Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Parshat Toldot

There are four Sedra Shorts on Parshat Toldot . Scroll down for each Dvar Torah:

  • Twins in Her Womb
  • Yitchack Avinu – Action Man
  • Yitschak's Vision
  • More Peace with Avimelech – Whatever Happened to It?

Twins in Her Womb

Rivka is privy to much information that logically she should not have known:

  • Whilst pregnant, God tells her the destiny of her prodigy (Bereshit 25:23)
  • She overhears Yitschok's intention to bless Esav (ibid 27:5)
  • She is told of Esav's intention to kill Yaakov (ibid 41)

However, there's also much she didn't know:

  • She knew she had two nations in her womb, but is surprised that she had twins – "her days to give birth were completed, and behold, there were twins in her womb" (ibid 25:24)
  • She was concerned about Yaakov being cursed by Yitschak, but did not anticipate Esav's reaction to Yaakov taking the berachot (ibid 27:12-13)
  • In sending Yaakov to Lavan, she thought he would only be gone: "for a few days" (ibid 44). She did not know that he would be there for 21 years and that she would never see him again

In acting on her foreknowledge, Rivka alters her family's dynamics:

  • She favors her younger son (ibid 25:28)S
  • She decieves her older son (ibid 27:6-13)
  • She misleads her husband (ibid 46)

The result is that her family is split apart with Yaakov forced to flee (ibid 43).

Should Rivka had intervened? Maybe she should have allowed God to worry about His masterplan? The conflict btween Yaakov and Esav and history might have been very differen

Yitchack Avinu – Action Man

Yitzchak appears to be a passive, weak and even pitiful character. We so how he needed protection from Yishmael’s influence, how Avraham almost offered him up as a sacrifice (Bereshit 21:9-10), how Avraham needed to find a wife for him (the only time someone did not find their own wife in the Tanach) (ibid Ch.22), his son Yaakov tricked him into giving him the Berachot (ibid 27:19-28) and even his wife Rivka twice manipulates the situation to circumvent him from making what in her opinion, was a mistake (ibid 5-12 & 46). Indeed, Yitschak is blind, not just literally, but also to reality in that he does not recognize Esav’s true character and he does not see the hostility between his two sons in the way Rivka does.

Furthermore, Yitzchak’s life seems to be a carbon copy of Avraham’s: His wife was sterile, just like Avraham’s; he said that Rivka was his sister when he entered hostile territory, just like Avraham; he made a peace treaty with Avimelech and Phichol, just like Avraham; and he even named a place Be’er Sheva, just like Avraham.

Indeed, in the only episode with which we see Yitzchak on his own, i.e. without Avraham or his sons, he is simply re-opening wells that Avraham had previously dug. They had become blocked. He struggles to unblock and eventually succeeds. He then gives them the same names that Avraham had given them.

Who was Yitzchak? Was he merely the link between Avraham and Yaakov or is there something unique about him in his own right that entitles to the title of Patriarch of the Jewish people, or was he just a poor copy of Avraham.

The answer to this question lies in the episode of the wells. Avraham took the Middle East by storm. He acquired a following in Charan, (see Rashi on ibid 12:5), the Canaanite locals recognized him as a holy man (ibid 14:20) and a “prince of God” (ibid 23:6). He defeated kings in battle (ibid Ch14) and kings came to him to make treaties (ibid 14: 22 & 21:22-34).

Avraham dug new wells and found fresh water, however, by the end of his life the wells became blocked, his ideas were no longer new and exciting. What happened to all “the souls he had acquired in Charan”, to the altars he had built and the treaties he had made?

New fads and fashions often become popular very quickly but they soon lose their staying power. Keeping them going is a difficult. That is where Yitschak comes in. He is totally different to both Avraham and Yaakov.

Unlike Avraham and Yaakov, he never leaves Canaan, he never had his name changed, he was named by God and he only had one wife. Yitzchak is the epitome of stability.

Yitzchak does not try and copy Avraham. He does not start anything new, he keeps what was already existed going and, despite the opposition to him telling him that Avraham’s ideas were old, that his wells had dried up, Yitzchak actually succeeds.

Without Yitzchak, everything that Avraham had built would have been lost and there would have been no Jewish people.

Yitzchak’s decisive actions and his attempts to gain stability gave new life to Avraham’s work and gives us good reason to stand in awe at our glorious progenitor.

Yitschak's Vision

"It came to pass when Yitschak was old, and his eyes were too dim to see" (Bereshit 27:1).

Yitschak was blind. Therefore, Yaakov was able to deceive him by announcing that he was Esav, thereby gaining the blessing that Yitschak had intended to give Esav.

Many seem to think Yitschak blindness was not just limited to his vision, he was also blind to Esav's true personality. Had he been aware of who Esav really was, he would never have intended to give him the blessing.

However, upon closer examination we will see that Yitschak was indeed aware of his son's abilities and personality. He was aware that Yaakov was to be the inheritor of the blessings God had given Avraham and had passed down to him. However, he also wanted to ensure that Esav had a future; that he wouldn't be left out.

This is clear from Esav's moving plea to Yitschak immediately after Yaakov's deception was revealed.

