These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: Tape # 259, Sorfin Al Chazakos – The Concept of Chazakah
People Only Contemplate Life Under The Shadow Of Death
In this week’s parsha we learn about the famous story of the sale of the birthright. A ravenously hungry Eisav saw his brother Yaakov preparing lentil soup. Yaakov negotiated a trade of soup for the rights of the first born in the family. Eisav agreed to the deal and Yaakov bought the bechorah [birth right of the eldest son].
Our Sages tell us that Yaakov was cooking lentil soup because on that day, the patriarch Avraham had died. Yitzchak was observing the mourning practices for his father, and the custom was that lentil soup was served to the mourner. That is why Yaakov was cooking this particular food.
Does it not seem strange and inappropriate that at this particular moment in history, the question of the birthright should emerge? Even if Yaakov really wanted this right, could he not have chosen another opportunity to enter into negotiations with Eisav?
Imagine – this was a house of morning. The grandfather, Avraham, had just died. Yitzchak was sitting Shiva. Yaakov was preparing the meal for the mourner. Eisav entered. What was on Yaakov’s mind at this time? “Sell me the birth right.” Why did Yaakov raise the issue of who will be considered the Bechor, now, at this juncture?
The Beis Av suggests the following interpretation: Our Sages teach us that we serve lentils to a mourner because of the symbolism of their shape. Lentils are round. Life is a wheel that is forever turning around in the world. The round lentils symbolize the cyclical nature of the cycle of birth and death that is the way of all flesh. Mourning is a virtually inescapable condition that everyone must face sooner or later. Hopefully, it will be a child for a parent – after the parent has lived a long and fulfilling life.
People often first begin to think about life precisely at a time of mourning and death. That is when people think of death’s inevitability. It is then that people think of their own mortality. Often, people only really contemplate life under the shadow of death.
This incident is teaching us that the way a righteous person views life and the way a wicked person views life are diametrically opposed. Yaakov looked at life as “What do I have to accomplish? What are my responsibilities?” The status of Bechor determined more than who would receive a double inheritance. The status of bechor included responsibilities. Who would be the spiritual heir in the world? Who would do the Service of G-d in the world? When Yaakov contemplated death and thereby contemplated life, he was goaded on to seek the spiritual responsibility that comes with family leadership.
On the other hand, when a wicked person contemplates life, his attitude is “Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we may die. Yes. Death is inevitable. What does that tell me to do? Enjoy the good life while I can! Indulge now, before it is too late.” Specifically now when Eisav was thinking about the death of his grandfather and the Shiva of his father, he first began to think – “I do not want the responsibility of being the firstborn. I do not want to ‘waste’ my life in servitude to G-d. I want to enjoy life, _now_. I want _freedom_ from the responsibility of being the firstborn.”
Therefore it was at this precise moment that the sale was consummated. This was when the status of the first born came into focus. Yaakov decided that he must acquire the bechorah _now_. Eisav decided that he must be rid of it _now_.
Sending Children Away From Home: The Monthly Check, the Bank Account, or the Credit Card
When Yitzchak gave the blessings to Yaakov he said, “May the L-rd (Elo-kim) grant you from the dew of heaven and from the fat of the earth” [Bereishis 27:28]. “Elo-kim” does not seem to be the appropriate name of G-d to use for a blessing. G-d has different Names, which connote different methodologies of how G-d deals with us. Elo-kim is the Attribute of strict and severe Judgment. It appears strange to invoke this Name in the blessing that requests from G-d the dews of heaven and the fat of the earth.
Rashi on this pasuk [verse] makes a very important comment. Rashi says that these blessings come with a string attached. Yaakov is not being promised that the blessings will be his, no matter what. Yaakov must deserve the blessings. The Attribute of Mercy will not be granting you these blessings. The blesings will come from the Attribute of Judgment.
Rashi points out that the wording of the blessing to Eisav indicates that he was to gain his blessing regardless of whether he was righteous or wicked. Elo-kim was not mentioned in Eisav’s blessing. No strings were attached. Is this fair? Is the sinner to prosper? The matter can be understood with a parable.
