The Midrash Tanchuma comments on the opening verse of our parashah, “These are the descendants of Yitzchak the son of Avraham; Avraham fathered Yitzchak,” as follows: “This is the message of the verse (Mishlei 17:6), `The crown of elders is grandchildren, and the glory of children is their parents.’ The righteous wear their grandchildren as crowns, and children wear their parents as crowns. Avraham was crowned in the merit of Yaakov. When Avraham was thrown into the furnace by Nimrod, Hashem `descended’ to save him. The angels objected, `You are saving him?! Look how many evildoers are destined to descend from him!’ Hashem responded, `I am saving Avraham for the sake of his grandson Yaakov who is destined to come from him.’ How do we know this? Because the verse (Yeshayah 29:22) states, `Yaakov, who redeemed Avraham’.”
Why was Avraham saved in Yaakov’s merit and not Yitzchak’s merit? R’ Eliezer David Gruenwald z”l (1867-1928; Hungarian rabbi and rosh yeshiva) observes that the verse in Mishlei says that grandchildren are the crown of elders, not children. Why? Because the true test of whether we have raised G-d-fearing, Torah-observant children is whether they are able to pass our beliefs on to their own children. If one’s grandchildren follow the proper path, then one knows that he raised his children successfully. Moreover, one has not succeeded unless, as the second half of the verse in Mishlei says, “The glory of children is their parents.” Many children think that their parents’ ways are old-fashioned or out of touch. Only when children look up to their parents–“the glory of children is their parents”–has one truly succeeded. (Keren Le’David)
“The first one [Esav] emerged red . . .” (25:25)
The Midrash Rabbah states: “He was a murderer [from birth]. Likewise, when the prophet Shmuel met the future King David for the first time, he thought David was a murderer. To counter this notion, the verse says (Shmuel I 16:12), `He was ruddy [but] with beautiful eyes and a pleasing appearance’.”
Does this mean that Esav was predestined to be a murderer, or that David would have been predestined to be a murderer if not for his beautiful eyes?
R’ Moshe ben Maimon z”l (Rambam; 1135-1204) writes: It is impossible for a person to be born possessing good character traits or bad character traits, just as it is impossible for a person to be born already having a profession. However, a person can be born with a tendency towards good or bad, i.e., that one trait or another comes to him more easily than others. For example, one person might be a quicker learner than another person. However, if the quick learner does nothing with that tendency, i.e., he makes no effort to learn, he will undoubtedly remain an ignoramus. Conversely, even a person who does not have the tendency to be a learner can be taught, albeit with great effort. Similarly, a person who is born with the tendency to become a warrior will learn quickly if he is taught that skill, but even a person who is naturally cowardly can learn to become a warrior, though with difficulty.
I have explained this, Rambam writes, so that you will not be taken in by the ridiculous lies of astrologers who claim that a person’s accomplishments or failures are determined by the stars under which he is born. Rather, all of a person’s actions are under his own control. If a person were not in control of his actions, the Torah and its warnings would necessarily be nullified, since one would have no bechirah / free will to choose how to act. Likewise, there would be no reason to study Torah or a profession; it would all be for nothing. And, reward and punishment would be an injustice. If Shimon [a hypothetical person] has no choice but to kill Reuven [also a hypothetical person], how could Shimon be punished? How could a just and righteous G-d punish someone for an act that he had no choice but to commit? And, what would be the purpose of building homes, gathering wealth, or fleeing in time of danger?
Rambam continues: What then do our Sages mean when they say, “Everything is in the hands of Heaven except fear of Heaven”? Some people think that this means that their spouses are predetermined or that it is predestined that they own certain property, but this is not true. If that were the case, how could it be considered a mitzvah for a man to marry a woman who is permitted to him, or a sin to marry a woman who is not permitted to him? How could it be a sin to steal, if it is predestined that this item will belong to the thief? Rather, every action that a person takes is under his own control. When our Sages say, “Everything is in the hands of Heaven except fear of Heaven,” they are referring only to those phenomena that are clearly out of a person’s control, for example, whether he is tall or short, whether it rains or there is a drought, etc. However, any action that is a mitzvah or sin or that leads to a mitzvah or sin is definitely within a person’s control.
Moreover, it is also possible for an action to simultaneously be the product of man’s free choice and G-d’s decree. For example, man has free will whether to throw a stone in the air and cause it to land somewhere else. At the same time, Rambam writes, this result is also decreed by G-d because G-d implanted in nature that a stone that is thrown in the air will land. (Shemonah Perakim ch.8)
“Esav became one who understands hunting . . .” (25:27)
Rashi z”l explains: “Understanding how to entrap and deceive his father with his mouth. Esav would ask Yitzchak, `Father how should salt and straw be tithed?’ Consequently, Yitzchak believed Esav to be very punctilious in observing the divine ordinances.”
