Toldot- Rav Shames
Through out Sefer Bereishit we are taught various lessons. In some cases the lesson appears only once and we are meant to perceive its meaning the first time and move on to the next lesson. In other cases we are provided with a glimpse of a message only to be provided with a similar story later on that sheds more light on a complicated message.
At first glance it would seem that last week’s parsha, Chayei Sara, was focused on the finding of a proper wife for Yitzchak. We are told of the impetus for Eliezer to be sent so far away in order to seek a wife for his master’s son and we are provided details of the journey. Chazal note that Chayei Sara is almost artificially expanded as we are told the entire story not once, but rather twice. We witness the story itself and then we hear a recount of the entire endeavor by Eliezer.
That was all last week.
This week in Todot we go on to other stories and messages. The centerpiece of our parsha I think is the “stealing” of the brachot, (or according to the simple pshat the stealing of the brachot). I admit that the lessons to be learned from this episode are very difficult and I am left with many unanswered questions.
However, I would like to point out that it seems that last week’s story, that of Chaye Sara, is not over yet. There are two interesting bookends that encase the story of the brachot in this week’s parsha.
We read: (26:34-35) “Eisav was forty years old and he married Yehudit the daughter of Beari the Hitte, and Bosmat the daughter of Elon the Hitte. They were heartache to Yitzchak and Rivka”.
These are the pesukim that directly precede the brachot incident. They seem not to be related at all to the previous section, the pact with Fichol, or the brachot which come right after (it seems that the Midrash quoted by Rashi is trying to solve this problem by explaining the cause of Yitzchak’s blindness being due to the harmful effects of the incense being burned in the home by Eisav’s idol worshiping wives).
The first bookend deals with Eisav’s wives.
After the drama of the brachot story we are told that Yaakov heads for Padan Aram. This is for two reasons, Yaakov’s physical safety, as Eisav is plotting to kill him and Yaakov’s spiritual safety as he is warned by his mother and father not to marry a woman from the locals in Canaan.
Rivka says (27:46) “If Yaakov is to take a wife from the Hitte, why should I live?”
Yaakov is sent away to find a suitable wife and the scene is almost over. It is here that the other bookend appears (28:6-9):
“Eisav saw that Yitzchak blessed Yaakov and sent him to Padan Aram to find a wife, commanding him not to marry a woman from Canaan. And Yaakov listened to his parents and went to Padan Aram. And Eisav saw that the daughters of Canaan were evil in the eyes of Yitzchak his father. Eisav went to Yishmael and took Machalat the daughter of Yishmael, the son of Avraham, the sister of Nevayot as an additional wife”.
The second bookend deals with Eisav’s wives.
It seems that we are having a flashback to last week’s parsha. If the bookends are meant to signal the content of the parsha contained within it, we can go as far as to suggest that the point of the favoring of Yaakov over Eisav was in fact, Eisav’s poor choice of his wives. When viewing the story through this perspective it actually has a happy ending in which Eisav gets the point and finally marries a member of the extended family. Ironically it turns out from our point of view as descendents of Yaakov that Eisav still missed the point as Yishmael is not seen as the best role model amongst the descendents of Avraham Avenu.
If we are correct then we are being told the same basic story as last week- the Avot insisted on their sons marrying from the original family and not from the local population due to concerns as to the moral fiber of the Cannanite families. As I mentioned above when the Torah decides to tell us the same story more than once we are being told that the message is not quite as simple as the first story. Had it been so straight forward we would not need the second account. What is being added in Toldot that we did not see in Chaye Sara?
In the context of sending the sons to Padan Aram to find wives I am always bothered by a simple problem. Both Eliezer and Yaakov wind up in the home of Lavan. It is true that the women that they find there are the finest example of an eishet chayal imaginable. Rivka provides us with the ultimate example of chesed and Rachel with gevura in her allowing her sister to marry her husband and refusing to embarrass her. Nonetheless they all were born and bred in the home of the most dishonest, fraudulent, cheating individual that we know of in the Tanach. Lavan is clearly a thief and idol worshipper! Is this the model home that Avraham Avenu insisted that Eliezer arrive at to find a wife for Yitzchak? Is this the same place that the same Yitzchak and Rivka, who knew Lavan better than anyone, sent Yaakov? What is it that they were afraid of in the local women that was so terrible that Lavan’s family was preferred?
The question is a strong one and even stronger in Toldot than in Chaye Sara. In Chaye Sara, Eliezer is given general directions of where to go. I imagine that the extended family of Avraham Avenu had other potential branches that Eliezer could have investigated in his search. Eliezer actually says this when he makes his offer to Lavan to take Rivka back. He says (24:49) “Tell me will you agree or not and if not I will turn right of left”. There are other choices. To put in other words, Eliezer was impressed by Rivka and she was chosen despite the family! Had last week’s parsha all that we had I might have actually thought the message to be that one should not focus on the family but rather on the individual.
In Toldot, Yaakov is given an exact address to find. He is sent right into the lion’s den by his concerned parents. At least Rivka, and probably Yitzchak as well knew very well who they were dealing with. Why did they choose to send him to Lavan’s house?
Honestly, I do not have a good answer for this question. (I would be happy to hear from the readers if they have any thoughts). I would like to suggest that possibly the message is, indeed a complicated one. When it comes to family it is clear that not everyone is a great tzadik. Each and every family has their eccentric and even sometimes criminal elements (I’m not sending a copy of this week’s shiur to my mother and father). Having said that, the direct influences of the entire surrounding society may be more potent. Avraham, and later, Rivka and Yitzchak are clear that they cannot have daughters-in-law from the local population. The things that they saw on the street around them were out of the question, despite the fact that there may have been decent families amongst them. In the case of Yitzchak and Rivka it was not only theoretical but they actually suffered the effects of Eisav’s first wives. Possible we are being taught that the society in which we live will prove to be the major force in our social conditioning. This of course is a very serious message and one that we must consider at every stage of our lives for both ourselves and our children.
I would like to close with one more observation. It could be that the necessity to take a wife from Padan Aram was clear to Rivka. She was familiar with both societies and knew very well what she was demanding. Yitzchak on the other hand lacked the first hand knowledge. If we take a look at the end of the parsha we notice that it is Rivka who comes to Yitzchak and pushes for sending Yaakov away. Yitzchak agrees and does so. The original request, if it was known to Eisav, was most likely seen as part of the ongoing saga in the broken relationship between Eisav and his mother. In the final pesukim Eisav sees that “saw that the daughters of Canaan were evil in the eyes of Yitzchak his father”. It now becomes clear to Eisav that this is not simply a mother-in-law issue with his wives but rather a central value statement that his dear father is a partner to. It now becomes a meaningful instruction to EIsav and immediately is followed up by his marriage to the daughter of Yishmael.
Once again I would be happy to hear from the readers as to your insights on this issue. Please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org