A. Yaakov and Esav are Born. After 20 childless years of marriage, Rivka and Yitzchak were blessed by Hashem with twin sons, Yaakov (the younger, a Torah scholar and Rivka’s favorite) and Esav (the elder, a hunter and Yitzchak’s favorite).
B. Esav Sells His Birthright To Yaakov. Returning hungry and tired from a day of hunting, Esav noticed that Yaakov was cooking some red lentils. (Our Sages explain that Yaakov had prepared the lentils for Yitzchak, because it was the day of Abraham’s funeral.) Esav said to Yaakov “give me quickly some of that red stuff to eat for I am tired.” Yaakov answered “sell me, in turn, your privileges as first born (i.e., until Hashem chose Aaron and his descendants to serve as the priestly family, first-borns served as priests to Hashem; Esav was clearly not worthy of this sanctified work). “Of what use are the rights of the first-born to me?” reasoned Esav, and he swore to Yaakov that he would give him first-born rights, in return for which Yaakov gave Esav some bread and lentils.
C. Yitzchak and Rivka Travel to Gerar. Fleeing a famine, Yitzchak and Rivka temporarily moved to Gerar. Hashem appeared to Yitzchak, promising to uphold His promise to Abraham. Hashem promised that Yitzchak’s descendants would be as numerous as the stars of heaven and would inherit Canaan. Taking the same precautions as Abraham did, Yitzchak told the residents of Gerar that Rivka was his sister. King Avimelech, upon discovering the truth, ordered that anyone harming Yitzchak or Rivka would be killed. With Hashem’s help, Yitzchak soon became very prosperous. This evoked the envy of local populace, and Avimelach asked Yitzchak to leave the area. While staying in the valley of Gerar, Yaakov dug his father’s old water wells. Yitzchak eventually moved to Be’er Sheva. Before long, he was visited by Avimelach who now recognized that he was a holy person, favored by Hashem, and they agreed to a peace treaty. Meanwhile, Esav brought grief to his parents by marrying tow Hititte women (who were idol worshipers).
D. Yitzchak’s Blessing. Yaakov was old and blind and felt that the time had come for him to bless his eldest son. He, therefore, requested Esav to hunt and prepare the game he captured. After partaking of the meal, Yitzchak would bless him. Rivka, overhearing their conversation, dressed Yaakov in Esav’s clothing and covered his hands and neck with goat skin to make them feel as hairy as Esav’s, and sent him to Yitzchak bearing a tasty dish of young goat’s meat and bread which she made. Yaakov’s voice aroused Yitzchak’s suspicions, but they were allayed when he felt Yaakov’s hairy hands which Yitzchak was sure belonged to Esav. Yitzchak, now ready to bestow the blessings upon his son, called him forward. Yaakov came forward and kissed his father. Yitzchak blessed Yaakov, saying “May Hashem give you from the dew of the sky and the fat of the land, and plenty of grain and wine. Nations shall serve you and kingdoms shall bow down to you. Those who curse you shall be cursed and those who bless you will be blessed.” No sooner had Yaakov left, when Esav returned and discovered what had happened. Yitzchak didn’t revoke his blessing to Yaakov; rather, he blessed Esav as well, and foretold that his descendants would live by the sword and serve Yaakov’s descendants if they behaved properly; however, if they strayed from the path of Torah, Esav’s descendants would be free of this servitude.
E. Yaakov Leaves Home. Esav, angry at Yaakov’s ruse, plotted to kill him as soon as Yitzchak died. To prevent this, Rivka instructed him to go stay with her brother Lovan in Charan. Yitzchak gave him the save advice, and expressed his wish that Yaakov choose a wife from among Lovan’s family. Yitzchak then blessed Yaakov again that the blessings of Abraham be fulfilled through him and his descendants.
II. Divrei Torah
A. LilMode Ul’Lamed (Rabbi Mordechai Katz)
“Kibbud Av V’aim” (Honoring Your Father and Mother). Although Rivka recognized Yaakov’s superiority to Esav, Yitzchak lacked this insight, for he was misled by Esav’s practice of Kibbud Av, honoring Yitzchak. He assumed Esav was just as scrupulous in observing all mitzvos. This shows the power of Kibbud Av V’aim; it was able to make Yitzchak believe that even one as degenerate as Esav was an honorable person. If Esav, for all his wickedness, still was careful to honor his parents, then how can we claim to be good Jews if we fail to do the same? Many stories are related of how our Sages honored their parents. For example, one day Rabbi Avuhu asked his son, Rabbi Avimi, for some water to drink. Rabbi Avimi brought the water, but his father had fallen asleep. He stood next to his father with the water in his hand the entire time, until he awoke (Kiddushin 31b). A story is told of Rabbi Leib of Kelm. When he was a young, he returned home very late one night from studying. His parents were already sleeping and he didn’t have a key with him. In order not to awaken them, he remained in the street all night despite the extreme cold.
