By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
G-d told her, "Two nations are in your womb; two peoples will separate from
inside of you. One nation will overpower the other; the greater will serve
the younger." (Bereishis 25:23)
"TWO NATIONS They are Antoninos and Rebi, from whose tables radish and
horse radish were never missing, not in the summer nor the winter." (Rashi)
The "greater" what? The greater spiritual nation? Then that would mean that
the Jewish people will overcome the people of Edom, Eisav's descendants.
The greater power? Then, that would mean that Eisav will overpower the
descendants of Ya'akov, and, indeed, that has been the case the majority of
the history until this very day, with the former seeming like a prophecy
regarding the Days of Moshiach, but, not before then.
True, but not exactly correct. In fact, this is perhaps why Rashi chose as
his examples of these two great nations Rebi Yehudah HaNasi and the Roman
emperor, Antoninos. For, it was during this unusual period in Jewish
history that the former did come true, as the Talmud relates:
Each day he (Antoninos) used to serve Rebi, feeding him and giving him
drink. When Rebi needed to go up to bed, he would go down in front of him
and say, "Go up on me to the bed" Rebi would say, "It is not proper to
treat the kingship in this way" (Avodah Zarah 10b)
Why did this happen? First of all, the destruction of the Second Temple and
the subsequent dispersion of countless Jews throughout the Roman Empire
necessitated emergency measures to preserve the integrity of Torah. Thus,
Divine Providence arranged some "quiet time" for Rebi Yehudah and his
colleagues to collect together the sea of Oral Law teachings into a single,
orderly work called the "Mishnah."
Secondly, G-d knows how difficult it is for us, the descendants of Ya'akov
Avinu, to wait for the day that we won't be hated, rejected, beaten, and
murdered. In fact, the wait has been so long that many Jews over the ages
have simply stopped waiting, and, rather than fight have switched and have
joined the ranks of Antoninos's people.
Therefore, worthy or not, G-d often creates historical scenarios that give
us a "taste" of the time to come, so that we will not despair -- too much.
If you look at Jewish history, you will, indeed, find pockets of time like
that of Rebi Yehudah's and Antoninos's, when Jews rose to power and wielded
phenomenal power and lived in "golden eras," relatively-speaking.
However, the emphasis is on the word "taste," for, it is quite impossible
and very imprudent to assume that such periods will go on forever if the
Jewish people have yet to spiritually solidify. Quite the contrary, it is
during such windows of spiritual opportunity that the Jewish nation ought
to work its hardest to achieve such spiritual perfection, so that the
present golden era can act as a transition to a permanent one, one that
what we hopingly refer to as Yemos HaMoshiach.
However, to ride on the waves of materialistic good fortune when we have
yet to reach spiritual fulfillment -- individually or nationally -- is to
court disaster. It is to tempt "fate," so-to-speak, or, more accurately,
give G-d in Heaven reason to withdraw His hidden support and leave us to
the will and whim of the nations of the world. We don't usually fare well
when it comes to the will and whims of the nations of the world.
For, though "younger" seems to imply Ya'akov Avinu, who, though conceived
first was born second, it can also refer to development as a people. While
Eisav develops physically and politically, Ya'akov is supposed to develop
spiritually. Younger, therefore, can refer to the lesser developed of the
two brothers, each in their respective worlds.
And thus, "greater" what depends upon us. If we choose to work on our
spiritual development, then the "former" scenario becomes a definite and
even likely possibility. However, should be mock our spiritual obligations,
or even just take them lightly, then, "greater" will refer to Eisav and his
civilization, and, then, they will have deadly control over us, the
descendants of Ya'akov Avinu, G-d forbid.
Yitzchak's servants dug in the valley and found a well of fresh water. The
herdsmen of Gerar argued with Yitzchak's herdsmen, claiming, "It's our
water!" (Bereishis 26:19-20)
So, Yitzchak's men dug another well, and, they argued over that one too,
forcing Yitzchak to dig another well yet, which, they finally left alone.
However, the pattern was set: the Philistines were to be a thorn in the
side of the Jewish people for generations to come, arguing about ownership
That is who Shaul HaMelech had to continuously fight against in his day,
and, Dovid HaMelech inherited the same ongoing battle in his time too.
Golios, or, Goliath, the giant who Dovid HaMelech had to subdue
miraculously was a "Pelishtim."
