Rabbi Elie Cohen
This week’s Torah portion concludes with the list of the descendants of Esau; not much more than the names are given. Next week’s portion, Vayeishev, begins a much more detailed description of the children of Esau’s brother, Jacob.
This week’s Torah portion concludes with the list of the descendants of Esau; not much more than the names are given. Next week’s portion, Vayeishev, begins a much more detailed description of the children of Esau’s brother, Jacob. Rashi, the preeminent Torah commentator, notes this contrast and illuminates it for us through the following parable: A precious gem was lost in the sand. In order to locate it, a man dug his fingers into the sand and sifted through it, even using a sieve. Upon finding the precious jewel, he cast away the dirt and pebbles and grasped the gem.
Similarly, explains Rashi, the children of Esau were not particularly beloved to Hashem. Thus, the Torah does not spend much time in recounting their lives. Like the sand, they were cast away. Jacob’s children, however, were righteous and thereby cherished by Hashem. Hashem therefore speaks about them in the Torah at length, grabbing hold of them like the precious gem. Rashi continues to prove that this is a common trend in the Torah. As an example, he cites the genealogies of the ten generations from Adam to Noah and the next ten from Noah to Abraham. In both instances, the Torah appears to gloss over the figures who were less or, in some cases, not pious, while it elaborates when discussing the precious exemplars of piety.
Similarly, just a few weeks ago we not only read in detail about Eliezer’s (Abraham’s servant) meeting Rebecca, but the Torah even chronicles Eliezer’s retelling the entire story to Rebecca’s family. Why would the Torah record this story twice, while many major topics in the Torah have very small scriptural reference? Rashi explains, "The ordinary conversation of even the Patriarchs’ servants is more pleasing before G-d than the teaching of their children." Again we see this trend – that which is more dear in the eyes of G-d receives more air time in the Torah.
Perhaps this would explain a puzzling verse in Parshat Bereishit. Describing the incident of Cain murdering his brother Abel, the Torah writes, "Cain said to his brother Abel, and it was when they were in the field that Cain arose above Abel his brother and he killed him" (Genesis 4:8). The beginning of the verse is quite unusual, as it seems to stop mid-sentence, without telling us what Cain said to Abel. Rashi fills in the blank by informing us that Cain’s words were those of argument, and that he engaged in such conversation to create a pretext for which to kill his brother. Perhaps such words of strife, which were, in fact, empty and false, were so despicable to G-d as to not include them in the Torah at all.
This may well offer us a new insight into the famous line from the Passover Haggadah, "And anyone who increases his speech about the exodus, behold this is praiseworthy." It has been suggested that the word "this" in "this is praiseworthy" might not refer to the action of speaking, but to the speaker himself. Now we can more fully understand that suggestion. When someone speaks at length about something, it is an indication that the subject is very dear to the speaker, as we discovered above through Rashi’s explanation. When we left Egypt, it was not in order that we should become totally independent, but that we should become the servants of G-d.
Hashem states in His Torah, "I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. And I will take you to me as a nation and I will be for you as a G-d" (Exodus 6:6-7). One who speaks about the exodus at length displays that this switch from being Pharaoh’s servant to being G-d’s servant is very beloved to him. This person understands how his entire existence is imbued with meaning by this service of G-d. Such a person is truly praiseworthy.
Rabbi Elie Cohen, an alumnus of Yeshiva Atlanta, is an educator at the Columbus Torah Academy in Ohio.
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