Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Edited by Shlomo Katz
Volume XV, No. 6
5 Kislev 5761
December 2, 2000
Orach Chaim 338:5-7
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Nazir 46
Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Bava Batra 11
In this week’s parashah we read of the birth of Yaakov and Esav and the beginning of their rivalry. Said R’ Moshe Mordechai Epstein z”l (whose 77th yahrzeit falls next Thursday; see page 4): If we consider physical strength, Yaakov certainly would pale in comparison to Esav. In spirit, however, Yisrael is powerful and mighty. Yisrael’s bravery is supernatural. Yisrael possesses the might to walk between the fires of persecution and survive. Other nations that are faced with the choice between death and abandoning their faith usually surrender before their oppressors, but not so Yisrael. Yisrael emerges from each oppression – Pharaoh, Assyria, Babylon, Haman, Greece and Rome – waving the banner of Judaism which remains firm in its hand.
In the Middle Ages, a seven-year old boy might be taken from his home and lead to a far away land, but we would not be surprised if that seven-year old boy got the better of his captor and remained a pure Jew. Certainly such a boy was mightier than the 30-year-old warrior who kidnapped him! This is the type of might in which Yisrael takes pride. (Quoted in Haggadah Shel Pesach Chevron – Knesset Yisrael p. 114)
“The lads grew up, and Esav became the one who knows hunting, a man of the field; but Yaakov was a wholesome man, sitting in tents. And Yitzchak loved Esav, for game was in his mouth, and Rivka loves Yaakov.” (25:27-28)
Many commentaries struggle to understand Yitzchak’s love for Esav. R’ Nosson Teomim z”l (the “Krystonopol Rav” in Brooklyn; died 1983) explains as follows:
Mishlei (27:19) teaches: “As water reflects a face back to a face, so one’s heart is reflected back to him by another.” Therefore, in order to influence Esav and prevent him from abandoning the ways of his parents entirely, Yitzchak had to love Esav. Significantly, the literal translation of our verse is not, “Yitzchak loved Esav,” but rather, “Yitzchak caused love to Esav.” In other words, it was a struggle for Yitzchak to love Esav, but he forced himself to do so.
The second phrase, “for game was in his mouth,” is usually translated to mean that Esav fed Yitzchak game that Esav trapped. In light of the above, we can read the verse to say that Yitzchak was trying to “trap” Esav with his (Yitzchak’s) mouth and heart.
Alternatively, one can explain as follows: Some parents teach their children only Torah, arguing that nothing else is of value. Other parents teach their children secular studies as well, and contend that the greatest kiddush Hashem / sanctification of G- d’s Name results when one observes the Torah meticulously in the “outside” world. Of course, this second approach is the more dangerous one, for who can say whether the child will maintain the high standards necessary to sanctify G-d’s Name.
The Sages interpret the words “for game was in his mouth” as follows: Esav entrapped Yitzchak with his mouth by asking halachic questions such as, “How does one tithe salt?” In reality, one does not tithe salt, but Esav’s questions made him appear to be especially meticulous in his mitzvah observance. As a result, writes R’ Teomim, Yitzchak believed that though Esav’s life was centered outside the walls of the yeshiva, he sanctified G-d’s Name through his meticulous mitzvah observance. If so, Yitzchak felt, Esav deserved more love than Yaakov.
Rivka, however, recognized that Esav was not living up to the standards expected of him. Therefore, she loved Yaakov, “who sat in the tents,” i.e., the bet midrash / study hall. (Bar Pachtei)
“Yaakov was an ish tam / wholesome man.” (25:27)
The word “tam” literally means perfect or complete. R’ Yechezkel Sarna z”l (Rosh Yeshiva of the Chevron Yeshiva; see page 4) observes that there is a commandment in the Torah (Devarim 18:13), “Be tamim!” R’ Sarna explains:
One might brush-aside his inadvertent sins, saying, “It was an accident. I didn’t mean it, so how much can it count?” However, just as one who breaks his wrist by accident is no longer perfect in a physical sense, so one who sins, even inadvertently, is no longer perfect in a spiritual sense. The mitzvah to be tamim instructs us that it is a blemish on one’s soul if he lets his spiritual guard down even to a limited extent. (Daliot Yechezkel Vol. II, p. 24)
“And Esav came from the field, and he was exhausted.” (25:29)
“Esav spurned the birthright.” (25:34)
Rashi says that he was tired because he had just committed a murder. The midrash states further that Esav had committed other serious sins on that day, including adultery and idolatry.
If Esav committed such serious sins all in one day, asks R’ Aharon Kotler z”l (Lakewood Rosh Yeshiva; died 1962), why does the Torah single out only the fact that he spurned the birthright? He explains:
The birthright did not give its bearer only material rights, but also (and primarily) spiritual responsibilities. What kohanim and levi’im were later in history — “For the lips of the kohen should safeguard knowledge, and people should seek Torah from his mouth” (Malachi 2:7 – this week’s haftarah) — the firstborn were in Yaakov’s and Esav’s time. It was these responsibilities that Esav rejected when he spurned the birthright, and he thus demonstrated his attitude towards spiritual matters.
