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Living Time – Toldot

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Toldot: Sunday: Father and Son

_“And these are the generations of Isaac the son of Abraham, Abraham gave birth to Isaac.”_


Why the repetitiveness? If Isaac is the son of Abraham, then certainly Abraham gave birth to Isaac (especially since we have already read about Isaac’s birth in a previous Torah portion)!


Abraham and Isaac have very different characteristics. Abraham is the man of kindness and love, who goes from place to place to publicize the word of G-d. Isaac is the man of might and fear, a _“complete burnt offering,”_ who does not leave the Land of Israel and who seems to be engaged mainly in personal prayer and depth.  This is a fairly common phenomenon. Often, a son is not exactly like his father. Sometimes he seems to be the complete opposite.


If so, the meaning of the above verse is: _“Isaac the son of Abraham”_ – this is the biological fact, despite the great difference. It happens naturally, without Abraham’s conscious, intentional effort. The Torah adds, however, “Abraham gave birth to Isaac”. This is more than something natural. It is very intentional: Abraham sees his son Isaac and understands that his unique persona was concealed within himself (akin to a recessive gene). Now Abraham does not deny this character trait and does not leave it as first nature. Instead, he develops it on every level (in both his emotive and intellectual faculties). He *gives birth* to Isaac, works to reveal the Isaac within himself, setting a befitting educational example to teach Isaac in the process.


Toldot: Monday – Meah Shearim: One Hundred Gates

Isaac and Rebecca are the perfect couple in the Torah: Isaac loves Rebecca, as in the verse, “Isaac bringing laughter to his wife Rebecca”.  Isaac’s very Hebrew name, Yitzchak, means ‘he will laugh’. He laughs with Rebecca, mirth and joy in the intimacy between man and wife.


There are Fifty Gates of Understanding, about which it is written in Proverbs, “Her husband is known at the gates” (the letter nun of the liturgical Eshet Chayil  song). The connection between man and woman is called da’at, ‘knowledge’. It is motivated by the fifty gates of understanding, for ‘if there is no understanding, there is no knowledge’. If so, the desired situation is one in which the man and woman know each other in fifty gates. Thus, together, Isaac and Rebecca have one hundred gates, exactly as the Torah relates about Isaac, “And he found in that year one hundred gates”.


Isaac and Rebecca are one of the four couples buried in the Cave of Machpelah (together with Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Leah). Each couple has one hundred gates – together four hundred. This is the secret of the “four hundred silver shekels” with which Abraham purchased the Cave of Machpelah.

Toldot: Tuesday: The Third Way

And the herdmen of Gerar strove with Isaac's herdmen, saying: 'The water is ours.' And he called the name of the well Esek; because they contended with him. And they dug another well and they argued over it also and he called it Sitnah. And he disconnected from there and he dug another well and they did not argue over it and he called its name ‘Rehovot’ and he said, “For now G-d has broadened for us and we shall be fruitful in the Land.”

G-d promised the Land of Israel to the Patriarchs, but in the meantime, Isaac suffers serious problems with the Phillistines, who truly are invaders in the Land. In Hebrew, the word for Phillistines, Plishtim, shares a root with the word for ‘invasion’, plishah. Centuries later, the Romans called the Land of Israel Paleshtina, from the same word for ‘invasion’. This later became Palestine.

The names that Isaac gives to the three wells that he digs reveal the three ways to deal with the invasive Plishtim, then and now:

One way, corresponding to the first well, is Esek, which means ‘business’. In other words, this is an issue of interests, or business. True, the Plishtim are causing us a lot of trouble. But if we only find the way to appease all of them, everything will work out. We will negotiate until we find the formula that will satisfy everyone and the conflict will be resolved.

The second way, corresponding to the second well, is Sitnah, which means ‘hatred’. We understand that the Plishtim are not interested in property and assets. Instead, this is a problem of depths of hatred – typical anti-Semitism. The more that we give them and retreat, the more it whets their  appetite. Ultimately, they want to swallow us up and throw us into the sea. So what can we do? We must be strong and remember that we are living in the Middle East.

There is a third way, corresponding to the third well, Rehovot, which means “a broad way”. True, right now they despise us. This hatred will continue as long as we are on the same plane. But we must recognize our uniqueness and that it comes from a different plane: And he disconnected from there. We did not come to this Land just to find a safe shelter. We came here to establish the Kingdom of Israel, which will spread the light of Torah and faith in G-d to the entire world – also to the Plishtim. If we are not ashamed of our destiny, it will ultimately nullify all the conflicts. For now G-d has broadened for us and we shall be fruitful in the Land.


