Saturday, Jul 13, 2024

A Mother’s Wisdom

Each one of the parshiyos in Sefer Bereishis, an uninterrupted chronicle of ma'asei avos meant to instruct and guide us, is filled with hints. There are questions begging to be asked and answers ready to be revealed, if only we probe beneath the surface. This week's parshah, Toldos, is no different. We wonder how it can be that Yitzchok was fooled by Eisov and wanted to transmit the brachos to him. We wonder why Rivkah was able to perceive the truth about Eisov and Yaakov while Yitzchok apparently was not.

Perhaps we can examine the pesukim and arrive at a satisfactory explanation.

The parshah begins with the marriage of Yitzchok and Rivkah. The posuk tells us that the couple davened that they be blessed with children. When Rivkah became pregnant, she was troubled that the child seemed to be distressed, seemingly pulled in two directions at once, towards holiness and towards avodah zarah. Rivkah became upset and felt that if her fate was to have a confused child, she might have been mistaken in her desire to have a child. She wondered why she had davened for this, as Rashi (25:22) explains. She sought out Hashem at the bais medrash of Sheim and Eiver. Through ruach hakodesh, Hashem informed her that she was carrying two distinct nations within her, one that would be wicked and the other that would be righteous.

Rivkah was comforted. She had feared that her child would be confused between good and bad, but having heard that she was carrying twins and that one would be totally holy, she accepted that the other would be evil. She couldn’t deal with the idea of one person who can easily be pulled to both extremes, symptomatic of a lack of tzuras ha’adam, more reminiscent of an animal, which sees only what is in front of it. When she heard that one son would carry on the traditions of Avrohom and Yitzchok, she was consoled.

The posuk never states that she told Yitzchok what she had heard in the bais medrash of Sheim and Eiver. It is strange that Rivkah didn’t ask Yitzchok about the problems she was having. Perhaps, she didn’t want to trouble him and cause him to be upset and worried about the offspring they had both been waiting for so long. Or, perhaps, she didn’t want to appear as a kofui tovah, unappreciative of the gift that came about through Yitzchok’s tefillos (25:21, Rashi, Vayei’oseir Lo). When she received the response that she was carrying twins, who would have distinct personalities and leave opposite legacies, she did not relate that to Yitzchok (see Ramban 27:1).

Rivkah knew that one child would be good and one would be evil, so she carefully watched them as they grew. She was able to discern which was the holy one and which was the bad one. Yitzchok was not aware of the prophecy concerning his children and thus did not suspect that Eisov was anything other than what he presented himself to be. On the surface, Eisov made an impression of being a big tzaddik. While Yitzchok may have been aware of his other tendencies, he was able to overlook them, “ki tzayid befiv,” because Eisov put on such a good act. Rivkah, however, couldn’t be fooled. She also knew that “keshezeh kom zeh nofeil.” They would not both be able to achieve greatness at the same time, so she was careful to encourage Yaakov and helped him on his path to greatness.

When Yitzchok aged and felt his strength declining, he naturally called to his oldest son to transmit the blessings. Rivkah overheard Yitzchok telling Eisov to bring him matamim so that he could bless him. She called Yaakov and commanded him to preempt his brother and bring matamim to Yitzchok first. Yaakov resisted, but Rivkah persisted, and thus Yaakov brought to his father his favorites as prepared by Rivkah.

It is interesting to note that the posuk (27:8) recounts that Rivkah said to Yaakov, “Ve’atah beni shema bekoli lasher ani metzaveh osach,” using language very similar to the verbiage of the posuk (21:12) which describes that Hashem told Avrohom to do as Sarah tells him, “shema bekolah.” Referring to which son would inherit him, Hashem told Avrohom to follow what Sarah told him, since Yitzchok would be the one who would carry on his traditions and teachings. Perhaps this is to indicate that just as Sarah the prophetess was correct in favoring Yitzchok, thereby ensuring that there be a proper hemshech, so was Rivkah the prophetess correct in preferring Yaakov.