"When Esav heard his father's words, he cried out a great and bitter cry, and he said to his father, 'Bless me too, O my father!...Have you not reserved a blessing for me?'… Yitschak answered and said to Esau, 'Behold, I made him a master over you,' …Esav said to his father, 'Have you [but] one blessing, my father? Bless me too, my father.' Esav raised his voice and wept" (ibid 34-35).

Three times Esav asks his father for a blessing and each time Yitschak responds that he does not have one. However, this is not true.

When Yitschak sends Yaakov to Padan Aram to find a wife, immediately after this incident, the Yitschak again blesses Yaakov saying: "May the Almighty God bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, and you shall become an assembly of peoples. May He give you the blessing of Abraham, to you and to your seed with you, that you may inherit the land of your sojournings, which God gave to Avraham" (ibid 28:3-4).

Yitschak blesses Yaakov that he will be Avraham's inheritor, that he will receive the Land of Canaan and that God'ds blessings to Avraham would continue through him.

This is not the blessing that Yitschak intended to give Esav. That (ibid 27:28-29). That was a blessing about material wealth and power, it was not about Avraham's destiny.

Yitschak always intended to pass that onto Yaakov, he was aware that only Yaakov and not Esav, was worthy of it. However, he loved Esav, and just like Avraham with Yishmael, he did not want to leave him empty handed; he wanted to secure his future knowing fully well that Esav was not his inheritor.

However, this was not to be because of Rivka's interference.

The real question therefore, remains, whether Rivka knew that her husband did understand his children. Did she know which blessing Yitschak had intended to give Esav? Would she have reacted differently had she known that Yitschak did not intend to give Esav the inheritance of Avraham?

More Peace with Avimelech – Whatever Happened to It?

In Parshat VaYera, Avimelech had made a non-aggression pact with Avraham. In this week's parsha, Avimelech or possibly his son, as the name is generic for "ruler", renews the pact, this time with Yitzchak: "If you do [not] harm us, as we have not touched you, and as we have done with you only good, and we sent you away in peace, [so do] you now, blessed of the Lord (Bereshit 26:29).

Whatever, happened to this treaty? Was it ever used?

We recall that when Avimelech made the original agreement, he said that it would be between "me or to my son or to my grandson" (ibid 21:23).

One could argue, therefore, that the pact was intended to only last three generations. This would explain how Avraham could agree to relinquish part of the Land of Israel, as God had promised him that "the fourth generation will return here" (ibid 15:16). Therefore, the treaty merely passed by its "use by" date and then became null and void.

However, one could also argue that the term that Avimelech was used was generic to refer to forever. If so, our question remains, what happened to the treaty?

In order to answer this question, we must look at two episodes in Sefer Shmuel. There we see David, the future king of Israel, living in Gat, a Philistine city.

This is very strange. We must remember that David slew the Philistine champion, Goliath. More than that, he has freed Israel from Philistine control. Indeed, the Israelite maidens would sing about him that "Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands" (I Shmuel 18:7). He has won many battles against the Philistines.

Yet when Sha'ul, the king considers David a traitor and tries to kill him, David flees to Achish, the Philistine ruler of Gat, for refuge. You would think that he would be the last person to help David. Not only that, David even took the sword of Goliath with him to Gat! Yet Achish still gave him sanctuary.

David soon had a problem: "The bondsmen of Achish said to him, "Is this not David, the king of the land? Was it not of this one that they would sing out with musical instruments, saying, 'Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands?'" (ibid 21:12).

In order to feign internment, David feigned madness: "He changed his speech before their eyes, and he feigned insanity before them. He scribbled on the doors of the gate, and let his saliva run down upon his beard" (ibid 14).

Unbelievably, Achish fell for it! "Achish said to his bondsmen, "Behold, you see a man who is mad. Why do you bring him to me? Do I lack lunatics, that you have brought this one to rave in my presence?" (ibid 15-16).

Well, maybe Achish was fooled and really believed David to be a madman. If that is the case, how do we explain the episode a few chapters later?

David is still on the run from Sha'ul and he is not safe in Israel, so he returns to Gat. "David arose. He and the six hundred men who were with him, crossed over to Achish the son of Maoch, the king of Gath (ibid 27:2).

Is it possible that Achish had no idea that he was there? No, not really: "David said to Achish, "If now I have found favor in your eyes, let them give me a place in one of the country towns, and I shall dwell there, for why should your servant dwell in the royal city with you?"So Achish gave him Ziklag on that day; therefore, Ziklag has belonged to the kings of Judah until this day" (ibid 5-6).

Achish gave David a city!! More than that, when Sha'ul fought his last battle, David was Achish's personal bodyguard (see ibid 28:1-2). How was it possible that David, the slayer of Goliath, the tormentor of the Philistines and someone who had feigned madness to Achish previously, become such a trusted aide of his?

Rabbi Benyamin Lau suggests that Achish was a descendant of Avimelech and that he still cherished the treaty that Avraham and Yitschak made with his ancestor. Rabbi Lau even suggests that Gerar is Gat, pointing out that the numerical value of the names of the cities are the same.

Therefore, Achish, as a descendant of the philistine king from this week's parsha, had a duty to uphold the treaty, and therefore, protect David.


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