Toldos – Unwavering Dedication to Mesorah

In this week’s Torah Portion of Toldos, Yitzchak is found in Gerar due to another famine in the Land of Canaan. Yitzchak became very wealthy when in Gerar and the Torah relates, “And he had possessions of sheep and possessions of cattle and much production, and the Philistines envied him. And all the wells that his father’s servants had dug in the days of Avraham his father the Philistines stopped them up and filled them with earth. And Avimelech said to Yitzchak, ‘Go away from us, for you have become much stronger than we.’ And Yitzchak went away from there, and he encamped in the valley of Gerar and dwelt there. And Yitzchak again dug the wells of water which they had dug in the days of his father, Avraham, and the Philistines had stopped them up after Avraham’s death; and he gave them names like the names that his father had given them” (Breishis 26:14-18).
Rabbeinu Bachye elaborates on this episode. “The Torah is telling us that because of the jealousy the Plishtim felt they should close up the wells that were dug in the days of Avraham, his father, in order so that Yitzchak can’t make use of them for his crops and flock to drink. Yitzchak wound up overtaking them and digging up the wells and called them by the same names as his father. He did this in honor of his father. The fact that the Torah mentioned this seems to mean it was a merit to Yitzchak. There is inspiration to be learned from here and all the more so that one should not go against the ways of his forefathers. For we see that Yitzchak didn’t even want to change the names of the wells of his father all the more so one should follow the path of his forefathers, their customs and their mussar, (morality). And perhaps for this reason his name was not changed as our other forefathers, which was measure for measure. This is the explanation of the Gaon zt”l.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
 We see from here that Yitzchak was so meticulous with following the ways of his father that even the wells that he had uncovered from when his father had first dug them were renamed the same names as his father had named them.
This was a gesture of respect for his father, to name the wells by the names his father had called them. Yet couldn’t he have shown his father even more respect by, let’s say renaming the wells after the many positive traits of his father, or something of the like, which would seemingly have been a greater honor to the memory of his father? What would have been the big deal if Yitzchak had changed the names of the wells?

It would seem that using the names his father had given to the wells is a greater honor to his father than naming them after his father. There also seems to be a connection to doing this simple act and the much broader picture of following his father’s morals and ways of life. This seems to be because adherence to tradition, to mesorah, in even the simplest of acts, reinforces our commitment to the ways of one’s parents and forefathers. Changing from these ways, as opposed to adaptation which might be needed at times, even if the change might seem  better, is a breech in the system of mesorah, which most definitely would lead to further excuses to change and possibly even eventual complete break away from the proper ways and customs of one’s family, religion and proper morals.

 Because of Yitzchak’s meticulous adherence to his family and their mesorah, measure for measure Hashem rewarded him with not needing to change his name.

Toldos – Defining a Lie

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In this week’s Torah portion of Toldos, Yaakov receives the blessings from Yitzchak in what seems to be a deceptive manner towards Esav and Yitzchak, and Rivka, his mother, even seems to be in on the plot. The Radak brings up an obvious and famous question on the way Yaakov acted. “There are those that ask in wonderment how Yaakov who was a tzadik (righteous) and G-D fearing, could speak a lie? But this is no wonder, for Yaakov knew he was more fitting to receive the blessings than his brother. And the spirit of prophecy that would rest on Yitzchak to bless him would more greatly go into effect by Hashem if [Yitzchak] would bless him and not his brother, because [Yaakov] was more desirable to Hashem than [Esav]. And switching words in circumstances like this is not shameful for a tzadik, for we see that Hashem said to the prophet Shmuel, “[And Samuel said, ‘How shall I go? For, if Saul hears, he will kill me.’] And the Lord said, ‘You shall take a heifer with you, and you shall say, ‘I have come to slaughter (a sacrifice) to the Lord’” (Shmuel Alef 16:2). So to Avraham and Yitzchak said about their wives ‘She is my sister’ and this was not considered for this reason speaking a lie because out of fear they said what they said. And so, by Yaakov when accepting the blessing of his father, even though he changed his words it is not consider speaking a lie. Furthermore, it was the command of his mother, and the Torah writes, ‘A man, his mother and his father he shall fear’ (Vayikra 19:3). Also, she was a prophetess, and when she said to Yaakov, ‘Upon me shall be the curse’ (27:13), Onkelos translates that to mean ‘On me it was said in prophecy that you will not be cursed, my son’” (Radak on Breishis 27:19). (Click here for Hebrew text.)
It is true that Rivka had a prophecy that Yaakov would not have been cursed, but does that give a right to lie and trick your father? Isn’t there a well-known concept in Judaism that “the end does not justify the means?” So, even if the end looks bleak through natural means if Yaakov would not lie and trick his father into giving him the blessings,  does that mean he is allowed to commit a sin and lie to his father? Why wasn’t this called lying if it is plainly what he did? And even if you make up excuses that if you put the comma in a different place he really wasn’t lying, he really said “It is I, Esav is your firstborn;” he is still deceiving his father, and for someone on his level of righteousness and attentiveness of Hashem’s mitzvos he should not have even been perceived as lying?!

