Parshat Toldos 5779: Rivka’s Nurture and Its Impact on Her Righteousness, the Power of Brachot and Tefillot and, the Ends Justifying the Means?

Shalom Friends;

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Moshe Burt
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Parshat Toldos 5779: Rivka’s Nurture and Its Impact on Her Righteousness, the Power of Brachot and Tefillot and, the Ends Justifying the Means?

by Moshe Burt

Our Parshat Toldos opens as a continuation of Torah’s description, near the end of Parshat Chayei Sarah, of the last years of Avraham’s life, his marriage to Keturah, the offspring she bore him, and the offspring and descendants of Yishma’el and where they dwelt. Our Parshat Toldot opens:

“And these are the offspring of Yitzchak son of Avraham. Yitzchak was forty years old when he took Rivka, the daughter of Betu’el the Aramean of Padan Aram, the sister of Lavan, the Aramean, to be his wife.” (Sefer Breish’t, Perek 25, posukim 19-20).

Near the end of Parshat Chayei Sarah, after Torah relates how Avraham’s servant travelled to Padan Aram in search of Yitzchak’s shidduch. Torah recounts Yitzchak’s first encounter with Rivka (as rendered in the “New Hirsch Chumash”, Sefer Breish’t, Perek 24, posukim 63-67):

“Yitzchak went out toward evening to mediate in the field. He looked up and saw camels approaching. Rivka, too, looked up and saw Yitzchak and she let herself slip from the camel..”

“She asked the servant: Who is that man there, who is walking through the field to meet us? The servant replied, He is my master! So she took the veil and covered herself.”

“The servant told Yitzchak all the things that he had accomplished..”

“Yitzchak brought her into the tent of Sarah, his Mother. He married Rivka, she became his wife, and he loved her, and only then was Yitzchak comforted for his Mother.”

Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, z”l, in the “New Hirsch Chumash” (page 542), cites Breish’t Rabbah 60:16 and comments:

With Sarah’s death, the feminine spirit and feeling departed from the home. Yitzchak then found his Mother again in his wife (hence, “When he brought Rivka into the tent, to him it was as if his Mother were there again.”) (Breish’t Rabbah 60:16)

This is the highest tribute that has ever been paid to the dignity and nobility of woman — and it is in the ancient history of Judaism.

In previous years, we’ve discussed insights as to how the atmosphere of wickedness surrounding Rivka’s upbringing later served her well — that she knew how and when to be kind, and when cunning was called for, thus insuring that the righteous child — Yaakov, who learned and was nurtured with the attributes of his Mother, would receive the Brachot that Am Yisrael would descend from him and that the nations would serve his descendants.

There are multiple lessons and discussions to come out of both Torah’s description of Rifka Imeinu in Parshat Chayei Sarah, and in our Parshat Toldos. We gain insight as to how the childhood nurturing of Rivka Imeinu, in an atmosphere of wickedness, positioned and enabled her to rise above her surroundings, and thus to act l’Shem Shemayim to do chessed to Eliezer.

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, in “Unlocking the Torah Text” on Parshat Chayei Sarah opines that:

Rivka emerges as the more perceptive parent. She alone sees their two children, Yaakov and Esav, for who they really are, and she alone acts with strength to perpetuate Avraham’s legacy through Yaakov. (Rav Goldin citing Sefer Breish’t , Perek 27, posukim 1-46)

For context, Rav Goldin, in “Unlocking the Torah Text” on our Parshat summarizes Sefer Breish’t, Pereh 27, posuk 1 through Perek 28. posuk 5 (page 136) the run-up to Yaakov receiving what was thought to be Yitzchak’s Bracha intended for Esav:

As Yitzchak ages and develops blindness, he arranges to bless his older and favored son, Esav. Rivka, upon overhearing her husband’s plans, instructs her favorite, Yaakov, to masquerade as his older brother in order to receive his father’s blessing.

Yaakov complies with his mother’s instructions and is successful in deceiving his father and obtaining the blessing.

When Esav returns and discovers his brother’s actions, he threatens Yaakov’s life. In response, Rivka instructs Yaakov to return to her homeland, both for his own protection and to find a wife. Yaakov leaves for Padan Aram with his father’s agreement and further blessings.

Rav Goldin then asks (ibid, page 136-137)

How do we understand… interpersonal brachot (blessings bestowed by man) within Jewish tradition? What strength do blessings that we recite on behalf of others, such as prayers for those who are ill, really have? Are interpersonal brachot so magical that if they are received in error they are, nevertheless, effective? If Yitzchak bestows a blessing upon Yaakov believing that he is… blessing Esav, does Yaakov nonetheless receive the blessing because he is standing there? Doesn’t Hashem ultimately Bless the individual who is most deserving?

How…[do] we approach the issue of means and ends as it applies to Yaakov and Rivka…? How could Rivka instruct her son to deceive his father and how could Yaakov agree? Is there any value to a blessing received through deceit? Does the end justify the means?

