Following the weekly parsha
Why are there sometimes two days of Rosh Chodesh (first of the month celebration), and sometimes one? Why does the month begin with the second day of Rosh Chodesh? Is the month dependent on the actual moon, or a calculated estimate? Why do they announce the Molad (new moon) when the month may begin several days apart from the Molad?
The answers to the previous questions are actually in dispute between several of the greatest sages (and are not entirely resolved). These questions, among others, will be discussed in an ongoing series beginning next week, entitled "Chodshei Hashanah" (Months of the Year). Our investigation will encompass historical, scientific, legal and spiritual data...
The story of the passing of the blessings from Yitzchak to Yaakov has famous difficulties: Why did the Patriarch find the wicked Esav fit for the blessings? Why was it necessary for the Matriarch Rivkah to plot for Yaakov to snatch the blessings by treacherous means? The commentaries have long discussed these issues.
Unusual explanations can be found in the commentary "Maor V'shamash" and the Zohar.
It is often thought that Yitzchak did not realize the true characteristics of his sons, and the extreme contrasts between them: Yaakov the righteous, Esav the evil. The Maor V'shamash rejects this idea entirely. Yitzchak knew his sons exactly. It was precisely because of the evil of Esav that he was chosen to receive the blessings.
In the Shema it is stated, "You shall love Hashem with all your heart..." The Talmud explains: Love Hashem with both the "yetzer tov" (the good inclination) and the "yetzer harah" (the evil inclination). How does one love Hashem with the evil inclination? The simple explanation is: when the evil inclination tempts, send it away.
So the Medrash Ne'elam explains: Avraham said to his nephew, Lot: "The land is before you. Separate from me. Go left and I will go right, go right and I will go left." One must distinguish between the good and the evil. Tell the evil inclination to leave you alone and go influence others instead.
But this is not sufficient. Once the evil has been sent away, draw it back. Coax it to return in a peaceful, harmonious way. (This story is very consistent with Avraham's entire approach. Notice that Sarah caused Avraham to cast away his concubine, Hagar, and her son, Yishmael, because of their bad influence. Yet, after Sarah's death, Avraham remarries Hagar! [See Rashi: Keturah was Hagar]. We are told that both Hagar and Yishmael became truly righteous people during Avraham's lifetime...)
This, then, is Yitzchak's thinking. Esav was, in reality, the evil one. No one knew this better than Yitzchak. It was time to draw him near. Let the 'evil one' have the blessings!
"Yitzchak loved 'es' Esav." The word 'es' is not translated; it is a grammatical indicator only (the sign of the direct object). Sometimes, however, it can be a different word entirely, meaning 'with.' The Maor V'shamash claims the 'es' here is to be translated 'with':
"Yitzchak loved (Hashem) 'with' Esav (the evil inclination)."
We are left, then, with a beautiful explanation of Yitzchak's sentiment. However, our gain becomes our loss: it would appear that the Matriarch Rivkah was to blame for disturbing Yitzchak's plans. So writes the Maor V'shamash clearly: Rivkah was not on the level of Yitzchak; she could not perceive his profound intention. She could only understand serving Hashem with the good inclination.
The Zohar, though, dispels this possibility. "How did Yaakov know that Yitzchak wanted to bless Esav? Yaakov wasn't present! The Shechinah (Divine Presence) informed Rivkah through Ruach Hakodesh (Holy Spirit); she then told Yaakov to seize the blessings. Should Yaakov protest: 'Does one follow a parent's orders to perform a crime?' Rivkah would answer: "It is not your parent who so commands you, but the Divine Presence itself!" The Zohar concludes with an acknowledgement of gratitude for the intervention. It was Hashem himself who directed the event; had Yaakov not received the blessings, it would have been disastrous.
(See Ramban and Kedushas Levi, who explain why it was necessary for the blessings to be given in such a mysterious manner.)
The Chida, in his commentary to the Zohar, explains: Chava (Eve) was the first to succumb to the evil inclination (regarding the forbidden fruit). It was therefore Rivkah's brilliant thinking to reverse the scenario, and determine that the evil one not be the first to prosper from the blessings. Rivkah was initiating the correction for the mistake of the forbidden fruit...
These commentaries are really consistent. There were two concepts of the service: Yitzchak's -- serve with the evil inclination, and Rivkah's -- begin with Torah and righteous conduct; do not reward illicit behavior (represented by the wild and greedy Esav). So often it is the women who straighten out their husbands, directing them to Torah study and prayer. Rivkah saw to it that Torah would come first and foremost -- without any frivolous discussion! (Her husband never knew that it was her intervention.)
Yitzchak's concept was nonetheless correct; it simply had its limits. Chazal tell us that Yaakov failed to learn Yitzchak's lesson. When, years later, he meets up with Esav, Yaakov conceals his daughter Dina from him (afraid she would be molested). This, the Rabbis explain, was a grave error. Dina would have been the most suited bride for Esav, and would certainly have straightened him out. Because Yaakov denied his brother this simple kindness, he suffered severely (the Rabbis considered marrying a niece a mitzvah -- see Teshuvos and Hanhagos of Rav Moshe Sternbuch, that today it may no longer be so).
Do not mistreat an Edomite (the descendants of Esav) -- he is your brother! (Deuteronomy 23:8; see Rashi there).
Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
1 Babbin Ct. Spring Valley, NY 10977
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© Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein and Genesis, '97