034 This Weeks Torah Portion – Toldos – Don’t Get Scammed– Cut to the Essence of Your Life – A powerful parable about Love that Lasts, A Great Story About Rav Shach and Education – and Peace in Your Home – The Rules for Arguing – The Ultimate Torah Podcast
The Torah Podcast Transcript
034 The Torah Podcast Don’t Get Scammed – Cut to the Essence of Life
Torah Portion of the Week – Toldos
Rabbeinu Bachye brings down in this week’s Parsha this verse, “Esav became a hunter, a man of the field, whereas Yaakov was a simple man, a dweller in tents.” He explains that even though they were twins, they had a totally different interest in life. One was running after the material pleasures of this world – that’s Esav. And Yaakov had a more philosophical perspective of reality. He explains, that’s why Esav was called edom which comes from the word adamah. He was a man of the land. But unfortunately, a man who is just running after pleasure is far from God, because he makes his worldly pleasure the essential thing and God he puts on the back burner. Now, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with physical pleasures, but everything has to be in the proper balance.
Rabbeinu Bachye explains that anyone who is focused just on the pleasures of this world, in the end he’s going to feel that he was ripped off, that he was deceived. This is exactly what Esav said. He described himself as being deceived twice. The possuk says, “And Yaakov has tricked me twice. He took my birthright, and now he has taken my blessing.” Rabbeinu Bachye explains, Why is that true? Because anyone who’s just running after pleasures and satisfaction in this world, which are really only temporary, in the end he’s going to feel that he was scammed.” He says, “A time will come later in life where they’ll cry out bitterly and realize that life has deceived them. He brings a possuk from Mishlei, “For the lips of the immoral woman drip honey. Her mouth is smoother than oil. But at the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword.” This was the lifestyle of Esav, which in the end turns out bitter. He explained that this is represented by the lentils which Esav wanted because of the seuda, the meal of Avraham Avinu’s aveilus, the mourning for Avraham Aveinu, those lentils we know al pi Chazal, represent the cycle of life because they’re round. That’s why we eat them at the time of mourning, to remind us that life is constantly being recycled. Like Shlomo HaMelech said, “There’s nothing new under the sun,” and the lentils represent this idea of a circle, which even though it looks like there’s progress, and looks like things are happening, but at the end you’re just going around and around, which by definition means that there’s no progress. And later in life, people are going to feel disappointed and ripped off.
Now I want to talk about the personality type whose whole focus is just on this world. How can you have two people, Yaakov and Esav who are twins, who are so different? What is the personality of this type of person, who just focuses on the now? The Shem MiShmuel brings a possuk from the end of the Parsha. The verse says, “And Esav saw that the daughters of Canaan were evil in the eyes of Yitzhak, his father.” Why? Because Esav understood that he sent off Yaakov to get his wife from a different place. The next verse continues and says that Esav went to Yishmael and took Machlas bas Yishmael, the daughter of Yishmael ben Avraham, Achos Navios, the sister of Navios in addition to his wives, as a wife for himself. Esav went and ran and got himself a different wife, a new wife in addition to the other wives that he had, from the family of Avraham.
The Shem MiShmuel wants to explain that the sequence of these possukim is critical. In other words, after Esav saw that he got ripped off and his luck was going in the wrong direction, his whole life fell apart. At that point he ran to get another wife. Why? Because he thought that if he got another wife from Avraham who was blessed, his mazal would change. But he kept the old wives. He explains that that’s exactly how somebody thinks who is only thinking in terms of externals. Instead of doing a cheshbon hanefesh and thinking, “What did I do wrong? Where’s my part in this story?” he based everything on externals. “I’ll do something external. I’ll get myself another wife, and that’s going to change my mazal.” He says that Esav was so thoroughly wicked that he could not imagine that anything he could possibly have done himself had caused this misfortune. That’s exactly in the name of Esav, because the word Esav the same letters also spell asah, made, completed. He felt no need for self-improvement at all. He was perfect, complete. Even the gematria, the numerical value of Esav which is 376 comes out to shalom, peace. He was totally at peace with himself. He had no problem with his lifestyle, and he thought everything was fine. So, if he wanted to change something he would just have to change something external. He didn’t even think of divorcing his other wives that were bad. In other words, I’ll just change the external thing. It’s nothing wrong with me, I’m fine. And then my mazal will change.
