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Posted on June 7, 2002 (5762) By Rabbi Pinchas Winston | Series: | Level:

Friday Night:

They journeyed from Beit El and there was still a stretch of land to go until Efrat, when Rachel went into labor and had difficulty in childbirth . . . It came to pass as her soul was departing — for she died — that she called his name Ben Oni . . . (Bereishis 35:16-18)

The death of a mother through childbirth is less common today, thank G-d, it was far more common in past times. This is one of the reasons given for why having children is a mitzvah commanded only of a man and not a woman: the Torah, in general, does not command us to do that which endangers our lives.

Usually the reason for such a tragedy is physical. However, in the case of the birth of Binyomin, it was purely spiritual, as the Arizal explains:

Ya’akov left one Ruach in Rachel and one in Leah. The Ruach which he left in Rachel went to Binyomin her son. This is the sod of “As her soul was departing — for she died . . .” (Bereishis 35:18). For, the Ruach that he gave to her was called her Nefesh, as it is known, and it left her in order to go into Binyomin her son; therefore, Binyomin could not be born until the Nefesh of Rachel left. (Shaar HaGilgulim, Chapter 36)

This is a very interesting and Kabbalistic concept. As Shaar HaGilgulim teaches at the beginning of the sefer, a person receives his or her Nefesh even before birth, because it is necessary from the start if a person is going to be able to live; it is the basic life force of a person. Ya’akov did not marry Rachel until much later in her life, obviously, so what Nefesh could he have given her that her life depended upon?

It means that whatever Nefesh had kept Rachel alive until she married Ya’akov, had not been the one that she lived with after she married Ya’akov. Somehow, after Ya’akov finally married Rachel, he gave to her on a soul-level a new Life Force that enhanced her being while she had it, and which was given over to Binyomin at the time of his birth as a continuation of her being and spirit.

This is why the concept of zivug — soul-mate — makes such a difference. When a man and woman act as husband and wife, even if their intention is not to build a family, there is still a spiritual connection taking place that has affects on the souls of both the husband and the wife. When the guidelines of marriage, as set forth by the Torah, are not followed, it makes for a very confused spiritual reality.

Even if a couple marries according to all the right reasons and methods, and then gets divorced according to all the right reasons and methods as well, they can be far better off spiritually than a couple that lives together outside the boundaries of what the Torah sanctions. This is true even if the non-Torah-sanctioned relationship is a “peaceful” one.

The Torah, when laying down the guidelines for relationships, took into account all the possibilities in order to channel people in the correct direction of personal tikun and world tikun. However, if people negate these guidelines, then they take upon themselves the responsibility of rectifying that which they do not understand and cannot see.

It’s an awesome responsibility of which most people, when being promiscuous, are completely unaware. However, it is one for which we are held responsible at the end of time when we stand before G-d in judgment.

Shabbos Day:

These are the descendants of Eisav, who is Edom. Eisav had taken his wives… and Basmas, daughter of Yishmael. (Bereishis 36:1-3)

As the rabbis point out, Basmas was really Machalas, first mentioned at the end of Parashas Toldos:

Eisav went to Yishmael and took Machalas, the daughter of Yishmael… (Bereishis 28:9)

Why did Eisav do this, especially when he already had many other wives? The Torah explains:

When Eisav saw that Yitzchak had blessed Ya’akov and sent him off to Padan Aram to take a wife for himself from there … Eisav understood that the daughters of Canaan were evil in the eyes of Yitzchak, his father. (Bereishis 28:6-8)

The above is a short, seemingly insignificant part of the main story, an apparently valueless diversion from the main event. However, if that were true, then why would the Torah waste its time and ours by inserting this fact about the intermarriage of two of the most powerful dynasties mankind has even known — that of Eisav and that of Yishmael — just as Ya’akov began his journey into exile and the building of the Jewish people?

That Eisav married Canaanite women is neither surprising nor eye opening, since according to Midrashic accounts, there was very little that Canaanite culture could offer Eisav that he didn’t already have. However, the intermarriage of Edom with Yishmael meant something else altogether — a powerful hybrid that is a combination of the characteristics of both.

