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Parashat Toldot: Aliyah by Aliyah

First Reading: Rebeccah, Esau, and the Fourth Revolution

“The boys wrestled in her [Rebeccah’s] womb and she said, ‘If so why do I exist?’ She went to inquire of God. God answered her, ‘Two nations are in your womb, two separate peoples shall issue from your body; one people shall be mightier than the other, and the older shall succumb to the younger.’”

What Was Rebeccah Doing?

In his commentary on this verse, Rashi, the classic medieval commentator on the Torah quotes the sages: “When she [Rebeccah] would pass by the entrances to Shem and Ever’s places of Torah study, Jacob hastened to be born, but when she passed by a doorway of idol worship, Esau struggled to get out.”

Rabbi Shmuel of Shinova (Sieniawa, Poland), author of Ramatayim Tzofim,[1] asks a seemingly simple question on this statement from the sages: “What would bring Rebeccah to pass by places of idol worship in the first place? She was undoubtedly careful to guard the purity of her unborn children and made efforts, while still pregnant, to regularly be present (for their sake) at her husband Yitzchak’s Beit Midrash (house of Torah study.) Further, why was the situation described as a struggle or fight between the boys in trying to determine whether they would ultimately enter a Beit Midrash or a place of idol worship? Clearly, they could not be in two places at the same time, so what was the struggle about?[2]

He then proceeds to offer the following answer:

It is known that our patriarchs and matriarchs would approach strangers in order to convert them [to belief in the One God, the Creator]. This necessitated using logic and philosophy in order to speak to the idol worshippers and prove to them that there was no substance to their beliefs. This is what “the doorway to idol worship” refers to. Esau would be struggling to get out at that time, because he was from the impure side and wanted to connect with the idolaters. He could not hear the positive and sacred words that were uttered in such a meeting with an idolater.

Jacob, on the other hand, would have nothing to do with these discussions. It was only after the idolater would convert and learn Torah in a Beit Midrash for the purpose of serving the Creator, that Jacob would feel the need to connect with them.

In summary, Rabbi Shmuel adds that the word the sages use to describe Jacob’s haste to leave the womb (מְפַרְכֵּס)—a word that usually describes the convulsions of the soul as it departs the body[3]—hints at Jacob’s self-sacrifice in his struggle to not become defiled by the acerbic nature of Esau’s evil and impurity. This self-sacrifice has been carried down through the generations by young Jewish men and women who have faced similar struggles. To counter the influence of the impurity around them, many of them found a safe harbor by clinging to tzaddikim.

Rabbi Shmuel of Shinova’s novel insight is that to bring the world closer to Torah, one must actively leave the Beit Midrash and go out among the nations. This mission even applied to Rebeccah, a modest woman careful to raise her children in holiness and purity. This inspired Torah teaching was no doubt heard from Rabbi Shmuel’s teacher Rebbe Simchah Bunim of Peshischa, who is known to have been highly successful in bringing those distant from God closer through philosophical discussions that had real-world applications.

(Wisdom, Issue 46)


Second Reading: Faith, Knowledge, and Hashkafah

“Avimelech, king of the Philistines looked out the window”


The Hebrew word for “looked out” is Vayashkef (וַיַּשְׁקֵף). This word’s root has come to designate one’s conceptual scheme or world-view, in Modern Hebrew: Hashkafah (הַשְׁקָפָה). When and where does a child actually develop his or her Hashkafah?

The well-known mishnah states,[4]

At five years old [one is fit] for Scripture, at ten years for Mishnah. At thirteen for the commandments. At fifteen for the Talmud. At eighteen for marriage. At twenty for pursuit [of one’s livelihood]….

