This week's parashah is the first of several which addresses
the rivalry between Yaakov and his twin brother Esav. The Torah
tells us (25:28): "Yitzchak loved Esav for game was in his mouth;
but Rivka loved Yaakov."
Many commentaries seek an understanding of Yitzchak's love for
Esav. In particular, asks R' David Kronglas z"l (Mashgiach of
Yeshiva Ner Israel in Baltimore; died 1973), how could Yitzchak
have shown such love for Esav when we are taught that Yitzchak's
primary characteristic was the attribute of strict justice?
(Avraham, by contrast, exemplified great kindness, and Yaakov
combined the traits of his father and grandfather.) Surely that
justice should have been meted out against Esav!
R' Kronglas explains (quoting the work Sha'arei Orah) that
Yitzchak loved Esav -- or more correctly, Esav's future deeds -
for Esav's persecution of Yaakov's descendants would serve as
atonement for those descendants' sins. To paraphrase the verse,
"And Yitzchak loved Esav, for Yaakov's descendants are prey in
his mouth." No matter how terrible the persecution of the exile,
it is preferable to the "fires" of Gehinom. Therefore, strange
as it may sound, we owe a certain debt of gratitude to our
oppressors. [Nevertheless, those oppressors will be punished,
because their intentions are evil.]
Alternatively, the above verse can be read, "And Yitzchak
loved Esav, for Esav was prey in his (Yitzchak's) mouth." In
other words, because Yitzchak lived by the attribute of strict
justice, he loved anyone who caused that aspect of Hashem's
powers to be revealed. Esav, by his wicked deeds, was sure to
cause (albeit indirectly) a sanctification of G-d's Name and the
revelation of Hashem's justice through the terrible punishment
that awaits him (Esav). This, Yitzchak knew, would deter
Yaakov's children from sinning. (Sichot Chochmah U'mussar p.14)
"Esav came in from the field, and he was exhausted."
The gemara (Bava Batra 16b) records: Rabbi Yochanan said,
"Esav committed five sins on that day [i.e., the day on which he
sold the birthright]: he committed adultery with a betrothed
girl, he murdered a man, he denied G-d, he denied the
resurrection of the dead; and he rejected the birthright."
R' Avigdor Miller z"l asks: Would Yitzchak have permitted such
a child to remain in his home? Is it really possible that he was
not aware of Esav's deeds?
The answer is that each of Esav's sins could be understood in
a meritorious light. Before the Torah was given, there was no
such thing as betrothal. Thus, although the girl in question had
accepted a marriage proposal from someone else, she was not
betrothed in a halachic sense, and no adultery was committed.
Why, then, do the Sages say that Esav committed adultery?
Because given the Torah's great expectations of someone of Esav's
family and upbringing, it was as if he committed a grave sin.
The man whom Esav murdered was none other than Nimrod. Esav
arguably performed a service to mankind by killing Nimrod, and he
also avenged Avraham's honor, for Nimrod had tried to kill
Avraham. Thus, this "sin" too could be overlooked.
Esav's denial of G-d was manifested only by his selling the
birthright (which represented the right to serve as kohen), but
this action could also be taken as a sign of humility - as if
Esav considered himself undeserving. Similarly, one could (and
Yitzchak did) mistakenly believe that Esav did not deny the
resurrection or despise the birthright, but simply felt himself
undeserving or intimidated. Esav thus looked "kosher," and
therefore Yitzchak did not expel him from his house.
In contrast, the Torah portrays Yaakov as a crafty and devious
individual. Yet, Yaakov was quite the opposite. This, too, is a
result of the strict standards to which the Torah holds the
righteous. Also, the Torah's portrayal of Yaakov and Esav
foreshadows the way that Yaakov's descendants would be (and are)
seen by the gentiles during the Jews' periods of exile.
(Rejoice O Youth! p.173-74, paragraphs 347-49)
"Because Avraham obeyed My voice and observed My safeguards,
My commandments, My decrees and My teachings." (26:5)
The gemara (Yoma 28b) derives from this verse that Avraham
observed the entire Torah before it was given, "even," says the
gemara, "the mitzvah of Eruv Tavshillin" (setting aside a bit of
food before yom tov which falls on Friday and reciting the
formula that permits one to prepare on yom tov for Shabbat). Why
is the mitzvah of Eruv Tavshillin singled out?
R' Yerucham Levovitz z"l (the "Mirrer Mashgiach"; died 1936)
explains: One of the greatest wonders of the world is that G-d
has made the achievement of spiritual greatness dependent upon
the performance of seemingly mundane, even dry, deeds. Even a
"chore" such as preparing for Shabbat and Yom Tov can be
However, whether one's deeds will succeed in uplifting him
depends upon his observance of the laws, even laws as simple as
Eruv Tavshillin. Avraham, the gemara is teaching, understood
(Haggadah Shel Pesach Rashei Yeshivat Mir p. 16)
"Yaakov replied to Rivka, his mother, `But my brother Esav
is a hairy man and I am a smooth-skinned man." (27:11)
R' Yechezkel Levenstein z"l (Mashgiach of the Mir Yeshiva in
Shanghai and the Ponovezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak; died 1974)
writes: The Torah's account of how Yaakov received the blessings
which Yitzchak had planned to give to Esav demonstrates the
delicate balance between our obligation to have emunah / to place
our trust in G-d, and our obligation to act on our own behalf.
Rivka knew through prophecy that Yaakov was to receive the
blessings, and that Yaakov's attempt to deceive Yitzchak would
not result in his being cursed (notwithstanding Yaakov's fears).