B. Peninim on the Torah (Rabbi A.L. Scheinbaum)
Recognizing the spiritual value. “And Esav despised the birthright.” How can one sink so low as to exchange his prized inheritance for a mere bowl of lentil soup? Did Esav completely lose his sense of spirituality? Horav Yechezkel Levinstein, z’tl notes that this is truly a case in which people follow a misguided perspective of life. How often do we measure success by the yardstick of prosperity, position or social standing, while simultaneously belittling success in spiritual endeavors? Perhaps this is the meaning of the words of Rabeinu Yonah “how did I exchange a passing world for one that stands forever?”
C. Majesty of Man (Rabbi Hanoch Leibowitz)
Feeling Esav’s Pain. “And he [Esav] cried an exceedingly great and bitter cry . . . ” In truth, what error had Yaakov committed? He didn’t steal the blessing; it was rightfully his for he had legitimately purchased the birthright (including the eventual blessings of the first-born) from Esav. In addition, one can’t fault Yaakov’s motive; he wasn’t driven by greed or a desire for glory, but rather realized that Esav wasn’t worthy of the birthright. Furthermore, Rivka had perceived through prophecy that the blessing belonged to Yaakov and she all but physically forced him to enter Yitzchak’s tent to receive the blessing. Why, then, was Yaakov held responsible for Esav’s suffering? Reb Dovid Leibowitz explained: Yaakov wasn’t punished for the pain he caused Esav but for an infinitesimal shortcoming in not feeling sufficiently anguished that Esav had to suffer. Yaakov should have empathized to a greater degree with Esav’s plight. We see from here the lofty level of “ahavah” (love) for our fellow man that the Torah demands of us. Esav was a deceitful person and a murderer; yet Yaakov was still required to feel his pain over the loss of his birthright. All people deserve our love and empathy with their pain. In our own way, we must enhance our love for, and sensitivities toward, our fellow man.
D. Growth Through Torah (Rabbi Zelig Pliskin)
1. Don’t rationalize your faults by blaming others for them. “And Yitzchak was 40 years old when he took Rivka, the daughter of Besuail the Aromite, from Padan Arom, the sister of Lavan the Aromite, for himself for a wife.” Rashi notes that the information in this verse is superfluous, since the Torah had already told us of Rivka’s family. According to Rashi, it is included to let us know the praise of Rivka. She was the daughter of an evil person, and lived in a community of evil people; nevertheless, she didn’t learn from their evil behavior. Many people try to excuse their faults by blaming others as the cause of their behavior. “It’s not my fault, I learned it from my parents” and other rationalizations are commonplace. However, we see from Rivka that regardless of the faulty, even evil, behavior of those in your surroundings, you have the ability to be more elevated.
2. Work on internalizing the elevated thoughts that you talk about. “And Yitzchak loved Esav because he was a hunter in his mouth.” Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler cited the Ari that it is a mistake to think that Esav was a complete hypocrite and just tried to deceive his father. If Yitzchak made an error, there must have been a good reason. The problem with Esav was that he kept all his spirituality “in his mouth,” without swallowing it. He spoke spiritual words but didn’t become a spiritual person. The Torah ideals that one talks must be a part of his very being.
E. Love Thy Neighbor (Rabbi Zelig Pliskin)
A person should consider it a honor to serve his parents. The Torah describes Esav’s garments as “the coveted ones.” The Midrash states that these garments were the one he seized from Nimrod. Esav wore these regal garments whenever he served his father. Rabbi Shimon Ben Gamliel said “I served my father my entire life, but I didn’t reach even 1% of the honor with which Esav served his father.” Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Ilem was once told in a dream “be happy, for you and a butcher named Nanas will be neighbors in the World-to-come.” Upon awakening, Rabbi Yehoshua was quite shaken; he traveled from town to town until he found Nanas. Overwhelmed that the famous Sage had come to visit him, Nanas humbly asked him why he had come. Rabbi Yehoshua said that he came to find out about the good deeds which Nanas had performed. Nanas replied that “I have elderly parents who are in need of help. I give them food and drink and wash and dress them daily.” Upon hearing this, Rabbi Yehoshua kissed him on the head and said “I am truly fortunate to have you as my neighbor in the World-to-come.”