The mishnah begins with 3 divisions of 5 years, each for a different area of Torah study: five years of Scripture, five years of Mishnah, and five years of Talmud. But in the middle of the five years of Mishnah, the child celebrates his Bar Mitzvah, and within the five years of Talmud marriage seems to interrupt. Actually, these are not interruptions. Rather, just as in order to graduate from the study of Mishnah to Talmud one needs the “thirteen for the commandments,” the Bar Mitzvah in the middle, so too, in order to continue the momentum of Talmud study, up to age 20, one needs the “eighteen for marriage” in the middle. So, the Bar Mitzvah and marriage are accelerators. However, the study of Scripture does not need an accelerator.

Scripture Builds Faith

Since this is a program of development of the individual, we want to contemplate what the purpose of each five-year stage of study is.

What is it that Scripture gives the child that learns it for five years—from “In the beginning God created” to the end of the Tanach? Scripture is meant to provide the child with the foundations of his faith. All the verses that you know by heart, from the years you studied Scripture from the age of five, are engraved in the soul of the foundations of the faith of the Jewish people. It is written in Tanya that Scripture also awakens the power in the soul to call out to God; Scripture opens the direct link between the soul and God. This is the essence of faith.

Mishnah Accumulates Knowledge

What does the Mishnah add? In one word: knowledge. By studying Mishnah between the ages of ten and fifteen, the young person accumulates his main stock of knowledge. There are many types of knowledge or information. Every Mishnah is some point of Divine knowledge one needs to know.

Bar Mitzvah: Turning Knowledge into Obligation

Why is there suddenly a Bar Mitzvah in the middle, during the years of accumulating Torah knowledge? Because knowledge should create obligation. If you know something you should act upon it. Before his Bar Mitzvah, the Rebbe Rashab learned all of Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim so well that it penetrated into his bones, into his body, until the body itself fulfilled everything automatically (naturally). This is already beyond obligation because the actions become second nature, something that we call “natural consciousness.” But this is a high level not suitable for everyone. After three years of accumulating knowledge, the young person should feel obligated to fulfill what he or she knows.

Talmud Builds Hashkafah

After a 15-year-old has foundations of faith and has accumulated much knowledge in his head, what happens? It is around this age that the teenager needs to choose which Yeshivah to go to, and what social group to belong to. Talmud is about figuring out the rationale. You need to know the text, the Mishnah (and the Braita) but Talmud is about figuring out the reasoning.

If we want to translate it into something more general, we can say that reasoning builds your own patterns of thought. All the time that you accumulated knowledge—before Bar Mitzvah and after Bar Mitzvah until the age of fifteen—you are not required to have your own, deep thought patterns. When you learn Talmud, you are not only learning the reasoning of the Talmudic sages—what Rava thinks and what Abaye thinks—but you also need to develop your own reasoning. Your reasoning is your patterns of thought. From all the reasoning that you learn from everyone, you build patterns of thought. In a word, the purpose of Talmud is to develop your Hashkafah, your world-view, or conceptual scheme.

Marriage at Eighteen Applies Your Hashkafah

Just as the Bar Mitzvah turns knowledge into obligation and commitment, so marriage validates one’s hashkafah, one’s worldview. To get married you need to find someone who shares your view of life. The most important thing to discuss when meeting a potential spouse is your views of life, your hashkafah.

To galvanize your hashkafah, you need to get married. A young person might say: “I think the government should do this and that, that's what I think.” But maybe it’s up to you? Perhaps you should “put your money where your mouth is,” get up and start doing something to make it happen? Marriage brings with it obligation. To completely manifest your hashkafah in your life, you must be a complete person, you need to get married. We need men and women to build the Jewish people and the Land of Israel and to bring Redemption to the world.

These three spiritual resources—faith (אֱמוּנָה), knowledge (יֶדַע), and world-view (הַשְׁקָפָה)—are also related mathematically. Their sum is 676, the square of 26, the all-important value of God’s essential Name, Havayah. They possess 13 letters, or half of Havayah, which means that the average value of each letter is 52, the value of “son” (בֵּן). Possessing all three—faith, knowledge, and hashkafah—is a segulah (a charm) for having at least 13 sons.


