PARENTAL GUIDANCE SUGGESTED
In this week's Torah portion, we see many examples of the concept of "Ma'aseh avot siman l'banim - the actions of the forefathers paved the way for their descendents."
In this week's Torah portion, we see many examples of the concept of "Ma'aseh avot siman l'banim - the actions of the forefathers paved the way for their descendents." Through this concept, generations later, we can attempt to derive the appropriate behavior for all of our endeavors. On two prior occasions, the Torah tells us about Abraham traveling to a foreign land and telling the king that Sarah was his sister. Abraham feared that he would be killed so that the king could take Sarah as a wife. On both occasions, the king discovered the truth about Abraham and Sarah's relationship, once expelling Abraham from the land and once letting him settle in his land.
In this week's Torah portion, Isaac goes to a foreign king's land and tells everyone that Rebbecah is his sister. The Mei Hashiloach, a 19th century Chassidic rebbe, says that from this we learn the connection between parental actions and the actions of the children. He also stresses a deeper connection found in the Torah portion, one that, at first glance, may not appear so obvious. In Parshat Vayeira, which we read two weeks ago, Sarah tells Abraham to send away Ishmael, as Ishmael will adversely affect Isaac's spiritual growth. The Torah informs us that Abraham disagreed with Sarah's request. Hashem told Abraham though to listen to Sarah and so Abraham acquiesced.
This week's Torah portion informs us about the relationship between Isaac and his two sons, Jacob and Esau. We are told that Jacob is a "yoshev ohalim," one who sits and studies, that Esau was an "ish tzayid," a hunter, and that Isaac liked Esau because he fed him. Esau kept the mitzvah of respecting one's parents impeccably, but beyond that mitzvah though, Esau was not someone who observed the commandments. For this reason he was able to fool Isaac, but not Rebbecah. She saw how Esau acted when not in the presence of his father. Thus, we can understand the episode of the selling of the birthright and its blessings more clearly.
The Torah tells us, even in the womb, Jacob had a predilection towards places of Torah, and Esau towards those of idolatry. Rebbecah, who sought the advice of G-d, was aware from the beginning of Hashem's promise that, "two nations are in your stomach, and two nationalities from you will split, and after a great struggle, the elder will serve the younger one" (Genesis 25:23). She knew that Jacob, the younger son, was destined to be greater. Knowing all of this and seeing the basis for a mother having greater knowledge of her sons' spiritual levels than the father, Rebbecah understood her place in the relationship. On that basis, Rebbecah encouraged Jacob to deceive his father and "steal" the blessing. She told Jacob not to fear deceiving his father, because she would take responsibility for his actions. She knew that Jacob, a G-d fearing individual, would find this request spiritually bothersome and thus made this guarantee.
She could only do so because she was acting on the basis of her ruach hakodesh (Divine inspiration). In this case, Jacob's deception was not considered lying, but rather following his mother's command. After Jacob received the blessing, Esau came to receive his blessing, but Isaac refused to give it to him. Isaac understood that his words were not merely a blessing, but a mirror of God's blessing to the receiver. His mouth was G-d's conduit to properly bless the person in front of him, even if he thought he was blessing someone else. Thus, he knew that history had repeated itself - his wife Rebbecah, as Sarah before her, had judged their children more correctly than he. Therefore, he could not give Esau his blessing because Hashem had shown, through Rebbecah, that He wanted Jacob to receive the greater one.
This story's relevance to us takes place in two weeks when Jacob and Esau finally meet after years of Esau's bearing a grudge for the "theft" of the blessing. Jacob does three things in preparation for the confrontation. First, he prepares for war by splitting his family into two camps so that at least one part can survive. He then sends Esau gifts to avoid confrontation. Thirdly, he prays to Hashem for assistance.
In a similar light, no matter where on the political spectrum we might reside, Jews from around the world, and specifically those in Israel, have found themselves in a similar predicament over the years. Israeli families continue to send their children to the army, preparing to defend the people and the State of Israel, should military action become necessary. At the same time though, an equally valiant, but cautious attempt to avert war is also being considered, most recently in the rustic hills of Maryland near the Wye River.
As we have seen though, history repeats itself, and the actions of our forefathers (and foremothers) repeat themselves in our lifetime. Hopefully, in a way similar to the peaceful resolution between Esau and Jacob, we too can find true, lasting, and secure peace in our days. We pray that each gun carried by an Israeli soldier will soon be turned into a more peaceful and auspicious implement so that the people and State of Israel may live prosperously and peacefully until the Mashiach (Messiah) arrives. May it be speedily in our days.
Joshua Hartman, originally from Atlanta, now resides on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
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