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Toldos Reflections: Mitzvah Power!

Chapter 27 portrays one of the great dramas in the Torah. Yaakov wrests the brachos from Eisav. On Rivkah's command, Yaakov disguises himself as Eisav, in the presence of a blind and trusting Yitzchak, then seizes his father's blessings at great personal risk and even greater personal discomfort. Different subplots merge into a poignant climax; a story, the drama of which melds irony, complexity, sarcasm, sadness and ultimate triumph, and which, in the process, leaves us with a multitude of questions

Consider a few:

1. Did Yitzchak understand Eisav's character? Yaakov's?

2. Wasn't Yitzchak aware of the prophecy that "the younger one shall rule over the older"?

3. Granted(,) Yaakov had to listen to his mother, but why did Rivkah do it this way?

4. Does a blessing count if you don't know the identity of the recipient ?

5. Why are the brachos so important anyway?

6. Why did God engineer it this way?

Note the irony of Eisav, master of deception and guile, being duped by the the trusting Yaakov.

sarcasm of our "lamdan" Eisav explaining the true "pshat" (meaning) of Yaakov's name: ("Is he not rightly called Yaakov[1]? He has deceived me twice; he took my birthright, and now he has taken my blessing. )

complexity of Yaakov man of truth engaging in apparent duplicity

sadness of a weeping, broken Eisav:

When Eisav heard his father's words, he wailed a most loud and bitter cry, and he said to his father, "Bless me too, my father." Eisav said to his father, "Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me too, my father," and Eisav raised his voice and wept[2].

Two simple words appear three times in our chapter. Remarkably, never before and never again are they used to describe Yaakov and Eisav. The words: gadol and katan, [lit. big and small] appear

1. ....in the introduction to the episode as a whole:

Pasuk 1: And when Yitzchok grew old his eyesight faded and he could not see. He called Eisav, his big son, and said to him, "My son." [Eisav] said to him, "Here I am."

2. ... when Rivkah implements her plan:

Pasuk 15: Rivkah took the garments of Eisav, her big son, [the garments] that were precious [to him] that were in her keeping in the house, and put them on Yaakov, her small son.

3. in the aftermath of the episode:

Rivkah was informed about the words of Eisav, her big son, and she sent [a messenger] to call Yaakov, her small son, and she said to him .. [for Eisav intends] to kill you.

The constant refrain of gadol and katan seems redundant. Our meforshim get to work:

1. To Ramban, the Torah emphasizes the difficulty of Rivkah's task, as a mother. Can one imagine a mother having to slight her child, the first-born apple of her maternal eye? Rivkah's ability to transcend her natural instinct in order to recognize Yaakov as the appropriate recipient for bechora and blessings, is even more remarkable because of her certainty that a rift will ensue. As the story concludes, gadol and katan are accentuated again to indicate that Rivkah opts for the difficult, and correct task over the the one that is expedient.

2. Netziv and Ohr Hachaim link gadol to Eisav's stature and strength. Because Eisav was bigger, Yaakov must wear Eisav's clothing. Because Eisav was stronger, Yaakov, the physically weaker, had to escape.

3. Midrash # 1: Chanifa, inappropriate flattery, has a place. When a wicked person is in control, one may (at times) pay him undue adulation. Apparently, it beats the alternative. For now, Eisav is on top of the world, and is therefore called gadol. Why is Yaakov called katan? Perhaps to indicate that deference (acting katan) to the powerful, is the appropriate way.

4. A second Midrashic approach: (Bereishis Rabah, 45:11):

R. Eliezer ben Shimon said: This may be compared to a country that was seeking a bodyguard for the king. Now(,) a certain woman there had a son, a dwarf, whom she used to call 'Tallswift'. Said she: 'My son is tall and swift; why then do you not appoint him?' 'While in your eyes he is tall and swift,' they retorted, 'in ours he is but a dwarf.' In like manner, Eisav's father called him great.His mother too called him great. Said Hashem to them: While in your eyes he is great, in Mine he is small,' as it says, Behold, I make thee small among the nations (Obad. I, 2).

In other words, the text mockingly calls him great - a sobering reminder that what appears to be is often not what really is - That which is great in this world, may well be insignificant in the real one!

Rav Schwab develops a final compelling notion. Gadol is not a this-worldly expression of physical prowess or power; it is a spiritual indicator.

R. Shimon ben Gamliel said: All my lifetime tended to my father, yet I did not do for him a hundredth part of the, service Eisav did for his father. I used to wait upon my father in soiled garments and go out into the street in clean ones; but when Eisav waited on his father, he did so in royal robes, 'For,' said he, 'nothing but royal robes befits my father's honor.'

The power of a mitzvah performed with sincerity and without agenda is holy and awesome and simply cannot be overstated[4]. Yitzchak's desire to taste of Eisav's mitzvah is inspiring for those with whom we might have given up hope. It reminds us that it is never too late, It is never beyond hope for anyone to bring holiness and beauty into Hashem's world.  

 

Good Shabbos - Asher Brander

 

[1] Which implies a notion of underhandedness

[2] A fascinating midrash depicts echoes of Eisav's cries through time: R. Hanina said: Whoever maintains that the Holy One, blessed be He, is lax [in dispensing justice] . .. He is merely longsuffering, but [ultimately] collects His due. Yaakov made Eisav break out into a cry but once, and where was he punished for it? In Shushan, the castle, as it says, And he cried with a loud and bitter cry, etc. (Esther4:1)

 

[3] This notion, says Rav Schwab also explains why the Torah [28:5 - cf. Rashi] curiously identifies Rivkah as the being the mother of Yaakov and Eisav - as if to say that in one aspect - she retained a special unique connection with her Eisav.

[4] See Yeshayahu, 27:11 for an incredible Rashi that states Edom's power till this very day is nourished by that mitzvah and only when it lapses will he suffer defeat.


 
   
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