Third Reading: Authenticity in Serving God

“All the wells that his father’s servants had dug in his father Abraham’s lifetime, the Philistines had blocked and filled them with earth.”


Digging Wells

The zenith of Isaac’s Divine service (Avodat HaShem) was digging wells, which are viewed as a symbol for all “elevation of feminine waters” (הַעֲלָאַת מַיִם נֻקְבִּין), the excitement and awakening from below that accompanies all Divine service. Neither Abraham nor Jacob reached this level of devotion in their Divine service.

The sages link five central idioms in the Bible with five redemptions. Each of the idioms stresses one of the five final letters in Hebrew, mem-nun-tzaddik-pei-chaf (מנצפך). One of these redemptions is Isaac’s and the idiom expressing it is, “we have found water” (מָצָאנוּ מַיִם), serving as another illustration of the centrality of digging wells in Isaac’s life.

Redigging Abraham’s Wells

Isaac’s first task is to re-open the wells dug by his father Abraham, but which the Philistines had blocked up. Abraham had indeed dug wells, but these did not last, because apparently it was not his essential Divine service in life. But for Isaac, digging wells is an essential component of his being and so he re-digs his father’s wells and rededicates them with the names Abraham had given them originally. Later he continues to dig his own new wells.

Every Patriarch Initiates a New Direction

Rebbe Simchah Bunim of Peshischa explains[5] that the reason we call Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob “patriarchs” (and no one else may be given this title[6]). A “patriarch” or father is someone who initiates a new path, a new way in serving God, a path that was unknown and was not yet traveled.

It goes without saying that Abraham initiated a new path. He was on one side and the entire world on the other. He believed in one God, he served Him, and publicized His Name. He was the first to circumcise.

But Isaac is also a patriarch and he initiated a new path too.

When does a new path truly work and change reality? When does God profess to love a new path that one has paved through one’s actions in life? This happens when the new path has “inner life” (חַיּוּת פְּנִימִי).

What is “life” in this context? About the Torah and its commandments, the verse says, “And he shall live in them.” The way of Torah should not cause one to “die” as it were. When a person performs God’s commandments he should merit life, both in this world and in the next. But the interpretation given to this description in Chasidut is that when performing a mitzvah, a commandment, one should feel alive. One should perform it with life.

Because “inner” (פְּנִימִי) in Hebrew is cognate with “face” (פָּנִים), to have inner life means to feel that I am standing face to face with God. Feeling that fills me with inner life. If I cannot imagine myself standing face to face with God while performing a mitzvah, I will not feel alive and my mitzvah might be, in a sense, lifeless. Lifeless mitzvot do not rise.[7] When a mitzvah is alive, it is performed with feelings of love and fear of God. Incredibly, the value of “inner life” (חַיּוּת פְּנִימִי) is the same as “wisdom-understanding-knowledge” (חָכְמָה בִּינָה דַּעַת), whose initials are the well-known acronym of Chabad. The path of Chabad is to bring inner life down from the mind to the heart. This is not commonly known.

Unfortunately, since we are still in exile, we continue to perform mitzvot outwardly,[8] without inner life. We will return to perform the mitzvot with life when the Third Temple is constructed. If only we could perform the mitzvot with real inner life, then we would be on Isaac’s path and already experiencing the Redemption.


There is a beautiful explanation given to what it means that the Philistines blocked up the wells that Abraham had dug. The Philistines realized that Abraham was very successful, physically, and even to their coarse sensitivity, spiritually. They decided that following his passing, they would follow the path of Divine service he had paved so that they too would be successful. But all they were able to do was to emptily imitate his actions.

This reminds us of the very important teaching from the Ba’al Shem Tov[9] on “Many attempted to emulate Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai but fell short.”[10] Why? Because they imitated him. You cannot imitate a tzaddik. You must learn from him, but do not imitate him thinking that you can act as he does. People say, “I saw the Rebbe do this, I can do the same.” The imitation has nothing of the inner life that the Rebbe had. The Rebbe did it with life, you do it lifelessly and the act has nothing of the same effects.