Furthermore, the excuse of doing it out of the mitzvah of listening to his mother is no excuse because the end of that very pasuk says “and you shall observe My Sabbaths. I am the Lord, your God” (Vayikra 19:3), why does the Torah juxtapose fearing one’s parents and observing Shabbos in the same pasuk and conclude “I am the Lord, your God: [where “your” is in the plural form, meaning to say,] [because] both you and your father are obligated to honor Me! Therefore, do not listen to him to negate My commands. — [B.M. 32a]. If that is the case then Yaakov had no obligation and was indeed forbidden to listen to his mother if she is causing him to sin; so how could Yaakov go through with receiving the blessings in this fashion?! 

The obvious answer is that what he said was not a lie, and therefore he was allowed to say what he said. The question is why not? It would seem, though, that we have to redefine what is a lie. Yaakov, Shmuel, Avraham, and Yitzchak all had to say and do things which looked deceptive and or false, but under the circumstance, since they plainly knew without a doubt the will of Hashem, in their calculations there was no way to accomplish His will without changing words and being deceptive,  barring an open miracle, which as a rule in this natural world we are told not to rely upon; indeed then what they said and did was not in fact a lie. Fulfilling the will of Hashem is not a lie, it is only a change of words. On the contrary those that try or want to stop that will from going into effect are carrying out the lie.

Therefore, by Shmuel, when he was told to anoint Dovid as King and he would have to pass by Shaul, Hashem, Himself told Shmuel to look like he was carrying a cow to be sacrificed, so that Shaul would not realize what was happening and kill him. This was proper hishtadlus (effort), that was supposed to be shown in this world of nature and a miracle was not supposed to be relied upon. So too Avraham and Yitzchak, through all natural means, feared they would have been killed as the laws of the area they entered dictated, if they would have said she is my wife. There is no mitzvah to kill yourself and Hashem wanted Avraham to go down to Egypt and Yitzchak to the Philistines during a famine, so according to all natural causes, barring any open miracles, which they had no right to rely upon, then the proper thing to do was to switch their words and deceive the people of that area. This is not called lying because they are doing the will of Hashem, who defines truth and is by definition completely truthful.

This is also true by Yaakov, since he knew that it was Hashem’s will for him to receive the blessings. But in this natural world, barring a miracle, there would be no way of him receiving them, then talking and acting in this fashion was the only natural means of fulfilling Hashem’s will and therefore it was not a lie. This means he did not sin and had a mitzvah to follow his mother’s command.  It has nothing to do with the axiom “the end do not justify the means” since nothing wrong was done.

This does not mean that one can lie whenever he thinks he is being stopped from doing Hashem’s will. Chaza”l clearly state that Hashem does not want people to be habitual liars. That is not His will. Being attuned to Hashem’s will precisely is not so easy. Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, and Shmuel obviously were because they heard and understood prophecy, and for rare circumstances they were allowed to change their words and perceive to be deceptive. However, the lesson learned from here is that the definition of a lie is something going against Hashem’s will, for Hashem is all truthful.

