Thursday, November 20, 2014

Dvar Torah for Parshas Toldos

       This week’s parshah, Parshas Toldos, contains the famous story of Yaakov conspiring with his mother, Rivka, to get the brachos from Yitzchak, instead of Esav. The significance of these brachos is that they promised prosperity and economic success in this world. While Yitzchak was going to give Yaakov the brachos of Avraham, as we see him do at the end of the parshah, those brachos guarantee spiritual greatness and, for reasons we will not go into here (perhaps next year!), Rivka felt that Yaakov needed these brachos as well, and therefore, helped him get them.
       In the second pasuk of the brachos, the pasuk reads, “… אֹרֲרֶיךָ אָרוּר וּמְבָרֲכֶיךָ בָּרוּךְ “…those who curse you shall be cursed, and those who bless you shall be blessed” (Bereishis 27:29). This phrase appears earlier in the Torah; when Hashem blessed Avraham, He said this same line, but backwards; “וַאֲבָרְכָה מְבָרֲכֶיךָ וּמְקַלֶּלְךָ אָאֹר “And I will bless those who bless you, and curse those who curse you” (12:3). Later on in the Torah, when Balaam blesses Bnei Yisrael in the desert, he also uses this phrase, “bless those who bless you,” and follows it with a mention of the curses. What is the difference between the two uses of this phrase?
       Rashi gives an explanation that the Kli Yakar expounds upon. Rashi says that tzaddikim generally do not experience great pleasures in this world, in fact, many times they suffer greatly. However, once they reach the next world, their pleasures far outnumber anything this world has to offer. Because they experience suffering before pleasure, tzaddikim mention the curses before they mention the blessings; this is exactly what Yitzchak did. For reshaim, the opposite is true; they receive all their reward in this world and suffer in the next. Therefore, they mention blessings before curses; this is what Balaam did. The problem with this is that Hashem blessed Avraham by mentioning the blessings first! Obviously, there is a part of Rashi’s explanation that we do not understand.
       The Kli Yakar explains that there are two types of curses and two types of blessings. The first type is actual curses and blessings. The best time to give someone a blessing for good is when they are down and need a pick me up. And when everything is going well for someone, you do not feel an obligation to bless them since they do not really need it! Conversely, the time you want to curse your enemies is at their highest point; after all, what is the point in cursing someone who is already suffering so much! This is why Hashem first promised Avraham blessings and then afterwards promised that He would protect him from curses. While Avraham was suffering in the beginning of his time in Eretz Yisrael, Hashem wanted to make sure that he would be blessed. Later in life, when all would be calm, then people would start wanting to harm Avraham in the time of his contentment, and therefore, Hashem promises Avraham afterwards that He would curse all those who attempt to curse him.
       The curses and blessings mentioned in our parshah are referring to those of a different sort. The curses here do not refer to actual curses, but to people who cause you pain, and the blessings here refer to people who bring you joy. What Yitzchak is blessing Yaakov with is that during his time of pain (which for tzaddikim comes before their time of pleasure), is when anyone who could cause him pain should come. All his potential pain should be used up during the time that is designated for his suffering. Then, during his time of pleasure, everyone who brings him joy should come at that time. All the joy and pleasure should be piled up on top of itself until his entire existence is nothing but pure ecstasy.[1]
       Balaam wanted to do the exact opposite of this to Bnei Yisrael. He wanted their pain to be mixed with joy and their joy to be mixed with pain. Even though the pain might not be as bad, the joy still would not be as good as it could be. That is why he mentioned the blessings before the curses.  
       We can now understand why Hashem mentioned blessings to Avraham before curses, and why Yitzchak did it the opposite way to Yaakov. Perhaps this can also help us understand the age-old question of why great people suffer in this world.

Wishing everyone a wonderful Shabbos!

[1] IMPORTANT TO NOTE: this level of experiencing total suffering before experiencing joy (though it be an extreme joy) is an extremely high level that only the greatest tzaddikim are expected to reach. Even then, the Gemarah tells stories of tzaddikim who did not want to live in this manner. Of course, there were many people who did.

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