arduous life. He had to leave his birthplace, give everything up, and travel to Canaan. There, he was confronted by famine, so he had to travel to Egypt. After returning to Canaan, he helped set up his nephew Lot and became involved in an intense conflict to save him. He had children late in life, then he was challenged with the trauma of Akedat Yitzchak.
Nonetheless, the Torah never describes Avraham as being tired. Avraham never started to contemplate retirement. Esav is the first person by whom we find the word ayef written. What does this tell us?
Rav Alpert suggests that being tired of life is not a Jewish concept. If a person is involved in spirituality — in Torah and mitzvot — then there is a blessing: “Those whose hope is Hashem will have renewed strength; they will grow wings like eagles. They will run and not grow tired; they will walk and not grow weary (Yeshayahu 40:31).” One does not become tired from doing avodat Hashem, because it’s rejuvenating. At times it may be frustrating, and these devoted people may think that they are running out of strength, but the blessing is that they won’t.
It is a different matter when one is like Esav, when one’s primary role in life is being out in the field “hunting.” Our sages say that on the very day that Esav came back complaining that he was tired, he had committed five serious sins, including the three cardinal sins. Therefore, it is no wonder that Esav came back claiming that he was tired. When a person’s life is devoid of spirituality, when a person has no purpose in his life, then it is very easy to become worn out.
Rav Moshe Feinstein lived to his nineties, Baruch Hashem. When Rav Moshe’s condition weakened and he was taken to the hospital before he passed away, when he was literally on his death bed, he commented, “I have no more strength.” That was at the very end of his life. When one’s life work is finished, then there is no more strength. But up until that time, although he was 92 and had been sick, “Those whose hope is Hashem will have renewed strength.”
Often our great Torah personalities, despite being elderly, have the strength to remain on their feet and talk for hours. Where do they get that stamina? This is the idea expressed by Rav Alpert — being tired is not a Jewish concept.
Hakol Kol Yaakov
The day that Esav came back from the field exhausted was the same day that he sold his birthright to Yaakov. When Yitzchak felt he was near the end of his life, he sent Esav out to get him something to eat so that he could bless his children before he died. When Esav went out to prepare a meal for his father, Rivkah prepared Yaakov and sent him to get the beracha of the bechor—eldest son that he had purchased earlier from Esav.
“So Yaakov drew close to Yitzchak, his father, who was blind then. And he [Yitzchak] felt him and said, ‘Hakol kol Yaakov ve’hayadayim yedeh Esav—The voice is Yaakov’s voice, but the hands are Esav’s hands (27:22).” Rashi comments that Yitzchak couldn’t have been talking about the sound of the voice itself, since our sages tell us that Yaakov and Esav sounded alike, and Yitzchak could not tell them apart. Rather, what Yitzchak meant was that their tone and manner of speaking were different. Yaakov spoke gently and included Hashem in his speech, whereas Esav spoke with the roughness of a murderer.
The Rosh comments that the word hakol in “hakol kol Yaakov” is written without a vav. It could be read “hakal kol Yaakov — the voice of Yaakov is weak or light.” The Vilna Gaon explains that when the voice of Am Yisrael is weak when the Jewish people are not learning Torah and praying to Hashem, then Esav—who represents the other nations—will rise, and antisemitism will raise its ugly head. But when the Jews are diligent in learning Torah and living a kosher and religious life, praying to Hashem, properly keeping Shabbat, and bringing a kiddush Hashem to the nations of the world, then we will be worthy of our forefathers’ berachot.
The following story will illustrate how we must distinguish ourselves. Mr. Sol Werdiger, CEO of Outerstuff, a company that produced sports apparel, received a phone call from Mr. Oh Joon, the South Korean UN Ambassador, asking to meet him for lunch at a kosher restaurant in Manhattan. Although Sol did not know the purpose of the meeting, he agreed.
When they met, Ambassador Joon told him, “I have always heard negative stereotypes about Jews and Israel, and I took it at face value. Then, my daughter took a graphic design internship at your company. Throughout the year, she has been telling me how wonderful it is to work at your company.” Mr. Joon continued, “There are four areas that stood out and impressed my daughter. Every day around midday, no matter what was going on at the office, all the men including those from neighboring offices, retreated into a room to pray with sincerity and calm. Every Friday the office shuts down early in the afternoon in preparation for your holy Sabbath and is closed on the Sabbath. This includes all workers, no matter which faith or religion they maintain. My daughter also observed that all petitioners for charity – and there were many – were treated with respect and had left with a check in their hands. My daughter was also treated with the utmost respect and dignity.”