Toldos – Self-Pride

In this week’s Torah portion of Toldos, Yitzchak blessed Yaakov saying, “Behold, the fragrance of my son is like the fragrance of a field, which Hashem has blessed! And may HaElokim give you of the dew of the heavens and [of] the fatness of the earth and an abundance of grain and wine. Nations shall serve you and kingdoms shall bow down to you; you shall be a master over your brothers, and your mother’s sons shall bow down to you. Those who curse you shall be cursed, and those who bless you shall be blessed” (Breishis 27:27-29).

The Daas Zekeinim observes that the name, Elokim, used in pasuk 28, is the name used as the attribute of strict justice, meaning this blessing will only come to fruition when you are deserving of it. However when Yitzchak blessed Esav it writes, “Behold, your dwelling place shall be the fat places of the earth and of the dew of the heaven from above” (Breishis 27:39), implying whether he is deserving of it or not. We also find in King Shlomo’s prayer by the Jews he said, “and give to each man according to his ways” (Divrei Hayamim Beis 6:30), for they would not complain to You. Whereas by the gentiles, Shlomo prayed, “and You shall do whatever the stranger calls upon You etc.”  (Divrei Hayamim Beis 6:33), for if Hashem doesn’t then the gentile will complain, and hurl accusations  On High. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

Yitzchak gave the blessings to Yaakov on the contingency that he is deserving to accept them. In a similar vein, King Shlomo in his prayer upon building the Beis HaMikdash, he started to organize the prayers for the Jews, as it is written, “Any prayer, any supplication, which will be (made) by any man, (or) by all Your people Israel, who shall know every man the plague of his own heart, and spread forth his hands toward this house. And You shall hear in heaven, Your dwelling place, and forgive, and do, and give to every man according to his ways, whose heart You know, for You, alone, know the hearts of all the children of men. That they may fear You all the days that they live in the land which You gave to our fathers. And also to the stranger, who (is) not of Your people Israel, but will come from a far country for the sake of Your Name. For they shall hear of Your great Name, and of Your mighty hand, and of Your outstretched arm, and he will come and pray toward this house. You shall hear in heaven, Your dwelling place, and do according to all that the stranger calls You for, that all peoples of the earth may know Your Name, to fear You, as (do) Your people Israel, and that they may know that Your Name is called upon this house that I have built” (Melachim Alef 8:38-43.)

Why is it that Yitzchak only blessed Esav with unconditional success and Shlomo prayed that whatever the Non-Jews pray for be granted in order so that they will not question and bear hard feelings towards Hashem which would cause a chilul Hashem? Isn’t it possible that the Jews will hurl the same complaints for their prayers not being answered or the blessing not coming to fruition even if they don’t deserve it? Why is it fair to differentiate, a blessing is a blessing and a prayer is a prayer, if they should be answered then answer them and if not then why make exceptions for the non-Jews ,isn’t it possible that a Jew might hurl insults and disputes if he does not get what he wants and expects? Aren’t we all human and feel disappointment when things aren’t going our way especially when we are told that it should? Why then does the Daas Zekeinim say that in fact a Jew would not quarrel or question Hashem if He doesn’t answer his prayers or fulfill the blessings if he isn’t deserving?

However, there is an oft quoted Mishna in Pirkay Avos that says, “Beloved is man for he was created in the image [of God]. Especially beloved is he for it was made known to him that he had been created in the image [of God], as it is said: ‘For in the image of God He made man’(Genesis 9:6).
Beloved are Israel in that they were called children to the All-Present. Especially beloved are they for it was made known to them that they are called children of the All-Present, as it is said: ‘You are children to the Lord your God’ (Deuteronomy 14:1).
Beloved are Israel in that a precious vessel was given to them. Especially beloved are they for it was made known to them that the desirable instrument, with which the world had been created, was given to them, as it is said: ‘For I give you good instruction; forsake not my teaching’ (Proverbs 4:2)” (Avos 3:14).

Though Hashem loves every single human being  there is an extra, double-fold love He has to His beloved Children who He gave His precious gift the Torah to,  why does that mean we shouldn’t have any disputes against Hashem if things aren’t going our way, our prayers aren’t answered and the blessings He promised seem not to be fulfilled?