This is described as blocking the wells, because a well is a symbol of feminine waters, an awakening from below that causes an awakening from Above. But lifeless service is like a blocked well—it achieves nothing.

Renewing Abraham’s Path

Before leaving the Philistines' land, Isaac honors his father by unblocking his wells, i.e., renewing his path of Divine service. Isaac introduces life back into his father’s path. He shows that the old path is not irrelevant. It does not belong to the old generation. The path of the previous Rebbe is still very relevant and can be renewed.

Before he moves on to pave his own, new path as a patriarch, he re-digs his father’s wells.

Three Wells and Three Stages in Paving a New Path

When someone initiates a new path in life, he cannot be certain that he will succeed. How can I possibly start something new that is not the same as what my father did, what my rebbe did—the rebbe of the previous generation?

If one is not debating this internally, not asking these questions inside, then for sure he is not on the right path. This is the meaning of the name Isaac gave the first well he dug, Essek, which literally means “struggle.” It indicates an internal struggle about whether the new direction he is taking is right.

Then he moves on and digs another well. Now he is already certain that God finds his path favorable. Every person should seek to find favor in God’s eyes and give him nachas. To do so, I must seek to serve God in the way that belongs to my soul root, even if it is not the same as my father’s.

Once a person is determined and unequivocal in his choice, that is when he begins to experience opposition from the outside. That is when those truly opposed begin to attack him. For this reason, Isaac named the second well Sitnah, which literally means hatred.

The solution is to move away, “He moved on from there and dug another well.”[11] The word for “moved on” (וַיַּעְתֵּק) is cognate with the highest level of the crown, Atik, which is the experience of pleasure. When you reach the highest level of your superconscious faculty of crown, all becomes pleasure. It is then that you can dig a new well and you feel that “now God has granted us ample space and we shall flourish.” This is why Isaac named the third well Rechovot, which means “ample space.”

To end with a gematria, the value of “new path” (דֶּרֶךְ חֲדָשָׁה) is the same as “Israel” (יִשְׂרָאֵל). The sages state[12] that each of the patriarchs is referred to as “Israel,” and each of the patriarchs paved a new path.



(Excerpted from a class given on the 27th of Cheshvan 5783)


Fourth Reading: Alef and Ayin

“Now you are blessed by God”


There are many Hebrew roots that are identical apart from the first letter, an alef (א), being replaced by an ayin (ע). According to Kabbalah, the relationship between the alef and the ayin is that the ayin is like a garment for the alef. In other words, an ayin envelopes an alef inside. This can especially be seen with regard to the pronunciation of words that stem from these roots and with regard to the numerical values of related words.

Regarding pronunciation, both the alef and the ayin are guttural letters, but the ayin is more guttural than the alef. The ayin can be said to be coarse and the alef delicate.

Regarding numerical values, the value of the ayin is 70 and the value of the alef is 1. Thus, whenever we find the number 70 in the Torah, there will be a very prominent 1 concealed inside. There are many such examples:

First, let us note the relationship between the 70 archetypal nations of the world that surround the 1 nation of Israel. Likewise, the 70 archetypal languages that internally are linked to the 1 holy tongue, Hebrew.

Another example is the makeup of the Sanhedrin: 70 sages and in their midst, the 1 sage who is known as the “wondrous one of the Sanhedrin.”[13]

When Jacob and his progeny went down to Egypt, there were 70 of his descendants and Jacob himself. We are probably all familiar with the Torah’s 70 faces that seek to explain the one Torah.