On the other hand you have Yaakov. Yaakov literally means heel. He saw himself as a lowly person, and he always realized that he could always do better, improve himself, always do more, always looking internally, doing cheshbon hanefesh, an accounting of his soul to check out what was happening. There’s a Gemara in Brochas that says, “Anyone who refers to Yisroel as Yaakov has not transgressed, as the Torah itself calls him by that name later on.” In other words, he was both Yaakov and Yisroel. Even though he reached great spiritual heights, he never lost sight that there’s something more he could do; a better level, a higher level, more perfection, better character. We know that Yaakov had the quality of emes, that’s the quality of Yaakov – truth. He was called an ish tam, two letters of the word emes, tuf v’mem. We know al pi Kabbalah, he is represented by tiferes, which is the balance between chessed which was Avraham, and gevurah which was Yitzhak. Yaakov comes out emes, in the middle.
The question was in terms of the character and personality types, even though we are spiritual and physical together, what’s essential? What’s the most important quality? We know that Yaakov was focused on the spiritual, which is the essence. Al pi Kabbalah, we have a concept called a clipa which means an external shell. For example, you have a fruit. The essence of the fruit, the apple or whatever fruit it is, is the meat of the apple. The outer shell is just a covering. You have to have both. This world requires both. But what’s the essence? The fruit, the inner part and that was Yaakov. On the other hand, Esav was always focused on the external.
We have another famous Chazal that says, “He used to deceive his father. He asked his father how to tithe, how to bring maser, 10% from salt and from straw. Both of them don’t require maser. What’s the nimshal, meaning, of salt and straw? Salt is external. You put a little bit of salt on a meal. It’s not the essence of a meal, it’s just a side point. And straw is the non-essential part of the wheat. Of course you could use straw to do things with it, but it’s not essential. He was mixed up what was the ikar, and what was the tofel, what was the essential part and what was the non-essential part. He was asking his father, “Listen, could we make the non-essential part essential?” That was his philosophy in life. Let’s make the non-essential part of life, and let’s make that essential; the pleasures, the physical aspect. But in the end he’s going to feel ripped off, which is exactly what he felt. In the end a person will feel, “What did I do all my life?” If a person does not focus on spiritual, he doesn’t focus on internal growth, in the end he’ll turn around and he’ll feel bad about his life. He’ll feel like a loser.
The Malbim also brings down this concept. He uses a little bit different language. He talks about tzura v’chomer. Tzura means the form of something, and chomer means the physical aspect of something. But the essence is tzura, the purpose of something. What’s the conceptual understanding of it? He says, “In the development of a baby, a human being also, the chomer comes first and the tzura comes later. It’s only at first that the baby is purely physical, and as the baby grows, his mind starts to develop. Then he starts to get the tzura, the concepts of things.” He explains that we also see this in the symbolism that Yaakov was holding on to Esav’s heel. In other words, only after Esav develops the world and builds it for thousands of years, only then in the end, Yaakov is going to come and bring out the essence of what life is about. But it’s a second stage, it’s a deeper level – looking towards the essence of life.
I want to end off with Rav Wolbe who brings out two interesting points. He brings a possuk from the beginning of the parsha that says, “These are the offspring of Yitzhak, the son of Avraham. And Avraham begot Yitzhak.” Why does it say Avraham’s name twice? Because people were making fun of Avraham. They wanted to claim that it was Avimelech who got Sarah pregnant, not Avraham, he was too old. Therefore Hashem changed it that Yitzhak’s face looked exactly like Avraham. Rav Wolbe brings out, “It’s unbelievable. It’s astounding. How could it be that people were making fun of Avraham Avinu? We have no idea, no concept of what it would be like to be in the presence of Avraham Avinu, God-forbid to make fun of him. He brings the Maharal who says, “In every generation no matter how big the tzadikim, wise men are, there’s still going to reshaim, wicked men. Even by Moshe Rabbeinu and Aaron you had Dassan and Aviram. There’s always going to be free will.” The point is that a person has to be very careful not to fall into the wrong category of people. He has to constantly cling to the Torah, and strive for spirituality, or else he’ll fall down.
