Toldos 5783

Rabbi Biderman



Toldos 5783

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Parashat Toldot: Hard Work and Effort

The Torah in Parashat Toldot tells the story of the blessings which Yishak Abinu wished to bestow upon his older son, Esav, but which were taken by the younger son, Yaakob. Yishak informed Esav of his desire to bless him, and instructed him to go out to the field, hunt an animal, and prepare the meat for him, so that in the merit of this Misva he would be worthy of his blessing.


After Esav left, Ribka, who heard Yishak’s commands to Esav, plotted to have Yaakob receive the Berachot, instead. As Yishak was blind, Ribka needed only to dress Yaakob in Esav’s special garments so he would feel like his brother. The Torah says that Ribka dressed Yaakob in "Bigdeh Esav…Ha’hamudot" – Esav’s "precious" garments. The Sages explain that these garments had been passed down since the time of Adam, and had the special power to attract animals. In fact, this is how Noah brought all the animals onto the ark – by attracting them through these garments. Esav received this clothing and would wear it when he went hunting. The animals would be drawn to him, and this is how Esav could easily catch them. Esav used this power for the sake of the Misva of Kibbud Ab – honoring his father, as he would quickly catch animals and prepare meat for Yishak. According to the Midrash, these were the garments in which Ribka dressed Yaakob when he came before Yishak disguised as Esav to receive the blessings.


Rav Zalman Sorotzkin (1881-1966), in his Oznayim La’Torah commentary, notes the obvious question that arises from the Midrash’s comments. If, indeed, the "Bigdeh Esav Ha’hamudot" were the garments which Esav wore while hunting to prepare meat for his father, so why wasn’t Esav wearing them at this time? Yitshak had just commanded him to prepare meat; seemingly, this was precisely the time when Esav would wear his special garments to help him out in the hunt. Why were they at home?


Rav Sorotzkin offers several answers, one of which is that Yitshak specifically asked Esav to hunt the animals naturally, without using his special garments, so that he would need to work hard and thereby earn reward. As the Mishna in Abot (5:23) famously teaches, "Le’fum Sa’ara Agra" – the harder one needs to work in fulfilling a Misva, the greater his reward is. Yishak wanted Esav to be worthy of the great blessings which he now wished to grant him, and so he told Esav to go out and hunt an animal without the miraculous power of the special garments, which made hunting quick and easy.


When it comes to performing Misvot, we should not be looking for shortcuts, or for the easy way out. The quality of our Misvot depends, to a large extent, on the hard work and effort that we invest in them. And so we must not expect Misva observance to be easy, and we certainly must not despair when challenges and obstacles get in the way. We must remember that it is specifically through the exertion of effort that our Misvot become precious and valuable, and bring us immense rewards. - Rabbi Eli Mansour

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Saying “No”

In the beginning of Parashat Toldot, the Torah tells us that Yitzhak married Rivka, “the daughter of Betuel…from Padan Aram, the brother of Lavan.”


Rashi points out that we already know all this information.  In the previous parashah, Parashat Hayeh-Sara, we read the entire story of how Rivka was chosen to be Yitzhak’s wife, and this story included Rivka’s background – her family, her hometown, and so on.  Seemingly, there is no reason for the Torah to repeat all this information now.


Rashi explains that the Torah told us about Rivka’s background again in order to praise her, to draw our attention to her greatness.  She was the daughter of a wicked person and the brother of a wicked person, and she was raised among wicked people in Padam Aram.  And, despite all this, she emerged as a righteous woman.  This was Rivka’s greatness.


It is very significant that this is how the Torah compliments and praises Rivka – by telling us what she needed to reject, what she needed to oppose.  The greatest praise for Rivka is not her hesed, how generous and giving she was, but rather the fact that she turned her back on the beliefs and behaviors of her family and her hometown.


The primary way in which we mold ourselves into the people we want to become is by saying “no.”  Setting limits, not allowing things into our lives, not allowing ourselves to do or say certain things, does more to define who we are than the things that we do.


We become charitable not when we have money to spare and we donate it, but when we have to sacrifice something in order to donate charity.  We become devoted parents not when we spend our free time with our children, but when we say “no” to things that we want to do for their sake.  We become devoted students of Torah not when we open a book during our free time, but when we say “no” to things that we want to do for the sake of learning Torah.  We become true ba’aleh hesed not by showing up to a bake sale, but by saying “no” to things we want to do for the sake of helping other people.


This is true of our families and homes, as well.  We define our home not by having Torah books on the bookshelf, and not even by keeping Shabbat – but by saying “no,” by putting limits.  We define our home as a Torah home by insisting that there are things that we do not bring into the home; there are words that we do not speak; there are foods that we do not eat; there are kinds of clothing that we do not wear; and there are things that we do not do. 


Somebody I know very well was once given the opportunity to earn a considerably higher among of money, but this would involve going against his principles.  He turned down the offer.


He later told me, “You have no idea what a powerful experience this was – to say ‘no’ to money because of my principles.  I took a stand, and by doing so, I know exactly who I am.  By establishing that I cannot be asked to do anything, that I have limits, I made a powerful statement about who I am.  And this is far more valuable than some extra money in my bank account.”


Rivka was a wonderful ba’alat hesed – but her real strength lay in her ability to say “no,” to say that she was not going to follow the example of the people she grew up with.  Saying “no” can be very difficult, but this is what we need to do in order to mold ourselves into the great people that we have been brought into the world to become.  - Rabbi Joey Haber