Many of us are familiar with the experience of sending children to learn in a school in another city. Of course, along with this experience comes another experience – the need to occasionally send spending money. There are three methods that a parent can use to send money to their children. The parent can send a periodic check – weekly, biweekly, or monthly. That way, the parent can be confident that at least every so often the son or daughter will get in touch with them.
The second method is to open up a checking account for the child, so they can write their own checks. Still, occasionally, a deposit will have to be made. There will have to be an occasional phone call home to request a deposit of additional money in the account.
The third option is to give the child a credit card. With this option there is no guarantee that the child will ever keep in touch.
I am not trying to be facetious. When G-d showers us with gifts – giving us a livelihood, life, health, providing all our needs – those gifts are not an end in and of themselves. G-d creates us with needs because He – as it were – wants us to keep in touch. G-d wants us to feel that we have needs in life, because that will force us to keep in touch with our Creator. This is essential for a human being.
This is the meaning of the blessing said after foods (other than grains and special fruits) “who creates many souls and their needs” (borei nefashos rabbos, v’chesronon). We understand the praise implicit in the fact that G-d creates many lives, but where is the praise in the fact that He creates them with needs?
The fact that G-d creates us with needs is a tremendous praise, because via those needs we always maintain our connection and return to our Creator. If we always had everything set and ready for us on the table, with no needs we would be like the kid who has the credit card and never calls home – because he has nothing further to ask for.
The beauty of our relationship ship with G-d is that we inherently need Him. That is why the blessing concludes, “Blessed be the provider of life in (two) worlds” (Baruch Chei haOlamim). This is how G-d secures for us two worlds – this world and the world to come – via the fact that he guarantees our attachment to Him, by creating us with constant needs which require that we keep in touch.
The Sefas Emes (1847-1905) explains that G-d gave the ultimate curse to the snake by telling him “you will walk on your stomach, eating dust all the days of your life” [Bereishis 3:14]. The Sefas Emes asks that on the surface, this curse seems like a great benefit for the snake – to have his meals always available wherever he goes. Every other creature in the universe has to scrounge for food. The snake has it all there.
The Sefas Emes explains the powerful aspect of this curse. G-d disassociated himself permanently from the snake, telling him “Goodbye, snake. We have nothing to do with each other from now on. You always have your food, you never have to keep in touch.”
This is the meaning of our Rashi in reference to the blessing to Yaakov. The Attribute of Justice will be the source of your blessing. “You must behave. In order to receive your blessing, you must maintain a close and proper relationship with your G-d. Then, and only then will you receive the blessing”. G-d’s relationship to Eisav however, would be akin to His relationship with the snake – no need to keep in touch. “Take your credit card, and do what you want with it! I do not need you. You do not need me. Go have a good life.”
This is not the same quality blessing as that of “May Elo-kim grant you…” As bad as sickness is, as bad as poverty is – they have a silver lining. They force us to remember that there is a G-d out there. Our prayers become different; our actions become different. As a result, we become different. This is a blessing, not a curse.
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Yerushalayim.
This write-up was adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Torah Tape series on the weekly Torah portion. The complete list of halachic topics covered in this series for Parshas Toldos are provided below:
- Tape # 031 – The Marrying of Relatives
- Tape # 073 – Non-Kosher Medicines and the Bircas HaReiach
- Tape # 122 – Gneivas Da’as: Deception and Your Fellow Man
- Tape # 169 – The Blind Person in Halacha
- Tape # 215 – V’sain Tal U’Matar
- Tape # 259 – “Sorfin Al Hachazakos” The Concept of Chazaka
- Tape # 305 – The Brocho of “Boruch Sheptarani”
- Tape # 349 – Must Mincha have a Chazaras HaShatz?
- Tape # 393 – Neitz Hachama vs. Tefilah B’tzibur
- Tape # 437 – Accepting Tzedaka from Women
- Tape # 481 – Lying to keep what’s yours
- Tape # 525 – Maris Ayin
Tapes or a complete catalogue can be ordered from:
Yad Yechiel Institute
PO Box 511
Owings Mills, MD 21117-0511
Call (410) 358-0416 for further information.
Also Available: Mesorah / Artscroll has published a collection of Rabbi Frand’s essays. The book is entitled:
and is available through your local Hebrew book store or from Project Genesis, 1-410-654-1799.