Jokers

This week’s parsha introduces us to a new phenomenon: hypocritical tricksters and cynical jokers. The posuk (Toldos 25:19) tells us, “These are the children of Yitzchok, the son of Avrohom; Avrohom gave birth to Yitzchok.” Rashi (ibid.) points out the repetition, explaining that the leitzonim of the generation alleged that Yitzchok was the son of Avimelech and not Avrohom. Hashem thus made Yitzchok appear exactly like Avrohom, so that people could look at him and see that he was indeed the son of Avrohom.

As with all leitzonim, the facts of the story are not important. What is important to them is that they establish their narrative and stick to it, no matter what the truth is. Yitzchok was born two years after Sarah was taken hostage by Avimelech. Obviously, their story had no validity, yet Hashem still felt the need to have Yitzchok look like his father.

We translate leitzonim to mean jokers, but in fact, as we see in our day, leitzonim present themselves as serious people. They fashion a narrative and repeat it unabashedly, fictitious as it may be. Vacuous people buy into it and believe it, despite evidence to the contrary. People are superficial and too lazy to think and examine what the real story is, so Hashem provided a bona fide proof to demonstrate the fallacy of the leitzonim, so that people would not be led astray and deny the lineage of Am Yisroel.

Leitzonim are people with agendas who play with people’s minds, mocking the truth and advancing their schemes by creating an alternative reality. This is done in matters of religion by people who present themselves as religious or Orthodox and act in ways discordant with halacha and tradition. They present themselves as thoughtful progressives and broadminded scholars, concerned about health, people’s feelings and the transmission of Torah to future generations and those far removed, while they mock the ones who follow the path of Avrohom and Yitzchok as close-minded myopic fools blinded by a fidelity to insular, ignorant rabbis who are unconcerned about the wellbeing of others and uninterested in outreach, knowledge or scientific truths.

Later in the parsha, we are introduced to Eisov and his shenanigans. The posuk states (Toldos 25:27), “Vayehi Eisov ish yodei’a tzayid – And Eisov knew how to trap.” Apparently, the Torah is informing us that Eisov was a hunter who excelled at trapping animals. However, Rashi tells us that the Torah is also letting us know that Eisov was a charlatan who tricked people with his mouth and words.

Eisov tricked his father, Yitzchok, into thinking that he was a righteous person by presenting halachic questions to him. He reasoned that by presenting himself as a tzaddik, his father would love him more than Yaakov, who did nothing other than learn and do mitzvos all day. While we know from studying Torah and Chazal that Eisov was a fraud, it is likely that he not only asked Yitzchok his shaylos, but also, from outward appearances, presented himself as a tzaddik and worthy heir to Avrohom and Yitzchok. It was only through Divine intervention and actions by his mother Rivkah that Eisov didn’t emerge as the spiritual successor to Yitzchok.

In life, we encounter all types of people. There are those such as Yaakov who keep to themselves and dedicate their lives to studying, teaching and fulfilling the precepts of Torah while maintaining a strict fidelity to the truth. Then there are those like Eisov, who are corrupt to the core and project a religious exterior. We have to be able to discern the difference between the two and attach ourselves and do business only with people who are scrupulously honest and G-d-fearing. We have to also examine ourselves and ensure that our motivations are pure and our actions holy.

The struggle between Yaakov and Eisov endures and will continue until the end of days. One lived the life of the bais medrash and the other lived the life of the street. Yaakov was a tzaddik tomim, while Eisov was the opposite.

Yaakov spoke with respect, humility and empathy, as did his father, Yitzchok, and grandfather, Avrohom. Eisov had no use for anything holy and glibly sold his bechorah to Yaakov for the symbolic price of a bowl of lentil soup.

The parsha tells us that while it appears that Yitzchok appreciated Eisov, the difference in speech and manner between his two sons was obvious to him. When Yaakov came forth to receive the brachos of “Veyiten lecha,” Yitzchok was confused, for although Yaakov was wearing the coat of Eisov, he sounded like Yaakov. “Hakol kol Yaakov.”

Eisov later cried to his father, begging for a brocha, as he plotted his brother’s murder. The words meant nothing. Yitzchok discerned something in Yaakov’s voice, a sincerity and heart that marked him as different.

Words are everything to a Jew. Our manner of speech defines us. How we speak, the words we choose, and our tone of voice all matter. We are to be refined, disciplined and respectful. We respect people whose words are soft and thoughtful, not brash and irreverent. We respect and promote men and women of truth, whose fidelity to honesty and halacha grounds them. It is him and people like him who embody the ideals of Am Yisroel.

We are in the exile of Eisov and must make sure that we do not adopt his perfidious and disrespectful nature.

In this week’s haftarah, the novi Malachi (1:2-6) repeats to the Jewish people Hashem’s words: “I love Yaakov and Eisov I hate…” As for the kohanim, the posuk states, “Amar Hashem Tzevakos lochem hakohanim bozei shemi.” They failed to demonstrate proper respect to Hashem and the Mikdosh.

