KOHEN – First Aliya – 21 p’sukim (25:19-26:5)
This is the history of Yitzchak b. Avraham; Avraham
Yitzchak is 40 years old when he marries Rivka (3 years after the Akeida). The Torah emphasizes Rivka’s family background. After 20 years of childlessness (10 years until Rivka was of child-bearing age plus an additional 10 years without a child), Yitzchak and Rivka pray to G-d. G-d hears their (actually his) prayer and Rivka becomes pregnant. She is having a “rough time” and goes to Shem b. Noach (who outlived Avraham, by the way) who tells her G-d’s message, that she will give birth to twins who will go in very different ways and become great adversaries.[sdt] Commentaries say that Rivka was unaware that she
was carrying twins; she thought the turmoil within her existed in a single individual – this had her very upset; she was somewhat calmed by the Divine message. [sdt] Another commentator suggests that Rivka knew she’d have twins but did not see the benefit of bringing a Yaakov into this world if it meant also having an Eisav. Think about this idea and its ramifications. Part of the reply to her question “why do I need this”, is that her conclusion was wrong. [sdt] Even though Yaakov was learning all of Torah in the womb, he still did not want to be there with Eisav. One must avoid a potentially bad influence of a colleague even in the greatest of yeshivot. (Imrei Shefer) Eisav and Yaakov are born, Yaakov clutching the heel of Eisav. The boys grow and develop different personalities – Eisav is the hunter and outdoorsman; Yaakov, the mild, studious “tent-dweller”. Yitzchak loves Eisav; Rivka loves Yaakov. The Baal HaTurim points out that the numeric value of the name YAAKOV = 10+70+100+2 = 182 is the same as that of MAL’ACH HA’ELOKIM (angel of G-d) = 40+30+1+20 (91) +
5+1+30+5+10+40 (91) = 182.
R. Auerbach z”l points out that YAAKOV (182) = 7 x 26 (i.e. a multiple – a significant multiple) of 26, the G’matriya of G-d’s Name. He adds that YITZCHAK = 10+90+8+100 = 208 = 8 x 26, and YOSEF = 10+6+60+80 = 156 = 6 x 26. Interesting sequence.
Yaakov is preparing a lentil soup for his father. (Our sources tell us that this was the day of Avraham’s death; Yaakov was preparing the traditional mourner’s meal for Yitzchak.) Eisav returns from the field in a state of exhaustion. He asks Yaakov for some of the food. Yaakov acquires in exchange for it the birthright of which Eisav does not concern himself. A famine hits the Land (like the one in Avraham’s time -this is one of the many similarities between the lives of Avraham and Yitzchak) and Yitzchak goes to Avimelech in Gerar. G-d appears to Yitzchak and reminds him that he must not leave the Land. G-d repeats his promises of the Land and of the large nation that will descend from him.[sdt] The Torah says that Yitzchak loved Eisav KI TZAYID B’FIV. The straightforward translation is that Eisav provided food from the hunt for his father to eat. On a drash level, another meaning is given to TZAYID, namely that Eisav deceived his father with religious questions, thus pretending to be interested in Yitzchak’s faith. [sdt] There are many different commentaries on these relationships. Note that Yitzchak’s love is based on Eisav’s providing food for him. Rivka’s love is unconditional. Pirkei Avot says that only an unconditional love will endure forever. [sdt] The Gemara says that Eisav did not manifest his evil nature until Avraham died. This is part of the definition of Avraham being blessed BAKOL – with everything.
LEVI – Second Aliya – 7 p’sukim (26:6-12)
Yitzchak dwells in Gerar. (One of several 3-word p’sukim in the Torah.) Yitzchak and Rivka pose as brother and sister (as did Avraham and Sara, and for the same two reasons). After a while Avimelech discovers that they are actually husband and wife and complains to Yitzchak about the deception. Avimelech orders his peopleto leave Yitzchak and Rivka alone. Yitzchak and family flourish in Gerar and G-d blesses them.
SH’LISHI – 3rd Aliya – 10 p’sukim (26:13-22)
Yitzchak thrives in Gerar, which creates jealousy among the locals who fill in the wells that Yitzchak has dug. (There is great symbolism in the Torah’s account of the wells, their names, their failures, and then their successes.) Yitzchak is driven away from Gerar. A new well that Yitzchak digs is taken over by the shepherds of Gerar, as is yet another well. Only the third well called Rehovot permits Yitzchak to live in relative peace. (Some see this as a hidden reference to the first and second Temples, which fell, and the third which will stand forever. May we see it soon in our time.) Gemara Brachot 56: Rabbi Chanina said, he who sees a well in a dream, he will see peace… Yitzchak’s servants dug and found a live spring, B’EIR MAYIM CHAYIM. This is immediately followed by the peace treaty between Avimelech and Yitzchak Avinu. Rabbi Natan continues in the same Gemara. He who sees a well in his dream has found Torah, as it says in Mishlei: He who finds me, finds life… an equation is made between G-d, Torah, and Life
R’VI’I – 4th Aliya – 7 p’sukim (26:23-29)
Yitzchak sets himself up in Be’er Sheva. G-d appears to him and reiterates the promises for prosperity made to Avraham. Yitzchak builds an altar to G-d and continues to prosper. Avimelech, realizing that his own prosperity was due to the presence of Yitzchak, comes with a delegation to Yitzchak in order to enter into acovenant with him. (A not-rare experience throughout the generations – Jews are expelled from a country, which subsequently regrets its actions because of the decline they experienced without the Jews in their midst.)