Because of the amazing experience and lessons the company taught his daughter, Mr. Joon took out his checkbook and was ready to write a check returning all his daughter’s earnings! Mr. Werdiger wouldn’t hear of it. “Your daughter worked and earned her salary. She rightfully deserves her pay; I will not accept any compensation.”
Then the ambassador relayed the most amazing thing. “As you know, I have voting privileges at the UN. Now, because of my renewed appreciation of the Jewish people, I abstained from voting on resolutions against Israel on three occasions. At one resolution I was the ninth vote needed to pass the motion and resolution against Israel, and because I abstained, it did not pass!”
When retelling the story, Mr. Werdiger said that no one at the office had any idea that this girl was the daughter of an ambassador, and no one ever imagined what type of impact their typical conduct at work had on her, or how this impacted the votes against Israel. Hashem has entrusted us to follow the example of our forefather Yaakov. If we are diligent in learning Torah and living a religious life, our voice will be heard over the other nations.
Yaakov Dressed as Esav
Rabbi YY Jacobson brings down another interpretation of Yaakov disguised as Esav. As we mentioned before, Rivkah had prepared Yaakov to receive the bechora from her husband. While Esav was hunting, Rivkah dressed Yaakov in Esav’s clothes, covered his arms and neck with goatskins to simulate the feel of his hairier brother, prepared a similar dish, and sent Yaakov to his father with the food. Yitzchak, sensing something was amiss, asked his son to lean closer, “And he came closer, and he kissed him, and he smelled the fragrance of begadav—his garments, and he blessed him (27:27).”
A very notable question is asked. If Rivkah had valid reasons for why Yaakov should be the one to receive Yitzchak’s blessing, not Esav, why didn’t she just communicate with her husband and explain that he wasn’t making the right decision, as so many women in the Torah have done? And another question is asked, why did Yaakov’s clothes influence Yitzchak’s decision in giving him the bechora?
The answers, according to Rabbi YY Jacobson, are connected. Yitzchak was not influenced by begadav—his garments, rather bogdav—his traitors. We can see the amazing foresight Rivkah had. She knew that one day, there would be Jews who ‘betray’ their nation and try to assimilate and hide their lineage. Rivkah didn’t only want the blessing to go to Yaakov, but for the Yaakov dressed as an Esav. The moment Rivkah dressed her son Yaakov in Esav’s clothes, she ensured that the spark of Judaism, the essence of the Jewish soul, the fountain of Jewish faith, would remain embedded in the heart of every single Jew forever, even in the Jew that presents himself to the world as an Esav.
There’s an interesting video that went around showing a young, tattooed man waiting at a bus stop in Israel. He was approached by an elderly religious man who greeted him and addressed him, “Shalom Alechem my brother.” The young man quickly replied, “Why do you call me brother? I’m not your brother. You don’t accept me, look at my tattoo.” The elderly man said, “I also have a tattoo,” and he began to tell the young man that many years ago someone taught him that all Jews are brothers! The young man asked, “Who was it?” The man began to raise his sleeve to show him the number tattooed on his left forearm, and he said, “Adolph Hitler showed me that we are all brothers, no matter what!”
May we remember how it says in the parasha, “hakol kol Yaakov,” which teaches us to always keep the voice of Torah strong and teach it to our children and grandchildren. By doing this we will be better equipped to keep the influences of the other nations of Esav far away from us. We should always be worthy of the berachot from Hashem and continue to benefit from the zechut of our forefathers. May we be able to truly achieve our tasks in life and reach our potential like Yaakov Avinu. May the Jews who dress as Esav feel the connection to Hashem within them and return, and may Hashem bless us and bring Mashiach speedily in our days! Amen!
Rabbi Amram Sananes, written by Jack Rahmey
As Jews, do we tend to disguise ourselves in “Esav’s clothing” and blend into the crowd, or are we proud to be Jewish, and comfortable as members of Am Yisrael?
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