Friday, December 2, 2016

Dvar Torah for Parshas Toldos

       The most commonly discussed event from this week’s parsha is how Yaakov ‘stole’ the brachos from Esav. Avraham passed on the blessings he got from Hashem to Yitzchak. Now, with two sons to choose from,[1] Yitzchak had to decide which son would receive the different brachos. In the end, he decided to give Esav certain brachos that had to do with physical prosperity and success in battle, however, Rivka felt that these brachos should go to Yaakov.
       She hatched a scheme; taking advantage of a blind Yitzchak, she disguised Yaakov as Esav by dressing him in some of Esav’s clothes (which made Yaakov appear hairier than he was, similar to Esav). She supplied him with food to take to Yitzchak, and after a few tests, Yitzchak, convinced that this was indeed Esav, bestowed the brachos upon Yaakov. Even after discovering he’d been tricked, Yitzchak realized that Yaakov should receive these brachos, and reaffirmed his giving them to him (See 27:33).[2]  
       There is no mistaking the fact that Yaakov did in fact trick Yitzchak into giving him the brachos; and according to Chazal, he was very hesitant to do so. However, his mother’s insistence and wisdom convinced him to go through with it. But why did it have to go like this?
       Chazal teach us that there are three middos of Hashem which are represented in each of the Avos. Avraham represents Chessed (Kindness), Yitzchak represents Din (Justice), and Yaakov represents Emes (Truth). Yaakov inherently represented truth, he despised trickery and lies, and yet, in order to receive the blessings of Avraham, when you would expect him to not want to sully such a special gift of Hashem with lies, he goes against his principles and fools Yitzchak into giving him the brachos!
       It gets more confusing. According to Rashi, quoting a medrash, the reason why Yitzchak became blind was only in order so Yaakov could take the brachos (See 27:1). So we see that Hashem set it up specifically that Yaakov should take the brachos through trickery; but if Hashem really wanted Yaakov to get the brachos, why would He do it this way? Why was the only way for Yaakov to take the brachos by pretending to be someone else?
        Reb Yaakov Kaminetzky explains that each of the Avos had to undergo a different nisayon in order for them to achieve their spiritual potential. The nisyonos of Avraham are well-documented; he underwent ten nisyonos, culminating in Akeidas Yitzchak. By observing the nisyonos of Avraham, we begin to see a pattern. Each nisayon, whether it was abandoning his elderly father to go to Eretz Yisrael, throwing his young son and his mother out of the house, or sacrificing his only son on an altar, all affected other innocent parties negatively. By each nisayon, there was a certain amount of collateral damage involved. Avraham was the greatest baal chessed who ever lived, why did Hashem give him all these challenges which caused him to pain others?
       Avraham built his avodas Hashem around doing chessed. That’s why he represents kindness, he based his service of Hashem around being kind. However, when it comes to serving Hashem, there are times when kindness is inappropriate, or when your avodas Hashem forces you to indirectly and/or inadvertently cause pain to others. You may have to leave your family in order to set off on your greatest path to spirituality; there may be a time, like the Akeidah, where you have to go against every instinct and lesson you’ve ever learned and ever taught others because Hashem commanded you to do so.
       This is how Hashem tested Avraham. He knew that Avraham could be an eved Hashem through chessed, but what about in other ways? Could Avraham be a true eved Hashem even when it went against his natural tendencies to be kind, or did he imitate Hashem in being kind because it was easy for him? After the Ten Nisyonos, Hashem was convinced that he could.
       Stealing the brachos was Yaakov’s nisayon. Hashem knew that Yaakov could serve Him through Truth and Honesty, but what about with trickery and lies? There are times when we must lie to do a good deed, there are even halachos about when it is permissible to lie; the nisayon was if Yaakov could accept this aspect of serving Hashem, or if lying would turn him off the path. Was the reason he followed Hashem because his natural inclination was to be truthful, like Hashem, or was he truly l’shem shamayim, ready to serve Hashem in every scenario.
       When Rivka first brings up the plan to Yaakov, he seems to hesitate. But if you look at the pesukim, his only concern was in getting caught; he was afraid that since he wasn’t hairy like Esav, Yitzchak would discover him. But in terms of having to lie, he was ready without hesitation to do what he knew was his nisayon, his test of character, just like Avraham.[3] Perhaps this was how Yitzchak ultimately realized that Yaakov was worthy of the brachos. He knew Yaakov was the embodiment of truth, and when he realized Yaakov lied in order to accomplish the will of Hashem, he knew that he was the true heir of Avraham and worthy of the brachos bestowed upon him.
Shabbat Shalom!

[1] Avraham also had two sons, except that only one of them was descended from his primary wife, and one of the greatest tzadikot who ever lived, Sarah. Both Yaakov and Esav were descended from Rivka, so both of them were eligible to receive Avraham’s brachos.
[2] There is a lot to discuss about this story, including what was Yitzchak’s original thought process, why he changed his mind, and how Rivka knew she was right, but that is for another time.
[3] Reb Yaakov also discusses what Yitzchak’s nisayon was, but that goes beyond the scope of this dvar Torah. For those interested, see Emes L’Yaakov (New Edition) p.154.

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