Torah Portion of the Week – Toldos – Walking Life’s Tightrope – Physical and Spiritual Balance – A Powerful Parable about not Being Hungry – A Great Story about Rav Shach and Peace in Your Home – Having a Good Eye
The Torah Podcast Transcript
078 – The Torah Podcast – Walking Life’s Tightrope – Physical and Spiritual Balance
Torah Portion of the Week – Toldos
In this week’s Parsha we have the famous story of Yitzhak giving the blessings to Yaakov instead of Esav. He really wanted to give the blessing to Esav, because Esav was his older son. But in the end, Yaakov stole them away on the advice of his mother, Rivka, who told him to steal it. The question is, why did Yitzhak think to give the blessing to Esav? Didn’t he know that Esav was a rasha, he was an evil person? What was he thinking?
Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch explains. He says, “Yitzhak had two sons, represented by two different elements in his home. Esav represented material power. Yaakov on the other hand represented spiritual power. Yitzhak knew very well that both these tendencies will be needed. He apparently also knew of the prophesy that the physical son would serve the spiritual one. But Yitzhak thought that Esav and Yaakov would fulfill the mission of Avraham in a partnership of brotherly harmony, complementing one on each other. He therefore intended to give Esav a blessing of material content, and reserve the spiritual blessing for Yaakov.” The idea was to bless Esav with the physical, and then Esav would take care of Yaakov, and it would be a partnership. So, what was Rivka thinking? He says, “Rivka however, remembered from the home of Lavan the misfortune entailed by such a division. She knew from personal experience that only in a home pervaded by the spirit of Avraham would material things bring blessing and true happiness. She realized that materialism devoid of spirit is actually a curse, and that Yitzhak’s blessings could not be divided. It could only be placed on the head of one of the sons. She held, you couldn’t divide the two, because she saw from her own home that Lavan her father was very rich, but he was very evil also. So, Rivka felt that this would not work out. That’s why she wanted to steal the blessing away from Esav, and give it to Yaakov.”
So now, the Malbim explains this a little bit further. He says, “The purpose of the entire creation is that there exists a good and righteous person on whom God’s hashgacha can rest.” He brings the verse from Koheles that says, “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is all of man.” In other words, the entire world is created only for the righteous person’s sake. And he explains that the rest of the world is really just created for that righteous person. Just like a tree which produces fruit, so the fruit is very small compared to the tree. But the whole tree was just created for the fruit. So too, Hashem wanted to create an entire nation who would cleave to the divine idea. This whole nation would fulfill the purpose of creation. They’d be like the holy fruit. And we know this to be true, even within the Jewish nation itself. The tribe of Levi was going to serve in the Temple. They were going to be the holy priests. And the rest of the Jewish people, am Yisroel, would give their ma’aser, they would give their tithes, to Levi to take care of Levi that he could serve God. The Jewish people would take care of the physical, and Levi would serve God. In this way, they would receive the reward and the benefit which Levi produced for them because they were giving to Levi. They were supporting Levi, and Levi was supporting them. It’s also the idea of Yisasschar and Zevulun. Yisasschar sits and learns, and Zevulun takes care of him. So too, it would be that the Jewish people serve God, and the nations take care of the Jewish people, and both benefit. The Jews in the Temple bring their services, bring blessing to the world. And the blessing’s of the world they give back to the Temple in order to support the service.
And this is why Yitzhak wanted to bless Esav. He says, “He didn’t need to bless Yaakov, because Yaakov was spiritual. And spirituality doesn’t need a blessing. Spirituality is a zechus, a person who does the right thing, he gets the blessing. But physicality needs a blessing, so he wanted to bless his son, Esav, that he would have everything physical. And together, they would work to serve God. So, it’s like you have Yisroel and Levi, and the two brothers would serve together.
But Rivka understood differently. Rivka saw that Esav was not going to help Yaakov. And even though it was true that on a certain side it would be better that Yaakov did not get the blessings of the physical because they interfere with his spirituality, but still she saw if you give the blessings to Esav, Yaakov’s going to be left high and dry. So, she came to conclusion that it would be better to bless Yaakov with the physicality, because a person who is truly spiritual can really have both, and handle both. And that’s why in the future, the Levites are going to get a portion of land. In other words, up till now and throughout all of history, Levi never had a portion of the land, because they were just the spiritual ones. They were not involved with physicality. But in the future, God will also give the Leviim a piece of Eretz Yisroel. So, that’s how Rav Hirsch and the Malbim understand it.