Rivkah prevailed and Yaakov brought the matamim to Yitzchok. When he entered his father’s chamber, Yitzchok felt the spirit of Gan Eden (Rashi 27:27) and blessed Yaakov Avinu with the eternal blessings.

The Ohr Hachaim, in his peirush (27:1), writes that Yitzchok wanted to give the brachos to Eisov, because he thought that if he would bless him, he would improve his ways.

We can understand that Rivkah, who’d received the prophecy about her children, knew that it wouldn’t help. She knew that one son was essentially evil and the other was totally good, and if one would ascend, the other would descend. Now we can understand why Yitzchok had wanted to confer the brachos upon Eisov. Yitzchok wasn’t aware of the nevuah and saw in Eisov good and bad, “ki tzayid befiv.” He believed that he could be “mekarev” him, to use today’s parlance. Rivkah knew that it was a lost cause and that Eisov would only be a hindrance to Yaakov.

In our day, as well, there are people who are good and people who are evil. There are also people who contain good and bad, and engage in a lifetime battle to maintain the good and banish the bad.

How are we to know who is good and who is really evil but is able to fool us? Only by acting like Rivkah and seeking out the opinion of Hashem as expressed in the bais medrash. On our own, we can be fooled and misled. People who are bad can present themselves as our brothers in act and deed, fooling us. They can set traps for us and we can fall for them. It is only if we follow the word of Hashem and those He designates in the bais medrash that we are guaranteed to be protected and be led on the correct path.

At times, we have concerns about our children and don’t know how to address them. The Torah provides us with a solution. “Veteilech lidrosh ess Hashem.” The seforim reveal a marvelous layer of depth to these words. “Lidrosh ess Hashem” calls to mind a drashah of Chazal.

Shimon Ha’amsuni – some say it was Nechemiah Ha’amsuni – would expound on the word “ess” wherever it appears in the Torah. When he reached the posuk of “Ess Hashem Elokecha tira,” which refers to fearing Hashem, he desisted, because he was unable to derive any lesson from the word. The Gemara (Pesochim 22b) relates that he wondered what else a person could be commanded regarding fearing Hashem. What can ess come to include?

Confounded by that question, he concluded that just as “ess” in this posuk could not possibly include anything else, so too, the other instances in the Torah where the word “ess” appears is not meant to include additional obligations.

Rabi Akiva disagreed and said that the extra word “ess” in this posuk was written to include talmidei chachomim, teaching us that just as we fear Hashem, we must fear them.

We can now read the posuk as follows: Vateilech, Rivkah went, lidrosh ess Hashem, to be sho’el eitzah from Sheim and Eiver. She was carrying out what Rabi Akiva would eventually derive from ess Hashem Elokecha tira by going lidrosh ess Hashem.

This is a siman labonim that endures throughout the ages as a most effective way to clarify issues.. In a world of confusion and darkness, how can we know whom to follow and whom to avoid? How can we discern the true intentions of those with sweet tongues? It is only by being doreish ess Hashem, by turning to the bais medrash for guidance and direction, that we will merit the proper direction.

How do we know who presents a danger to the future of our people, deserving of being written off, and who we should be mekarev? How do we know what is positive and what is negative? How do we know when a person who seems to be a tzaddik is really an Eisov? How do we know when to compromise and when to hold firm? It is only by being doreish ess Hashem that we can be sure of the correct course of action.

A secular journalist once asked Degel Hatorah Knesset member Avraham Ravitz how the nascent party was run. He replied that the party was led by Rav Elazar Menachen Man Shach.

“Are you really comfortable taking direction from one elderly man?” the journalist asked.

“Listen,” Ravitz responded, “when there are questions in the Likud party, what do they do? They bring it for a vote to the merkaz, the central body of the party. There are three thousand members in the merkaz, and they all weigh in and hope for the consensus. Now,” said Ravitz, “I do the same thing. I bring it to the merkaz of our party. Our merkaz has just one member, Rav Shach, but he is truly the center of it all, because the only knowledge guiding our decision is the Torah he embodies.”

