Raboyseyee and Ladies,
A big mazel tov to Josh Levy, to his parents, and our close friends, Bina and Isaac Levy and to the entire extended Levy and Huberfeld mishpochos upon Josh’s aufruf earlier this morning. Josh will be marring Yali Rena Cohen, she the beautiful daughter of Hilda and Jeremy Cohen, they of La Jolla California. We have known Josh since birth and look forward to participating in this great simcha. May Yali and Josh merit to enjoy many decades of blissful marriage.
Does Mother Know Best & Was Yitzchok Poor?
Welcome to Parshas Toldois where Rivka, Yitzchok’s wife, a woman not bashful about sharing her feelings and emotions, takes charge and center stage. Toldois is perhaps most well-known for the “deal of the century” the one where Yaakov -known for his honesty- somehow snookered his brother Eisav into selling his birthright for some lentil soup. For reasons only a mother can chap, Rivka decided that her older son was to be bypassed -rejected mamish- and that her younger son Yaakov would receive blessings of the firstborn and his father’s estate. Ober, was Rivka a trailblazer? Was she the first to scheme and also take actions to redirect an estate? To change a will? Not! Let’s recall that kimat all the women we met since Parshas Bereishis, were busy conniving behind the scenes to get their way. Let’s avada recall how Chava convinced Odom to partake of forbidden fruit, ober let us not dwell on her. Let us not skip over Loit’s two wonderful daughters who took turns fornicating with their inebriated father. Our sages tell us they were justified because it was all l’shaim shomayim; they wanted to repopulate the scorched earth around them. Let’s instead give another shout-out to Soro who decided that Yishmoel, Avrohom’s firstborn son, was not deserving of inheritance and convinced her husband Avrohom to banish him for their home. Nice! From the will, he was zicher cut out. Ober, the RBSO had other plans: He sent an angel to save him and promised Hogor that her son Yishmoel would prosper and become the father of a large nation. Were our foremothers, Soro and Rivka acting on their own? Let’s not forget to shout out Rochel whose scheming resulted in Yaakov bedding the wrong girl on his wedding night. Were our foremother’s actions correct? Were they cunning and scheming on their own? Or, were they imbued with a unique spirit which directed their actions? And the answer? Ver veyst? Does mother know best?
As the heylige Ois has told you over and again, the heylige Toirah had not one bad word to say about Yishmoel. Nor does the Toirah tell us that Yishmoel committed any serious crimes. In fact, his most serious offense seems to be laughter as discussed two weeks back. And for that he was cut out? Laughing, also as discussed, is certainly not a serious crime. Farkert: laughter is good. In fact, Soro laughed. Moreover, Yitzchok and Rivka -in this week’s parsha- will be seen (by Avimelech being metzachake) laughing and making sport. In fact, over the course of Jewish history, many have laughed and lived long lives. Why was Yishmoel cut out? Why was Eisav tricked out of his double portion of the inheritance? Ober not to worry: over 1000 years later, our sages came along and -looking back efsher- decided that both Yishmoel and Eisav were bad guys and underserving. More on that topic later.
Back to our parsha where the heylige Toirah tells us that Yitzchok favored Eisav, the older of the twins, while Rivka favored Yaakov. Is that so bad? Don’t we all have favorites? The bottom line: human nature dictates that kimat all parents -whether they so admit or not- have favorites. Moreover, it’s plainly understood that favorites change during the course of a lifetime. Interestingly the heylige Toirah tells us just why Yitzchok favored Eisav. Let’s read the relevant posik before we ask a few questions previously asked by various sages.
|And Isaac loved Esau because [his] game was in his mouth, but Rebecca loved Jacob.||כחוַיֶּֽאֱהַ֥ב יִצְחָ֛ק אֶת־עֵשָׂ֖ו כִּי־צַ֣יִד בְּפִ֑יו וְרִבְקָ֖ה אֹהֶ֥בֶת אֶת־יַֽעֲקֹֽב:|
As you can imagine, our sages were astounded when they read this posik. What’s pshat that Yitzchok liked Eisav because “he put game in his mouth?” Was our forefather Yitzchok that shallow? Could he be bought for a good dinner? Would Yitzchok have liked Eisav were he a bad guy? And what’s pshat that Eisav provided game for Yitzchok? Was Yitzchok in need of being fed? Was Yitzchok reliant on Eisav for food? Was the Yitzchok and Rivka household living in poverty and in need of food? And since we’re asking questions, let’s move onto Eisav and ask azoy? Why would a hungry Eisav sell his birthright for a bowl of lentil soup? Shoin, of course there is a machloikes (disagreement) between Ibn Ezra and the Ramban regarding Yitzchok’s financial status.
