An Even Longer Journey
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
They journeyed from Beit El and there was still a stretch of land to
go until Efrat, when Rachel went into labor and had difficulty in
childbirth . . . It came to pass as her soul was departing -- for
she died -- that she called his name Ben Oni . . . (Bereishis
The death of a mother through childbirth is less common today, thank
G-d, it was far more common in past times. This is one of the
reasons given for why having children is a mitzvah commanded only of
a man and not a woman: the Torah, in general, does not command us to
do that which endangers our lives.
Usually the reason for such a tragedy is physical. However, in the
case of the birth of Binyomin, it was purely spiritual, as the Arizal
Ya'akov left one Ruach in Rachel and one in Leah. The Ruach which he
left in Rachel went to Binyomin her son. This is the sod of "As her
soul was departing -- for she died . . ." (Bereishis 35:18). For,
the Ruach that he gave to her was called her Nefesh, as it is known,
and it left her in order to go into Binyomin her son; therefore,
Binyomin could not be born until the Nefesh of Rachel left. (Shaar
HaGilgulim, Chapter 36)
This is a very interesting and Kabbalistic concept. As Shaar
HaGilgulim teaches at the beginning of the sefer, a person receives
his or her Nefesh even before birth, because it is necessary from the
start if a person is going to be able to live; it is the basic life
force of a person. Ya'akov did not marry Rachel until much later in
her life, obviously, so what Nefesh could he have given her that her
life depended upon?
It means that whatever Nefesh had kept Rachel alive until she
married Ya'akov, had not been the one that she lived with after she
married Ya'akov. Somehow, after Ya'akov finally married Rachel, he
gave to her on a soul-level a new Life Force that enhanced her being
while she had it, and which was given over to Binyomin at the time of
his birth as a continuation of her being and spirit.
This is why the concept of zivug -- soul-mate -- makes such a
difference. When a man and woman act as husband and wife, even if
their intention is not to build a family, there is still a spiritual
connection taking place that has affects on the souls of both the
husband and the wife. When the guidelines of marriage, as set forth
by the Torah, are not followed, it makes for a very confused
Even if a couple marries according to all the right reasons and
methods, and then gets divorced according to all the right reasons
and methods as well, they can be far better off spiritually than a
couple that lives together outside the boundaries of what the Torah
sanctions. This is true even if the non-Torah-sanctioned
relationship is a "peaceful" one.
The Torah, when laying down the guidelines for relationships, took
into account all the possibilities in order to channel people in the
correct direction of personal tikun and world tikun. However, if
people negate these guidelines, then they take upon themselves the
responsibility of rectifying that which they do not understand and
It's an awesome responsibility of which most people, when being
promiscuous, are completely unaware. However, it is one for which we
are held responsible at the end of time when we stand before G-d in
These are the descendants of Eisav, who is Edom. Eisav had taken his
wives... and Basmas, daughter of Yishmael. (Bereishis 36:1-3)
As the rabbis point out, Basmas was really Machalas, first mentioned
at the end of Parashas Toldos:
Eisav went to Yishmael and took Machalas, the daughter of Yishmael... (Bereishis 28:9)
Why did Eisav do this, especially when he already had many other
wives? The Torah explains:
When Eisav saw that Yitzchak had blessed Ya'akov and sent him off to
Padan Aram to take a wife for himself from there ... Eisav
understood that the daughters of Canaan were evil in the eyes of
Yitzchak, his father. (Bereishis 28:6-8)
The above is a short, seemingly insignificant part of the main story,
an apparently valueless diversion from the main event. However, if
that were true, then why would the Torah waste its time and ours by
inserting this fact about the intermarriage of two of the most
powerful dynasties mankind has even known -- that of Eisav and that
of Yishmael -- just as Ya'akov began his journey into exile and the
building of the Jewish people?
That Eisav married Canaanite women is neither surprising nor eye
opening, since according to Midrashic accounts, there was very little
that Canaanite culture could offer Eisav that he didn't already have.
However, the intermarriage of Edom with Yishmael meant something else
altogether -- a powerful hybrid that is a combination of the
characteristics of both.
We spoke about Eisav's characteristics somewhat in Parashas Toldos.
