Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Toldos 5775 November '14, Choosing the Self

Yissachar Moshe ben Hezkiah haLevi leaves in a  few hours for Israel, in this time of much distress.
This is being written on the day after the bloodbath massacre in Har Nof, in which two Palestinian men entered a synagogue full of men davening Shacharis and proceeded to shoot and hack four of them to death, injuring others, then shot and killed the first policeman to arrive on the scene before themselves being shot by police forces. The hatred, the blood, the senselessness are heavy in all our minds.

Today my son, a child born with a life-threatening illness that indeed almost killed him many times, whom we nursed through countless hospitalizations, trips to world research centers, and weeks of non-stop illness, today my son leaves for Israel.

We begin this parsha learning that after ten years of marriage, Yitzchak and Rivka have had no children. They daven together, and Yitzchak's prayers are answered explicitly rather than Rivka's, not through any fault of her own, but explicitly says Rashi because he was a tzaddik AND the son of tzaddikim, while Rivka's parents were reshaim. Nowhere do I find an answer though as to the question of whether her own prayers would have been answered had his not been adequate, and this is a question I myself ask but must continue to follow up. If anyone has sources with answers, I welcome them!

When she is pregnant, Rivka feels great physical distress, beyond that other women are able to describe to her from their own experiences. She travels to the yeshiva of Shem and Aiver to ask the meaning of her great pain that seems excessive compared to others' experiences.  Midrash Lekat Tov also tells us she explicitly asked them for a blessing of Hash-m's mercy on her. Shem himself receives prophetic understanding of her situation and explains to her that she is carrying twins and that (according to the Midrash haGadol) once they are born the entire Earth will be too small for the two to  live in peace, and so it is completely impossible for them to share one womb without struggle. Shem also explained the well-known prophecy that the two will constantly be in disequilibrium, one rising as the other falls. Rivka herself received prophetic vision at that moment of the two. She understood fully that Esav would be a rasha, and Yaakov a tzaddik. She saw the two nations of Israel and Edom in their full futures. However, she became very distressed, and so the only specific descendants she was shown from the two nations were the Jewish leader Rabbi Yehuda haNassi and the Roman Emperor Antoninus, who protected the Jews and discoursed in good faith with Rabbi Yehuda, according to the Eitz Yosef.

But there is a philosophical struggle we ourselves must address here (which Rashi hints at). How can the two be pre-ordained to be a tzaddik and a rasha? If Yaakov is pre-ordained by G-d to have no struggles in his faith and to be incapable of evil, why should he receive reward for his good? If Eisav has no control over his evil, how can he himself be faulted for it? Is he not then like a true wild animal, killing because it is his nature? We don't blame a large cat for leaping out of a tree to land on prey; it was not exhibiting evil, it was following its own nature and set of skills provided directly by G-d, after all.

While the prophetic visions were true, at the same time we have a principal about prophecy that a good prophecy from G-d must come true but an evil one can be altered if those involved do teshuva. This prophecy is in some ways good, in some ways bad, really overall simply factual: there are twin nations, they will both be great nations, and the actions of the Jewish nation will control which of the two is in power.  So in this case, the Jews themselves, Yaakov and his descendants, have always had the power force this to be a "good" prophecy, so long as they are completely devoted to Torah. To the extent that they are not, Aisav gains in power.

It was entirely within the power of both Aisav and Yaakov to choose their actions at every moment of every day. Each of them had the ability to turn the evil portions of the prophecy to good. Many of us have angry impulses constantly, resentments large and small, disasters which befall us. But each moment we also have the choice to respond with emuna and with the principles of Torah in mind. Bear in mind, Yaakov and Eisav lived the first 15 years of their lives in the company of Avraham himself. They saw heavenly beings coming and going from his tent and experienced his direct prophecies; they had the opportunity to learn Torah directly from him.  There could have been no question in either of their minds of the validity of the Torah and of G-d's reality and the promise of Olam Habah.  These special gifts were equally available to both brothers to use as they would, to appreciate and to incorporate into themselves. Do some of us have more gentle natures without effort, and some more violent impulses? Of course, no question. But likewise, the rewards from Shamayim recognize the level of difficulty for an individual to do a mitzvah, to behave according to Torah principles. One who struggles and overcomes receives a far more bountiful reward than one who is handed things on a silver platter.  Eisav in fact had the opportunity to achieve far, far more than Yaakov ever could have, by his very nature. He had the physical reality of angels in front of him regularly, discussing Olam Haba with Avraham Avinu himself. Yet this he rejected in favor of this world, physical wealth and power.

The problem of course is that if we now skip to the end of the parsha, we find that as a result of Yaakov's receiving the blessing from Yitzchak with the help of Rivka who saw in her prophecy before her sons' birth that this must happen, there was kindled in Aisav an unquenchable hatred.  The only reason Aisav did not kill his brother outright at that moment was his realistic understanding that the court of Shem and Aiver would catch him and sentence him to death if he were to do so, according to the Midrash Shocher Tov. Aisav hatched multiple plans for assassinating his brother through third parties, and so Rivka arranged for Yaakov to be sent to her own family out of Aisav's reach.

Midrash haGadol sums it up with the statement, "It is a well-known halacha that Aisav hates Yaakov." What can this mean, how can hatred be a "halacha?"  It is the nature of Galus, exile. We refer to our current situation as the Edomi (Roman, Aisav) exile. It was prophesied that Edom (the nation descending from Aisav) must hate the descendants of Yaakov (Israel). The whole world is obviously not Edom, but in this state we have reached following our descent to the point of this final, complete galus, Edom is also dispersed among the nation and hatred towards us is rampant. In an upcoming parsha we'll address the methods Yaakov himself modeled against this tide of danger, but in this moment we can only accept that it spreads among other nations including Yishmael who was already pre-disposed to hatred towards the beloved of Avraham and Yitzchak.

At the moment we can only do what we can do. We are in galus. We can daven for protection and G-d's love. We can daven to understand the world as much as possible. We can take action for self- and community-defense. We can reach out to those who will accept what we have to offer in peace. Most of all, we can simply rely on faith in hashgacha pratis, and act in every way we can to bring Moshiach.

My prayer is that my son has a safe trip, and that during the immediate future we join him in Yerushalayim because Moshiach has arrived to G-d's glory.

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