A Father’s Plan
Volume 26, No. 6
Sponsored by Dr. and Mrs. Robert Klein on the yahrzeit of his mother Devorah bat Avraham a”h (Dorothy Jacobs Klein)
Howard Benn on the yahrzeit of his father David Benn (Dovid ben R’ Mordechai a”h)
In this parashah, we read about the relationship of Yitzchak to his children, Yaakov and Esav. The Torah relates (25:28), “Yitzchak loved Esav, for game was in his mouth.” How could a great tzaddik such as Yitzchak, from whom the Shechinah did not depart for a moment, love a completely wicked person such as Esav?
R’ Yosef Gikatilla z”l (Spain; 1248-1310) explains: Yitzchak was a prophet and could see the future. He saw that Yaakov’s descendants would sin and anger G-d. When Yitzchak saw that Yaakov’s descendants would be exiled in the hands of Esav’s descendants [Rome], he rejoiced, for exile atones for sin. Yitzchak said, “I am pleased with all the suffering that Esav’s descendants will cause Yaakov’s descendants, so that Yaakov’s descendants will be cleansed in this world [not in Gehinom]. In this light, “game was in his mouth” means “he will trap them.”
From here we see, adds R’ Gikatilla, that although the attribute associated with Yitzchak is “Pachad” / “Fear” [which is associated with Strict Justice], that attribute of G-d is intended for the good of the Jewish People [for its saves us from Gehinom]. Therefore it is written (Mishlei 28:14), “Fortunate is the man who experiences pachad always.”
This also explains, R’ Gikatilla continues, why Yitzchak asked Esav to bring food for him (Yitzchak) to eat before blessing Esav. Usually, one eats after praying! However, Yitzchak’s intention was to help him focus his blessings purely on the enjoyments of the material world, so that Esav’s descendants would inherit this world and persecute Yaakov’s descendants, which would be for their own benefit in the long run.
Why then did G-d arrange that Yaakov would get the blessings? Because, R’ Gikatilla explains, if Esav alone had received the blessings, the persecution at his hands would have been to much too bear. The Strict Justice that Yitzchak represents–although for our own good–is too strict. This is the idea behind Avraham, who represents Chessed / Kindness binding (i.e., constraining) Yitzchak at the akeidah. (Sha’arei Orah: Sha’ar 5)
- “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 no permanent existence.
Similarly, salt symbolizes Esav’s lack of a future. Land that is too salty has no agricultural use. [S’dom 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)
- “Yaakov simmered a stew, and Esav came in from the field, and he was exhausted.” (25:29)
Rashi z”l writes that Esav was exhausted from having committed murder that day. Rashi writes further that Avraham Avinu had died that very day. Hashem took him five years early so that he would not see his grandson Esav turn bad.
Midrash Rabbah appears to understand the sequence of events differently. According to the midrash, it was Avraham’s death that caused Esav to sin. Esav reasoned that the death of someone so righteous as Avraham indicated that the world has no Judge and no justice.
R’ Isser Zalman Meltzer z”l (1870-1953; rosh yeshiva in Slutsk and Kletsk, Poland, and later in Yerushalayim) explains that there is no contradiction. Esav was in any case on a path that would lead him astray, so Hashem did Avraham a kindness by taking him from this earth so that he would not see what became of his grandson. However, people who do bad things generally seek a way to rationalize their behavior, and Avraham’s death gave Esav the excuse he needed.
R’ Moshe Tzuriel shlita (former mashgiach ruchani of Yeshivat Sha’alvim) uses R’ Meltzer’s explanation to resolve a seeming conflict between two Talmudic statements about the sage Rabbi Elisha ben Avuyah, also known as “Acher.” The Gemara (Kiddushin 39b) states that Acher became a heretic when he saw a pig defiling the corpse of one of the Sages (one of the “Ten Martyrs”). Elsewhere, however, the Gemara (Chagigah 15b) states that Acher became a heretic because he read heretical books. R’ Tzuriel explains: Acher was destined to become a heretic because of the books he read. However, he needed a way to rationalize his departure from loyalty to Torah, and seeing the defilement of the corpse of one of the Sages was his excuse. (Be’urei Aggadot: Kiddushin 39b)
- “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 have received the blessings surreptitiously?