Says the Ibn Ezra that Yitzchok was taka poor and we quote directly. “The proof is that Yitzchok loved Eisav because he provided his basic needs. If food was plentiful in his father’s home, then why would he (Eisav) have sold his birthright for soup? And if his father ate all sorts of delicacies, then why did he ask (Eisav) to bring him fresh meat? And why did Yaakov not have elegant clothing? And why did his mother send him penniless when he went away, such that he asks the RBSO for “bread to eat and clothes to wear” (28:20)? Did Yaakov run off to the -efsher mythical- yeshiva of Shaim and Ever because tuition included free lunch and dinner?
Oib azoy (if that’s so), if Yitzchok was mamish poor and that’s why he loved Eisav (because he mamish fed him, and according to some, mamish put food into his mouth), how does that square up with other pisukim in the heylige Toirah where we were taught that Avrohom was a wealthy man? Did we not learn that King Paroy bestowed upon on Avrohom (after taking Soro to the King’s palace) with myriad animals, salves and other wealth? We did! Did Avrohom lose all his money shorting Tesla? Or the futures? Moreover, did we not read (Bereishis 25) that Avrohom bequeathed his entire estate to his son Yitzchok? We did! Oib azoy, how can the Ibn Ezra argue that Yitzchok liked Eisav davka because he fed him, because he provided game in his mouth, because he was mamish poor? Not to worry because says the Ibn Ezra that there is no conflict at all between the pisukim. Avrohom taka had money but lost it, and shoin. It’s shayich (quite plausible) that he had little or nothing left to give to Yitzchok. And by extension, Yitzchok was poor, in need of food which his favorite son Eisav the hunter gamed for him. Is that what happened? Is that pshat?
Not according to the Ramban who says farkert: Because the Ois is very pressed for time this week, he will quote the Ramban’s response to the Ibn Ezra instead of paraphrasing. “The text (Bereishis 25:11) informs us that after his father’s death ‘G-d blessed Yitzchok his son.’ Now, where is his “blessing” if he lost all his father’s wealth? ‘And I will be with you, and I will bless you.’ (26:3) Is there a Divine blessing if he became rich but then became poor? If some of the righteous experience, the financial legacy of the Evil (i.e. poverty), it does not occur to those whom G-d has blessed. All the patriarchs were like kings, and foreign heads of State would come before them and make treaties with them. And if Yitzchok had bad luck and lost his father’s wealth, how would they have said in Bereishis 26:28, ‘We see evidently that G-d is with you!’
Asks the Ois azoy? Did Avrohom lose his money and therefore had little to bequeath to Yitzchok? Or, did Yitzchok mamish receive his inheritance but then squander the money? The bottom line: the Ramban states with a degree of certitude that neither Yitzchok, nor Avrohom, and for that matter, not even Yaakov could have been poor. Why not? Because the RBSO bentched (blessed) each one of them and the RBSO’s blessings included material wealth, status and honor. Moreover, Ramban also rejects as “laughable” the theory that Yitzchok had wealth (after Avrohom’s death) then lost it, made it again as a successful farmer (as we read in Perek 26), and then lost it a second time. Ober, if Yitzchok had money (at least for food on the table), why did he request of Eisav to go out and game some meat for him to enjoy before bestowing blessings? Answer: it’s poshit. Barons and kings delight in this delicacy, Yitzchok too enjoyed a fleishfest once in a while. Ober, why did Yitzchok davka request that Eisav in particular engage in the hunt? Says the Ramban azoy: “Eisav would pander to his father by bringing him from the hunted food … and (Yitzchok) wanted to benefit from it so that it would enhance the closeness between them.” Shouldn’t all parents participate in their kid’s interests? Yes!
Which opinion is correct, ver veyst? Ramban refuses to see a Tzaddik who is blessed by the RBSO, experiencing financial difficulties. For the Ibn Ezra, the two are absolutely disconnected. A wanderer like Eliyahu who is given lodgings by a random stranger for years on end can be the holiest person. The bottom line: according to the Ramban, good people can also be poor people.
Shoin, whether or not Yitzchok was poor and that’s why Eisav was asked to forage for some fleish, ver veyst, but a few things are zicher. In the heylige Toirah, Eisav -aside from walking away from his birthright with some disdain, is never portrayed as a bad person. We may argue farkert: He came with an army of 400 -as in a delegation- to make peace with Yaakov and so did. They kissed and hugged it out. Eisav took note that his parents weren’t happy with his first two wives and married one more to their liking, this one a Yishmoelite in the hope that such a bride will make them happy. Let’s recall that Yishmoel was the son of Avrohom and Hogor. The rejected son was still trying to gain the love of his parents; was Eisav then really a bad guy? The bottom line: when Eisav heard that his father’s spirit is cut short by the Canaanite wives, and married again, he demonstrated sensitivity to their approval. Ober says the Ramban that Eisav, upon hearing this, could have married one of Lovon’s daughters, but chose not to. Would he have been better with more love? Likely. Bottom line: the Ramban did not like Eisav!