Who were the Pelishtim -- where did they come from? Says the Torah:
Mitzrayim fathered Ludim, Anomim, Lehavim, Naftuchim, Pasrusim, Kasluchim,
from which came the Pelishtim and the Kaftorim. (Bereishis 1:13-14)
"PASRUCHIM, KASLUCHIM, FROM WHICH CAME THE PELISHTIM: From the two of them,
since the Pasruchim and the Kasluchim used to trade wives with each other
and from this came the Pelishtim." (Rashi)
In other words, the Pelishtim were not from pure stock, but, were the
result of an adulterous relationship. That certainly affects the spiritual
reality of a people, especially in Biblical times, and, might explain why
they were such an antagonist in Jewish history.
It is also interesting that, after so many years -- millennia, in fact --
and, at this very late time in Jewish history, that the Jewish people
should once again be hounded by the Philistines. Well, they call themselves
"Palestinians," which, in itself is bizarre considering that it was a name
originally applied to non-Arab Israel decades ago. However, the name is
very much like "Pelishtim," and, they base themselves in what was once
called "Gerar," but is now called "Gaza." They certainly are intent on
being a thorn in the side of the Jewish nation.
You see, from our point of view, history appears to simply be a randomly
unfolding series of events, some good and some bad, some happy and some
sad. However, from G-d's point of view, the names of the characters in the
cast may change, but, it is the same old people and attitudes in new
clothing. And, even though Sennecheriv caused the nations to intermingle
and intermarry (Brochos 28a), effectively removing the pure-brededness of
almost all peoples thousands of years ago, still, "sparks" of all of the 70
Nations still remain, and, have been passed down from generation to
generation as a spiritual inheritance.
Is there a pure-bred Amaleki today? No, but, there are people walking
around today with enough of his sparks to act Amalekian, and wage all-out
war against the Jewish people and Torah. Does Magog exist today as a
people? No, but there are people living today who have inherited sparks
from this ancient nation, enough to ensure a major war at the end of days.
Are there any pure-bred Pelishtim today to instigate the Jewish people
today in the present as they once did in the past? No, but, there are
enough people today with enough sparks from the past to step into that role
with a vengeance reminiscent of their great ancestors.
In other words, the Present, from a Torah perspective, and seemingly, from
a historical perspective as well, is always the product of the Future and
the Past, and, especially the Past. Not just because current events flow
from past ones, but, because revealed natures and perceptions are often the
products of hidden, spiritual ones, that may go back in time much farther
than we might assume. In fact, much father than we might wish to believe,
for, the implications are staggering, and, they shed light on people whom,
often, would rather live in the darkness of doubt.
Later, when Yitzchak was old and his eyesight was poor, he called Eisav his
eldest son and said: "Make me some tasty food the way I like it. Then bring
it to me and I will eat it so my soul can bless you before I die."
One of the most difficult decisions to understand in the history of
mankind, at least at first, and even at second, is Yitzchak's decision to
bless Eisav. Eisav was evil -- that's E-V-I-L -- without even a hint of a
possibility for teshuvah. That's why Ya'akov bought the right of the first
born from him, and, his own mother, Rivkah, didn't trust him for a second.
The question is, did Yitzchak know about his son's evil behavior? From the
fact that he was prepared to bless him would seem to indicate that he
didn't. However, as blind and old as Yitzchak was, it is hard to imagine
that he was the only one in the world over whose eyes Eisav had pulled the
wool. After all, the Talmud records:
She (Leah) used to hear at the cross-roads people saying, "Rivkah has two
sons and Lavan has two daughters; the older one to the oldest one and the
younger one to the youngest one. She used to sit at the cross-roads and
ask, "What is the older one like?"
"He is evil and steals from others." (they would answer.)
"And what is the younger one like?" (she would ask.)
"He is a man who sits in tents," and then she would cry until her eyebrows
fell out. (Bava Basra 123a)
Word must have gotten back to Yitzchak at some point in time, and,
certainly Rivkah must have raised the issue at some point as well. Did
Yitzchak simply not want to hear a negative word about his first born son?
Perhaps the answer to that question is also in the above quoted verse, for,
it is unusual that, in advance of receiving the blessing, Eisav had to go
hunting for a meal, especially when Yitzchak owned flocks and Rivkah was a
good cook. Obviously it wasn't the food Yitzchak was after, but the mitzvah
-- not his own, but his son's, Eisav.
Indeed, the Nefesh HaChaim (Gate Two) says that food Yitzchak truly enjoyed
was mitzvos -- he had sent Eisav in search of mitzvos, particularly the
all-important one of honoring one's father. For, the "food" of the universe
is mitzvos, and, blessing the first born was a universal issue, and those
are the terms in which our Forefathers thought.
Furthermore, a blessing cannot rest on one who is completely evil; there
must be something good for the blessing to "attach" itself to. And if there
was, and if it did, then, maybe the leadership qualities of Eisav could be
transformed into the leadership qualities of a Jewish leader, like a Dovid
HaMelech, who was also red and warrior-like.