Toldot: Wednesday – Leva’er Be’erot: Explaining Wells


Issac digs wells. Actually, this is the main thing that the Torah tells that he did. Moreover, from among all the wells that have a special name in the Torah, most of them are connected to Isaac.

What are Isaac’s wells about?

Let us note the difference between a bor, a ‘pit’ – and a be’er, a ‘well’.

bor  is dug into the ground. It can fill up with water or rainwater – or it can be empty of water (as in the pit into which Joseph the Tzaddik was thrown. It had no water, but it did have snakes and scorpions). On the other hand, the be’er  reveals the groundwater buried deep inside the ground, “the well of living waters”.


The word bor  is connected to the Hebrew verb ברר barer, which means ‘clarification’. Clarification is the service of Abraham, who brings the light of faith wherever he goes. Reality seems like an empty pit. Abraham comes and waters it with faith. He clarifies the fact that only G-d is the true G-d, as opposed to all the emptiness of idols.


Isaac, though, works differently. He digs deep into reality, discovering that the water is within it. It is not necessary to go from place to place, telling people about G-d from the outside. Instead, one can teach them to listen to their inner voice that tells them about G-d, similar to the water deep inside the ground. The בארbe’er, the well, is the ability לבאר l’va’er, to explain – to explain reality and show that everything is G-d.

Toldot: Thursday: A Mother’s Love

Jacob manages to receive/steal the blessing from his father Isaac in place of Esau, his brother. But Jacob is just a _shaliach_, a messenger of his mother, Rebecca. She is the person who initiates the plan for Jacob to receive Isaac’s blessing and she takes responsibility for it, telling Jacob that if Isaac discovers that he is not Esau and curses him, _“your curse will be upon me”_. Actually, there is a conflict between two sides in this story: Isaac and Esau on one side and Rebecca and Jacob on the other. And the second side triumphs.

On a deeper level, the struggle is between  two loves: Isaac loves Esau and Rebecca loves Jacob – and Rebecca’s love for Jacob triumphs. Why is Rebecca’s love greater than Isaac’s love?


We read in the Torah, _“And Isaac loved Esau for venison was in his mouth, and Rebecca loves Jacob.”_ Isaac has a very good reason to love Esau: _“venison was in his mouth”_.  Esau honors his father and brings him delicacies. Kabbalah explains that Isaac sees the holy sparks in Esau, the sparks that were revealed in subsequent generations as great righteous converts who descended from Esau. But _“Rebecca loves Jacob”_. She simply loves him, no reason given.

In other words: Isaac’s love for Esau, in a certain way, is “love dependent upon a reason.” But Rebecca’s love for Jacob is “love that is not dependent upon a reason.” It is the pure love of a mother for her son. And it triumphs.


Toldot: Friday: “And He Shall Give You”


Isaac blesses Jacob, _“And G-d shall give you from the dew of heaven and from the fat of the Land and an abundance of corn and wine.”_ Why does Isaac add the word, “And” at the beginning of his blessing? After all, this is the first sentence in his blessing!


This is why Rashi explains, “He will give and give again”. In other words, a never-ending blessing. He will give and give again and again…for eternity.


We must also go in G-d’s path and adopt this character trait: Never-ending giving of charity and loving-kindness, to give and to give again. The more that we conduct ourselves in this way, the more that the Holy One, Blessed Be He will give to us and give to us again – an abundance of blessing with no end.


This year, the Friday of the Torah portion of Toldot falls out on the 28th of Cheshvan. This is the 58th day from the beginning of the year. 58 is the numerical value of the word חן, chen,  which means “grace”. The concept of grace in the Torah is expressed by the completeness of symmetry, exactly like the first appearance of _chen_  in the Torah: “And Noah found favor (‘grace’ chen) in the eyes of G-d”. The Hebrew for Noah, נח , is  חן chen  in reverse.

The Hebrew word for _“And He will give”_ in our verse, ויתן , Veyiten, also hints to the secret of chen. If we write out the letters of the word chen in Hebrew in full, chet חית and nun   נון, we discover that the letters that fill out those two words actually spell out ויתן , Veyiten. The letters that fill out  the nun  – vav and nun, surround the letters that fill out the chetyud and tav. Something so graceful always finds favor, awakening never-ending giving. He will give and give again and again.


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