These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly portion: #1269 – The B.T. Dilemma: Can He Trust His Non-Observant Parents That All Will Be Kosher? Good Shabbos!
The pasuk says “When Esav was forty years old, he took as a wife Yehudis daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite; and they were a provocation of the spirit to Yitzchak and Rivka.” (Bereshis 26:34-35). The Medrash notes the fact that the Torah points out that the daughters-in-law behavior was painful to Yitzchak and to Rivka (l‘Yitzchak u’l’Rivka) rather than merely stating that their behavior was painful to Yitzchak and Rivka (l’Yitzchak v’Rivka) – without the second “to“. The Medrash states that the nature of the Yitzchak’s pain differed from that of Rivka’s pain. Rivka, having grown up in the house of idolaters, was better able to handle pagan daughters-in-law than was her husband, who grew up in the house of Avraham and Sora.
Rivka was a tzadekes and of course avodah zarah bothered her, but having experienced it at home, she did not have the same visceral reaction to it as did Yitzchak. Dr. Abraham Twerski, zt”l, makes the point that a person who is exposed to negative phenomenon on a daily basis can lose their sensitivity to it. I once saw a statistic that the average child growing up in America has seen 300 murders (on television, movies, etc.). This was in the days BEFORE video games, in which killing people happens ALL THE TIME. Do you think that murder means the same thing that it meant 100 years ago? If you see something day in and day out, you can get used to it. You can get used to anything.
The truth of the matter is that this is the only way people were able to survive in the concentration camps. It was because “they got used to it.” You can get used to anything. That can be a tremendous advantage but it can be a horrible disadvantage as well – if someone loses his sensitivity to evil.
Giving A Boost to the Efficacy of the Tefilla of a Tzadik ben Rasha
In the beginning of the parsha we read “Yitzchak entreated Hashem opposite his wife, because she was barren. Hashem allowed Himself to be entreated by him and his wife Rivka conceived.” (Bereshis 25:21). Rivka was barren. Both she and her husband, Yitzchak, davened that she should have children. The pasuk says that Hashem listened to Yitzchak and Rivka became pregnant.
Rashi points out that the pasuk emphasizes that Hashem listened to him – and not to her! It was Yitzchak’s prayers that were answered, not Rivka’s. Rashi explains that this was because “The (power of the) prayers of a tzadik (righteous person) who is the child of a rasha (wicked person)is not comparable to the (power of the) prayers of a tzadik son of a tzadik.
Yitzchak and Rivka were both righteous, but he was the son of Avraham and she was the daughter of Besuel. Therefore, his prayers were superior. The Brisker Rav (Rav Yitzchak Ze’ev Soloveitchik) infers from this statement of Rashi that had Rivka been a tzadekes the daughter of a tzadik, the power of her prayers would be equal to that of Yitzchak and the Ribono shel Olam could have listened to either of them or to both of them.
The Brisker Rav is bothered by this inference: Does that mean that aside from their ancestry, Rivka was on the same level of righteousness as Yitzchak? Yitzchak went through the Akeidah. He was moser nefesh. He was an olah temima (an unblemished sacrifice). Rivka was a very fine woman but how can we compare her righteousness to his? He was also much older than Rivka, as he was sixty years old at this time and Rivka was much younger.
The Brisker Rav says that we see from here that a righteous woman who is the daughter of a rasha and the sister of a rasha, who was able to overcome her environmental disadvantages and emerge as a righteous woman is on the same level as a Yitzchak. To remain steadfast in her beliefs as a young girl in a house full of avodah zarah and full of reshaim is a monumental spiritual accomplishment, comparable to that of Yitzchak, who went through the Akeidah.
This brings us to our next subject:
Why in fact does HaKadosh Baruch Hu accept the prayers of a tzadik ben tzadik more than those of a tzadik ben rasha? The tzadik ben rasha has a lot going for him. He has been able to raise himself above his corrupt environment. That is an extraordinary spiritual accomplishment! So why does Hashem favor the prayers of a second generation tzadik over that of a first generation tzadik? The opposite should be the case: “In a place where a baal teshuva stands, completely righteous individuals cannot stand.” (Brachos 34b).