This comes to the last point which is a possuk that says like this. Rav Wolbe says, “Esav scorned the birthright. It was disdained, he didn’t want it. He was not interested in the birthright. He was not interested in this idea of spirituality. He didn’t believe in the next world, and he did not want it, and it had nothing to do with him.” Rav Wolbe explains that a person who makes fun of his spiritual level, who doesn’t care about it, he will lose that level. He says, “One thing is for certain. He who scorns his spiritual level forfeits that level.” He brings down that every generation before the generation of Moshe argued that they should receive the Torah. When Hashem counted them, telling them how they sinned, how they weren’t 100% committed – you have to be 100% committed, without showing any type of disrespect for the Torah. He brings down Rav Yerucham who says, “People think that they are master over their mitzvos, commandments.” In other words, “I’ll do the mitzvah when I feel like it. What’s the problem? I’ve got the mitzvah in my pocket. I decide when I do mitzvos.” He says, “That is not true. Really the mitzvos are masters over us. If a person does not show the proper respect to mitzvos, he will lose the ability to do mitzvos.”
Rav Yerucham says that in his generation the Polish Government was planning to stop shechita, ritual slaughter. He explained, “That’s because the people weren’t mesirus nefesh for shechita. They didn’t care about shechita. So, no problem – the Polish Government will take it away.” Rav Wolbe says, “The same thing in the idea that the Israeli Government brings women into the army. Fine, people don’t care about modesty, so that’s what’s going to happen. Hashem’s going to make it that the women go into the army.” In order to not fall into the headspace that what is essential is not essential, and what’s not essential becomes essential, we have to be very careful. We have to shomer ourselves, we have to guard ourselves, to keep all the mitzvos, to give tremendous kavod, honor to the mitzvos and to the chachamim, wise men, so that our mind stays clear as to what the goal is. We need to keep our eye on the ball. And God-forbid, we shouldn’t fall in the ways of the world that are telling us, “Listen, this is the main thing, now just forget about it, no problem.” Because at the end we’re going to turn out sour grapes and it’s going to be bad news. We’re going to feel we wasted our lives. We didn’t grow. We didn’t produce anything of real tochen, of real value, that we could take with us to the next world. In other words, our own spiritual development – that’s all that a man has. So, from this week’s parsha we learn that we should keep our eye on the ball.
A Powerful Parable
The Maggid Mi Dubno brings a possuk from this week’s parsha that says, “Yitzhak loved Esav because he ate of his trappings, and Rivka loves Yaakov.” He asks, “Why was it that Yitzhak loved Esav in the past, and Rivka loves Yaakov in the present?” The moshul, parable goes like this. Sometimes a city gets a new Rav appointed to it. The residents are all praising him, because he seems to have an expansive Torah knowledge, and he’s a very good speaker. But he says, “Really, there are two possibilities. Either this guy is really a genuine talmid chacham who knows Shas and Poskim, he knows everything and he’s very well learned. On the other hand, it could be that he doesn’t know anything and he just picked up a few ideas from here and there. He says them over in his own name, but he doesn’t really know. As time goes by, it’s going to come out. If the Rav is really a scholar, so the respect for him is going to grow and grow, because the more the people come to know him, the more knowledge they’re going to realize that he has. But on the other hand, if he was a faker, as every day goes by it’s going to come out more and more, because they’re going to see he doesn’t know this, he doesn’t know that.”
It’s the same thing with Yaakov and Esav. It says, “Yitzhak loved Esav” in the past, because as time went by, Yitzhak started to see that Esav really wasn’t who he thought he was. On the other hand, Rivka loves Yaakov, because the more she heard him Torah and saw who he really was, the more she loved him.
Great Stories About Great Rabbis – Rav Shach
One time Rav Shach was asked the advice by someone who wanted to know where to put their young son in school. There were two possibilities. He could either put him in a new cheder, a new Talmud Torah that was just beginning, or a well-established Chinuch Atzmai system. The new Talmud Torah was for families of talmidei chachamim, the fathers were full time learners and they were very religious families. But the problem was that since it was a new school, the level was going to be very low. It wasn’t established yet. On the other hand, the Chinuch Atzmai had a mixed crowd there. They didn’t know which kind of the families there were, but the level in terms of the learning was higher. The man wanted to know, “Where should my son go to school?” Rav Shach said, “The lower level of learning is a deficiency that could be overcome. In other words, you can get yourself tutors, private lessons. You can always build up and as time goes by, obviously the Talmid Torah, the level is going to go up. On the other hand, unhealthy friendships is something that’s not easy to break. If your kid gets involved with the wrong kids, it’s a big problem.”
