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Parshas Toldos - Multi-Tasking??? Not       1 Kislev 5779

11/08/18 22:00:31


Over my lifetime I have developed some ‘shtick’, that at the time is speaking to me I am looking down or away and they pause waiting for my attention. I then say to them ‘go ahead talk, speak, what is it? I proceed to tell them to speak because I listen with my ears and not my eyes!

  1. week I began teaching the Hebrew reading crash course for the twenty-second time. While children can learn and master several languages, most adults are language-limited, finding it quite difficult to learn a new language. Some people tend to be auditory learners while others are visual learners. Despite my emphasizing the importance of seeing/visualizing a word and then reading it from a given text, one lady attending my Hebrew course was actually trying to process how to read the word by reading my lips. I reiterated to her the importance of looking at the words she was reading while also listening, using her ears and reading with her eyes. Many years ago a Rebbi (teacher) of mine reminded us of the statement of the Rabbis, “Osiyos machkimos” - the letters of the Torah make one wise. Even though we are only learning to read Hebrew and are not reading from the Torah itself, the lesson also holds true for learning to read. We can learn from many different sources, but it is almost impossible to learn from all of them simultaneously. Learning by listening, using the sense of touch working to learn through use of our eyes – seeing, in other words, learning through use of our senses, kinesthetically, typically assures the success rate of learning to go up, but each of these learning activities needs to be done separately. When there are competing drives, however, when the learner does not give full attention to his or her learning strengths, trying to apply all modalities simultaneously, full attention is lost and the person never receives the needed mind power to excel..

A person may have two ears but can truly focus on listening to only one thing at a time. An example of the need to exclusively listen to one thing is found in Halacha. In the laws of Tefilla and repetition of the Amida it states in Orach Chaim 124:4 that a person should be silent and concentrate on the blessings being recited in the Amida. The Chofetz Chaim in his commentary the Mishna Brura Si’K 17 states that a person should refrain from learning during the repetition so that he will be able to answer the Chazzan properly. Even if you can manage to do both, learn and answer at the same time, I believe there will not be one hundred percent concentration in both areas.

Speaking for myself, when I try to do two things at once (I‘m not talking about walking and chewing gum at the same time), neither of the tasks gets the proper attention and most often I do not accomplish either of them! Others, of course, will argue that they can do both tasks well simultaneously. Even if there is an individual who can answer ‘Amen’ while learning, as I cited previously, he should nevertheless not learn during the repetition for fear that others will imitate the person who just might be able to learn and respond but will perhaps cause someone not capable of such a feat to end up not being able to learn or respond appropriately – neither task will be adequate Multi-tasking, despite the fact that so many in our fast-paced, high speed world believe is an essential skill, leaves all tasks short of reaching their full potential.

The balancing of two things is always challenging. On the surface we sometimes see two different things on the outside, but on the inside or beneath the surface lies one solid piece. In this week’s Parshas Toldos we read of the birth of Yaakov and Eisav and right away from the very beginning there is an inner struggle between them. On the surface we surmise they are two different types of people. This is dramatically underscored by the description Rashi gives of the turbulence inside the womb of their mother, Rivka. When Rivka passed by a house of Torah study, Yaakov grew excited; when Rivka passed a house of idol worship, Eisav grew excited. Fast forward thirteen years and Yaakov is sitting, dwelling in his tent of Torah while Eisav is out in the field killing and pillaging.

If we carefully examine these two brothers, it is difficult to imagine such disparity. Yaakov and Eisav, both of whom come from Yitzchok and Rivka, were not only brothers; they were twins bearing the closest DNA possible. On the surface, or on the outside, Yaakov and Eisav appear as two distinct siblings, yet we know that deeper down they share the same road map. As the story progresses after Eisav sells his birthright to Yaakov, Yitzchok, who is getting older, wants to bless his firstborn. We read of the switch arranged by Rivka, and Yaakov’s worst fear comes about when his father calls out ‘Hakol Kol Yaakov, V’Hayadayim Yedei Eisav’. In Bereishis 27:22 the Torah states: Jacob came closer to his father Isaac, and [Isaac] touched him. He said, The kol - the voice - is of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau. Yaakov was nervous that his deception (commanded by his mother) was foiled. He thought and felt that the wrath of his father would turn any possible blessing into an eternal curse. But Yitzchok continued with the blessing as planned, and Yaakov walked out triumphantly at least for the moment. The famous question is, “Was Yitzchok really fooled by the disguise?”

The midrash explains the opposite forces of good and evil within Yaakov and Eisav is really one and the same. The voice of Yaakov represents the Yetzer Tov while the hands of Eisav represent the Yetzer Hora. The two are diametrically opposed; sometimes we feel we can mange the two conditions at the same time but the reality is that we can’t. The Midrash states that at the time the voice of Yaakov (the Jewish people) is found and heard in the Shuls and study halls, the Batei Keneisiyos and the Batei Midrashos then their [the Jewish people’s] hands will not be the hands of Eisav. If not, however, then their hands will be like the hands of Eisav , immersed in evil and covered in disgust. Reb Zalman Sorotzkin z”l elaborates that if a child is brought up within the confines of Torah and Tefillah, studying and prayer, then he will stay out of trouble, avoiding the likes of Eisav. Then the hands of Eisav will be exclusive to Eisav. If, Heaven forbid, we forsake the learning of Torah and davening and the voice of Yaakov is not heard in the Beis Midrash, then the hands of Eisav will be to them [the Jewish people}. If that were to be the case, Hashem would not recognize us and would therefore not give us a Bracha as the Am Segula the chosen nation. That is hinted to in the verse that Yitzchok did not recognize Yaakov because his hands were like those of Eisav.

As we continuously struggle in the battle between good and bad, our Yetzer Tov and Yetzer Hora fight it out during our entire lifetime. The struggle of Yaakov and Eisav is the inner battle within each and everyone of us. May we blessed by Hashem to give us the strength so that our voices drown out the ability for the hands of Eisav to be seen, and let Hashem recognize us and bless us with the blessings that our forefathers merited on our behalf. Amen!

Sat, December 14 2019 16 Kislev 5780