I saw an approach to answer this question by a Rabbi Dovid Zucker, a Rosh Kollel in Chicago. He explains that the fact that prayer works is not something logical. It is something spiritual, something that sometimes defies regular logic. Better said, it has its own set of logic. There are laws of nature and there are metaphysical laws. In Hilchos Tefilla there are certain situations and conditions that make a person’s prayer more accepted than other situations and conditions.
For example, there is a principle that “The Holy One Blessed be He does not reject the prayers of the masses” (Brachos 8a). In other words, a person has a better chance of having his prayers answered if he davens with a minyan. This is one of the metaphysical-spiritual laws of Tefilla. Not only that, if someone cannot daven with a minyan, he should at least try to daven at the same time that the tzibur is praying. (ibid.) Why does that work? The answer is that there is such a thing as an “eis ratzon” (a time of favor). There are such things as favorable times and favorable places to daven!
Why do you think people go to kivrei tzadikim (the graves of the righteous) to pray? What is behind that? Part of what is behind that is that a kever tzadik is a makom kodosh (holy place). If a person davens in a holier place, it makes his prayer better and more effective. That is why even if someone misses minyan, there is an advantage to daven in a Beis haKenesses (synagogue) or a Beis haMedrash (study hall). Why? It gives the prayer a boost. It takes advantage of the fact that the prayer is recited in a Beis haKnesses or a Beis haMedrash.
What is the logic behind that? In the privacy of my own home, I can have the greatest focus and dedication, while in shul there are more distractions. The answer is that these are parts of the metaphysical laws of Tefilla. There are certain things that make prayer more accepted.
Prayers are accepted during the Ten Days of Repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur better than they are during the whole year. Why? It is an eis ratzon.
Rabbeinu Bechaye writes that it is customary throughout the Jewish world that women recite a prayer that they should be blessed with good children at the time they light Shabbos candles. He explains that this is done because the time of Hadlakas Neiros Shabbos is an eis ratzon. By virtue of the fact that the woman is fulfilling the mitzvah of lighting Shabbos candles, it makes her tefilla then more effective. It becomes a favorable time.
Rabbi Zucker writes that one of these metaphysical laws of prayer is that the prayer of a tzadik ben tzadik is more effective than that of a tzadik ben rasha. The tzadik ben rasha has overcome great odds and has proven his closeness to Hashem by emerging righteous from a house of wickedness, but nevertheless, in the laws of prayer, which have a logic of their own, the prayer of a righteous person who is the son of a righteous person, trumps the prayer of a righteous person who is the son of a wicked person.
This brings us to an interesting question. We have all occasionally davened in a beis avel (a mourner’s house). It is a big mitzvah to help the mourner make a minyan during his week of shiva. Yes, but let us ask – why are you forgoing the mitzvah of davening in a shul? The Gemara says that davening in a shul is much more acceptable than davening in a house – so how can someone give that up by going to a beis avel?
The answer is that while davening in a beis avel, you are also doing a chessed for someone. That makes your tefilla more acceptable. That makes it into an eis ratzon because while I am davening, I am doing a chessed for those who are alive and those who are dead. This is also what the Rabbeinu Bachaye meant – when a woman davens at the time of lighting Shabbos candles, it is more acceptable.
If that is the case, the prayer of a “tzadik ben tzadik” is also more effective. That is just the way it works. That is the “law.”
The Rosh was asked a ‘shaylah‘ (halachic question). The congregation wanted to know who should be appointed as its shliach tzibbur. One candidate was a tzadik personally but he came from a disgraced family. The other candidate was a tzadik from a distinguished family.
Someone might say “I don’t need a Rosh to answer that question. It is a Rashi in Parshas Toldos!” Rashi says explicitly in our parsha that the prayer of a second generation tzadik is superior to that of a tzadik whose father was wicked. However, the Teshuvas HaRosh ruled otherwise. He pasked that it is preferable to take the tzadik from the disgraced family over the tzadik with a more impressive pedigree.
Why? The Rosh writes that by taking this candidate from the disgraced family, the congregation is “drawing close those who are far” (being me’karev rechokim). The act of kiruv and chessed of the congregation will bring them merit in the Heavenly Court and will help the prayers of their shliach tzibur to be accepted.
