By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
Shabbat Parshat Toldot
29 Cheshvan 5765 - November 12, 2004
Long barren, Yitzchak and Rivkah pray for a
child, and they are finally answered. But the pregnancy — of twins, as it turns
out — is difficult. Rivkah looks for an explanation of her suffering, and she
And the children struggled inside her, and she said, “If so, why am I thus?” (Bereishit
Hashem doesn’t answer her immediately, so
And she went to seek (VA’TELECH LIDROSH) Hashem (ibid.).
Where does she go?
And Hashem said to her (VA’YOMER HASHEM LAH);
“Two nations are in your belly, and two peoples will be separated from your
insides. One people will be mightier than the other, and the greater shall serve
the younger” (25:23).
How does Hashem answer her?
Ramban argues that the verb root D-R-SH used with “Hashem” means prayer, as in:
I sought (DARASHTI) Hashem and He answered me (Tehillim 34:5).
Seek me (DIRSHUNI) and live (Amos 5:4).
As I live, I will not be sought (IDDARESH) by you (Yechezkel 20:3).
So here, Rivkah prays for relief from her travails.
However, this approach is problematical, as Mizrachi (R. Eliyahu Mizrachi, c.
1450-1526) points out. The above verses need not necessarily be read as
references to prayer. Moreover, the following verses suggest prophecy, rather
• So would a man say when he would go to seek (LIDROSH) G-d, “Come, let us go
until the seer,” for today’s prophet would in earlier times be called the seer (Shmuel
• And the king said to Chazael, “Take in your hand a gift and go to meet the man
of G-d and you shall seek (V’DARASHTA) Hashem from him, saying, ‘Will I survive
this disease?’” (Melachim II 8:8).
The primary example of seeking Hashem via a prophet comes from Moshe:
When the people come to me to seek (LIDROSH) G-d (Shemot 18:15),
which the Targum translates “to request teaching from before Hashem.”
Mizrachi therefore defends Rashi’s explanation, that Rivkah seeks an answer
And she went to seek (VA’TELECH LIDROSH): To the academy of Shem [son of Noach;
Shem is still alive at this time, and the yeshivah he established in Jerusalem,
and continued by his great-grandson Ever, was a center for prophecy (see
Bereishit Rabba 36:8, 85:12 and Seder Eliyahu Rabba 141)].
And she went to seek (VA’TELECH LIDROSH) Hashem: So that He will tell her what
will be in her end.
And Hashem said to her (VA’YOMER HASHEM LAH): By means of an agent; it was said
to Shem through divine inspiration (ruach ha’kodesh), and he told her.
Haamek Davar (R. Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, 1817-1893) also unreservedly
supports Rashi over Ramban. He adds that, if Rivkah’s desire is to pray, she
does not need to go (VA’TELECH) anywhere. After all, Yitzchak’s prayer (verse
21) was answered while praying at home! [We might also return to the texts cited
Shemot: come to seek (LIDROSH) G-d
Shmuel: go to seek (LIDROSH) G-d
Melachim: go to meet the man of G-d and you shall seek (V’DARASHTA) Hashem.
In each case, seeking an answer from Hashem through a prophet might well require
traveling great distances.]
Rashi insists that Hashem responds to Rivkah indirectly, through Shem. R.
Yisrael Isserlein (1390-1460), in his commentary on Rashi, explains that this is
indicated by the order of the words. Placing the preposition after the subject (VA’YOMER
HASHEM LAH) indicates indirect speech, whereas the more common order (VA’YOMER
LAH HASHEM; cf. Bereishit 16:10; Rut 2:14) would have indicated direct
communication. Furthermore, Rivkah was not a prophet: in the Sages’ list of the
seven prophetesses (Megillah 14a), Rivkah is not mentioned.
Nachalat Yaakov (commentary on Rashi by Yaakov ben Binyamin Aharon Selnik, 17th
century) however contends this second point. Even if Hashem had spoken to her
one time, he argues, that would not have made her a prophetess. After all, when
we read later that Rivkah was told of Esav’s intentions to kill Yaakov (27:42),
Rashi says that she learned this through ruach ha’kodesh! Furthermore, Hashem
spoke to Chavah, the snake, and Yonah’s fish, yet none of these are considered
prophets! Prophecy, concludes Nachalat Yaakov, is far more than Hashem speaking
to someone, answering prayers, or even communicating future events. Rather it is
when the prophet, through his own prophetic powers, foretells the future.
In a similar vein, Haamek Davar distinguishes between two types of prophets: a)
one to whom Hashem speaks for the moment; and b) one who sees concealed matters
through ruach ha’kodesh. This is clear in the case of Shmuel:
for today’s prophet would in earlier times be called the seer.
Avraham only attained the first level, but Rivkah seeks knowledge from Hashem
that is concealed from all but those who can foretell the future.
Haamek Davar’s approach helps to answer a well-known question: if indeed Rivkah
must go to a prophet for answers, why not go to Avraham, who was also alive?
(Indeed, Radak [R. David Kimchi, c. 1160-c. 1235] argues that the prophet could
have been Avraham!) But Haamek Davar says that Avraham was unsuited to this
task. Rivkah must seek Hashem through the oldest living prophet, Shem.
This episode gives us insight into prayer and prophecy. Both are ways to seek (LIDROSH)
answers that come from Hashem. What is more, says R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik in
“Worship of the Heart” (p. 10.), both are part of a continuum:
“Both prayer and prophecy are basically dialogues between finitude and infinity.
They differ only as to the respective roles assigned to creature and Creator. In
prophecy God is the active partner of the dialogue community and man is happy
being just a listener, an onlooker, watchful and vigilant; in prayer the roles
are reversed. God is the listener and man is the speaker.”
Our Matriarch Rivkah, at this critical juncture in her life and in our people’s
history, seeks to bridge the yawning chasm that seems to exist between G-d and
mankind. She teaches us to take the initiative, and to seek out answers from the
The Ba’al haTurim comments that the gematriya (numerical equivalent of the
letters) of the name Esav equals the gematriya of the word shalom (peace).
While the Ba’al haTurim’s comment is certainly true (both Esav and shalom
equal 376), the obvious question is what the Ba’al haTurim wants to teach
us. After all, one hardly considers Esav to be a paragon of peace.
My father explained the Ba’al haTurim’s comment. To say that Ya’akov
stands for peace is true and perhaps even self-evident. However,
ultimately it is irrelevant. Peace depends on the aggressor’s willingness
to accept it. Until or unless Esav is ready for peace, Ya’akov alone
cannot achieve peace. This is the significance of “Esav b’gematriya
It is clear and obvious that in Eretz Yisrael we represent the legacy of
Ya’akov. We pray for the fulfillment of Esav equaling shalom.
Har Nof, Jerusalem
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North
American Rabbis and laymen who successfully made Aliyah, aimed at
highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting Aliyah. They send
emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on speaking-tours
throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Roness ,
Exec. Dir., Aloh Naaleh,
At the OU Center, 22 Keren HaYesod
Tel.(02) 566-7787 ex. 254