R’ Yosef Teomim z”l (author of the important halachic work Pri Megadim; died 1792) notes the irony in the fact that Esav inquired about straw and salt. Ma’asrot / tithes are required to be given only from types of produce which are stored for use in the future. Straw is not such a crop. Thus, the prophet Ovadiah (Ovadiah 1:18) states, “The House of Yaakov will be a fire and the House of Yosef a flame — and the House of Esav like straw; they will kindle among them and consume them; and there will be no survivor of the House of Esav, for Hashem has spoken.” The House of Esav is called “straw” because it has not permanent existence.
Similarly, salt symbolizes Esav’s lack of a future. Land that is too salty has no agricultural use. [Sdom was destroyed with salt so that its destruction would be complete and final.] So, too, Esav will leave no legacy in the long run. (Tevat Gomeh)
“Now Rivka was listening as Yitzchak spoke to Esav his son; and Esav went to the field to hunt game to bring.” (27:5)
R’ Moshe ibn Chaviv z”l (Chief Rabbi of Yerushalayim; died 1696) asks: If Yitzchak intended to bless Esav, what good could it do Yaakov to receive the blessing surreptitiously?
He answers based on another question: Why isn’t our verse in the reverse order- “Esav went to the field to hunt game to bring; and Rivka was listening as Yitzchak spoke to Esav his son”–thus completing one thread of the story (Yitzchak talking to Esav) before beginning the second thread (Rivka “conspiring” with Yaakov)?
He explains: Yitzchak told Esav (verse 3), “Now sharpen, if you please, your gear — your sword and your bow — and go out to the field and hunt game for me.” The word for “your sword” is “telyecha,” which also means “your hanging thing.” According to the midrash, Yitzchak was speaking to G-d as well as to Esav: “G-d, it all depends (`hangs’) on You. He whom You wish to bless shall be blessed.”
On the phrase, “Esav went to the field to hunt game to bring,” the midrash comments that “to bring” seems to be superfluous. These words teach that Esav’s plan was that if he were unsuccessful in trapping a kosher animal, he would bring a non-kosher, or even a stolen, animal.
“Now Rivka was listening as Yitzchak spoke to Esav his son.” Rivka understood that it was Yitzchak’s intention to give the berachah only to the son that was worthy. “And [Rivka saw that] Esav went to the field to hunt game to bring.” She realized Esav’s intentions and thus knew that he was not worthy of the berachah. Therefore she understood that Yaakov would succeed in receiving the berachah. (Derashot Maharam Chaviv)
- Many congregations and individuals have the custom to recite on Motzai Shabbat — either in shul or after havdalah — the collection of verses beginning with the words from Yitzchak’s blessing to Yaakov in this week’s parashah, “V’y’ten lecha” / “May G-d give you of the dew of the heavens and the fatness of the earth . . .” The verses of this prayer are drawn from all over Tanach and share the common theme of alluding to the blessings that G-d showers upon the Jewish People.
R’ Moshe Mos z”l (Przemsyl, Poland; died 1606) explains the reason for this custom as follows: We read (Yeshayah 56:2, 7), “One who guards Shabbat against desecrating it . . . I will gladden them in My house of prayer.” Therefore, after we have observed Shabbat, we recite verses which bring gladness. Also, since the new week is beginning, we recite verses which contain blessings and good tidings, as it is written (Yeshayah 55:12), “For in gladness you shall go out and in peace you shall arrive.” [Presumably, the author means, “For in gladness you shall go out from Shabbat and in peace you shall arrive in the new work week.”] (Mateh Moshe, * 501)
Why does this prayer end with a quotation from the Talmud attesting to G-d’s humility? R’ Yaakov Zvi Mecklenburg z”l (1785-1865; German rabbi; author of the Torah commentary Haketav Ve’hakabbalah) explains:
One might think: “How can I approach the Omnipotent King of Kings with my mundane request for materials blessings in the coming work week?” So that we will not think this, we remind ourselves that G-d is humble and is therefore interested in our needs.
Also, as we begin the new work week and might be tempted to cheat or take advantage of the less fortunate, we remind ourselves that G-d is humble and therefore cares about widows, orphans and other less fortunate people in society. (Iyun Tefilah)
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