For the week ending 6 November 2021 / 2 Kislev 5782

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. Hashem 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 Hashem 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 that were dug by his father, prophetically alluding to the three future Temples. Avimelech, seeing that Yitzchak is blessed by Hashem, 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.


No Fit for Counterfeit

“And Hashem said to her (to Rivka about Esav and Yaakov), ‘Two regimes are in your womb…’” (25:23)

Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica by Isaac Newton forms the foundation of classical mechanics. In it, Newton expounds his laws of motion and the law of universal gravitation. The Principia is considered one of the most important works in the history of science. But Newton was not only a scientist. He was also responsible for supervising the minting of money and amassed a considerable fortune himself. D. T. Whiteside, who became the twentieth century’s preeminent scholar and shepherd of Newton’s mathematical work, could not help but remark: “Only too few have ever possessed the intellectual genius and surpassing capacity to stamp their image upon the thought of their age and that of centuries to follow. Watching over the minting of a nation’s coin, catching a few counterfeiters, increasing an already respectably-sized personal fortune, being a political figure, even dictating to one’s fellow scientists — it should all seem a crass and empty ambition once you have written a Principia." ("Isaac Newton" by James Gleick)

Being a great scientist, it seems, does not necessarily make you a great person.

Almost certainly not coincidentally, there is another well-known work with the title Principia Mathematica. In 1910, Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell published a three-volume work on the foundations of mathematics also titled Principia Mathematica. Russell's contributions to logic, epistemology, and the philosophy of mathematics established him as one of the foremost philosophers of the 20th century.

Sadly, it seems that as a person he fared no better than Newton. During his tenure as a professor at Cambridge University in England, Russell was once giving a lecture in a large amphitheater. In the middle of his discourse, a young lady raised her hand to ask a question. Russel indicated that he would take the question and she began, “Doctor Russell, you are one of the preeminent philosophers of your day. I would like to ask you, please, how you manage to equate this with the fact that you are having an illicit affair with one of your students?” Russell looked at the young lady and without missing a beat replied, “Madam, as I am a mathematician, do you also expect me to be a triangle?”

In Judaism, you have to be a triangle.

“And Hashem said to her, ‘Two regimes are in your womb…’”

Nothing in Judaism is more despised and nothing creates a greater desecration of Hashem’s name than a Torah scholar who is corrupt. The regime of Esav allows and indulges in the foibles of the bright and the witty, but the regime of Torah allows no counterfeiting whatsoever.

© 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.