In this week’s parsha, we learn of the birth of twin boys, Yaakov and Eisov, born to Yitzchok and Rivka after many years of tefillah. Until their bar mitzvah, they appeared to be equal. They were both destined for greatness and each one could have played the role as the progenitor of our people, following Avrohom and Yitzchok.
That began to change as they grew older. As the posuk says, “Vayigdelu hane’arim vayehi Eisov ish yodeia tzayid, v’Yaakov ish tom yosheiv ohalim – When the boys grew up, Eisov was drawn to hunting and Yaakov was a pure man who sat in the tents [and studied Torah].”
Yet, as that was going on, the Medrash (Yalkut Shimoni) states that since the Torah used the term “gadol” to describe them, both were gedolim in the mold of Avrohom and Yitzchok. It wasn’t until Eisov mocked the bechorah that he lost the appellation gadol and became a “koton.”
The Brisker Rov, in his sefer on the Torah, quotes from his father, Rav Chaim Soloveitchik, that Eisov’s role was determined a bit later. He cites the Rambam (Hilchos Melochim 10:7), who says that Avrohom’s successor was Yitzchok, as Hashem told him (Bereishis 21:12), Ki v’Yitzchok yikorei lecha zora – Your line will run through Yitzchok.
When Yitzchok gave the brachos of Veyiten lecha to Yaakov, that was an indication that Yaakov, and not Eisov, was the son who would inherit the mantle of Avrohom and Yitzchok.
This suggests that until the brachos were given to Yaakov, Eisov had the opportunity to be the yoresh of Avrohom and Yitzchok had he rectified his ways.
It is fascinating to note that even a person who had deviated as far from his heritage as Eisov had, is given the opportunity to return and claim his rightful place among the Am Kadosh.
At the beginning of the parsha, we learn how Rivkah sought out great men for an explanation of why her unborn child was exhibiting divergent tendencies toward kedusha and tumah. The posuk (Bereishis 25:22) states that she said, “Im kein, lamah zeh anochi,” and went to seek Hashem.
Why was she so bothered that she went to Sheim to find out what Hashem had planned for her?
Perhaps the language of the posuk provides us with a hint. The words “Lamah zeh anochi,” commonly translated as, “If so, what am I doing this for? Why did I pray for children?” can be understood allegorically a bit differently. Rivkah was perturbed, as the Medrash states, by the fact that when she passed the bais medrash of Sheim and Eiver, the baby kicked as if trying to exit, while when passing a place of avodah zorah, the same thing happened.
When Rivkah said, “Lamah zeh anochi,” perhaps she was referring to the Aseres Hadibros that her offspring were to receive, commencing with the commandment of “Anochi Hashem Elokecha.”
She was concerned, for she knew that someone who pretends to be a proponent of opposing sides cannot be the progenitor of the chosen people who will receive the Torah. As the ultimate truth, Torah is not the domain of those who are all things to all people. Hashem is uncomfortable, kevayachol, with someone who presents himself as a holy person when that is advantageous to him and acts differently when he thinks that will be more beneficial to him. There is one truth. It is not a smorgasbord for people who consider themselves open minded to choose from, sometimes going in this direction and sometimes in the other.
Rivkah knew that as the child of Yitzchok and grandson of Avrohom, the offspring she was to give birth to would have to be a leader, setting a standard of virtue, goodness and G-dliness in this world. She was worried that the child she was carrying was demonstrating symptoms of being unprincipled. Since such a child would not be a worthy heir to Avrohom and Yitzchok, she thought that she would have been better off remaining barren.
Thus, she was relieved when Sheim informed her that she would give birth to twins, one righteous child and the other evil. Although she would have been happier with two righteous children, she was comforted with the knowledge that she would be giving birth to a worthy heir to Yitzchok and not to a misguided, corrupt opportunist.
Not only in her day, but in ours as well, there is a shortage of leaders. In every society, in every country, and in every industry, people are disconcerted as they seek leadership in a drifting world. People look for someone trustworthy to rally around, searching desperately for a person who can put their feelings into words and give voice to their concerns. There is a dearth of leaders who act in the best interests of the people they are supposed to serve.
