Judaism: Divrei Azriel: Balance is a Virtue
The Importance of Good Character
This week’s parsha lays the groundwork for one of the biggest sibling rivalries human history: Esav and Yaakov. We all know the basic story. Esav went out to hunt, and while he was in the field, Rivka prepared two goats for Yaakov to take to his father Yitzchak in order to receive the blessings before his brother, Esav, returned.
What was it about this event that provoked such hatred between Yaakov and Esav? In the beginning of Chapter 27 of Sefer Bereishit, Yitzchak informs Esav that he is getting older and does not know when he will die. Yitzchak realized that he was nearing the end of his life, and needed to pass the tradition over to his children. In order to pass the torch, Yitzchak wanted to make sure that he was ready to give, and that his children were ready to receive.
To prepare Esav, he gives a detailed description of which tools Esav should to take on a hunt and how he is to prepare a meal in order to enable Yitzchak’s soul to bless Esav (see pasuk 4). Similarly, when Rivka tells Yaakov to prepare himself to receive blessings from his father, she instructs him to take two of the best goats of the flock, for her to prepare them in the way that Yitzchak enjoys in order to enable Yitzchak’s soul to bless Yaakov (see pasuk 9).
The similarity between the two sets of instructions show that both parents were preparing their children for the same goal: to become the new links in the chain of our mesorah. Yitzchak’s instructions to Esav over emphasized the details involved in preparing for a hunt. This is strange coming from a father who does not hunt to his son, an accomplished huntsman. The Netziv (on pasuk 3) writes that each instruction was to give Esav reward for each step.On a deeper level, Yitzchak was teaching Esav the importance of diligently preparing the equipment and the patience required during a hunt are important traits that the next link in the chain of mesorah must possess.
Rivka told Yaakov to take from that which his father had, and she will prepare the meal in a way that will evoke Yitzchak’s ability to pass on the mesorah. It is also important to note that when describing to Yaakov the blessing which Yitzchak had intended to give to Esav, she disconnects the preparation of the food from the receiving of the blessing.
The differences between the two preparations reveal a fundamental difference in the character needed to pass on the mesorah. At this stage in Jewish history, the decisions of who would have carried on the mesorah would have had major repercussions regarding how Jewish history would have played out.
Yitzchak thought that even at this stage in the mesorah, one who does not necessarily have the best character traits can become fit to carry on the tradition if he works on himself and puts in the proper effort into his character development. He therefore tried to include Esav in the blessings by sending him on a mission that would force character development.
Rivka thought that such an approach, while imperative to those who want to attach themselves to the established mesorah, cannot be used to set the standard. Yaakov, unlike Esav, already had the proper character for this position. Because he had already developed his character, he did not need a difficult task to enable him to receive the blessings. He just needed to go to the flock that had already been prepared and choose the best of the flock to present to his father Yitzchak.
This rejection of his character and subsequent exclusion from the Jewish mesorah ignited the hatred from Esav to Yaakov.
Rivka had apparently intuited Emmerson’s caveat, “No change of circumstances can repair a defect of character.” Rivka, not Yitzchak, knew that it was important to choose someone who already had good character because she understood why her father-in-law Avraham had chosen a bride for Yitzchak from within the family as opposed to one of the local Canaanite women.
The Derashot HaRan points out that although Avraham’s neighbors had been exposed to his monotheistic teachings while Rivka’s family was steeped in idol worship; because Rivka came from a family with good character, she would be able to learn proper theology by living with Yitzchak. To change the bad character of the local Canaanite people is much more difficult to facilitate.
Therefore, when it came to the passing of mesorah at such a delicate stage in its development, it was important to choose someone who had already developed the essential character traits needed to carry on the mesorah properly.
Balance is a Virtue
This week's parsha starts out with a perplexing verse: "And these are the offspring of Yitzchak, the son of Avraham, Avraham begot Yitzchak" (Breishis 25:19). The question is that if the Torah just told us that Yitzchak is the son of Avraham, why does it feel a need to tell us that Avraham begot Yitzchak?
Rashi, on this verse, explains that the reason the Torah tells us this is because there were a bunch of gossips who were saying that Avimelech was Yitzchak's father, not Avraham. So, coming to tell us otherwise, the Torah is telling us that Avraham was, in fact, Yitzchak's father.
Rav Chaim Eisenstein Shlita explained this Rashi on a deeper level. Quoting the Chassidei Amshinev), he explained that people couldn't believe that Yitzchak's father was Avraham because they couldn't believe that Yitzchak, the epitome of g'vurah, bravery, could come from Avraham, the epitome of chesed, kindness. Ultimately, both of these extremes found their resolution in Yaakov.
I feel that this touches upon a point that one of my past Rosh Yeshivas, Rabbi Shimon Green, would frequently say: a Jew has to be emotionally ready to attend a shiva and a wedding in the same day.
This means that a Jew must be able to integrate two very extreme opposites into his daily life and into his understanding of this world.
It is our responsibility to do what HaShem wants of us, and we have to be happy when He wants us to be happy and we have to be sad when He wants us to be sad.
Likewise, as B'nei Yisroel, we have to be able to tap into the energies of chessed from Avraham Avinu while still being able to express the g'vurah of Yitzchak Avinu without the slightest pause in between. (Also, for those of us who are thinking of becoming community rabbis, this concept is central to the life of a community rabbi who has to deal with the widest range of situations in a very small amount of time.)
This Shabbos marks a very similar time in my life. This Shabbos is the Yartzheit of my mother, yet we are making a kiddush (in Ramat Beit Shemesh) in celebration of our new daughter. This day has no lack of mixed emotions.
On top of this, even the event of my mother's passing is plagued with mixed emotions. On the one hand, preferably I would not have wanted it to happen. On the other, much of my family being religious is a result of our respective journeys after our mother's passing.
However, I will try to face this day like a son of Yaakov and feel the proper emotions, no matter what the range of emotions is. And most importantly, HaShem should give me the strength to not allow these emotions to effect one another, but to make sure they complement each other and complete each other.
Our daughter, Adina Bryna, should be blessed with this ultimate balance and harmony.
לעלוי נשמת בריינא גולדא בת יעקב