Turning to the pronunciation, we find that there are many pairs of words with a difference only in the first letters. The first such pair is “light” (אוֹר) and “skin” (עוֹר). Regarding the aftermath of Adam and Eve’s eating from the Tree of Knowledge, God banishing them from the Garden of Eden, and clothing them in special skin garments, it is said that the Mishnaic sage Rabbi Meir, who was also a scribe, wrote the verse, “skin garments and clothed them” (כֻּתֳּנוֹת אוֹר וַיַּלְבִּשֵׁם) as “light garments and clothed them” (כֻּתֳּנוֹת אוֹר וַיַּלְבִּשֵׁם). In other words, Rabbi Meir was suggesting that even though after the sin God clothed them in garments made of animal skin, before the sin, they were clothed in light.

The garments of light with which Adam and Eve were dressed before the sin are known as the “light of chashmal” (אוֹר הַחַשְׁמַל), where chashmal (חַשְׁמַל) itself is equal to “garment” (מַלְבּוּשׁ). After the sin, they were dressed, in the “skin of the snake” (מָשְׁכָא דְּחִוְיָא).

Another example of the ayin and alef is in the words “nothingness” (אַיִן) and “eye” (עַיִן). The physical eye can grasp only physical reality. But when the eye is rectified it can “see” how God creates reality out of nothingness. The sages tell us that the wise man is able to see that which is being born. The wise man whose eyes are the eyes in the mind, is able to see how all of reality is being recreated—coming out of nothingness—at every moment anew.

A final example of the relationship between alef and ayin can be found at the very end of our reading. Avimelech, the Philistine king of Gerar, together with his ministers, say to Isaac, “Now you are blessed by God.”[14] The word “now” (עַתָּה) and the word “you” (אַתָּה) are identical apart from their first letter. “Now” begins with an ayin and “you” begins with an alef.

“Now” is of course a reference to the present moment. Present within the present moment of time is “You” referring to Omni-present God—the Almighty who is present in every single moment. So once again, the “now” with an ayin—the present—conceals within it the presence of God.


(from Mivchar Shiurei Hitbonenut vol. 18, pp. 40-41)


Fifth Reading: Why Did Isaac Love Esau?

“When Rebeccah looked up and saw Isaac, she slid off the camel.”

Why would Isaac love Esau so much that he would want to bless him and not Jacob, forcing Jacob to dress up as Esau and fool his father. Even though it could have ended badly for Jacob—he could have been cursed by his father—Rebeccah assures him that this will not happen, but if it does, she will take the curses upon herself. This is one of the deepest and least understood secrets of the Torah.

The 10 blessings Isaac wanted to give Esau are considered an intermediate stage between the 10 Sayings God uttered to bring reality into being and the 10 Commandments spoken by God at Mt. Sinai. Since every intermediate must be higher than the two things it connects, these blessings are considered higher than both Creation and the Giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. As such they are of course incredibly energetic. When Isaac made these blessings, he had in mind Esau’s great, chaotic lights (אוֹרוֹת דְּתֹהוּ).

Chasidut identifies Isaac with “harsh judgment” (דִּינָא קַשְׁיָא), and Rebeccah with “lenient judgment” (דִּינָא רַפְיָא). Rebeccah’s soft judgment causes her to love Jacob. Isaac’s harsh attitude causes him to love Esau. How so? The judgment we are discussing is not how one judges an individual’s actions; it is rather a judgment on how to treat the wicked.

The value of “harsh” (קַשְׁיָא) in the harsh judgment is 411, the same value as “chaos” (תֹּהוּ). We have therefore learned that Isaac’s harsh judgment is related to what we know as “lights of chaos” (אוֹרוֹת דְּתֹהוּ). The value of both phrases, “harsh judgment lenient judgment” (דִּינָא קַשְׁיָא דִּינָא רַפְיָא) is the same as 4 times “Isaac” (יִצְחָק) or 4 times 208, or 832, the value of “the Land of Israel” (אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל). The Zohar says that the children of Isaac are in exile between Yishma’el—as we are here in Eretz Yisrael—while the Jews that reside outside the Land of Israel are in exile among the children of Esau. Since Isaac and Rebeccah’s two measures of judgment together equal “the Land of Israel,” we learn that the rectification of the Land of Israel depends on the inclusion of Isaac and Rivkah together. From God’s providence over the Land of Israel, His providence over the entire world extends.

