In this week’s parsha, we learn of Rivkah’s concern during her much-anticipated pregnancy. She sought out great men to explain to her why her unborn child was exhibiting 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 would happen.
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 Shivtei Kah, 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, while he poses in a different fashion when he deems that to be more beneficial.
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 as the epitome of 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 progenitor to Avrohom and Yitzchok.
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 some esoteric book available only to the smart learned. The Torah is for everyone, at every time, and in every period. It is neither in the heavens nor available only in some remote region. It is for anyone who dedicates himself to its study and acquisition.
As we sit by the feet of good teachers and imbibe the lessons that were inculcated in them by their rabbeim, 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 should follow our grandmother, Rivkah, and seek the word of Hashem in the bais medrash. Only those who study the word of Hashem are equipped to guide us in times of disillusionment and confusion. It is only with the Torah’s perspective that we can appreciate what is going on around us and find direction and purpose in our world.
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 an insatiable 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 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 die-hard tzaddikim and oskei Torah arose to provide leadership for a dejected, subjugated people. Hashem took note of their courage and self-sacrifice, and empowered them with the ability to rally the bnei Yisroel and to emerge victorious over a powerful and deeply entrenched enemy.
The leader is not the one who cheats his way up the political ladder. The true 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.
The Jewish leader spends his time bent over a sefer, teaching and helping people. He imparts his knowledge to others with love and devotion. He parcels out his advice and guidance with humility. People flock to him and follow him. We have an inbred sense of where to go for leadership and whom to follow.
A radio call-in show was playing in the background as I was writing. I wasn’t paying attention until I heard someone who identified himself with a Jewish name from a frum town ask a question. The host is retiring after a few decades of broadcasting. The listener called for advice.
“As you plan to retire, can you give me some advice?” the caller asked. “I want to be a success. How do I go about that? You are successful. How can I be successful?” he questioned with a tone of desperation.
The host asked him what his goal is.
“Goal? I want to be successful. That’s my goal,” was the response.
The host went on a rant, educating the caller that success is not a goal.
“A goal is something you want to reach. Do you have interests? Do you have any talents? Is there anything you care about? If there is something you can do and want to do, you work hard at it, set a goal, and aim towards it. Reach your goal and you’ll be happy, satisfied and successful.”
What struck me most about the conversation was that the caller was asking this person in the first place. Why would he turn to a radio talk show host? Is he the person best qualified to answer the question? If you don’t see yourself as succeeding in life, why would you call this fellow? Why wouldn’t you reach out to people known for their success in Torah and other areas of pursuit?
If this caller would be satisfied with his heritage and spend time each day learning Torah and mussar, he wouldn’t have to contact a radio show for tips. 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 may have succeeded financially but 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 the values of his father and grandfather. The other spent his days hunting, acting as a ruffian and tough guy in the street, and putting on a show for his father, presenting himself as a holy and learned person.
Rav Reuvein Dov Dessler of Kelm 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’s goal was to gulp down the bowl of adashim Yaakov had prepared for the seudas havra’ah following the funeral. He decided that in order to procure the adashim, he would present himself as a person of mussar, remembering the yom hamisah and broken over the loss of the tzaddik Avrohom.
In truth, he was moved by neither. His sole motivation 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.
Which brings us to the age-old question of why Yitzchok wished to bless Eisov, and not Yaakov, with the blessings of Veyitein Lecho.
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.”
In order 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 be someone who would follow in the ways of his father and grandfather.
Were Rivkah to give birth to a son who served avodah zora, 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 area 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 with that and happily returned home.
Apparently, Rivkah never shared that information with Yitzchok and never let him in on the fact that Eisov was an evil imposter, who succeeded in fooling his father with respect to his degree of religiosity. Explanations for Rivkah’s behavior are set forth by the Zohar, Rishonim and Acharonim and are beyond the purview of this article.
When it came time to transmit the brachos, Yitzchok planned on giving them to Eisov. However, Rivkah, who knew the truth about Eisov, worked to ensure that Yaakov, the worthy heir, would be blessed, and the chain would be transmitted through him and his children.
“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 which tells us (Bereishis 25:28), “Yitzchok loved Eisov and Rivkah loved Yaakov.” Yitzchok was unaware of Eisov’s true nature. Therefore, he loved him, because he would constantly seek to impress his father about his knowledge and frumkeit. 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 tam 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.
Flee from an overtaxed life and carve out moments of silence to hear your heart and soul, ensuring that they are focused on proper goals. Escape the noise of the world and find a tent, 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 tam yosheiv ohalim, was neither a participant in the rat race nor seeking to impress anyone. 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. A simple drive to succeed leads to bogus figures, dishonest dealings, deceitful relationships and false impressions, coupled with increased pressures and many dead ends. Eisov sought to succeed at all costs. Unprincipled and deceiving, he has been remembered throughout history as the epitome of fallaciousness.
Get away from the noise, frustration and pressure. Find a seat in the ohel of Yaakov. There you will find yourself and the elusive commodity of inner peace. You will become motivated to achieve a good life, and merit calmness and happiness as a worthy heir to Yitzchok and Rivkah.