Now, Rav Dessler adds another aspect. Rav Dessler explained that he wanted to give the blessing to Esav because Esav needed the blessing. He felt that Yaakov was such a tzaddik, why should he help him? He’s able to do it on his own. Isn’t that the greatest thing in life, to be able to serve God and beat your evil inclination on your own, by yourself? What could be greater? So, if he gave him the blessing, it’s like he’d be helping him. But Esav needed the blessing. Esav was out of control, so he needed the blessing to be able to serve God. But Rivka understood that no, Yaakov needed the blessing. Even if Yaakov was a tzaddik, he still needs help, he still needs siyata deshemaya. And in the end, Yitzhak agreed to that, because the verse said, “He too shall be blessed.” Even after he realized that he made a mistake, he understood that it was min hashemayim, that no one, not even one of the Avos can stand in front of Hashem righteously, without help, without siyata deshemaya, without help from God, because we’re physical. So, even Yaakov needed the blessing to make it through life as a righteous person. He needed the blessing because if the test became too great, every person, every human being could fall. Every human being is both physical and spiritual.
The Shem mi Shmuel explains like this. He brings the Rashi that says, “The hunt was in his mouth,” he was talking about Esav. This means that Esav was a man who knew how to deceive. He asked his father how to tithe salt and straw, which don’t require tithing. His father assumed that he was very pious. So he asked, “Why did Esav ask about salt and straw? Why? Because they’re both non-essentials, they’re not the meal, they’re just the salt. And the straw is just part of the wheat, but it’s on the side.” So, Esav’s focus was to take the thing that was not essential, and make it essential. But the Shem mi Shmuel says, “Absolute reality exists only in the next world, for this world is temporary, and a preparation for the spiritual future. Tofel in every sense – secondary.” just like the six days of the week are tofel to Shabbos, and Shabbos is the essential.” He says, “This concept pervades the whole Jewish life, spiritual pursuits are the goal of man’s existence. They’re the ikar, main thing. Everything else is tofel. And this exactly was the difference between Yaakov and Esav. For Esav, the ikar was physical. For Yaakov, that was tofel, that was secondary. And for Yaakov, the spirituality came first, and Esav didn’t care about it. But the novel idea is, as long as Yaakov stays essential, Esav can also get spirituality. Why? Because he helped Yaakov, like we said, the Levi-Yisroel relationship by Yisroel helping Levi they also get the next world.
Same thing, a man and wife. The man is learning Torah, and the wife’s helping him. Same thing with the nations and the Jewish people. The Jewish people do God’s will, and the nations help. Everybody gets the next world. So, why did Yitzhak want to give the blessing to Esav? To say to him, “Listen, you get the blessing. You get the physical. But as long as you help your brother Yaakov, then you’re going to get to the top, as you’ll get to the purpose of life.” But Esav couldn’t take it. That was the problem. That’s what Rivka saw. Esav couldn’t take that. Why? Because he’s asking how to tithe straw and salt. He wanted the physical to be the essential. He wanted to take the thing that’s non-essential and make it essential. That was his whole personality. So, Rivka saw that it wasn’t going to work out. Here is the chiddush, the novel idea, the new idea, that we could learn from this whole story. He says, “It was because of his arrogance that he couldn’t be subordinate to Yaakov, and arrogance of this variety has no cure. Esav was a lost cause.
The Zohar HaKodesh says like this. “There are clouds of darkness into which light enters, but it is totally consumed. This is the idea behind the seven bad cows which entered into the seven fat cows, leaving no trace.” The Shem mi Shmuel says in his father’s name, “These clouds of darkness are a manifestation of arrogance. Someone like Esav who was overpowered with his evil characteristic, cannot fix himself. Because even the little bit of spirituality that he has gets swallowed up by these clouds of arrogance. But from here we can learn the yesod, the foundation of spirituality. Spirituality means giving yourself over to something higher, making yourself smaller, and making the real important things higher. Just like the Jewish people as a whole gave themselves over to the Leviim were doing avodas Hashem. And just like someone who works all day has to help yeshivas. He has to give his money to help the Jewish people, he has to be supportive, to realize the essential purpose of the Jewish people is their spirituality. In this way, he will gain. But you have to have middos for that, you have to have good character. This is the Yisasschar -Zevulun relationship. Zevulun works, and he helps Yisasschar. But he can’t say, “I’m Zevulun and I’m on top.” No. And even though it’s true that one has to give tremendous kavod to anyone who gives tzedakah to yeshivas, but that doesn’t mean that the guys sitting in the Yeshiva themselves are anything less.