This sense of Jewish greatness, described in the Mishna, not only shows we are more special than the rest of the world but it comes with it a demand for responsibility to be able to live up to our status of beloved princes and princess of the King of All Kings and to take care of and follow the gift He gave to us. If a Jew realizes and imbibes in him or herself the feeling of self-pride and the realization of who we are then we won’t have any questions or disputes against our Father in Heaven.

It’s a blessing to be expected to live up to the pedestal that the Jewish people were put on and it is inside each and every one of us the ability to appreciate that honorable status, realize the responsibility that comes with it, and actually live up to that responsibility.

Toldos -Two for the Price of One

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King of…the Jungle?

The first encounter with Avimelech, King of the Plishtim, was when Avraham told Sarah to say that she was his sister, because he feared that if the Plishtim knew she was his wife they would kill him. Instead they simply took Sarah and gave her to the king. G-D told Avimelech in a dream to not touch her, ‘lest I kill you.’ Avimelech in essence exclaimed: “What did I do wrong!”  “O Lord, will You kill even a righteous nation? Did he not say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she, even she said, ‘He is my brother.’ With the innocence of my heart and with the purity of my hands have I done this” (Breishis 20:4, 5). Eventually Avimelech made a treaty with Avraham acknowledging that “G-D is with you in all that you do” (Breishis 21:22).

Again in this week’s Torah portion of Toldos, Yitzchak was forced to go down to Gerar, the capital city of the Plishtim, due to a severe famine. He told his wife, Rivka, to tell them that she was his sister, out of the same fear of her being taken away and Yitzchak being killed. They did indeed leave them alone, but Avimelech caught them one day being too friendly with each other and again said: “What did I do wrong!”  The Torah says: “So Avimelech called Yitzchak, and he said, “Behold, she is your wife; so how could you have said, ‘She is my sister’?” And Isaac said to him, “Because I said, ‘Lest I die because of her.’ And Avimelech said, “What have you done to us? The most prominent of the people might easily have lain with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us. And Avimelech commanded all the people, saying, “Whoever touches this man or his wife shall be put to death” (Breishis 26:9-11).

After this episode the Torah relates: “And Yitzchak sowed in that land, and he found in that year a hundred fold, and the Lord blessed him. And the man became great, and he grew constantly greater until he had grown very great. And he had possessions of sheep and possessions of cattle and much production, and the Philistines envied him” (Breishis 26:12-14). Yitzchok then dug up the well his father had dug, which the Plishtim had closed, saying: “They may become a source of danger to us because of marauding troops that may invade us,” as Rashi on pasuk 15 mentions. Avimelech then told Yitzchak to leave them. Yitzchak) settled in the Valley of Gerar not too far away, and the Plishtim shepherds argued with Yitzchok’s shepherds, and again closed up wells which Yitzchok had dug. Yitzchok then dug one more well, which they didn’t touch, but Yitzchok decided to move to Be’er Sheva. All this time Hashem had granted Yitzchok much financial success even though there was a famine in the land. The Targum Yonasan on pasuk 26 points out that even the Plishtim in the vicinity reaped the benefits of Hashem’s blessing to Yitzchok.

At that point Avimelech ran after Yitzchok. Yitzchok asked him what he wanted; you hate me and drove me away from you. Avimelech responded that he wanted to reaffirm the treaty he made with Avraham, Yitzchok’s father: “We have seen that the Lord was with you; so we said: Let there now be an oath between us, between ourselves and you, and let us form a covenant with you. If you do [not] harm us, as we have not touched you, and as we have done with you only good, and we sent you away in peace, [so do] you now, blessed of the Lord.”