However, regarding the traits of Yishmael, the Torah discusses these
in earlier parshios: Lech-Lecha and Vayaira. In fact, I personally
think that the Torah's description and prophecy of the future nation
of Yishmael is one of the most overt "proofs" of Torah's prophecy.
For, no matter how old one says the Torah is (according to Jewish
tradition, it was given to the Jewish people at Mt. Sinai 3,314 years
ago), and it is certainly older than the Arab population.
What do I mean by this, since obviously there have been Arabs walking
the face of the earth ever since Hagar bore Yishmael to Avraham
Avinu. However, how many millennia did it take to fulfill the
An angel of G-d said to her, "Behold, you will conceive and give
birth to a son; you shall name him Yishmael, for G-d has heard your
prayer." (Bereishis 16:11)
Now, the Torah could have played it safe and stopped right here.
Anyone could have "predicted" that one or two thousand years ago --
after the fact -- the Biblical origin of the Arab people. Future
generations would have only been reading about a past event that at
the time was a future event for Hagar.
However, the Torah did not play it safe and instead continued to
write about events well into the future, some of which may have only
been realized in our time:
"And he shall be a wild man; his hand against everyone and everyone's
hand against him; and over all his brothers shall he dwell.
... An angel of G-d called to Hagar from Heaven, "What troubles you
Hagar? Do not fear, for G-d has heeded the cry of the youth in his
present state. Arise, lift up the youth and grasp your hand upon
him, for I will make a great nation out of him." (Bereishis 21:17-18)
And so he became, in a big way. Not immediately, but well into the
future. Regarding his nature, history speaks for itself. And, if
one wants to argue (as Arab leaders have done), that even Jews are
capable of becoming "terrorists" against Western nations, one should
recall the King David Hotel attack in Jerusalem in the forties.
At the time, the King David Hotel had been British Headquarters in
Jerusalem, and before blowing it up, the Jewish Underground called to
warn of the impending attack. Only once the British had sufficiently
evacuated the building, did the Jews blow it up, in spite of how the
British had done nothing to help the Jews in their struggle to
survive, and often did things to hinder their effort, as is well
However, there were no phone calls in advance of the September 11th
attack; apparently the more innocent people caught in the buildings,
the greater the success of the attack.
Should one argue that the attack was only carried out by a few crazy
people who did not represent the opinion of the masses from which
they came, then they will have to explain the dancing in the streets
in many major Arab capitols, and the distribution of sweets as one
might do upon winning a war. In the West Bank alone, 76% of
Palestinians polled said the American's had it coming to them. The
American media wanted to report this, but in an unprecedented
reversal of events, they kept quiet after being threatened with their
"And he shall be a wild man; his hand against everyone and everyone's
hand against him; and over all his brothers shall he dwell.
"This is not a war against Islam," the president of the United States
of America insists today. A prominent Western Arab recently said in
"The New York Times" about his own people (from whom he is hiding):
Yes it IS a war against Islam. Then again, maybe they are both
wrong; maybe it is a war against a hybrid of Eisav and Yishmael, and
not just in the Middle-East but in many parts of the world, not just
in Yishmael's culture, but in Edom's as well.
These are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom before a king
ruled over the Children of Israel. (Bereishis 36:31)
If you think about it, Edom and Yishmael seem to represent two polar
extremes of the same continuum. True, Eisav was the source of
Catholicism, one of the biggest religions in the world today with
many loyal followers, but compared to Islam, it is quite a different
religion. In any case, Eisav today represents the Western World,
which is intensely secular, and even if President George Bush
professes to be a somewhat religious man, he leads a nation that acts
in very non-religious ways.
On the other hand, Islam is at the other extreme. In many places
they still cut off the hand of the thief, among other extreme acts of
law enforcement. In some places in the world, Western backwardness
is a function of Third World poverty. However, many Arab countries
have more than enough money to be even more western than the West,
but choose not to as a matter of culture, often rejecting it to an
Historically, the Jewish people have stood in between both cultures,
or were supposed to have stood between both cultures, at least. As
we have seen, just like any other people, we are capable of going to
extremes. Today, some Jews are more secular than anyone else in the
world, and historically we have fostered groups capable of taking the
letter of the law too far.