He tended to his father. Ober, the medrish did not like Eisav and painted him with a very ugly brush. They did the same to Yishmoel. Why? Did they read history backwards? Did they know the facts and then fill in the lacunas? Grada the heylige Ois was debating this very issue just last shabbis with a chaver (let’s call him Josh).
The medrish did of course know that Yishmoel was not chosen over Yitzchok to be the “carrier” of the RBSO’s blessing and promise to Avrohom. Might we posit that the authors of the midrash assumed that there must have been something undeserving in him, or that he must have done something really terrible? Did they therefore, “read into the text” various wrongdoings or flaws to justify his destiny? Sadly, Eisav did not fare any better. Eisav was not chosen (or even “co-chosen” as were the heylige shvotim as Yitzchok’s primary progeny. In Malachi 1:2-3 we read azoy:
הֲלוֹא אָח עֵשָׂו לְיַעֲקֹב נְאֻם-יְהוָה וָאֹהַב אֶת-יַעֲקֹב וְאֶת-עֵשָׂו שָׂנֵאתִי
Seemingly the RBSO despised Eisav. The medrish wondered why Eisav was cut out, and concluded that he must have been a bad person to deserve such hatred. What to do? Did the medrish then not hesitate to interpret slight nuances in the text and come up with back-stories to explain Eisav’s evildoing? In other words: was Yishmoel (whom the RBSO elected to save and also bless) really as bad as the medrish portrays him? Was Eisav and other characters they didn’t like, really bad? Or, are portrayals by the medrish of the “losers” -those not selected- but what they imagined based on knowing the facts in the heylige Toirah? Ver Veyst?
At the same time, medrish goes out of its way -at times, way out of its way- to paint winners with a clean brush. There are many examples but let’s use Yehuda – who will be taking center stage in the coming weeks- as an example. Despite some questionable behavior which we have discussed many times over the years, he is known to be one of the twelve shvotim to inherit the promise of Avrohom and all the blessings of the RBSO that came with it. His father too blessed him while seemingly withholding such from his three older brothers. In fact, history gives Yehuda’s descendants a large slice of the pie of prosperity. Why does medrish drool over Yehudah? It’s taka emes that Eisav married Canaanite women, which angered his parents. So did Yehuda! As an aside, Yaakov married sisters. Yes, it’s emes that Eisav threatened Yaakov’s life; can we blame him? But did he act on hot-headed threat? He did not! Did Shimon and Levi wipe out an entire city of men not involved in the Shechem affair? They did! In the medrish they are treated as heroes; the Shechemites all deserved their fate. Is it because knowing that Yehuda emerged unblemished from his foibles, that medrish needed to explain and therefore painted him extremely favorably? In the medrish on Yehuda, anything that looks bad in the text is reinterpreted or downplayed, and anything good is emphasized and glorified.
These midroshim can zicher leave many a reader scratching his head and even questioning the veracity of what’s written, ober with this understanding if emes- the medrish tends to make much more sense. On the other hand, is it possible that medrish relied on what had been transmitted in Toirah sh-baal-peh (the oral tradition) handed down and passed along over many generations? And that all medroshim therefore -by extension- are mamish part of our mesora (our tradition) going back to Matan Toirah (Revelation)? Could be! On the other hand, may we assume or must we, that all midroshim are included in Toirah She-baal-Peh? Not according to the Rambam who without question defines Toirah She-baal-Peh as the particulars of mitzvis only; this would not include midroshim. In his opening to the introduction to his Mishneh Toirah, he writes azoy: In plain English: the heylige Toirah’s mitzvis came with detail as transmitted first mouth to mouth and later in the heylige Mishneh and Gemora. The medrish is not included.
כָּל הַמִּצְוֹת שֶׁנִּתְּנוּ לוֹ לְמשֶׁה בְּסִינַי בְּפֵרוּשָׁן נִתְּנוּ. שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר וְאֶתְּנָה לְךָ אֶת לֻחֹת הָאֶב וְהַתּוֹרָה וְהַמִּצְוָה. תּוֹרָה זוֹ תּוֹרָה שֶׁבִּכְתָב. וְהַמִּצְוָה זוֹ פֵּרוּשָׁהּ. וְצִוָּנוּ לַעֲשׂוֹת הַתּוֹרָה עַל פִּי הַמִּצְוָה. וּמִצְוָה זוֹ הִיא הַנִּקְרֵאת תּוֹרָה שֶׁבְּעַל פֶּה.
Why does medrish like and hate certain people. Why Yehuda and not Eisav and or Yishmoel? The bottom line: everyone likes a winner!
A gittin Shabbis-
The Heylige Oisvorfer Ruv