To understand this better let us look at the service of the Patriarchs. Every Jew has the attributes of all three Patriarchs within. Of course, every individual is different, with different measures of each attribute. What was the service of Abraham and Isaac in terms of the eternal Redemption, after which there will be no exile?

Abraham and Isaac in Each of Us

Abraham brings the Mashiach by spreading the wellsprings. His work is similar to the Ba’al Shem Tov’s, who when he asked the Mashiach when he will come, the Mashiach replied that it will happen when your [Abraham’s] wellsprings spread forth. Among the Patriarchs, Abraham resembles the Ba’al Shem Tov. Abraham’s entire life is dedicated to spreading the light, especially since spreading even a little light, pushes away a great deal of darkness, to the point where the darkness itself becomes light. Abraham does not know for certain how it will all work out; he just knows that you need to spread light. Spreading light is a considered making a makif, an indirect action. The part of Abraham that is in each of us is the understanding that we need to spread as much Torah, as much Chasidut, sweet tasting Torah to the entire world. We need to speak the Torah using words and ideas that people can understand. More than this we don’t know. Why has Mashiach not come yet? Apparently, we have not yet done enough. We haven’t spread the light far enough. This is Abraham.

Abraham’s son is Isaac. Parashat Toldot stresses this point—that Abraham gave birth to Isaac, seemingly a simple point. The Torah stresses this because Isaac’s mindset is very different from his father’s. Isaac does not think it is enough to spread light. His attitude is one of harsh judgment while Abraham’s is one of loving-kindness.

Contemplating Being

One way to understand this difference between Isaac and his father Abraham can be seen in their approach to the physical material in the world. Isaac is described as connected with true being (יֵשׁ הָאֲמִתִּי), while Abraham is sensitive to the true nothingness (אָיִן הָאֲמִתִּי). Created being, which refers to the material of this world, is actually just a representation of God’s true being. Meaning that soon, when the Mashiach comes, the table will just become Divinity. Not only will the table contain some spark of Divinity, a spark that keeps matter together, but rather the table itself is the true being. If there is anything that stands to conceal or refute true being, it is a lie. That is why the sages say that this world is a world of deceit (עָלְמָא דְּשִׁקְרָא). To say that this world is a world of deceit is to say in the same breath that this world is nothing but God, but that this is concealed from us.

Each of the patriarchs has his own frustration. Yitzchak’s frustration is that he knows that this world is deceit, and that we must reveal that everything is God. That the world should reflect the true being—i.e., God. That is why his service is to dig wells. He wants to reveal the concealed truth of the physical matter of this world. He wants to find the essence of God as that which is concealed behind all material.

Abraham too dug wells. But he did invest the same existential effort into this work, which is why his wells were eventually sealed by the Philistines. Isaac digs these wells so that matter feels the deceit, so that it is forced to reveal the truth.

Isaac’s Love for Esau

How does this explain why Isaac loves Esau more than he does Jacob? It says in Chasidut something very strong. Esau too is full of deceit and as such he reflects the deceit of the material world, which God created for the express purpose of revealing His honor. The world was created so that eventually the Godly essence behind it is revealed. In the meantime, it is deceitful. Esau reflects this type of deceit, but Jacob knows nothing of it.

Jacob is not like Isaac. He is on a different program. Jacob is a Torah scholar. His goal is to use his wisdom, to clarify (לְבָרֵר), i.e., to engage in the service of clarification (עֲבוֹדַת הַבֵּרוּרִים), which aims to elevate sparks of holiness concealed within matter. But, after Jacob elevates these sparks, the material in which they are trapped remains opaque to Divinity, and as far as Isaac is concerned, the deceit remains. Therefore, Isaac does not connect with Jacob’s program. He respects Jacob for what he is. Jacob’s name (יַעֲקֹב) even implies that his wisdom—represented by the first letter in his name, the yud (י)—can permeate all the way down to the lowest levels of reality—represented by the rest of his name, עַקֵּב, which means “heel.” We are all descendent from Jacob and we are also named after him; thus, Jacob’s service of elevating sparks of holiness is the service of our entire people.