By telling us that Esav spurned the birthright, says R’ Kotler, the Torah is informing us of the root cause of all of his other sins. The details of Esav’s sins do not matter; what is important is that Esav had an improper attitude. (Mishnat Rabbi Aharon Vol. III, p. 191)
“And it came to pass, when Yitzchak had become old, and his eyes dimmed from seeing, that he summoned Esav, his older son, and said to him, “My son! . . . Now sharpen, if you please, your gear . . . and go out to the field and hunt game / tzayid for me.” (27:1-3)
Rashi explains: Yitzchak told Esav to sharpen his knife so that he could slaughter an animal and would not serve Yitzchak non- kosher meat.
Asks R’ Hillel Lichtenstein z”l (1815-1891; rabbi of Kolomyya, Ukraine): By this time, Esav had been hunting and feeding meat to Yitzchak for 50 years! Why, all of sudden, was Yitzchak concerned about the kashrut of Esav’s shechitah?
R’ Lichtenstein explains: The Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 18:17) rules that every shochet must periodically present his knife to a Torah scholar for inspection. That inspection consists of two parts – the Torah scholar runs his fingernail over the blade to feel any nicks, and he makes a visual inspection.
Presumably, Esav used to present his knife to Yitzchak for inspection. However, as the verse relates, “when Yitzchak had become old, his eyes dimmed from seeing.” He could not inspect the knife any longer, and that is why he reminded Esav to sharpen his knife.
R’ Lichtenstein adds: The word tzayid / game is spelled in our verse with a silent “heh” at the end. The gemara (Menachot 29b) states in another context that the letter heh alludes to teshuvah. Why would Yitzchak remind Esav on this occasion to repent before going to hunt?
Kabbalists say that the more righteous a person is, the more delicate are his senses. Thus, since Yitzchak could not inspect Esav’s knife, he wanted Esav to repent, and thus refine his own sense of touch, before he inspected the knife himself. (Makrei Dardaki)
R’ Frank was not a rosh yeshiva or town rabbi, but rather was an “ordinary” ba’al ha’bayit / layman. Nevertheless, he was renowned in Lithuania for his righteousness and charity, and many of the leading roshei yeshiva of this century were his descendants. Among the regular guests in his house were R’ Yisrael Salanter, R’ Yitzchak Blazer and the Chafetz Chaim.
It is said that R’ Frank personally supported half of the families in Slobodka, although they did not know it. He used to drive through town after midnight with a wagon full of food, dropping sacks of flour, rice, potatoes and other needs on people’s doorsteps.
From time-to-time, R’ Frank would approach poor Torah scholars and ask them to guard various amounts of cash that he had on hand. He would explain that the money was not safe in his house because he was so well-known, and that they (the Torah scholars) were free to use the money if they needed. Whenever these individuals would attempt to return the money, R’ Frank would say that he still did not have a safe place to keep it and would prefer to leave it in their houses instead.
R’ Frank passed away in 1886 at the age of 43. R’ Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor, the leading posek / halachic authority of the time, personally participated in the taharah / washing and dressing the body. R’ Spektor began to eulogize R’ Frank with the words, “Look! Our Reb Feivel is gone,” but when those words brought the entire assemblage to tears, R’ Spektor eulogized no further,
R’ Frank left four unmarried daughters, and he asked his wife to ensure that they married Torah scholars. The four sons-in-law she found were:
- R’ Moshe M.ordechai Epstein (rosh yeshiva in Slobodka and Chevron; father-in-law of R’ Yechezkel Sarna and R’ Moshe Chevroni);
- R’ Isser Zalman Meltzer (rosh yeshiva in Slutsk and at the Eitz Chaim Yeshiva in Yerushalayim; father-in-law of R’ Aharon Kotler);
- R’ Baruch Yehoshua Horowitz (president of the Agudas Harabbanim of Lithuania); and
- R’ Sheftel Kramer (rosh yeshiva in New Haven and Cleveland; father-in-law of R’ Yaakov Yitzchak Ruderman and R’ Naftali Neuberger).
R’ Shraga Feivel’s nephew was R’ Zvi Pesach Frank, Chief Rabbi of Yerushalayim. (Sources: Gedolei Ha’dorot p. 760; The Torah World p. 22)
Sponsored by The Marwick family on the yahrzeit of Samuel Sklaroff
Copyright © 2000 by Shlomo Katz and Project Genesis, Inc.
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 Project Genesis start with 5758 (1997) and may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page. Text archives from 1990 through the present may be retrieved from http://www.acoast.com/~sehc/hamaayan/. Donations to HaMaayan are tax-deductible.