We spoke about Eisav’s characteristics somewhat in Parashas Toldos. However, regarding the traits of Yishmael, the Torah discusses these in earlier parshios: Lech-Lecha and Vayaira. In fact, I personally think that the Torah’s description and prophecy of the future nation of Yishmael is one of the most overt “proofs” of Torah’s prophecy. For, no matter how old one says the Torah is (according to Jewish tradition, it was given to the Jewish people at Mt. Sinai 3,314 years ago), and it is certainly older than the Arab population.

What do I mean by this, since obviously there have been Arabs walking the face of the earth ever since Hagar bore Yishmael to Avraham Avinu. However, how many millennia did it take to fulfill the following prophecy:

An angel of G-d said to her, “Behold, you will conceive and give birth to a son; you shall name him Yishmael, for G-d has heard your prayer.” (Bereishis 16:11)

Now, the Torah could have played it safe and stopped right here. Anyone could have “predicted” that one or two thousand years ago — after the fact — the Biblical origin of the Arab people. Future generations would have only been reading about a past event that at the time was a future event for Hagar.

However, the Torah did not play it safe and instead continued to write about events well into the future, some of which may have only been realized in our time:

“And he shall be a wild man; his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him; and over all his brothers shall he dwell. (Bereishis 16:12)

… An angel of G-d called to Hagar from Heaven, “What troubles you Hagar? Do not fear, for G-d has heeded the cry of the youth in his present state. Arise, lift up the youth and grasp your hand upon him, for I will make a great nation out of him.” (Bereishis 21:17-18)

And so he became, in a big way. Not immediately, but well into the future. Regarding his nature, history speaks for itself. And, if one wants to argue (as Arab leaders have done), that even Jews are capable of becoming “terrorists” against Western nations, one should recall the King David Hotel attack in Jerusalem in the forties.

At the time, the King David Hotel had been British Headquarters in Jerusalem, and before blowing it up, the Jewish Underground called to warn of the impending attack. Only once the British had sufficiently evacuated the building, did the Jews blow it up, in spite of how the British had done nothing to help the Jews in their struggle to survive, and often did things to hinder their effort, as is well documented.

However, there were no phone calls in advance of the September 11th attack; apparently the more innocent people caught in the buildings, the greater the success of the attack.

Should one argue that the attack was only carried out by a few crazy people who did not represent the opinion of the masses from which they came, then they will have to explain the dancing in the streets in many major Arab capitols, and the distribution of sweets as one might do upon winning a war. In the West Bank alone, 76% of Palestinians polled said the American’s had it coming to them. The American media wanted to report this, but in an unprecedented reversal of events, they kept quiet after being threatened with their lives.

“And he shall be a wild man; his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him; and over all his brothers shall he dwell. (Bereishis 16:12)

“This is not a war against Islam,” the president of the United States of America insists today. A prominent Western Arab recently said in “The New York Times” about his own people (from whom he is hiding): Yes it IS a war against Islam. Then again, maybe they are both wrong; maybe it is a war against a hybrid of Eisav and Yishmael, and not just in the Middle-East but in many parts of the world, not just in Yishmael’s culture, but in Edom’s as well.


These are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom before a king ruled over the Children of Israel. (Bereishis 36:31)

If you think about it, Edom and Yishmael seem to represent two polar extremes of the same continuum. True, Eisav was the source of Catholicism, one of the biggest religions in the world today with many loyal followers, but compared to Islam, it is quite a different religion. In any case, Eisav today represents the Western World, which is intensely secular, and even if President George Bush professes to be a somewhat religious man, he leads a nation that acts in very non-religious ways.

On the other hand, Islam is at the other extreme. In many places they still cut off the hand of the thief, among other extreme acts of law enforcement. In some places in the world, Western backwardness is a function of Third World poverty. However, many Arab countries have more than enough money to be even more western than the West, but choose not to as a matter of culture, often rejecting it to an extreme.

Historically, the Jewish people have stood in between both cultures, or were supposed to have stood between both cultures, at least. As we have seen, just like any other people, we are capable of going to extremes. Today, some Jews are more secular than anyone else in the world, and historically we have fostered groups capable of taking the letter of the law too far.

