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Posted on December 3, 2003 (5764) By Shlomo Katz | Series: | Level:

Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Edited by Shlomo Katz

Volume XVIII, No. 6
4 Kislev 5764
November 29, 2003

Sponsored by
the Marwick family
in memory of Samuel Sklaroff a”h

Today’s Learning:
Ohalot 17:5-18:1
O.C. 128:25-27
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Menachot 54
Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Yevamot 17

Ramban writes: “The Torah spends time with the wells that Yitzchak dug, although the simple story is of no significance and in no way enhances Yitzchak’s honor, because there is something hidden within it.” He explains that the first two wells, over which there were quarrels, allude to the first two Batei Mikdash/Temples. The third well, which was dug in peace, alludes to the coming Third Temple.

R’ Yaakov Kamenetsky z”l (died 1986) adds: Chazal say that the 400 years of exile that Hashem foretold for Avraham’s descendants began with Yitzchak. Therefore, the Torah had to teach us that Yitzchak suffered a form of “exile” at the hands of another nation.

Yitzchak did not realize at first that he was among enemies; that is why he called the second well “Sitnah”/”Hatred” (not the first). At first he thought that the Plishtim stole his well because they needed water, but when they stole his second well also, he realized that they were motivated by hatred for him. Realizing this at last, Yitzchak moved farther away and was able to dig a well in peace.

A similar fate befell the two Batei Mikdash. During the period when each of them stood, the Jewish people sought alliances with their neighbors, and in both instances, those alliances played a role in the Temple’s eventual destruction. (For example, the alliances that King Shlomo made resulted in the introduction of idolatry into the Land.)

The first two wells were dug by Yitzchak’s servants, while the third well was dug by Yitzchak himself. So, too, the third Bet Hamikdash will be built by Hashem himself (according to Rashi), and will exist in peace forever. (Emet Le’Yaakov)

“Then make for me delicacies such as I love and bring them to me and I will eat, so that my soul may bless you before I die.” (27:3)

How does a tzaddik’s blessing work? Is it a prophecy that informs the recipient that a certain future awaits him? If that were the case, it would make no sense for Yitzchak to say to Esav (27:35), “Your brother came with cleverness and took your blessing.” Either Yitzchak prophesied about Yaakov or about Esav; there is no way Yaakov could have “stolen” a prophecy about Esav!

Then is a blessing a prayer by the tzaddik that the recipient should be blessed? If that were so, it would make no sense for Yitzchak to say to Esav (27:33), “I blessed him [Yaakov] – indeed, he shall remain blessed!” What was to stop Yitzchak from praying to undo his blessing? Furthermore, if a blessing is actually a prayer, then Yitzchak was praying for Esav even though it was Yaakov standing before him. Why then was Yitzchak upset when he realized he had been tricked, and why was Esav angry?

R’ Levi ben Gershon z”l (Ralbag; 1288-1344) explains: There is an element of prophecy at work when a tzaddik gives a blessing. Specifically, a tzaddik cannot give a person any blessing the tzaddik chooses; rather, he gives a blessing that is appropriate for the recipient. This is stated explicitly in the episode of Yaakov and his grandsons, Menashe and Ephraim (Bereishit 48:19), when Yaakov explained why he had put his right hand on the younger son: “I know, my son, I know; he [the older son, Menashe] also will become a people, and he too will become great; yet his younger brother shall become greater than he.” Yaakov said, “Do not be upset, for I only gave each brother the blessing that was appropriate to him.” This is why Yitzchak could not undo Yaakov’s blessing.

Then why was Esav upset? Because there is also an element of prayer involved in giving a blessing. When a tzaddik gives a blessing, he prays that the good that is destined to come should be magnified and multiplied. For example, if the tzaddik sees that a certain person is destined to become a state governor, he can pray that the person instead become president. However, he would never pray that a person who is destined to be a stable boy become president.