F. In the Garden of The Torah (the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, z’tl)
Inwardness: the path to prosperity. The Parsha teaches us that a person can leave a legacy that will live on after his passing. Our Rabbis offer two definitions of “Toldos” (“prodigy”): (a) a person’s biological children and spiritual children [i.e., those he has taught]; and (b) the chronicles of one’s life and experiences. The Torah chooses Yitzchak to associate with the message of Toldos. Two things reflect the nature of Yitzchak’s Divine Service: (a) unlike his father, Abraham, Yitzchak never left Israel; and (b) his efforts were focused on digging wells. Both facts show that his Divine service had an inward focus. Spiritually, “digging” refers to the process of reaching one’s G-dly core and tapping it as a source of inner strength. Each of us has a “neshamah” (soul) which is “an actual part of G-d” (Tanya); every entity is maintained by a G-dly spark. Yitzchak’s goal was to activate these potentials, bring them to the surface and use them to initiate positive change. This is certainly a worthy path of Divine service, but why is it associated with the name “Toldos” which means prodigy? It seems more appropriate to associate this concept with the Divine service of Abraham, for he actively sought to communicate the awareness of G-d to others. By underscoring this reading of “Toldos,” our Rabbis underscore the message that the inwardness of Yitzchak also produces prodigy. His Divine service and the positive influence it generated attracted the attention of others, motivated them to follow his guidance and brought them to a recognition of G-d’s active presence in the world. Indeed, the awareness generated by Yitzchak was more permanent that that generated by Abraham, for it came from the people themselves. His internalized bond with Hashem inspired the people around him to perceive Hashem’s influence. We all have the opportunity to influence others, to motivate them to seek G-dly knowledge.
G. Living Each Day (Rabbi Abraham Twerski)
Contingent vs. Non-contingent love. “Yitzchak loved Esav for he fed him game, but Rivka loves Yaakov.” The Parsha describes Yaakov as a sincere person, devoted to scholarship, and Esav as a man of the field interested only in earthly desires. The Torah tells us that Yitzchak favored Esav because he hunted food for him, whereas Rivka loved Yaakov. However, no reason is given for her preference. The Selah notes this omission as well as the fact that Yitzchak’s love in the past tense, whereas Rivka’s love is in the present tense. What’s the difference? The Selah explains with a quote from Pirkei Avos that “love which is dependent on anything disappears when the thing on which it was dependent is gone”. Yitzchak loved Esav because he provided him food; such love is transitory and can easily become a thing of the past; hence, the use of the past tense. Rivka’s love wasn’t contingent, but was love of Yaakov for what “he was”; this time of love endures, hence the present tense. True love for another and self-love when the other person is merely a means of self-gratification are poles apart. As the Selah notes, the former is likely transitory, while the latter is of lasting duration. In the next Parsha, we learn of Yaakov’s love for Rachel; although he had to wait 7 years to marry her, “it seemed to him as but a few days because of his love for her.” If one is in love, shouldn’t each day of separation seem like an eternity? How does one thus make sense of this verse? The Rabbi of Apt answered that to people who primarily love themselves and crave companionship for their own self-gratification, each day of separation is indeed an eternity. But, Yaakov loved Rachel, rather than herself. He loved and admired her for who she was, rather than what she would provide to him. This was a non-contingent love, a spiritual love. This, the Torah teaches us, is true “love”.
H. Living Each Week (Rabbi Abraham Twerski).
1. Rationalization. After Esau sold his birthright to Jacob, we read that Esau “disparaged the birth”. There is no indication that Esau initially belittled the birthright; only after he sold it does the Torah tell us that he disparged it. We, too, often tend to rationalize our improper acts.
2. Environment can desensitize. [When Esau was forty years old, he married two Hittite women.] “They were a source of much bitterness to Isaac and to Rebecca”. The Midrash states that the Hittite women were idol worshipers and this deeply aggravated Isaac and Rebecca. The Midrash notes that the order of “Isaac and Rebecca” infers that Isaac was provoked first and Rebecca was only provoked later (since she had grown up in a family of idol worshipers). Why does this Torah tell us this? To remind us of the risk of being desensitized by our environment.
3. Feelings Are Reciprocal. Rebecca instructed Jacob to flee Esau, noting “flee to Lovan – you shall stay with him for awhile, until your brother’s fury dissipates until the anger of your brother dissipates from you . . ” What does the seemingly redundant last verse teach us? As Solomon taught, “like one’s reflection is seen in the water, so does one heart reflect another.” In other words, emotions are reciprocated. The way we feel about another is often a reliable indication of how that person feels about us. This, then, was Rebecca’s instruction to Jacob: when you feel your own animosity towards your own brother has left you, then you will know that he no longer hates you either.
I. Torah Gems (Rabbi Ahron Yaakov Greenberg)
1. Educating Our Children. “And the children struggled together within her.” When Rebecca would pass the doors of the Torah academies of Shem and Ever, Jacob struggled to come out; when she passed the doors of idolatry, Esau struggled to come out. This teaches us the tremendous importance, both positive and negative, of our environment. It also teaches us that everything depends on the mother – if she is accustomed to come to the doors of Torah (that is, she shows a love for and appreciation for Torah and Judaism), “Jacob strives to come out” (i.e., her child will be like Jacob).
