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Moses appointed twelve emissaries to scout out the Holy Land and return with a report. The representative for the tribe of Ephraim was Moses’ primary disciple, Joshua. Until this time, the lad’s name was Oshua. But Moses added a letter to his name and called him Joshua.
Rashi, the famed eleventh …

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Home » Toldot

Toldot: Food for Thought for your Dinner Table

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Sunday: Abraham and Isaac

“These are the progeny of Isaac son of Abraham, Abraham begot Isaac.” That Abraham is the father of Jacob is mentioned twice in this verse, albeit in slightly different styles. In the first half of the verse Isaac is mentioned first, suggesting that he was the more important one. In the second half of the verse Abraham is mentioned first, suggesting that he was the more important one.

Indeed, each was in his own way.

Abraham was not always a believer; he grew up in an idolatrous home. He was a penitent himself and therefore tolerant of others like him. Isaac was born into a sacred, religious home. He was a pious man; demanding of others what he did of himself. Each excelled in his own field. As a penitent Abraham was greater than Isaac. As a paragon of piety Isaac was greater than Abraham.

Some, like Abraham, struggle to return to G-d. Others, like Isaac, live in blissful communion with G-d. Each, in their own way, stands at the highest level. We need not strive to be the best that others can be. We need merely be the best that we can be. Orach Chayim

Monday: Israel and the Diaspora

“Isaac sowed in that land, and grew in that year, a hundred fold.” Rashi explains that the soil was barren and there was a drought that particular year. Yet Isaac’s crop flourished a hundred fold.

Ever since our ancestors were exiled from Israel we found ourselves in strange lands. Our worship of G-d in strange lands is siritualy barren compared to religious worship in Israel. The Hebrew word for year, Shanah, also means to study. Torah study in the Diaspora is incomparable to Torah study in Israel. Yet G-d measures our success by the degree of our sincerity. We might achieve in the diaspora only ten percent of what is possible in Israel, but if we approach it with sincerity G-d values it a hundred fold. Divrei Yisrael

Tuesday: Unique Contributions

“There was a famine in the land, in addition to the famine that was in the days of Abraham.” All physical phenomena flow from their spiritual counterparts. The material lack of food stemmed from the spiritual absence of inspiration.

Rather than emulate his father’s ways, Isaac followed his own spiritual path. This is why the Philistines covered Abraham’s wells and forced Isaac to dig new ones. Wells are a source of water and water is a metaphor for G-d. Abraham drew water or G-dliness into the world in his way. When he passed away, his wells were shut down, giving Isaac the opportunity to make a unique contribution by digging his own well.
When Abraham’s wells were covered, the flow of divinity stopped and the resultant absence of inspiration expressed itself physically in the form of a famine. The same occurred shortly after Jacob was born. There was a new famine, separate from the famine that occurred in the days of Abraham. This famine would halt Isaac’s flow of divinity, allowing Jacob to make his contribution. Sefat Emet

Wednesday: A Higher Vision

“See, we did see, that G-d is with you.” In the presence of a saintly Jew, all are inspired; lifted to a higher plane. Our vision is altered; our world view filters through the prism of Torah and everything takes on a divine hue. In the presence of a Tzadik we ask ourselves only one question, how can I better serve G-d?

Avimelech noticed that in the presence of Isaac his own vision was uplifted. He too began to see the world through a new, more spiritual lens. This was his clue that Isaac, a newly arrived immigrant, was a truly saintly individual; a man of G-d.

He therefore said, “See, we did see.” Why is the word see repeated? The message here is, once we saw you, we began to see everything differently. This was our clue, as the verse concludes, “That G-d is with you. Kedushat Levi

Thursday: Failing Eyesight

“As Isaac grew old, his eyesight began to fade.” Our sages taught that when Isaac was bound upon the altar the angels cried. These tears fell into his eyes and ruined his eyesight. Now we all know that angels don’t shed physical tears so what really happened that day?

When Isaac almost died on the altar, the angels, concerned for the destiny of the Jewish people, prayed for his life. If Isaac died, the Jewish saga would end before it started. G-d spared Isaac’s life. However, for the Jews to fulfill their destiny Jacob had to receive Isaac’s blessings. G-d therefore blinded Isaac and enabled Jacob to deceive him. When we say that the angels’ tears blinded Isaac, we mean that the very concern that vexed the angels on that day caused Isaac to lose his eyesight. Ktav Sofer

Friday: To Give and Give Again

Jacob’s blessing began with the words “And he (G-d) shall give.” Addressing the extra word “and,” our sages explained that Isaac meant, G-d should give and give again. Contrast this with the blessing Isaac gave to Esau, “You shall dwell on the fat places of the land.” For Jacob, Isaac emphasized the fact of Gd’s continuous giving. For Esau, he emphasized what would be received and where he would dwell.

This is the primary difference between the righteous and the wicked. The righteous view everything as a gift from G-d. Bounty, success and even failures are all blessings in their own way. To the righteous, G-d never stops giving. The wicked accept their gift and walk away to provide for themselves. They credit themselves for their achievements and conveniently forget about G-d. Sefat Emet

Shabbat: A Worthy Marriage

“Esau saw that his father despised the Canaanite women and he  took Machalat, daughter of Ishmael to himself for a wife.”

Before sending Jacob away Isaac admonished him not to marry a Canaanite woman. Sixty-three years earlier Abraham explained that Canaan was cursed by Noah and the cursed cannot receive the blessing of Abraham. Sixty three years later, when Isaac learned that Jacob had received the blessings he counseled him against a Canaanite marriage for the same reason.  

Now Esau intended to murder his brother Jacob and claim the blessings for himself. When he heard his father’s admonishment, Esau understood that his own children, from his Canaanite wives, would also not be worthy of the blessings. He therefore hastened to marry the daughter of Ishmael, who was the progeny of Abraham and as such from an acceptable, blessed family. In this way he hoped the blessings would remain with his family and with his children for ever. Torat Moshe (Rabbi Moshe Sofer)