Parshat Toldot

Dvar Torah: Parshas Toldos

It is truly an amazing part of seminary that individuals involved in their seminary year have so many different types of girls growing all around them. In seminary, there are girls from public school who are finding the light and enjoying everything for the first time, and the girls from more observant backgrounds that are possibly struggling to find meaning within the life they have been living for years. Yet no matter who they are, they seem to be able to inspire those around them to look at their own life and do more. Finding the light in routine Avodas HaShem proves not only a struggle in seminary, but throughout one’s entire life.

This week’s Parsha contains an amazing example of this struggle, and a lesson in how to succeed. The pasuk says:
לְנֹכַח אִשְׁתּוֹ כִּי עֲקָרָה הִוא וַיֵּעָתֶר לוֹ יְהֹוָה וַתַּהַר רִבְקָה אִשְׁתּוֹ כא. וַיֶּעְתַּר יִצְחָק לַיהֹוָה
“And Yitzchak prayed to the Lord opposite his wife because she was barren, and the Lord accepted his prayer, and Rivka his wife conceived.”

By looking into the depth of Rashi’s explanation, one can recognize “וַיֵעָתֶר” – Hashem allowed Himself to be entreated and placated and swayed by Yitzchak’s intense tefillah. Rashi says that every expression of עתר is an expression of entreaty and increase, such as: “And a thick (וַעִתַר) cloud of incense,” referring to the immensity of the ascent of smoke; “And you have multiplied (וְהַעְתַּרְתֶּם) your words against Me”; and, “Whereas the kisses of an enemy are burdensome (וְכַעְתָּרוֹת).” (Aish)

As one looks at the Pasuk and Rashi’s commentary on the pasuk, he may wonder why Hashem would answer the tefillah of Yitzchak, who was a tzadik ben tzadik, over Rivka, who was a tzadik ben Rasha? It happens to be that Rav Simcha Zissel, the Alter of Kelm, has a take on this. He says that in this case, Yitzchak Avinu was on an equal level to Avraham Avinu. But how could it be that Yitzchak was able to be on the same level as his father, Avraham, who was such holy man and the leader of the Jewish people? In addition, with as hard as Rivka worked to not become a Rasha like the rest of her family, why is she not more chashuv than Yitzchak?

There are two types of people in this world: there are those lucky ones who grow up in a frum home and from day one are keeping mitzvos, and then there are those who feel they are also lucky to find frumkeit on their own sometime throughout life. Both ways of life are extremely hard in their own way.

Let’s first look at someone who has grown up frum. Because they have been doing Mitzvos since they could walk, many times by the time they grow up the Mitzvos these individuals partake in become robotic and they fail to contemplate their own Avodas HaShem. The sad truth is that in fact, many becomes sickened of their own robotic doings and leave the derech altogether. Luckily, there are those that are like Yitzchak, who were given a life of mitzvos and who work hard to make it feel fresh, new, exciting, and full of life. It is an amazing way to live, but it comes with its own set of challenges; someone who grows up in that environment must make sure to maintain his or her growth. If life is inherently a down escalator, and the individual is not moving upwards, they are going down. People who are “frum from birth” must make sure to keep growing, even if it seems like they are near the theoretical top, and are “already tzadikim.” This was the Tafkid of Yitzchak. Yitzchak grew up in Avraham’s house, but it was not enough to stay at the level he was brought up with. Yitzchak’s struggle was in raising the bar further, even when it would seem as though there isn’t much farther to go.

Then there are those people who discover frumkeit along the way. They did not grow up with mitzvos as an everyday occurrence that one “just does.” Judaism is something special; something to be cherished and delved into and looked to as a literal guidebook for proper, holy, happy living. These people do not need anyone to tell them why they should act according to Halacha – these people love Halacha because they recognize the beauty behind it. However, growing into frumkeit is not an express train to happiness with no road blocks. When one decides to become frum on one’s own, that person is up against everyone and everything they grew up with. What if one’s parents have no interest in Orthodoxy, or worse; what if they are opposed to it? To get up and denounce one’s upbringing, friends, and community is not an easy task by any means… yet this is what Rivka does. Rashi explains that “the daughter of Bethuel, from Padan Aram, the sister of Lavan” refers to the three types of influences one has in life. Bethuel represents fear, Lavan represents love, and Padan Aram is environmental familiarity. Rivka was able to go up against these three forces pulling towards wickedness to go in the path that she knew was correct, the way of the tzaddikim.

A tzadik ben tzadik faces struggles just as much as a tzadik ben rasha faces struggles. The dividing factor is the own struggle each type faces. It is the job of Klal Yisroel to understand that separately, no matter where each Yid is from, each person must take the life that Hashem gave them, appreciate it, and use it as a spring board for growth to reach excellence. Each person must take inspiration that they encounter and truly make this light a guiding part of their life by putting such into action. If they were equal, then that means that Yitzchak had to work so much harder to get to the point of where a tzadik ben rasha stands. Yitzchak searches even though he did not have to search. Yitzchak found within himself the motivation to search for more. What Yitzchak did by striving for that higher bar even when it was not expected of him is what every yid should emulate. Though this is a hard test in life, the ultimate gain of a closer kesher with HaShem is the result of the most important tafkid a person can focus on in his life.

Have a beautiful Shabbos Kodesh and stay safe!

Student studying in Tomer Devorah