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Shabbat Parashat Toldot 5775

Parashat Hashavua: No Chance or Disqualified?

Harav Yosef Carmel

The end of Chayei Sarah deals with the less illustrious of Avraham’s children, the children of the concubines. Avraham gave them “presents” and sent them away from Yitzchak (Bereishit 25:5-6). This action is reminiscent of the fact that Avraham, at Sarah’s demand and with Hashem’s agreement, sent away Yishmael, as it was Yitzchak alone who was to continue Avraham’s legacy (ibid. 21:10-14). In order to not leave any doubt, our parasha begins with an introduction of the life of “Yitzchak, the son of Avraham; Avraham begot Yitzchak” (ibid. 25:19), which again teaches that it is Yitzchak who continues the legacy.

Yet this pasuk sets the stage for the epic conflict between Yitzchak’s sons, Yaakov and Eisav, over their father’s blessing. This struggle includes a complex process, but it ends with a clear conclusion: Yitzchak gave Yaakov the “blessing of Avraham” and Yaakov received confirmation of all the blessings he received (“I blessed him; indeed he will be blessed” – ibid. 27:33). This conclusion, which was arrived at without a cognitive decision based on Yitzchak’s logic, is what turned the descendants of Yaakov into the chosen nation.

It is appropriate at this time to stress that the advantage given to Bnei Yisrael is not referring to the level of the individual. Being a Jew does not mean that one has an advantage over being a non-Jew. The fact that Yaakov’s family was chosen does not allow a Jew to take away the personal rights of someone else on the face of the earth. The huge difference is on the national level, where our special characteristics find expression. We did not simply receive rights; we acquired responsibilities, as most of the mitzvot are exclusively our obligation. The level of ethics that we expect of ourselves should likewise be higher.

Let us clarify certain matters, as we were taught by the great Rav Shlomo Fisher, in his comments on the pasuk, “Go to the flock and take for me from there two good goats” (ibid. 27:9). The midrash (Bereishit Rabba 65) says that they were good in that they were responsible for Yaakov receiving the blessings and they are good for his sons because they are used for atonement on Yom Kippur. Rav Fisher refers to the lots cast to decide which goat will be sacrificed to Hashem and which will be the scapegoat. The two goats are similar, yet one is chosen for one holy task and one is relegated to another. Every year the process with the two apparently identical goats is a reconfirmation that Yaakov was chosen and Eisav was rejected. Using halachic terminology, Rav Fisher compares Eisav to a sacrifice which was once fit yet lost its status as being fitting, whereas Yishmael is compared to one which from the outset was unfit to serve as a holy object. It is because of this complex element that history has shown that the spiritual struggle with Christianity, the spiritual offshoot of Eisav, has been much fiercer than that with Islam.

Let us seize the opportunity to reiterate that the establishment of the State of Israel knocked the nail in the coffin on the claim of the Christians about the lost status of the Jews and reconfirms that indeed Yaakov is the one who received the blessings of Avraham and Yitzchak. Let us pray that we will live up to our chosen status through our actions, not just through our special lineage.

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