The power of interpersonal brachot is a [gift from Hashem] so fundamental that it is included in the very first instructions given to the first Hebrew. As Hashem commands Avraham to leave his homeland and embark on his career, He states: “And you will be a blessing.” (Rav Goldin rendering to English Sefer Breish’t, Perek 12, posuk 2 in “Unlocking the Torah Text”)

The Rabbanim, in the Midrash, interpret this phrase as follows: “Blessings are given to your hand. Until now, they were in My [Hashem’s] hand. I [Hashem] Blessed Adam and Noach. From this time on you will bless whom you wish.” (Rav Goldin citing Midrash Rabbah Breish’t 39:11)

In this context, we need to discuss Rivka and all, from the birth of Yaakov and Esav, that she brings to her decision to instruct her son to present himself to his father as if Esav. Rabbi Artscroll cites a Rashi and a Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer in commenting on this posuk (Artscroll Stone Chumash,page 125):

“Yitzchak entreated Hashem opposite his wife, because she was barren. Hashem allowed Himself to be entreated by him, and his wife Rivka conceived.” (Sefer Breish’t, Perek 25, posuk 21 as rendered in the Artscroll Stone Chumash)

“By him.” The implication of the masculine singular form is that Hashem responded to Yitzchak’s prayer, rather than to Rivka’s. There is no comparison between the prayer of a righteous child of a righteous person and that of a righteous child of an evil person. (Rashi)

Although it is much more difficult — and therefore meritorious — for the product of an evil family to become righteous, Yitzchak’s achievement was even more unique than Rivka’s. It would have been easy for him to become a carbon copy of his father… but Yitzchak did not content himself with that. He forged his own path toward the service of Hashem, and the merit of such an accomplishment is awesome.

This author reasons that it could have been that Yitzchak’s tefillah took precedence with Hashem over Rivka’s as Yitzchak was praying for Rivka whereas Rivka prayed on her own behalf. If so, this may come to teach or to reinforce the lesson of the power of one’s tefillot on behalf of another.

Rav Goldin discusses Rivka’s process toward her decision as noted above, as well as Yitzchak’s perception of the strengths and weaknesses of his two sons (“Unlocking the Torah Text” on Parshat Toldos, pages 139-141):

Some commentaries… suggest that Yitzchak intended that there be an unequal partnership between his two sons. Esav would rule over Yaakov and provide for his physical needs. In this way, Yaakov would be free to pursue his study of Torah. (R’ Goldin citing Sforno on Sefer Breish’t, Perek 27, posuk 29)

At face value, it would seem that Yitzchak… recognizes the strengths and weaknesses of each of his children and encourages each… to pursue the lifestyle most appropriate for him. Rivka, however knows better. She recognizes the painful truth that Yaakov can neither live in partnership with nor be dependent on… his brother Esav. She also realizes something deeper. Yaakov and his descendents will survive and thrive only if… [Yaakov] receives both Brachot.

[In context, after Yaakov receives the Bracha which Yitzchak had intended for Esav,] A second Bracha is… bestowed by Yitzchak upon Yaakov as… [he] prepares to leave for Padan Aram. This time, …Yitzchak knows to whom he is speaking:

“May… (the Lord) bless you, make you fruitful and numerous, and may you be a congregation of nations. May He grant you the blessing of Avraham, to you and to your children with you, to inherit the land upon which you have dwelt, which Hashem gave Avraham.” (R’ Goldin rendering to English Sefer Breish’t, Perek 28, posukim 3-4)

Yaakov must learn to succeed not only in the tent of study but on the battlefield of life. Rivka, therefore, does the one thing she can do. She pushes Yaakov out of the tent and into the arena of struggle for… physical Bracha. Rivka knows that the third patriarch cannot afford to be an innocent student who avoids the challenges of life…. Her intuition is proven correct as, from this point on, Yaakov faces challenge after challenge, in the house of Lavan and beyond. When the patriarch successfully rises to meet these challenges, he demonstrates life skills essential not only to his own survival but to the perpetuation of his legacy across the ages.

Yaakov, who learned and was nurtured with the attributes of his Mother, who would extract from Esav his birthright because of latter’s desperate lust for the lentil soup — “that red stuff” — after a rough day in the field, and who was pushed by his Mother to stand, in disguise, before his Father to receive the primary Bracha which Yitzchak intended for Esav, he [Yaakov] would later relate to Rachel, as Rashi cites Midrashic interpretation of “he [Yaakov] was her father’s relative” (Sefer Breish’t, Perek 29, posuk 12), i.e., that if Lavan is sneaky, “I am his brother in cunning.” (Artscroll Stone Chumash commentary on Sefer Breish’t, Perek 29, posuk 12)

Rav Goldin has much more to present regarding “means and ends,” which B’ezrat Hashem make for a future Parshat HaShevua on Parshat Toldos. In this author’s view, Rivka’s method behind her decision to push Yaakov to receive Yitzchak’s primary Bracha seems to provide important lessons and perspective in our contemporary generation.

May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them and that the twice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. May our dear brother Jonathan Pollard be liberated and truly free — only upon his return home to Israel, and that the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of four years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!
Moshe Burt is an Oleh, writer and commentator on news and events in Eretz Yisrael. He is the founder and director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network and lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.