CHAMISHI – 5th Aliya – 33 p’sukim (26:30-27:27)
Yitzchak and Avimelech partake of a meal and exchange oaths. Be’er Sheva is reaffirmed as “the city of the Avot” by Yitzchak’s actions. This is yet another example of the similarity between Yitzchak’s life and Avraham’s. Eisav marries at 40 years of age – a (sub)conscious attempt to emulate his father. However wicked Eisav is, he is genuinely respectful and loving of his father. Eisav’s choice of a wife disgusts both Yitzchak and Rivka.
There’s that number 40 again. It represents a full unit of time. 40 days, 40 years. Either one. Yitzchak is old and blind and calls to Eisav to prepare for him a special meal and then receive a special blessing. While Eisav is in the fields doing his father’s bidding, Rivka prepares Yaakov to receive the blessing instead. She tells Yaakov to bring her two goats and she would prepare the dishes that Yitzchak loved.Yaakov hesitates for fear that Yitzchak will feel his smooth skin and realize that Yaakov has come to deceive him. Rivka dresses Yaakov in Eisav’s garments and places a goat- skin on his neck to give it a rough feel. She gives Yaakov the food to bring to his father.[sdt] Targum Onkeles indicates that Rivka was guided by prophecy in her instructions to Yaakov in order to receive Yitzchak’s bracha. (This, BTW, is a rare form in Onkeles, where words are added to the straightforward translation. When this happens, we should sit up and take notice.)
OTOH, Yaakov’s deceit of his father came back to haunt him years later when his sons deceived him with the faked death of Yosef. [Note that Yaakov’s sons used a goat (its blood) to deceive him, as he had used a goat (its skin and its meat) to deceive his father.]
These two positions are not necessarily contradictory. It is possible that Yaakov was “required” to do what he did, yet he was also “required” to pay the price for his deeds. Perhaps this situation is analogous to taking certain medicines. One must take the medicine for his own good, yet harmful side- effects might result. Yaakov might have HAD to do exactly as his mother commanded despite the harmful side-effects – namely, his “few and bad years” and the deceptions he suffered, from Lavan (actuallyRachel & Leah too) and from his sons.[sdt] Is it stealing to take something from someone without his knowledge in order to give it back to the person from whom it was taken? Apparently it is, because Rashi says that Rivka sent Yaakov to bring the goats from specifically animals that belonged to her, not to Yitzchak. Even though she was preparing the meat for Yitzchak, it would have been wrong to take the goats from him without permission. Here is another example of many, of a ruling being based on the deeds of our Fathers and Mothers.
SHISHI – Sixth Aliya – 23 p’sukim (27:28-28:4)
The blessing invoked by Yitzchak upon Yaakov, for bountiful produce and respected status among nations, has been borrowed by us to be recited on Motzaei Shabbat — “V’yitein L’cha Elokim…”As Yitzchak finishes blessing Yaakov, Eisav returns from the hunt. He prepares food for his father and presents it to Yitzchak with a request (demand) of the blessing. Yitzchak trembles when he realizes that this is Eisav and that the bracha has been given to Yaakov.
When Yitzchak explains to Eisav that Yaakov received(and rightly so) the blessing, Eisav bitterly cries out and asks his father for a blessing too. Yitzchak gives Eisav a blessing (not as exalted as Yaakov’s). Eisav determines to kill Yaakov for this, the second time he has taken something away from him.
Rivka hears of Eisav’s plans and encourages Yaakov to flee to Rivka’s hometown until Eisav’s wrath subsides. Rivka suggests to Yitzchak that he send Yaakov away to find a proper wife. One commentary suggests that Rivka did not want to tell Yitzchak about Eisav’s intentions, lest it distress the ailing and aging Yitzchak too much. Instead, she suggests a positive motive for Yaakov’s leaving. Yitzchak calls for Yaakov and gives him another blessing and sends him off to Padan Aram to find a wife among Rivka’s family. He gives Yaakov “the blessing of Avraham”, thus providing for the continuity of the Chain that becomes Judaism.
SH’VI’I – 7th Aliya – 5 p’sukim (28:5-9)
Eisav sees that their father has sent Yaakov to Padan Aram to find a wife, because he does not want him to take a Canaanite wife. Yaakov goes on his way and Eisav takes as another wife, the daughter of Yishmael. And Eisav takes Machalat b. Yishmael… Talmud Yerushalmi exclaims that this is Bosmat, and asks why her name was changed. The astonishing answer is that all Eisav’s sins were forgiven when he took a wife intended to please his parents. The Talmud generalizes and gives this as the source that the sins of a CHATAN (and KALLA)are for-given when they marry. Strange source for an important idea.
The final 3 p’sukim are reread for the Maftir.
Haftara – 21 p’sukim Mal’achi 1:1-2:7
21 p’sukim is the optimal number for Haftara, paralleling Torah reading with 7 people called to the Torah and a minimum of three p’sukim for each Aliya. As such, a 21-pasuk Haftara represents Kri’at HaTorah, which it replaced during some dark periods of Jewish History when Torah reading was forbidden to us, courtesy ofthe Catholic Church. Not all Haftaras have 21 p’sukim. But many do. Or some number close to it.
The word MAL’ACHI, my messenger, appears nowhere else in Tanach. Commentators are not sure whether it is the name of a prophet or a nickname indicating his role of paving the way for Nechemia and the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash. The prophet draws contrasts between Israel and the descendants of Eisav, hence the choice of this portion as the Haftara of To’l’dot. He stresses personal belief in G-d and emphasizes mercy and faith. He speaks of the proper way of life and of problems that must be faced repeatedly. The prophrt warns the people to showproper honor to G-d. He also speaks of the Kohanim as being the appropriate teachers of the people.
If one reads only the Written text of the Torah, it is possible to draw a sympathetic picture of dear, misunderstood, uncle Eisav, and maybe, a distorted view of Yaakov too. Read the Haftara for the clear statements made by the prophet, in G-d’s name, which leave no doubt as to what’s what.