This is common. People who are ba’alei teshuva have a certain inferiority complex. “My friend here is a me’yuchas – he can trace his ancestry back to Dovid HaMelech and look where I come from! What am I?” The Rosh quotes the pasuk “…Shalom, Shalom, to the ‘rachok‘ and to the ‘karov‘ …” (Yeshaya 57:19), in which the person who is distant (rachok) is given precedence over the person who is near (karov). That is the why the Rosh paskens to take the tzadik from a disgraced family. It gives their prayers the added boost called “kiruv rechokim” just like we can daven in a mourner’s house rather than in a synagogue because of the added mitzvah of Nichum Aveilim. That chessed-boost equates the prayers of the tzadik ben rasha with that of a tzadik ben tzadik.
There is no contradiction between the psak of the Rosh and the Rashi in our parsha because in our parsha, no one is appointing Yitzchak to be the shliach tzibur and no one is appointing Rivka to daven. They each daven to Hashem independently on their own initiative. In that situation, with all other factors being equal, the Ribono shel Olam gives priority to the prayers of a tzadik ben tzadik. That is just the way it is. Those are the laws of tefilla.
The Rosh’s case is not like that. There, the shul comes and asks “Who should we appoint?” There the Rosh says “Tell the shul to appoint the tzadik ben rasha because it will give them the merit of being m’karev this Jew with the inferiority complex.” That equates with the tefilla of a tzadik ben tzadik.
Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, MD [email protected]
This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly Torah portion. A listing of the halachic portions for Parshas Toldos is provided below:
- # 031 – Marriage Between Relatives
- # 073 – Non-Kosher Medicines and the Birchas Hareiach (Scents)
- # 122 – G’neivas Da’as: Deception and Your Fellow Man
- # 169 – The Blind Person in Halacha
- # 215 – V’sain Tal U’matar
- # 259 – “Sorfin Al Hachzakos”: The Concept of Chazaka in Halacha
- # 305 – The Bracha of “Baruch Sheptarani”
- # 349 – Must Mincha Have a “Chazoras Hashatz”?
- # 393 – Neitz Hachama vs. Tefilah B’tzibur
- # 437 – Accepting Tzedaka from Women
- # 481 – Lying to Keep What’s Yours
- # 525 – Maris Ayin
- # 569 – Yichud With Relatives
- # 613 – Shiva and the Wayward Son
- # 657 – Fascinating Insights into the Tefilah of Mincha
- # 701 – Fasting on The Wedding Day
- # 745 – The Cost of Stealing a Mizvah
- # 789 – The Power of Your Own Words
- # 833 – Six or Ten People for Chazoras Hashatz?
- # 877 – Bar Mitzvah Sh’ailos
- # 921 – Accepting Someone Else’s Curse
- # 964 – The Non-Observant at Your Yom Tov Meal: Good idea or Problem?
- #1008 – “I Don’t Want You To Marry That Man” Must A Daughter Listen?
- #1052 – Seudas Hav’ra’ah and Sending Food During Shiva
- #1095 – Fascinating Bar Mitzvah Sh’ailos
- #1138 – Who’s Better For A Shliach Tzibur – A FFB or BT?
- #1181 – Maaser Money On Chasunah Gifts – Must You?
- #1225 – The Bar Mitzvah Bochur Who Leined His Haftorah by Heart
- #1269 – The B.T. Dilemma: Can He Trust His Non-Observant Parents That All Will Be Kosher?
- #1313 – An Orthodox Minyan in a Conservative Shul: Is there A Problem with Ma’aris Ayin?
- #1357 – Blood and DNA Test in Determining Paternity
- #1401 – Keeping Your Website Open For Business On Shabbos – Is there a Problem?
- #1445 – The December Office Party at Ruth Chris Steak House – Can You Attend?
- #1489 – Why Don’t Many Yeshivas Do Chazaras HaShatz for Mincha?
- #1533 – Geneivas Daas: How Could Yakov Deceive his Father Yitzchak?
- (2022) – Amasla: I Didn’t Mean What I Said
A complete catalogue can be ordered from the Yad Yechiel Institute, PO Box 511, Owings Mills MD 21117-0511. Call (410) 358-0416 or e-mail [email protected] or visit http://www.yadyechiel.org/ for further information.