Again, Abraham is about adding light, the more we add light, the closer the redemption is. Abraham does not deal with reality directly, he only illuminates it from above (as such, his efforts are felt as surrounding light). But Isaac and Jacob deal with reality directly, except that Isaac wants, with his harsh judgment, to immediately reveal the true being concealed within reality, and then, in one single moment, created being will be nullified before true being and it will be revealed that “all is God,” and there is nothing else.


But Jacob’s approach is different. One illustration of Jacob’s Divine service can be seen when he meets Esau after he returns from Haran. They come to a bit of an uneasy peace treaty between them in lieu of which Esau invites Jacob to join him in his estate in Se’ir. But Jacob politely rejects Esau’s proposal stating, “I will conduct myself slowly because of my toils and because of the children that are with me.” Esau is restless and wants to secure his newly established peace with Jacob. Jacob is in no hurry.

We see that Esau is like his father Isaac, he wants things to move fast, which is why Isaac loves him, even though they stand at two ends of the spectrum of holiness. They both understand the call for “Mashiach Now!” And to get there, both must argue that the service of clarification (עֲבוֹדַת הַבֵּרוּרִים) is over. Because, it is not, you still must conduct yourself slowly.

Isaac lived the longest lifespan, you would think that he has the most patience, but incredibly he has no patience, he wants Mashiach Now! That is why he is connected to Esau, who represents the physical and material aspects of reality. Like Isaac, Esau has no connection with the slow conduct of the service of clarification.

The Relevance of Jacob’s Program

The value of the words Jacob says to his brother Esau, “I will conduct myself slowly”[15] (אֶתְנָהֲלָה לְאִטִּי) equals “Israel” (יִשְׂרָאֵל). Jacob was given the name “Israel” after his struggle and victory against the angel. However, at that time, this new name was still temporary. Later it would be God who would change his name permanently. God says, “No longer will your name be called Jacob, but Israel.”[16] When Abram’s name was changed to Abraham, it became forbidden to refer to him as Abram. We would expect the same with Jacob: should he not be called only Israel from now on? The reason Jacob retains his earlier name is that Jacob still represents the service of clarification. Jacob’s wisdom is still descending to grab Esau’s heel, i.e., into the material world that Esau represents and working to rectify it. As long as Mashiach has yet to come, we continue to see ourselves as Jacob’s descendants dedicated to the toil of clarification.

To recap, Chasidut teaches that “harsh judgment” refers to the expectation that the Redemption complete on the spot: like a person who has a business, and he has some kind of special goal, and he tries to reach it immediately. Those who have this harsh judgment must have things happen immediately and they have to have them happen the way they envision them. There is no time to change, no time to be flexible about how to attain this goal. You must define very precisely what you are going to do to reach your goal, you have to work hard and fast, there is a deadline. Isaac is working against a deadline, the direction is very clear, and cannot be changed. That is the attitude of harsh judgment, which is not used only to judge the wicked. Isaac’s harsh judgment seeks to push hard, in a pre-defined manner, towards achieving its goal, right now. The only candidate to follow Isaac’s program is his son Esau. This is the deep reason why Isaac chose to bless Esau.


(from a lecture given on the 28th of Cheshvan 5773)



Sixth Reading: It Has to be Jacob

“I blessed him [Jacob]—he should be blessed”

What is lenient judgment?[17] Isaac and Rebeccah have the same goal: bringing the Redemption. But how it will happen and how long it will take? Rebeccah is not locked onto one specific plan. The Redemption can come one way or another; it can take this amount of time or a different amount of time. You need a lot of patience. This is still judgment, but it is “lenient judgment” (דִּינָא רַפְיָא).