Daas Torah, the Steipler Gaon taught, doesn’t operate as a scientific process. It’s not as if a scientist conducted a chemical experiment to reach a conclusion or researched an issue in an encyclopedia. Daas Torah means that when a person is constantly engaged in Torah, and he has no negios, his muskal rishon, his reaction, is itself Torah. The Steipler told his son, Rav Chaim Kanievsky, that Rav Shach was such a person. He was so engaged in Torah that the words that came out of mouth could be seen as the Torah’s will, as if the Torah itself was speaking.

In our generation, when we suffer from mockery, cynicism and negativity, and where there are so many platforms promoting opinions and positions that are not in keeping with daas Torah, there is a real danger of people digesting the wrong ideas. Rashi tells us that Avrohom and Yitzchok had to contend with leitzonei hador, the scoffers of the generation. Today, our generation belongs to the leitzonim. The few exceptions huddle together for warmth, remembering what once was and what should be.

Rav Shach once discussed the fact that the leader of Torah Jewry, Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky, did not attend the funeral of the Chofetz Chaim. “It was shocking, since the two men had led Klal Yisroel hand in hand and revered each other, but Rav Chaim Ozer was not feeling well and was not able to go.”

Rav Shach said that more shocking than Rav Chaim Ozer’s absence was the fact that everyone accepted that Rav Chaim Ozer clearly had a good reason for not being there. “No one wondered, or speculated, or offered analysis of why he stayed home. Certainly, no one dared criticize the decision. A generation ago, one didn’t question Torah scholars. Today,” Rav Shach mused, “everyone would have a dei’ah.”

Were such a thing to happen today, everyone would postulate a different theory about why Rav Chaim Ozer wasn’t there. People would be mocking one of the great giants, convinced that they have a right to arrive at their wrong conclusion and publicize it in any way possible, be it via the media, chat groups, blogs or word of mouth.

Today, everyone is mocked and vilified. No one is given a fair chance. There is no dan lechaf zechus. There is no hearing both sides of a story. Immediately, everyone jumps to a conclusion, and another holy person, or deed, or custom, or organization is thrown under the bus.

Rav Yechezkel Abramsky once told his talmidim that he received a visit from a new immigrant to Eretz Yisroel who had formerly lived in Slutsk. The gentleman, dressed in his Shabbos finery, came to visit his former rov.

Rav Abramsky told his talmidim that he became emotional as he remembered the custom of the Slutzker Yidden. Whenever they would go to speak with a talmid chochom, even regarding mundane matters, they would put on their Shabbos clothing in honor of the Torah.

A few years ago, we published an entry from the diary of the grandfather of Binyomin Netanyahu. He wrote of his period learning as a bochur in the Volozhiner Yeshiva. In his diary, he recounted that the baalei aggalah, the wagon drivers, waited at the train station on the first day of the zeman dressed in their Shabbos clothes, eager for the honor of bringing the bochurim to the hallowed yeshiva to learn Torah.

Vateilech lidrosh ess Hashem. Our generation is blessed with yeshivos and talmidei chachomim. We need to appreciate the gift. The eternal means of discerning the ratzon Hashem is as accessible as ever, if we would only appreciate it.

A number of years ago, Rav Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz heard that bochurim in the yeshiva where he served had begun calling him saba, meaning grandfather. He was delighted by the moniker. He told his grandson that the prime function of a rebbi is to give talmidim a sense that they can discuss their issues with him and ask their questions and unburden themselves to him. “Everyone knows that if they go to their saba to speak to him, they will receive wise, loving counsel. I’m thrilled that they see me as a saba.”

One of the biggest nisyonos of our generation seems to be acquiring the humility and good sense to be doreish ess Hashem. Dovid Hamelech writes (Tehillim 92:15), “Od yenuvun beseivah desheinim veraananim yihiyu – They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be full of sap and richness.” The body grows older, but the nefesh – the chiyus and emotional energy – is as strong as ever.