Hence, it was BECAUSE of Yitzchak's awareness of his son's evil behavior
that he sent him out "hunting" for "food" (how else could he trust the
"hechsher"?), and wished to bless him. This, Yitzchak may have been blind,
but, it was not because of any wool over his eyes.
A Song Of Ascents. From the depths I called You, G-d. G-d, listen to my
voice; Your ear should pay attention to the voice of my supplication.
To this very day, this particular psalm has been said by Jews in times of
trouble. If they have time to say many, they will always include Psalm 130;
if they only have time to say one psalm, then, usually, it will be this
one, for, it is one of the few that reach out from the "depths" of despair.
One can feel Dovid HaMelech's sense of utter helplessness, and his need for
a miracle. This is why he has appealed to Hashem -- using Four Letter
Ineffable Name of G-d -- and not a "lesser" Name of G-d.
If You do not forgive our sins, then who can survive? (3)
G-d is fair and G-d is just. That's our problem: like children, we "force"
G-d to act against us with judgment, and deny ourselves His blessing and
bounty. We transgress, sacrificing long-term gain for short-term pleasures;
we abandon our Father-In-Heaven for people on earth.
But then again, as the Talmud itself points, we are no angels, nor were we
meant to be. We are human beings with free-will, and, since the sin of Adam
HaRishon, with a built-in yetzer hara too. If strict judgment is all we can
receive, then who will be left to fulfill the purpose of creation? There
has to be room left for teshuvah. There has to be room left for forgiveness.
The Kabbalistcs point out that the word "who," which in Hebrew is "me" --
mem-yud -- is equal in gematria to the number fifty, which, as we have
discussed on many occasions, is an allusion to the "Nun Sha'arei Binah" --
the "Fifty Gates of Understanding." Embedded in this verse is a clue to how
one goes about achieving teshuvah, and, consequently forgiveness from G-d.
Without "binah" -- without the understanding of Torah, one will never
access the potential for teshuvah, and he will remain within the depths,
oblivious to his spiritual potential.
For, with You is forgiveness, in order that there should be fear. (4)
Man has this inherent ability to not take life seriously, to live as if
there will always be a tomorrow, and, to live for today. For some it is the
reality of death that wakes them up to the need to push aside materialistic
goals for the sake of spiritual matters. For others, it is the
understanding that they "owe" G-d their life, and that they will have to do
an accounting for how they used all they were given.
If G-d simply looked the other way, and cared less about our wanton use of
life in this world in which we live, who would pursue spirituality? Who
does today? Warns Dovid HaMelech: Don't let quiet times in your life lull
you into believing that G-d doesn't care about what you do, and that He
doesn't keep track of your mitzvos AND your sins?
As we know from Yom Kippur, atonement is always a possibility, one way or
another. But, atonement is intimately tied to teshuvah, in fact, completely
dependent upon it. Knowing this, perhaps, might help invoke a little
energizing fear of G-d, and of the debt you may have incurred since your
I hoped in G-d -- my soul hoped and to His word I hope ... (5)
The verse refers to Dovid HaMelech's Nefesh -- it was his Nefesh that was
doing the hoping, for, all sins only occur through the Nefesh. And, the
basis of that hope is G-d's promise that He will redeem us, individually,
My soul for G-d more than they who watch for the morning -- they who wait
for the morning. (6)
For, those who wait for people are always subject to disappointment, since
man is not 100% dependable being unable to control all of life's
circumstances. However, morning comes each day with just about 100%
reliability (there is always the possibility that nature will change and
the sun won't rise that morning, albeit an outside chance). Still, G-d is
far more reliable, since He is above all constraints, except those that He
imposes upon Himself, such as not showing mercy to someone who has yet to
Let Israel hope in G-d, for, with G-d there is kindness, and, with Him,
there is much redemption. (7)
Certainly much more than the U.N. Much, MUCH more. We are stiff-necked
people with too much pride and poor spiritual eye sight. Amalek strikes again.
And He will redeem Israel from his sins. (8)
It is interesting that this psalm has exactly eight verses, the number that
represents breaking forth from the shackles of the natural world into the
spiritual realm; the number of Chanukah and redemption. As Chanina Ben Dosa
taught, it is not snakes that kill, but sin (Brochos 34a). It is sin that
results in our finding ourselves in predicaments that endanger our physical
Well, then, if it is sin that kills and not snakes, then, it is not from
snakes that we require redemption, but, from our own sins. Having said
that, let's say this, and beg G-d from redemption from our own weaknesses,
so that we can see an end to all the danger that seems to be encompassing
us more and more on a daily basis.