Since we said earlier that we spread Chassidut, let’s return to Abraham’s mindset. It’s not enough just to say Chassidut in the previous generations style. We have to make sure it fits this generation. In the same way that the Rebbe used the word campaigns (he loved the army in Eretz Yisrael, so he adopted words from its jargon), we also like doing the same thing. Why does Isaac want to bless Esau and why does Rebeccah want to bless Jacob?

The answer is that Isaac wants a knockout blow. He wants to KO reality. Isaac is all about harsh judgment, and he imagines that the power of the blessings he will give Esau will be so great that reality—Esau represents reality—with one punch will be knocked out. But Rebeccah knows that it just will not work. It is a nice idea Isaac has, but it is not realistic. Recently, it was written in the papers regarding Iran, whether to strike them or not. One of the papers read “Knock-out, and it will not be over.” That is Rebeccah’s argument. Both she and Isaac want to strike reality really hard, the only question is whether it will end with that (which is what Isaac thinks) or whether it will not, in which case you find yourself in a problem, because reality will strike you back, like a boomerang. This is very relevant to our policy question today. Jacob is not about knockouts at all. He is about slow and steady toil, the service of clarification.

In the end, thank God, it was Jacob who received the blessings and the incredible power that came with them. And even though Isaac failed to bless Esau, who he thought was the natural choice to use such great power, he agrees to the result and says, “And he [Jacob] will be blessed.” He understands retroactively that his plan would not have worked properly, and that using Esau could not change the fact that Redemption would take a long time. Even if Esau had received the blessings, reality would not have ended today and God would not have been revealed.

The word, “will be” (יִהְיֶה) alludes to the famous verse, “On that day, God will be One and His Name will be One”[18] (בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא יִהְיֶה י-הוה אֶחָד וּשְׁמוֹ אֶחָד).

Thus, the moral of our entire parashah is about how to actually bring Mashiach. According to what we learned, we have to give this quite a lot of thought. The Lubavitcher Rebbe knew all that we have explained. What then does his famous call, “Mashiach Now” mean? It would seem that the Rebbe was advocating for Isaac’s harsh judgment.

The difference is that in our times, the Rebbe felt that Esau was already prepared. He is ready to play a part in the Redemption, and so, he is expecting a Knock-out blow, and we must learn from him. We could simply say that in the patriarch’s generation, it was still not the right time to give reality the punch, but now it is. Still, even with this argument in place, it does not sound like the Rebbe would advocate throwing a powerful punch at reality. The Rebbe’s mode of action was to use much more sweetness and to bring about the hoped for change using peaceful ways, etc.


(from a lecture given on the 28th of Cheshvan 5773)

[1]. First published in Warsaw in 1881, Ramatayim Tzofim is an anthology of teachings from the Peshischa (Przysucha, Poland) school of Chasidic thought on the Tanna DeBei Eliyahu.

[2]. One possibility might be that when one child hastened to leave the womb, the other would try to prevent him from doing so.

[3]. This word is usually used by the sages to describe the convulsions associated with soul’s departure from the body. See for example, Mishnah Ohalot 1:6, Chullin 3:3, etc.

[4]. Avot 5:22.

[5]. Kol Simchah, Toldot, beginning of.

[6]. Berachot 16b.

[7]. Tikkunei Zohar 10 (25b). Tanya ch. 40.

[8]. Like symbols of the true mitzvot; see Jeremiah 31:20 and Ramban on Leviticus 18:25 and Deuteronomy 11:18.

[9]. Keter Shem Tov, 4.

[10]. Berachot 35b.

[11]. Genesis 26:22.

[12]. Bereishit Rabbah 63:3.

[13]. Mishnah Horayot 4:7.

[14]. Genesis 26:29.

[15]. Genesis 33:14.

[16]. Ibid. 32:29.

[17]. See the article on the fifth reading for more insight into this concept.

[18]. Zachariah 14:9.

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