The Torah is not an esoteric book only for the smart and learned. The Torah is for everyone, at every time, and in every period. It is for anyone who dedicates himself to its study and acquisition.
As we study the stories in Seder Bereishis, our minds are opened, our souls are purified, and our sensitivities are awakened to the needs and aspirations of our people.
To find answers in a confounding world, we follow our grandmother, Rivkah, and seek the word of Hashem in the bais medrash. Only those who study Hashem’s Torah are equipped to guide us in times of disillusionment and confusion. Only with the Torah’s perspective can we appreciate what is going on around us and find direction and purpose.
This week, as we enter the month of Kislev, we begin thinking about the story of Chanukah. We realize that the Bnei Chashmonaim were neither warriors nor leaders. They were people in whose hearts burned a desire to rid the world of evil. As we say in Al Hanissim, they were few and they were weak. But they were righteous and they studied Hashem’s Torah. They had the courage of their convictions. They refused to subjugate themselves to the profane practices and worldview of the Hellenists.
Under the leadership of Matisyohu ben Yochanan Kohein Gadol, the handful of tzaddikim and oskei Torah arose to provide leadership for a dejected, subjugated people. Taking note of their courage and self-sacrifice, Hashem empowered them with the ability to rally the Bnei Yisroel and beat a powerful and deeply entrenched enemy.
The leader is not the one who cheats his way up the political ladder. The Torah leader is not the one who repeatedly lies to his people and engages in subterfuges in a desperate bid to maintain a hold on power. He doesn’t just pontificate and blame the consequences of his ineptitude on someone else. The proper leader doesn’t hold on desperately to an outdated and disproved ideology. He is not crippled by arrogance and ignorance. He is honest and dedicated to a moral ideal and the people’s welfare.
The Torah and sifrei kodesh are replete with lessons guiding a person to reach success. They teach what life is about. They teach us to set goals and what those goals should be. When confused, the bais medrash and its leaders offer care and concern, as well as proven advice on how to overcome dissolution and achieve success.
Yaakov and Eisov were born to the same parents and had the same chinuch and upbringing. One grew up to be a tremendous success, while the other is remembered for all time as an evil loser. One spent his time in the bais medrash, studying Torah and seeking to establish a life predicated upon his family’s values. The other spent his days having a good time, hunting and acting as a tough guy outside, while at home he behaved as a holy, learned person.
Rav Reuvein Dov Dessler of Kelm, whose granddaughter Rebbetzin Miriam Dessler of Cleveland passed away this past Motzoei Shabbos, would say that the way Eisov presented himself was dependent on his wants on that particular day. On the day of Avrohom’s passing, Eisov wanted the bowl of adashim Yaakov had prepared for the seudas havra’ah following the funeral. To procure the adashim, he presented himself as a person of mussar, mourning the transience of life and the passing of his beloved grandfather, Avrohom.
In truth, Eisov was moved by neither. The only thing he cared about was the sweet-smelling pot of beans. And so is the way of man, Rav Dessler would say. He has different masks, depending upon his specific wants. We have to be careful to be true to ourselves and not project ourselves as people we are not.
Let’s go back to Rivkah seeking out Sheim’s guidance regarding her troubling pregnancy and her statement of “Im kein, lamah zeh anochi – If this is the child I will be giving birth to, why do I need this?”
Rivkah knew that Avrohom had more than one son. She also knew that Hashem promised (Bereishes 17:21) to honor the covenant He had made with Avrohom through Yitzchok. She knew that following Avrohom’s bris, Hashem said (Bereishis 18:18), “Avrohom will give birth to a large nation… For I know that he will command his sons and household to follow the ways of Hashem, to engage in charity and justice, so that Hashem will bring upon Avrohom (and his children) all He promised.”
For the son of Yitzchok to merit being the inheritor of the brachos and for the bris to continue through him, he would have to follow in the ways of his father and grandfather.
Were Rivkah to give birth to a son who served avodah zorah, he would not be able to continue the chain and would be rejected, just as Yishmoel was.
