For the week ending 21 November 2020 / 5 Kislev 5781

Parashat Toldot

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
Become a Supporter Library Library


After 20 years of marriage, Yitzchak’s prayers are answered and Rivka conceives twins. The pregnancy is extremely painful. G-d reveals to Rivka that the suffering is a microcosmic prelude to the worldwide conflict that will rage between the two great nations descended from these twins, Rome and Israel. Esav is born, and then Yaakov, holding on to Esav’s heel. They grow, and Esav becomes a hunter, a man of the physical world, whereas Yaakov sits in the tents of Torah, developing his soul.

On the day of their grandfather Avraham’s funeral, Yaakov is cooking lentils, the traditional mourner's meal. Esav rushes in, ravenous from a hard day’s hunting, and sells his birthright (and its concomitant spiritual responsibilities) for a bowl of lentils, demonstrating his unworthiness for the position of firstborn.

A famine strikes Canaan and Yitzchak thinks of escaping to Egypt, but G-d tells him that because he was bound as a sacrifice, he has become holy and must remain in the Holy Land. He relocates to Gerar in the land of the Philistines, where, to protect Rivka, he has to say she is his sister. The Philistines grow jealous of Yitzchak when he becomes immensely wealthy, and Avimelech the king asks him to leave. Yitzchak re-digs three wells dug by his father, prophetically alluding to the three future Temples. Avimelech, seeing that Yitzchak is blessed by G-d, makes a treaty with him.

When Yitzchak senses his end approaching, he summons Esav to give him his blessings. Rivka, acting on a prophetic command that the blessings must go to Yaakov, arranges for Yaakov to impersonate Esav and receive the blessings. When Esav in frustration reveals to his father that Yaakov has bought the birthright, Yitzchak realizes that the birthright has been bestowed correctly on Yaakov and confirms the blessings he has given Yaakov. Esav vows to kill Yaakov, and so Rivka sends Yaakov to her brother Lavan where he could find a suitable wife.


A Lover of the Land

“And these are the offspring of Yitzchak son of Avraham: Avraham begot Yitzchak…” (25:19)

It is difficult to speak of someone as great as Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt"l. Together with his life-long partner Rabbi Nota Schiller (lblch"t), Rabbi Weinbach created an institution that brought thousands of Jews back to Torah. I had the privilege to work for him for more than twenty years and I would like to highlight just one of his many talents. Ohr Somayach has been the gold standard in Jewish education. One of the reasons for this has been the tremendous diversity in the faculty, from world-class talmidei chachamim and leaders of their generation in Jewish thought to professors of philosophy and linguistics and media and communication experts.

To take such a diverse mix of talented people and keep them performing as a team is no mean feat. Rabbi Weinbach knew how to get the best out of everyone. And I think one of the reasons was his humility and his self-confidence. Many bosses follow the principle of divide-and-rule. This betrays insecurity. Rabbi Weinbach was always happy that someone could do something better than him. As my father a"h used to say, "You don't buy a dog and bark yourself." If you're hiring the “dream team”— let them excel!

Rabbi Weinbach once published a book (among his many) on the mitzvah to love Eretz Yisrael. It was a combination of sayings from our Sages about places in the Land of Israel, together with photographs of those places. The writing was Rabbi Weinbach's, but the photographs were from stock sources. At the time, I was working on a black-and-white art photography book with many photographs of Eretz Yisrael. When he showed me the book, I was disappointed by the stock color photographs. Some were a bit fuzzy. Not being the most diplomatic of people, I impertinently pointed this out to him. He just smiled and shrugged his shoulders. As far as I could tell, he wasn't insulted or hurt in the least.

“And these are the offspring of Yitzchak son of Avraham: Avraham begot Yitzchak…"

Why does the Torah repeat that "Avraham begot Yitzchak" if it already wrote "Yitzchak son of Avraham?"

The primary characteristic of Avraham was kindness, and that of Yitzchak was strength. The emphasis in the verse here is to teach us that kindness and strength must always go hand in hand. Kindness without strength can lead to indulgence and excess. Strength without kindness can lead to intolerance and insensitivity. Happy were those who worked for someone who combined those two qualities with a smile that seemed etched in his face! The eighth yahrzeit of Rabbi Chona Menachem Mendel Weinbach zt"l will be on the 27th of Kislev.

© 1995-2024 Ohr Somayach International - All rights reserved.

Articles may be distributed to another person intact without prior permission. We also encourage you to include this material in other publications, such as synagogue or school newsletters. Hardcopy or electronic. However, we ask that you contact us beforehand for permission in advance at [email protected] and credit for the source as Ohr Somayach Institutions

« Back to Parsha

Ohr Somayach International is a 501c3 not-for-profit corporation (letter on file) EIN 13-3503155 and your donation is tax deductable.