Underpinning the reprimand, and perhaps the connection to the parsha, is the fact that the kohanim earned their role and mission as a result of Yaakov’s purchase of the bechorah. The bechorim did not act properly, and the kohanim were chosen to replace them as attendants to Hashem.

The original sale of the bechorah was rooted in the fundamental difference between the brothers. Yaakov was a man of respect, while Eisov epitomized ridicule and scorn. As the posuk says of Eisov, “Vayivez Eisov.” His personality was one of derision.

Thus, if the kohanim had fallen to the level where they became “bozei Hashem,” embodying Eisov’s characteristic of the middah of bizayon, they were demonstrating that they were no longer worthy of inheriting the gift bequeathed by Yaakov to serve Hashem in the Bais Hamikdosh.

As bnei Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov, we are identified by three traits. We are rachmonim, baishonim and gomlei chassodim, people of mercy, bashfulness and kindness. We are invested with sensitivity and compassion, and the words we use, our tone of voice, and our approach have the ability to awaken those traits.

We recently lost Rav Dovid Feinstein, a brilliant Torah giant who cloaked his greatness in simplicity. The many thousands around the world who mourn his passing saw in him a personification of the positive attributes we aim for, with humility, devotion to Torah study, halacha and relating to other people with kindness and compassion and decency. We should emulate the example he set for us.

We live in a time when political parties recently spent billions of dollars to put forth their narratives and impact an election. When the recent election was over, one side was declared the winner. They shut down all discussion by the other side and successfully set about implanting their narrative everywhere, as if it represented the truth and the will of the people. With mock righteousness that would make Eisov proud, their vision took hold and whoever disagrees with them is treated as an out-of-touch lunatic.

Eisov doesn’t see past the surface. He sees a red soup and refers to it by its color, saying to Yaakov, “Haliteini na min ha’adom ha’adom hazehAl kein kara es shemo Edom” (Bereishis 25:30). Eisov and his offspring are referred to as “Edom,” because he referred to the lentil soup as “edom.” He exposed his superficiality. All he cared about was its color. Its identifying trait was one that had little to do with its flavor and consistency.

Eisov doesn’t care about the truth other than to project himself as truthful and upstanding. He seeks to take advantage of people’s honesty and sincerity, seeing it as naiveté and gullibility.

Edom, as a people, also fails to perceive beyond what it can touch and feel. Hence the fascination in our world with looks, color and presentation. There is no depth that’s meaningful to them beyond the surface image.

We have to work harder to rid ourselves of that pernicious influence so that we can be worthy heirs to the glorious heritage passed down to us from our forefathers. We have to seek out what is real and proper and bypass what is shallow, superficial and impure. The test becomes greater by the day, as does the temptation to be affected by the glossy lures and come-ons.

The Chofetz Chaim kept pictures in his home that he would look at from time to time. One of them was a picture of a tall man in a threadbare caftan known as Reb Shimon Kaftan because of his tattered cloak. The man was neither a talmid chochom nor a rov. After losing his wife and children in a plague, he arrived in Vilna. Every day, he did just enough work to sustain himself and would spend the rest of the day going around town with a pushkah, softly asking people to put in their coins, which Reb Shimon used to feed hungry families and support yeshivah bochurim and Torah scholars.

As he walked about, he hummed a little tune: “Someone who gives a penny here receives Olam Haba there.” It was a simple tune, but the Chofetz Chaim would tell the story of Shimon and sing his song. The gaon and tzaddik of Radin perceived the latent holiness in a little Yiddishe niggun, because the simple words and authentic Yiddishe emotions caused Jews to open their hearts. It was the timeless kol Yaakov and the Chofetz Chaim would sing it as if it were a sacred piyut.

The niggun and its words were sacred and holy because it was pure and simple and touched the neshamos of pure, holy Jews.

As children of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov, we are all shluchim to continue their holy work. We are to care about each other, and speak with love and soft words people can understand and accept. We speak neither with a forked tongue nor with animosity, hate or sanctimonious judgmentalism. We are not hypocritical, flippant or glib. We are and remain positive and hopeful, treating all people properly, as our forefathers did.

The tug of war between Yaakov and Eisov is eternal and continues to this day. The Chazon Ish told Rav Chaim Kanievsky in the early days of the state of Israel that, “There is a long rope, Ben Gurion holds one end and tries to pull all of Am Yisroel to his side. I hold on to the other end and try to pull all of Am Yisroel to my end. Sometimes he’s stronger, sometimes I am.”

There is an ongoing battle until the arrival of Moshiach between good and evil, between those who are righteous and those who pretend to be. We must always be on the side of truth and goodness, avoiding lies and charlatans.

We earned the brachos of Veyiten Lecha because we spoke plainly, softly and with respect. To act this way is our birthright and what identifies us and brings us blessings and favor in the eyes of Hashem.

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