Someone shared with me an incident that underscores this. A few weeks ago, the head of a busy gemach in Yerushalayim traveled to Bnei Brak to ask Rav Aaron Leib Shteinman some advice.

When the gemach director entered, Rav Mattisyahu Deutsch, a Yerushalmi rov, happened to be speaking with Rav Shteinman. Rav Deutsch, who knew the head of the gemach and his great work, introduced him to Rav Shteinman.

“The rosh yeshiva should know that this man is a tzaddik,” proclaimed Rav Deutsch.

“Oy, I hope you don’t have a loan from him. It’s ribbis devorim,” was Rav Shteinman’s reaction, worried that the rov’s compliment would be a form of interest.

Rav Deutsch, who is also a dayan, related the story during a shiur, stating how no one – not him and not any of the other talmidei chachomim in the room – had made the lightning-quick calculation that Rav Shteinman had made. “It was clear to all of us that even though we are all younger, his mind is blessed with a clarity that we don’t possess.”

Not long ago, a young askan sat with Rav Shteinman, trying to convince him to take a certain course of action. He was sure that with his reputation and communication abilities, he would certainly be able to convince the aged rosh yeshiva of the virtuousness of his path. He was amazed that as hard as he tried, and as strong as his arguments were, Rav Shteinman repelled his contentions one by one, as fast as he could formulate the words. As weak as Rav Shteinman appeared to be in body, that’s how strong he was in spirit and intelligence.

The advice that emerges from the rooms of our gedolim is, often, unexpected. A young talmid chochom had a dilemma. His younger brother was getting married and his mother wanted all her sons to walk down to the chupah with their spouses. He thought that it was a ridiculous new custom and wasn’t about to give in to it.

As a formality, he shared his mother’s request and his reaction with his rebbi, Rav Dovid Cohen, the Chevroner rosh yeshiva. The rosh yeshiva nodded. “I agree that you shouldn’t walk down the chupah, as your mother wants,” he said. “You should run down to the chupah! It’s a mitzvah of kibbud av va’eim. You can make your parents happy. What a wonderful opportunity!”

A short while ago, someone had a question about a shidduch. It seemed like a silly shailah and the answer was so obvious. Why would anyone even be interested in pursuing the shidduch? The person asked Rav Chaim Kanievsky about it and couldn’t believe when, upon hearing the question, Rav Chaim immediately explained why it was a perfect idea and offered his blessings.

People who think they examined an issue from all sides and have come to the inevitable conclusion are often greatly surprised when someone tuned in to a different frequency sees the world on an entirely different plane.

Reb Yisroel Bloom was a Far Rockaway askan, dedicated to helping yeshivos achieve financial stability. He had a vision of creating a team of troubleshooters, working under the auspices of Agudas Yisroel, who would help financially-troubled yeshivos get back on track by rallying their local communities.

In a letter to Reb Yisroel, Rabbi Moshe Sherer lauded the proposal and discussed the idea of the project being connected with Agudas Yisroel.

“There is, as you know, a price: every committee, composition and policy is controlled by boards, headed by the Moetzes Gedolei Torah and the Nesius. The process, thus, is a bit longer, but the product is that much better as a result.”

In that sentence, Rabbi Sherer encapsulated what it means to be doreish ess Hashem. It is simpler to do what appeals to your intelligence, what will win you accolades, and what will play well in the media. The other way is nowhere near as convenient, will involve difficulties, and may not always be understood, but, in the end, it will endure.

Rivkah followed the advice she was given, focused on raising Yaakov Avinu to greatness, giving us a Klal Yisroel. This golus, we are taught, is kenegged Yaakov Avinu, the av who led us down into Mitzrayim. In this week’s parshah, we are given the key to survival.

It has been rough, it has been confusing, and it has certainly been dangerous. Throughout the journey, our people have known where we could find solace, hope and direction. It is a gift as old as our grandmother Rivkah, who, when things were difficult, beat a path to the bais medrash, showing us the way forevermore.

We would do well to follow her example.




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