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Parshas Toldos - Guilty as Charged, Innocent as Can Be                           30 Cheshvan 5783

11/24/2022 12:12:24 PM


Throughout Tanac”h there are stories and events which, at first glance, appear as if some righteous person had made a mistake. The average person who cannot research the commentaries for explanations of the events will not be able to arrive at the truth.

I’ve often pondered if life is strictly black and white or is gray a part of that analysis? Surely, there are situations in life that appear clearly black and we unknowingly call it wrong, while there are other times when something appears completely white and we naively call it correct, but is that true? I came across a business ethics article that addressed the idea of right and wrong through the lens of morality. Here is a brief quote from the article. “You may never have thought about why you think some actions are good and others are bad, but I’m sure that hasn’t stopped you from knowing the difference when you see it, so how do you determine whether an action is right or wrong; good, or bad? I suspect you have some sort of system for deciding. Everyone does. Maybe it’s a set of rules, maybe it’s a gut feeling, maybe something else.” If we think that differentiating “right and wrong” is strictly a moral discussion, we must ask ourselves where we get beliefs about morality. In other words, where do you believe morality comes from? Does morality come from culture, religion, feelings, pain/pleasure, personal interests, rationality, civil rights, relationships, or character? As a God-fearing, believing Jew, each of us appreciates that morality is a concept which comes from Hashem and is part and parcel with the Torah. The Torah does not take the list I mentioned earlier as a legitimate source regarding  from where morality and ethics stem.  As an example, some societies view “shechita”, ritual Jewish slaughter, as cruelty to animals. Yet, the Torah, given by God, decides what is and what is not cruelty to animals, known as Tzaar Baalei Chaim. If we believe that God is All-knowing, then who are we to say that something in the Torah is not what it is supposed to be? It must be that it is we who do not understand the definitions of what cruelty is and when it does or does not apply. Nevertheless, there are glaring parts of the Torah that need explanation. One of the issues that tops the list is when the first-born rights changed hands.

 There are two ways of looking at this scene; did Yaakov buy the birthright from Eisav, or did Eisav sell the birthright to Yaakov? One may say that it’s just semantics; obviously in any transaction one person sells and the other person buys. Even so, many commentators ask why Eisav did not come up with the “price” and the “item” to be sold; rather it was Yaakov who suggested that Eisav should sell the birthright specifically for a bowl of lentil soup. How could Yaakov even float let alone suggest such an exchange? Yaakov is considered to be the epitome of Emes/truth. How can he act in guile to obtain the Bechora? Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik,* in his work The Beis HaLevi, gives us insight into both Yaakov and Eisav and why this exchange was carried out in a completely ethical and moral fashion.    

In this week’s Parshas Toldos, the Torah states in Bereishis 25:31 "ויאמר יעקב, מכרה כיום את בכורתך לי"  - “And Yaakov said, first sell me your birthright”. The Beis HaLevi explains that the intention of Yaakov was clearly not to purchase the birthright so that he could gain monetarily by receiving a double portion. This event occurred before the Torah was given; who would have known that the Bechora entitles someone to a double portion? At that time the Bechora was just a title that received a modicum of honor from being the first born of the father, as we find earlier when Hashem said to Avraham in Bereishis 21:12 כי ביצחק יקרא לך זרע"  -“It is through Isaac that you will gain posterity”. The Rabbis define the word ביצחק  , B’Yitzchok, as meaning only a part of Yitzchok and not the entire Yitzchok. It would only apply to the part that holds onto his father’s ways, making it befitting to be called his son. Since on the day of the sale, Eisav behaved repulsively, Eisav had no connection to the first-born title. His action didn’t warrant the title of being a first born, a title which revealed close   association to his father. How could a child be referred to as the first born when he couldn’t even be called a son? Eisav’s only goal was to make sure Yaakov did not have that title; he personally could care less about the title. Therefore, Yaakov asked that the Birthright be sold to him, especially because at this point Yaakov had much to gain while Eisav had nothing to lose. This is exactly how Eisav responded to Yaakov: ולמה זה לי בכורה  - ”What good is a birthright to me?” In essence, the birthright had no intrinsic meaning to Eisav because he had no desire or intention of living in the ways of his father, Yitzchok.

A proof regarding how reference to ‘first born’ and ‘son’ are connected is taken from Shmos 4:22 when Hashem declares the greatness of the Jewish people by referring to them as בני בכורי ישראל  -Israel is ‘My son, My firstborn’. We deduce that the word son is included in the word BChori. Therefore, the verse comes to teach us that a Jew has two attributes. First, we are considered the son, and second, we are also the first born.  In this case there is no gray, it is all black and white and both Yaakov and Eisav acted in their own best interests.

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky


* Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (born 1820 in Minsk when it was part of the Russian Empire; He died May 1, 1892, in Brest-Litovsk, Grodno. He was the author of Beis Halevi, by which name he is better known among Talmudic scholars. He was the great-grandson of Chaim Volozhin.

Yosef Dov Soloveitchik was born to Rivka, a granddaughter of Chaim Volozhin, whose father was Yitschok Ze'ev, descendant of Simcha Rappaport.

In his youth, Soloveitchik lived in Brod. One anecdote illustrates his early mastery of rabbinic learning. Shlomo Kluger the Rabbi of Brod, enjoyed engaging in Talmud studies with him. When Soloveitchik was about to leave Brod, Kluger is reputed to have said to him, “You have always resolved my kushyos (difficult Talmudic questions). But I have one difficulty you cannot resolve. How will I manage to part from you?”

Fri, December 8 2023 25 Kislev 5784