Okay, we may never have cut off the hands of thieves, but we still have been quite extreme in our judgment of ourselves and others at times. Especially today, we can’t seem to find that national “Middle Road,” and as a result, we still find ourselves in a long, spiritually and often physically brutal exile.

It is interesting how the above verse mentions where the kings of Edom ruled — in the land of Edom — but stops short of doing so with respect to the Children of Israel. It is as if the posuk is trying not to confine itself to a single time period, but rather wishes to refer to the entire period of Jewish history — until a true king will finally come and rule over the Jewish people, Moshiach himself.

Once Moshiach comes, the extremes will disappear. That which is good and holy, at least in potential, within Western society will be absorbed and appreciated, and that which is not, will be flatly rejected. And with the end of the yetzer hara at this time of history, extreme judgment will no longer be necessary either.

If so, then maybe this posuk has yet to be truly fulfilled. After all, even Moshe couldn’t quite get the nation to walk that straight line of Torah perfection, and certainly the kings after him did not either. Thus, no Jewish king has ever really “ruled” the Children of Israel, while in the meantime the kings of Edom still seem to rule the world.

Thus, this posuk is a fitting end to this week’s parshah, which just happens to end with Chapter Thirty-Six, the number of the Final Redemption as the thirty-six candles of Chanukah remind us. After all, nothing happens by accident, even the non-Jewish numbering of the Torah, especially when it is based upon traditional “stops” and “starts” — even if they didn’t know it at the time.


Chanukah & The Wonderful World of Thirty-Six
Installment #1: Chapter One: The Hidden Light

Serializing “Changes That Last Forever” received a lot of positive feedback. Therefore, in advance of Chanukah, I have decided to do the same with another short book, “Chanukah & The Wonderful World of Thirty-Six.” This has been edited and adapted for these pages:

In the beginning, G-d made the heaven and the earth. The earth was null and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; the Spirit of G-d hovered over the surface of the water. G-d said, “Let there be light!” and there was light. G-d saw the light, that it was good, and He divided between the light and the darkness. (Bereishis 1:3)

God saw the light, that it was good, and He divided . . . He saw that it was not worth letting the evil people use it, and He set it aside for the righteous in the Time-to-Come. (Chagigah 12a)

For thirty-six hours the light served [before G-d hid it from the world] . . . (Yerushalmi, Brochos 8:5)

The original light of creation was hidden in the thirty-six candles of Chanukah. (B’nei Yisachar)

With the Hidden Light, G-d nourishes the world. (Zohar, Shemos 149a)

For the first day, the world without man enjoyed the awesome light of the first day of creation. However, as the Talmud teaches, this light was special and could be subject to abuse by the evil people of history. Thus, even before the creation of the first man, G-d “hid” the light, though the Torah does not exactly tell us where. All we are told by the Talmud is that it was hidden for the righteous in the “Time-to-Come.”

However, as a result, we are faced with many questions: What kind of light was it? Obviously, it was not the light that we are used to, for that light did not exist until the fourth day of creation when G-d put the sun, moon, and the constellations in their orbits. Incandescent and fluorescent lights did not exist at that time either.

Furthermore, why was this special light hidden specifically after thirty-six hours? Wouldn’t twenty-four hours have been a more logical period of time, give that it is the length of one day?

The truth is, the thirty-six hours, the Talmud explains, does not refer to the first day of creation, but to the sixth day after man was created. In fact, man enjoyed the return appearance of the Hidden Light for the entire duration of thirty-six hours before it was hidden once again. However, why thirty-six hours?

What was it about the light that made it more subject to abuse than the rest of creation? Why would the consequences of such abuse warrant hiding the primordial light? What part of creation, like the atom for example, has man NOT abused with nightmarish results. And yet, G-d, knowing that future as well, did not see fit to hide that “light.”

Finally, after all of this is discussed and answered, where in the world can one find this light in the thirty-six candles of Chanukah — especially when it was hidden away for the righteous people in the Time-to-Come, at which time we certainly have yet to arrive!

Have a great Shabbos,
Pinchas Winston