In this light, we can understand why Yitzchak asked to be fed before he blessed his son. By receiving a gift from the person to be blessed, the prophet attains some level of attachment to that person, and he can see the person’s destiny more clearly. This is why, for example, the (future) King Shaul brought a gift to the prophet Shmuel when he came to make a request from that prophet, as related in the Book of Shmuel.

(Peirush Al Ha’Torah Al Derech Ha’Beur)

R’ Yosef Albo z”l (approx. 1380-1444) cites Ralbag’s explanation for the phenomenon of blessings (without mentioning Ralbag by name), and writes that it is the best explanation anyone has yet offered. Nevertheless, R’ Albo concludes, that explanation is inadequate. For one thing, it does not explain how someone who is not a prophet can give a blessing. How can the typical kohen, who is not a prophet, give the Birkat Kohanim / the Priestly Blessing? Indeed, how can a universal blessing such as Birkat Kohanim be effective at all, since it is not tailored to the recipient as Ralbag claims a blessing should be?

Accordingly, R’ Albo offers a slightly different explanation for how blessings work. He writes: Most blessings are nothing more than prayers that a person receive general or specific goodness if he is suited to receive it. However, if the recipient is not suited to receive the blessing, a prophet or tzaddik can prepare him to receive it. Essentially, the tzaddik acts as a conduit through which a blessing flows to the recipient, provided that the recipient has some quality that makes him minimally suited to be blessed. Similarly, the kohanim who bless the congregation are conduits through which blessing flows, for it is impossible for there not to be at least some people in the congregation who are suited to be blessed.

This is what is behind the practice that the one giving a blessing places his hands on the recipient’s head. The hands are the “channel” through which the blessing “flows.” However, the more the recipient is suited to receive a blessing, the greater the flow through the channel. That is why Yaakov placed his right hand on Ephraim’s head, saying that Ephraim would be greater than Menashe. Because Yaakov saw prophetically that Ephraim was more suited to be blessed than was Menashe, Yaakov placed the greater conduit – the stronger right hand – on Ephraim’s head.

If a blessing is primarily a prayer, why couldn’t Yitzchak undo the blessing he gave Yaakov by turning around and reciting a second prayer on Esav’s behalf? Because once the blessing has flowed through the channel, there is no turning it back. By way of a parable: If a gardener planted seeds and they have already grown, there is nothing he can do to reverse the process, except kill the plant. When Yitzchak said to Esav (about Yaakov), “Indeed, he shall remain blessed,” Yitzchak meant, “It is too late; the blessing has already flowed to him through the channel.” That is why Esav wanted to kill Yaakov.

(Sefer Ha’ikkarim Part IV, Ch. 19)

Letters from Our Sages

The following letter was written by R’ Yitzchak Hutner z”l (1904-1980; rosh yeshiva of Mesivta Chaim Berlin). It is printed in Pachad Yitzchak: Igrot U’ketavim p. 220, and dated 7 Av 5723 [1963].

I have not allowed the trait of zerizut / alacrity to control me with respect to your letter, and, in truth, your letter has waited longer than it should take to answer. The reason is that this letter is one of reproach, and, for as long as I have lived, I have had trouble putting words of reproach into writing. Is not the primary difference between something oral and something written that something written, compared to something oral, is like an enduring world compared to a passing world (as it is written [Yirmiyahu 32:14], “[Take these documents . . .] so that they will endure for many years”). It is impossible to offer reproof without putting on a cloak of [the midday / attribute of] justice. True, open rebuke stems from hidden love [see Mishlei 27:5], but, when all is said and done, the love is hidden and what is revealed is judgment. Certainly, one’s heart does not wish that it be said about the judgments associated with the reproach, “so that they will endure for many years.” This is the difficulty which I feel when writing words of reproach.

But, when all is said and done, what can be done? Is not withholding reproach also a strict judgment? [Nevertheless,] overcoming this difficulty requires a long wait, and from this derives the lack of alacrity in my response. May it be His will that the open rebuke quickly pass and, as a result, the hidden love will be revealed.

Copyright © 2003 by Shlomo Katz and