Every person has something above them. The students in the yeshiva have the Rosh Yeshiva. The Rosh Yeshiva has the Gadol haDor, the head of the generation, that he has to look up to, who he has to be subordinate to. If you have humility then the whole system works. The beauty of this word is that the whole connection between the spiritual and the physical is humility. Taking the physical and giving it over to spirituality creates true success. It’s true by individuals, it’s true by nations. There’s always something above us. And the Gur Aryeh brings down, “It’s even true in the physicality of a person.” He says, “When a person is first born, he’s totally physical. As he develops and his intelligence develops, he becomes both physical and spiritual. And later in life, he becomes totally spiritual. But it’s always the giving over of the physical to the spiritual, that’s what creates the blessing. That’s what makes the whole system work.”
I just want to end off with the Sfas Emes who says a tremendous chiddush. He says, “It’s the Torah she bal peh that enables us to experience Hashem’s presence more thoroughly in our daily lives.” He wants to say, the tool for us to take the physical and make it spiritual is Torah she bal peh, learning the Talmud. It’s the work in the Talmud. By going through every aspect, every understanding of the physical world in all of its details, that can bring us spirituality. In other words, the written Torah is pure light and we are totally physical, so where’s the go-between? How do we give over our physicality over to the light? The answer is the Torah she bal peh, the oral tradition. And that’s exactly what we do in the yeshiva, we spend most of our day learning Torah she bal peh. That is the thing that brings the blessing, being subordinate to the Gemara itself, giving ourselves over to spend hours and hours and thinking, and in-depth learning and understanding, and giving ourselves over to the avodas Hashem, serving God by learning Torah she bal peh, which is our whole tradition as Jews. And that’s what the Rambam says at the end of Hilchos Shmitta, that any Jew could become a Levi nowadays. If he wants to sit in yeshiva he’s like a Levi. And that spirituality can spread into the world, if the world subordinates itself to it. If the Jewish people help yeshivas they get a blessing. And if the nations help Yisroel, they also get a blessing. And it’s from this week’s parsha that we learn how all the blessings can come into the world.
A Powerful Parable
The Maggid mi Dubno brings the verse that said, “Make it into a dish for me, the way I like it, and bring it to me that I may eat it.” This was Yitzhak speaking to Esav. He brings a moshul. He said, “Every day, two people used to eat together. One day after the meal, one of them says, ‘I don’t feel very well today.’ His friend asked, ‘Why? I didn’t notice anything. You ate today the same way as you eat every other day, no more and no less.’ He says, ‘That’s true. But all the other days I really felt hungry. But today, I wasn’t hungry. What did I do? I drank a little whisky before to whet my appetite, and therefore I ate. But if it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t eat anything.’” That was the moshul, what was the nimshal, conclusion?
Yitzhak wanted to bless Esav because he was his oldest son. But really in his heart, he felt he didn’t deserve it. So, what did he do? He sent out his son to go make him a nice meal to give him cheshek, to give him the desire to give the blessing. So, when Rivka saw that she said to Yaakov, “Behold, I heard your father speaking to your brother Esav saying, ‘bring it back here for me, and make it into a tasty dish.’” She said, “Now I understand that really your father doesn’t want to give the blessing to Esav. Now is a chance for you to get the blessing.”
Great Stories – Rav Shach
The verse says, “Ha kol kol Yaakov,” the voice is the voice of Yaakov. We know this is a metaphor for Torah and prayer, that out of the beit medrash, out of the yeshivas, and out of the beit kenessiot comes out Torah and prayer, and people hear it.
One time, Rav Yitzhak Silberstein asked Rav Shach’s advice. They were building a yeshiva, and they didn’t know where to build it. Should they build it in the center of town, or should they build it off to the side? We know that Rabbi Akiva said, “Do not sit in the high spot of the city and teach Torah.” And Rebbe also said, he also forbade Torah to be taught in public places.
So, Rav Shach said, “No. Nowadays, you must raise the banner of Torah high in public for all to see. You make the yeshiva in the middle of town. This way, people will see the lights are still on late at night, and the sweet sound of Torah will emanate from its walls. Eventually, people will come and wander in, and it will help the whole city.” Not long after that, they made the kollel in the center of town, a man came in. This man was a total chiloni¸ not religious. Actually, he was part of the Shammai Tzair movement which is anti-religious, but he came to the beis medrash. And he started to ask, “What are you learning here?” Little by little, they started to learn with him. The guy became fully observant, and every day he used to go to yeshiva.