Furthermore, it is evident that a great miracle was occurring at
this time: Yaakov and Esav were 63 years old at the time of this
episode, yet Yitzchak was still unable to tell them apart! (Even
his blindness should not have had such an effect after living
together with Yaakov and Esav for more than six decades.) The
only possible explanation is that Hashem "blinded" Yitzchak's
other senses, as well, because He wanted Yaakov to receive the
blessings. Even though Yitzchak tried to identify the person who
stood before him claiming to be Esav, and even though Yitzchak
recognized Yaakov's voice, Hashem ensured that Yitzchak would
nevertheless be fooled.
And yet, Yaakov was constantly afraid of being recognized.
Despite the prophecy that had been revealed to his mother, Yaakov
took the precaution of dressing in Esav's clothes and covering
his arms with hairy goats' skins. Why? Because even though
everything is in Hashem's hands, a person is obligated to strive
on his own behalf.
Why? There are two reasons: firstly, a person thus becomes a
"partner" with Hashem in the running of the world. Also, this is
Hashem's way of increasing the reward of those who do achieve a
high level of emunah. As long as man appears to succeed based on
his own efforts, emunah is more difficult to achieve, and
therefore deserves greater reward.
R' Levenstein adds: When a great tzaddik or talmid chacham
dies, everybody feels the loss; it seems as if a certain amount
of Torah and spirituality are lost forever. However, this is not
true. This feeling is only a test devised by Hashem, designed to
see who will make the added effort required to grow spiritually
now that an obvious source of support is gone. So, too, Hashem
hides the aid that He gives us, making it appear as if we are
alone, waiting to see who will find Him.
(Ohr Yechezkel, Vol. 3, pp. 115-116,
Ma'amar Asi'at HaSibot V'HaEmunah BeHashgacha)
In the Friday night zemirot composed by the Arizal we read:
"To the right and to the left, and in between them, the bride."
The "bride" presumably is Shabbat, but what is "to the right and
to the left"?
Rav Pinchus David Horowitz z"l (the "Bostoner Rebbe"--see
page 4) explains:
In kabbalah, the "right" and the "left" represent the
attributes of "chessed" (loving-kindness) and "gevurah"
(strength) respectively. In our history, Avraham epitomized
chessed (the right) and Yitzchak, gevurah (the left).
Avraham fathered Yishmael, who, according to the midrash,
refused to accept the Torah because it outlawed adultery.
Adultery is the result of chessed (love) gone awry (see Vayikra
20:17). Yitzchak fathered Esav, who refused to accept the Torah
because it prohibited murder, which is the excessive use of
The nations on the right and the left observe their sabbaths
to the right and the left of Shabbat, i.e., on Friday and Sunday,
respectively. It is to this that the Arizal's song refers.
Each of these three nations--Yishmael, Esav, and ourselves--
claims to have the true Torah of Avraham. When we observe
Shabbat, says the Bostoner Rebbe, we add to it a few minutes from
Friday and a few minutes from Sunday in order to solidify our
(quoted in Shoshelet Boston p.273)
R' Pinchus David Halevi Horowitz z"l
(The First "Bostoner Rebbe")
born Elul 5636 (1876) - died 8 Kislev 5702 (1941)
R' Pinchus David was born in Yerushalayim, where his maternal
grandfather was the "Lelover Rebbe." His teachers included his
uncle R' David Biderman (later the "Lelover Rebbe"), R' Shneur
Zalman of Lublin (the "Torat Chessed"), R' Shmuel Salant, and the
kabbalist R' Mordechai of Rachmestrivka.
In his youth, R' Pinchus David learned 18 hours every day. In
the remaining hours he took care of his physical needs and taught
himself engineering and construction, which became his
livelihood. Among the buildings which he designed and built were
the first two-story apartments in the Meah Shearim neighborhood
of Yerushalayim. (Incidentally, that neighborhood derives its
name from this week's parashah (26:12).)
At the turn of the century, most of Yerushalayim's Jews
learned Torah full time and were supported by charitable
organizations (known as "kollelim") based in Europe. When the
two major kollelim contemplated a merger, a dispute arose between
them and the citizens of Yerushalayim over how charity funds
would be allocated after the two charities joined forces. A din
Torah / hearing before a rabbinical court was called before R'
Eliyahu Feinstein (grandfather of Rabbis Joseph B. and Ahron
Soloveitchik and uncle of R' Moshe Feinstein), and R' Pinchus
David, then 36 years old, was chosen to travel to Europe to
represent his hometown.
R' Pinchus David successfully argued his case, and
Yerushalayim prevailed. However, before R' Pinchus David could
return home, World War I broke out. R' Pinchus David, an
Austrian citizen by heredity, was drafted into the Austrian Army.
Planning his escape, he voluntered to travel to neutral Greece as
a spy. (He spoke Hebrew, Yiddish, German, Turkish and Arabic.)
One of the more obvious miracles along the way occurred when he
stepped off the road to wash his hands for the melaveh malkah
meal and thus escaped notice by a passing patrol. From Greece,
he made his way to neutral United States, arriving in June, 1915.
(Source: "Shoshelet Boston") (A dvar Torah from R' Pinchus Dovid
appears on page 3.) To be continued . . .
Fay Benn and Howard Benn
in memory of her husband and his father, David Benn a"h
on his fifth yahrzeit
The staff of Hamaayan extends its warm wishes to
Young Israel Shomrai Emunah of Greater Washington,
on that congregation's 50th birthday.