Okay, we may never have cut off the hands of thieves, but we still
have been quite extreme in our judgment of ourselves and others at
times. Especially today, we can't seem to find that national "Middle
Road," and as a result, we still find ourselves in a long,
spiritually and often physically brutal exile.
It is interesting how the above verse mentions where the kings of
Edom ruled -- in the land of Edom -- but stops short of doing so with
respect to the Children of Israel. It is as if the posuk is trying
not to confine itself to a single time period, but rather wishes to
refer to the entire period of Jewish history -- until a true king
will finally come and rule over the Jewish people, Moshiach himself.
Once Moshiach comes, the extremes will disappear. That which is good
and holy, at least in potential, within Western society will be
absorbed and appreciated, and that which is not, will be flatly
rejected. And with the end of the yetzer hara at this time of
history, extreme judgment will no longer be necessary either.
If so, then maybe this posuk has yet to be truly fulfilled. After
all, even Moshe couldn't quite get the nation to walk that straight
line of Torah perfection, and certainly the kings after him did not
either. Thus, no Jewish king has ever really "ruled" the Children of
Israel, while in the meantime the kings of Edom still seem to rule
Thus, this posuk is a fitting end to this week's parshah, which just
happens to end with Chapter Thirty-Six, the number of the Final
Redemption as the thirty-six candles of Chanukah remind us. After
all, nothing happens by accident, even the non-Jewish numbering of
the Torah, especially when it is based upon traditional "stops" and
"starts" -- even if they didn't know it at the time.
Chanukah & The Wonderful World of Thirty-Six
Installment #1: Chapter One: The Hidden Light
Serializing "Changes That Last Forever" received a lot of positive
feedback. Therefore, in advance of Chanukah, I have decided to do
the same with another short book, "Chanukah & The Wonderful World of
Thirty-Six." This has been edited and adapted for these pages:
In the beginning, G-d made the heaven and the earth. The earth was
null and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; the Spirit
of G-d hovered over the surface of the water. G-d said, "Let there
be light!" and there was light. G-d saw the light, that it was good,
and He divided between the light and the darkness. (Bereishis 1:3)
God saw the light, that it was good, and He divided . . . He saw that
it was not worth letting the evil people use it, and He set it aside
for the righteous in the Time-to-Come. (Chagigah 12a)
For thirty-six hours the light served [before G-d hid it from the
world] . . . (Yerushalmi, Brochos 8:5)
The original light of creation was hidden in the thirty-six candles
of Chanukah. (B'nei Yisachar)
With the Hidden Light, G-d nourishes the world. (Zohar, Shemos 149a)
For the first day, the world without man enjoyed the awesome light of
the first day of creation. However, as the Talmud teaches, this
light was special and could be subject to abuse by the evil people of
history. Thus, even before the creation of the first man, G-d "hid"
the light, though the Torah does not exactly tell us where. All we
are told by the Talmud is that it was hidden for the righteous in the
However, as a result, we are faced with many questions: What kind of
light was it? Obviously, it was not the light that we are used to,
for that light did not exist until the fourth day of creation when
G-d put the sun, moon, and the constellations in their orbits.
Incandescent and fluorescent lights did not exist at that time either.
Furthermore, why was this special light hidden specifically after
thirty-six hours? Wouldn't twenty-four hours have been a more logical
period of time, give that it is the length of one day?
The truth is, the thirty-six hours, the Talmud explains, does not
refer to the first day of creation, but to the sixth day after man
was created. In fact, man enjoyed the return appearance of the
Hidden Light for the entire duration of thirty-six hours before it
was hidden once again. However, why thirty-six hours?
What was it about the light that made it more subject to abuse than
the rest of creation? Why would the consequences of such abuse
warrant hiding the primordial light? What part of creation, like the
atom for example, has man NOT abused with nightmarish results. And
yet, G-d, knowing that future as well, did not see fit to hide that
Finally, after all of this is discussed and answered, where in the
world can one find this light in the thirty-six candles of Chanukah
-- especially when it was hidden away for the righteous people in the
Time-to-Come, at which time we certainly have yet to arrive!
Have a great Shabbos,