Also, 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)
- “He [Yitzchak] smelled the fragrance of his [Yaakov’s] garments and blessed him, saying, ‘See, the fragrance of my son is like the fragrance of a field which Hashem has blessed’.” (27:27)
Rashi z”l comments: “Surely there is no more offensive smell than that of washed goat skins. However, the Torah implicitly tells us that the perfume of the Garden of Eden entered the room with Yaakov.”
Why would Yitzchak call the fragrance of Gan Eden “the fragrance of a field”? R’ Yitzchak Isaac Liebes z”l (noted American posek) explains:
The Torah relates that just before Yitzchak met his wife Rivka, “Yitzchak went out to pray in the field towards evening.” For what was he praying? He was beseeching G-d that his forthcoming marriage would produce worthy children who would serve Hashem. Until the moment described in our verse, Yitzchak did not know whether his prayer had been answered, but when he smelled the fragrance of Gan Eden, he knew. Then he said, “The fragrance of my son is like the fragrance of a field.” This is what I prayed for that day in the field. (Quoted in Otzrotaihem Shel Tzaddikim)
Letters from Our Sages
- Our Sages say that Yitzchak, whose adult life is described in our parashah, established the afternoon prayer, minchah. This week’s letter, by Rabbeinu Asher ben Yechiel z”l (“Rosh”; Germany and Spain; ca.1250-1327), discusses one sage’s custom regarding that prayer. The letter is printed in She’eilot U’teshuvot Ha’ Rosh, Section IV, No. 13.
Regarding the practice of R’ Matzliach [perhaps R’ Matzliach al Bazak z”l of Sicily, a student of R’ Hai Gaon z”l] to recite minchah twice a day, perhaps he relies on the statement of [the Talmudic sage] Rabbi Yochanan (Berachot 21a), “Would that a person would pray all day long!” However, the Tosafist Rabbeinu Yitzchak [z”l] explains that Rabbi Yochanan only meant that one may pray (again) if he is in doubt whether he prayed already. Rabbi Yochanan does not argue with [another Talmudic sage] Rabbi Yehuda, who said in the name of the sage Shmuel, that, if one is in the middle of shemoneh esrei and he remembers that he already recited that prayer, he should stop immediately [and not recite an extra prayer]. This is based on the verse in Daniel (6:11), “[Daniel] had a window in his attic facing Yerushalayim, and three times a day he would kneel on his knees and pray and give thanks before his G-d.” This teaches that one should not pray [shemoneh esrei] more than three times a day. . .
[Rosh continues:] Ha’rav Alfas z”l writes that Rabbi Yochanan’s statement, “Would that a person would pray all day long!” applies only in private and only if the person recognizes that his extra prayer is voluntary. However, in public–or, even in private, if one believes there is an obligation to pray twice–it is forbidden. The reason it is prohibited in public is because the prayers parallel the sacrificial offerings. Just as there is no such thing as a voluntary public offering, so there is no such thing as a voluntary public prayer [i.e., shemoneh esrei]. In contrast, an individual may pray a voluntary prayer, just as he may bring a voluntary offering. . .
[Rosh concludes:] R’ Hai Gaon [z”l] writes that Rabbi Yochanan’s statement [about praying all day] was made only if a person can add something new in each prayer, but merely to recite the same words is prohibited. . . Therefore, [Rosh concludes,] I say that a person should take care not to pray a voluntary prayer unless he can add something new. Also, he must know about himself that he is meticulous and has the ability to stay focused from the beginning to the end of the prayer, with no loss of concentration. If only we could focus properly during the three [mandatory] prayers!
The editors hope these brief ‘snippets’ will engender further study and discussion of Torah topics (‘lehagdil Torah u’leha’adirah’), and your letters are appreciated. Web archives at Torah.org start with 5758 (1997) and may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.
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