The Daas Zekeinim on this pasuk asserts that Avimelech “is compared to a lion which got a bone stuck in his throat and says anyone who comes and takes out the bone shall receive much riches. A bird came, which was a crane with a long neck, and said I will get it out. The bird stuck its head inside the lion’s mouth and took out the bone. After he took it out he asked for his reward. The lion said to him, ‘Isn’t it enough that I sent you away in peace and didn’t eat you when you stuck your head down my throat, you now have the audacity to ask for your reward?’ So to Avimelech said to Yitzchok, ‘We did a great kindness to you by sending you away in peace because our way of life is to hurt anyone that comes our way.’” (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)

Kafui tov! What an ingrate!! The crane just saved the lion’s life and not only does he not give him the promised reward, he says you are lucky I didn’t kill you? So too Avimelech says you are lucky I didn’t harm you when I sent you away. Yet now it seems like he wants him back because of the blessing on his land, so he has claims against Yitzchok for leaving his vicinity. What kind of chutzpah is that?
What’s even worse is that Avimelech sounds like he is being authentic. He really feels insulted that Yitzchok left, even though he didn’t harm him as they did to most people. What did we do wrong?!

Is it really possible for someone to think that it is perfectly alright to hurt people, just part of their normal way of life, to the point that it is an act of kindness not to hurt them? Furthermore, why was Avimelech compared to a lion, specifically?
It would seem that this misguided philosophy in life stems from a negative character trait of a brute or bully. There are people who are tough and controlling; that is their demeanor. They think they are always correct and that they do nothing wrong. If that is their attitude they cannot admit they are wrong, and they even believe they are righteous, always having an excuse for their actions. No wonder they can convince themselves that there is nothing wrong with hurting people.


On the flip side here is an example of true sincerity from the very same episode.

Appreciating What You Do

We all know that every single sentence, word, and even a letter in the Torah have a lesson, or halacha that Hashem is teaching us. In this week’s Torah portion of Toldos we find one of the smallest pesukim in the Torah it is only 3 words: “וַיֵּ֥שֶׁב יִצְחָ֖ק בִּגְרָֽר,” “And Yitzchok lived in Gerar” (Breishis 26:6).

We have to put the pesukim in context in order to appreciate the lesson that is being related from this seemingly simple pasuk. The Torah at the beginning of the perek relates: “And there was a famine in the land, aside from the first famine that had been in the days of Abraham, and Isaac went to Avimelech the king of the Philistines, to Gerar. And the Lord appeared to him, and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land that I will tell you. Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you, and I will bless you, for to you and to your seed will I give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham, your father. And I will multiply your seed like the stars of the heavens, and I will give your seed all these lands, and all the nations of the earth will bless themselves by your seed, Because Abraham hearkened to My voice, and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My instructions” (Breishis 26:1-5).

After Hashem tells Yitzchak not to go down to Egypt though there is a famine, rather just stay in Gerar, because Hashem will take care of him, but not only that, everything and everyone around him will be blessed, the Torah then says in pasuk 6: “And Yitzchok lived in Gerar.” The Ibn Ezra says we learn from here that Yitzchok “did as Hashem commanded of him.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

What kind of lesson is this, why would we not think Yitzchak would do as Hashem commanded? Yitzchak grew up in Avraham’s household, the Ibn Ezra explains the previous pasuk to be telling us that the reason why Hashem is promising Yitzchak all this blessing is because his father, Avraham, followed him with blind faith to the land of Israel, was willing to sacrifice his only son on Hashem’s command, observed all the mitzvos of the Written Torah and it’s Oral explanation, as well as performed a bris on himself, his children and all his servants. So Yitzchak was raised in a house which was deeply G-D fearing and surrounded by belief and trust in Hashem. Yitzchak himself was a very holy person who dedicated himself to Hashem by completely acquiescing to being offered on the alter. On top of all that, he didn’t just figure out that Hashem wanted him to stay in Israel, Hashem came to him in prophesy and actually told him. So of course he would listen, why does the Torah have to write three extra words to praise him for that, even if it is a time of famine, Hashem still assured him that He will take care of him and even bring blessing to all those around Yitzchak?

We can learn a very powerful lesson from these 3 words. We have to give ourselves credit where credit is due. We can’t underestimate how incredible it is to follow the command of the King of all Kings, Master of the Universe, Blessed Be He. Doing Hashem will, observing His commandments is a big deal and what even seems to be a menial job as what Yitzchak did deserves 3 extra words to be written in the Torah. That is the emphasis the Ibn Ezra is pointing out that the Torah is teaching us.

And by not underestimating and by giving ourselves credit for doing Hashem’s will day in and day out it should better our service of Hashem!