He brought a great raya , proof, from this week’s Parsha. It says, “The children agitated within her.” In other words we know that Rivka didn’t know what to do, because every time she would walk past a place of idol worship, her belly would start to move and Esav was trying to jump out. And every time she would walk by a Talmud Torah, a place of learning and kedusha, holiness, Yaakov was trying to jump out. Rav Shach said, “There’s a Gemara in Nidda that says that when the baby is inside the mother’s stomach, he’s taught kol HaTorah kulo,’ he knows the entire Shas. He’s being taught by angels all the Torah. When he leaves, he forgets all of his learning.” He said, “I can understand why Esav was trying to jump out. He’s not interested in this Torah stuff, he just wanted to get out of there, forget about it, move on with his life. But why was Yaakov trying to jump out? Yaakov was inside the womb. He had the greatest situation. He was being taught Torah, everything was great. Why was he trying to jump out? What was he expecting to get by going to an external Beis Midrash when he was already learning Torah inside the womb?” Rav Shach said to the man, “Yaakov was faced with the same dilemma you were experiencing – quality of learning versus environment. While it’s true that Yaakov had tremendous quality of learning but his environment was very bad, he was in there with Esav, so he wanted to get out at any cost.” He says, “We see from this, a healthy, spiritual positive setting is more vital in maintaining a superior level in learning. It’s better your son goes to the Talmud Torah where he’ll have good friends.”
Peace in Your Home
Last week, Rav Nachum Diament spoke about how to fight. This week, we’re going to talk about how to argue. He brings a Chasam Sofer. “Chazal tells us there are no two faces that are exactly the same,” which teaches us that there are no two opinions which are exactly alike. Every individual has a different deiah, a different way of looking at things. The Chasam Sofer says, “We have no problem with accepting the fact that everybody has a different face. But when it comes to opinions, somehow we think everybody should think like us. How could somebody think differently than me? We have to internalize this idea that other opinions are just as valid as ours.” He said, “That’s the basis for arguing.”
Here’s rule number one – arguing with your wife or your husband is not like a formal debate. What goes on in a formal debate? Nobody’s listening to each other. Each one’s there to prove their side. That’s not what argument is about. Argument is to actually listen to the other side. In a formal debate you never say or heard anybody say, “Hey, maybe you’re right. I never thought about that.” That’s what should be happening in the marriage. The only positive thing about a formal debate is you cannot interrupt the other person while they’re speaking, so that’s good. But in terms of actually having an argument with your wife or your husband, you need to listen to them. The point isn’t to prove that you’re right. He said, “There are cases of marriages…” Eight years for example, he brought in a couple that after eight years of marriage, he forced them to listen to each other, and that was the first time they had actually heard each other; in another case after 20 years, because they’re always interrupting each other. So, rule number one is, it’s not like a formal debate. In other words, you must really listen to what the other side is saying, and not just try to prove your point.
Rule number two – when okay is not okay. A lot of times, the husband and wife fight and she says, “Okay, okay.” He said, “That’s not okay.” He says that each couple has to explain his side, and can’t just give some kind of evasive answer, “I don’t know, I don’t know if it’s right or wrong, but I feel that it’s wrong.” He says, “For many couples it’s more convenient just to argue for argument’s sake and to be evasive, and not answer to the point, because this way they could be right in the meantime.” He says, “Every couple should try this exercise. You can’t answer in an argument because, kacha. Each time you have to give the reasoning, the real reason for what you’re saying.” He says, “Many times couples say, “I don’t have the strength for such a thing. How can I give her my opinion each time and explain myself?” He says back to him, “Do you have the strength to be divorced with your four children?” Many times, couples are just fighting for the sake of fighting.
Rule number three – “It’s a good idea to finish your argument in writing. Write everything down. You could give a response within 24 hours” For example, in other words when you’re fighting say okay, I’m going to write my side down. This way in a letter you can’t raise your voice, you can’t make faces and you can’t have slips of the tongue. You can’t bury your nose in the ground, glare at the other person and ignore the other person. Even the harshest comment could be softened with the pen. He says, “There are very few people who manage to do such a thing. But it doesn’t matter,” he says, “You know why? Because even after people write these things down, 95% do not give the letter to the other person because they’re too embarrassed of what they wrote. After they read it the next day they’re like, ‘Oh, my God, what did I say?’” He says, “The letters just show us that we don’t realize that it’s the little things that could ruin our lives.”
“And rule number four,” he says, “Is, we have to learn how to argue and remain friends. Just because you’re arguing doesn’t mean you have to hate each other. We need to learn that you can argue with someone and be divided, and still remain essentially united and connected to them through one’s speech. The argument does not have to be a full-fledged fight.”
Okay, that’s it for this week’s podcast. I hope you enjoyed it. Please share it with your friends.
Rabbi Eliyahu Mitterhoff