2. Correct Introspection. And Esau said, “behold, I am at the point of dying; what use will this birthright be for me?” At that moment, Esau’s focus was on the physical and on the uselessness of the birthright to him. When a righteous person, however, thinks of the day of his death, it evokes in him/her feelings of repentance and fear of G-d. As the Talmud teaches, “an anecdote for the Evil Inclination is to remind ourselves of the day of our death.” (Chofetz Hayim).
3. Unity. As long as we are told that “they” dug in the plural (indicating that there was no unity among Isaac’s servants), the other herdsmen fought over the well. However, when they were finally united, as we see in “he dug,” with all working in harmony, even their enemies were unable to quarrel with them and made peace with them. (R’ A.P. Weinberger).
J. Soul of the Torah: Insights of the Chasidic Masters of the Weekly Torah Portions (Victor Cohen).
1. Torah — Elixir of Life. “And Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and found living waters.” The S’fas Emes commented that the Torah is called “water” and is therefore found everywhere. As is true with seeking water, it depends upon how deep one wishes to dig and how sincerely one wants to have Torah. Just as water is the elixir of life, so is Torah.
2. Everyone Can Receive A Blessing. On the verse “so that my soul may bless you before I die,” the Vorker asked why Isaac wished specifically to bless the elder son and not both his children (as Jacob blessed all his children). G-d did not want Jacob to be given the blessing because future generations would assume that, in order to receive a blessing, one must be on Jacob’s level. Esau received a blessing to show future generations that no matter what one’s status is, he/she can receive a blessing.
K. Something to Say (Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser).
1. Toil In Torah. “And the children agitated within her.” As Rashi taught us, when Rebecca passed in front of the Shiva of Shem and Eber, Jacob would kick inside her, and when she passed in front of temples of idol worship, Esau strugged to come out. We can understand why Esau wanted to go out to indulge in idolatry. But Jacob, who loved Torah study, had every reason to remain in his mother’s womb (for, as Chazal teach us, while inside the womb, an angel teaches a baby the entire Torah). If so, why would Jacob want to leave? Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef answers that Jacob wanted to learn Torah through his own toil and effort. He knew that being spoon-fed Torah does not carry with it the same value or permanence as acquiring it with our own effort.
2. Gratitude to G-d. [Leah delcared] “This time let me gratefully praise Hashem. Therefore she called his name Judah”. “Rashi explains Leah’s reaction to the birth of her fourth son as follows: “Because I have received more than my expected share, from now on I should praise G-d.” The Chiddushei HaRim comments that this is why she called her son Judah, for the root of the name Judah means thanksgiving. This is why a Jew is called Yehudi, derived from Judah (Yehudah). Thus, the name that identifies a Jew is based upon the concept of thanksgiving, because every Jew must realize that all that he or she has been given on this earth is a Divine gift. Even our name expresses the realization that everything we have is graciously bestowed upon us by G-d.
L. Love Thy Neighbor (Rabbi Zelig Pliskin)
Before Admonishing Someone, Let Them Know That You Sincerely Care About Them. “And Isaac called Jacob, and blessed him, and commanded him saying: you shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan. ” The Chofetz Chaim notes that we should learn from Isaac the most effective way of admonishing others. Before he warned Jacob what not to do, he blessed him. By showing someone first that you truly care about their welfare, such person will more readily listen your admonition.
M. Growth Through Torah (Rabbi Zelig Pliskin)
1. Use Your Potentially Negative Tendencies In Positive Ways. The Torah tells us about the birth of Esau: “And the first came out red, all over like a hairy garment; and they called his name Esau.” The Midrash relates that when Shmuel went to appoint David to be King of Israel, he saw that David was of ruddy complexion. He became frightened that David would be a murderer like Esau. G-d told Shmuel that there was no need to be afraid. Whereas Esau killed in cold blood, David would only take a life to carry out the just decisions of the Sanhedrin (court). The Midrash teaches that, while we have basic personality tendencies, we have free will to choose how these tendencies will be manifested. Esau’s tendency towards bloodshed led him down an evil path. David, on the other hand, was a mighty warrior who would utilize his natural tendencies for elevated purposes. As the Vilna Gaon writes, “one should not go completely against his nature even if it is bad, for he will not succeed. He should merely train himself to follow the straight path in accordance with his nature.”
2. If At First You Do Not Succeed, Keep Trying. The Chofetz Chaim explains that the Torah elaborates on the wells that Isaac found to teach us that we should not give up in discouragement when we run into dificulties. When Isaac dug and did not find water, he kept digging in other places until he was finally successful. This is a practical lesson for all areas of our lives, both spiritual and material. We must be persistent when things do not work out at first. The reason many of us fail to accomplish something is because we give up too soon. If we have the determination to keep trying, eventually we will succeed.