So, Rav Silberstein didn’t understand. He asked him, “What happened to you? You were totally not religious. What made you do teshuva, what made you come back?” He said, “When you hear this answer, you’ll understand how Rav Shach’s advice was perfect.” The man said like this. “Back in 1948 I was one of the troops who was trying to attack the police station in Beit Dagan, which was an Arab stronghold. And the first two times we attacked, we were pushed back. There was a lot of casualties, people died.
But before the third assault there was one religious soldier with us. And he said, ‘Let’s study some Mishnayos before we go, and this will have some merit before we go into battle.’ He took out a book and began reading. Well, we didn’t understand anything. But the way he sang it, in his haunting and chanting melody, it captivated us. It moved us tremendously, and gave us courage. Later that night, we overtook Beit Dagan.’ He said, ‘Ever since that day for 50 years, that melody stuck in my mind. So, one night I was walking by the beis medrash here. I saw the lights on, and I started to hear the sound coming out of the beis medrash. It was that same enchanting sing-song that I remembered from so long ago. I found myself being pulled into the building, as if drawn by a mysterious spell. One good thing led to another and in the end, I was going to do teshuva.’” So you see, Rav Shach was right. Ha kol kol Yaakov, the sound of the beis medrash goes into the street, and brings Jews back.
Peace in Your Home
Rav Moshe Aaron Stern explains, “If you want to have a good marriage, you have to have a good eye.” He brings a raya from the Midrash in Shir haShirim. We know that four people went into the pardes, they went up to heaven, to the highest heavens, and only one came out in peace – that was Rabbi Akiva. But it didn’t just say he came out in peace. It says, “He entered in peace, and he exited in peace.” He says, “Why did the other three Tanaim also enter in peace? The problem was with the way out, not the way in.” He says, “Yeah, but Rebbe Akiva prepared himself. He knew that as he would see this vision he could get damaged. Who knows what would happen to him, so he prepared himself.” He said, “I’m going to have faith, no matter what I see, “ and that’s why he came out okay.
“So too in a marriage, if you have faith that everything that’s happening in the marriage is min hashemayim and it comes from heaven, so too you will have a good marriage,” Chazal say that if somebody’s already bought an object in the market place, you should praise it. He says, “What, are you supposed to lie? No, you’re not supposed to lie. You’re supposed to say something good about it. If you have an ayin tova, a good eye, even if it’s a lousy thing there’s got to be something good about it. So, Rav Yosse says in Pirkei Avos, “What’s the best thing to have? A good neighbor.” But you can’t always have a good neighbor, it’s not dependent on you. So, what does it mean? It means you should be a good neighbor. You should be a good neighbor, and see that neighbor as a good neighbor. The same thing with one’s wife. You have to have an ayin tova, a good eye. You have to see the good in your wife. Also, the wife has to see the good in the man. It’s very important that each of the couples sees good in the other one.
So, why don’t we see good? The answer is, he says, “Because we’re nogea bedavar, we have certain self-interests. We have certain personal biases which make us see things in the wrong way. For example, the meraglim. Before the spies went to Eretz Yisroel, these were great, great people of high stature. Why they came back with a bad report? Because they knew they might lose their job if they’d say, “Listen, we could go into Eretz Yisroel. We’re not going to be anybody. We’re not going to be special any more. Who says we’re going to be princes? So, they had a bad eye because of that. That’s what the Zohar says. In order to have a good eye, you have to drop your personal interests. And he says, “Not having a good eye also brings jealousy. You’re jealous of your wife, you’re jealous of your husband?” He says, “Jealousy has no place in the marriage. Your whole purpose is to do chessed to one another.” And he ends off by saying, “Giving leads to receiving, and the building of the home. Selfishness and the lack of an ayin tova, a good eye, are a perfect recipe for destruction.” They asked one time a Gadol, great man, “Why was a man created with two eyes?” He said, “One eye to look at the good of people, and the other eye to look at your own bad points, to examine yourself. If you don’t want to have an ayin tova, a good eye, look at yourself.”
Okay, that’s it for this week’s Torah podcast. Please share it with your friends, and please leave comments.
Rabbi Eliyahu Mitterhoff