Rivkah feared that since the baby was exhibiting dangerous tendencies, he was evil, and when that would become evident, she would be scorned as Hagar was and would be evicted from the home of Yitzchok along with her son.
“‘Im kein,’ if that is to be my fate,” worried Rivkah, “‘lamah zeh anochi,’ I will not merit to be the mother of the Jewish people, so what will be of me?
“Eliezer came to my town and devised a test to see who would be the worthy wife for Yitzchok, carrying on the traditions established by Avrohom and transmitting them to future generations. Perhaps, although Eliezer was impressed by my acts of chesed, I was not the girl who was bashert for Yitzchok. ‘Im kein,’ if it is true that my son will be an unworthy heir, ‘lamah zeh anochi?’ What am I doing here? I am the wrong wife for Yitzchok and my shlichus is not to be the mother of the third av.”
Sheim informed her that while one son would be unworthy, his twin would be the third of the avos, and through him the Jewish nation would begin to take shape. Rivkah was satisfied and returned home satisfied.
“Im kein, lamah zeh anochi?” She learned that her shlichus, her mission in life, was to give birth to the third of the avos hakedoshim and ensure that he would be the heir who would give birth to the Shteim Esrei Shivtei Kah, the progenitors of Am Yisroel.
This is the meaning of the posuk (Bereishis 25:28), “Yitzchok loved Eisov and Rivkah loved Yaakov.” Yitzchok was unaware of Eisov’s true nature. He loved him because he was fooled by Eisov’s charade. Rivkah was aware of the truth and knew that the golden chain would carry on through Yaakov. Therefore, she loved him and dedicated herself to his welfare, though he was “ish tom yosheiv ohalim” and not one to brag or put on a show to impress anyone, including his father.
We all have our missions in life. We all seek to be worthy links in the chain going back to Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov. We face many financial pressures just to be able to maintain a stable family life. We feel pulled from all sides. The yeitzer hora is ever-present, seeking to ensnare us. He has many vises, some of which allow us to maintain our outward appearance of frumkeit and yashrus. He causes us to fool ourselves and think that we are engaging in mitzvos, when what we are really after is the nezid adashim.
We have to be honest not only with others, but also with ourselves. We have to understand what we are doing and what our motivations are. If the cause is not as holy as we think, or if we are doing something that we can’t really afford, we should not let ourselves be fooled into something improper or unrealistic.
We should seek to flee from an overtaxed life and carve out moments of silence to hear our heart and soul, ensuring that we are focused on proper goals. We need to escape the noise of the world and find a tent where we can bring purity and simplicity to our lives, as our grandfather Yaakov did.
Eisov was a man about town, making deals, rushing, always on the move. He wanted to be successful. Yaakov, the ish tom yosheiv ohalim, was neither a participant in the rat race nor seeking to impress anyone. Quietly and alone, he set goals for himself and attained them.
In our day, as well, if we want to benefit from the brachos reserved for the Bnei Yaakov and not fall prey to the vicissitudes of life, we have to set goals for ourselves and ensure that we remain focused on attaining objectives that bring meaning and value to life.
Without being grounded by values, the drive to make it in this world can lead to fake numbers, dishonest dealings, deceitful relationships, and creating false impressions. It may work for a while, but eventually the ruse gives way, the bills pile up, the pressures increase, the frustration grows, and it all catches up with you. Eisov was such a person, dressing in the best clothes, always in style, and at the top of the game and the latest fad. But, unprincipled and deceiving, he is remembered for all time as the epitome of failure. Those who follow his example can expect a similar outcome.
He could have had it all. Instead, he gave it all away and forfeited satisfaction and success for pleasures that lasted as long as the taste of good meat and lentils on a palate. The failure was permanent.
The parsha calls out to us and proclaims to get away from the noise, frustration and pressure. Seek for yourself inner peace and happiness in the ohel of Yaakov. There, you will study this week’s parsha and the other parshiyos of the Torah. You will discover seforim of hadracha and mussar. You will get involved deep in a sugya. And there you will become motivated to achieve a good life, and merit calmness and happiness and success as a worthy heir to Avrohom and Sarah, Yitzchok and Rivkah, Yaakov and Leah and Rochel.