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Shabbat Parashat Toldot 5777

Parashat Hashavua: The Left Hand Should Push Away and the Right Draw Close

Harav Shaul Yisraeli based on Siach Shaul, p. 84-6

As the two brothers, Yaakov and Eisav, were born and developed, Israel’s constant tension vis a vis Eisav’s descendants was set for generations. The struggle began with the prophecy before their birth that “one nation will overcome the other nation” (Bereishit 25:23).

Let’s look at Hashem’s part in all of this. Rivka was barren and needed a miracle to conceive. Why did the miracle include a twin brother, who anyway is not part of the Chosen Nation? Taking various statements of Chazal, we arrive at an answer. Shir Hashirim Zuta (1:15) indicates that Eisav was born with the possibility of greatness, and the Tachuma (Shemot 1) blames Yitzchak for the failure by not disciplining Eisav. True, Yitzchak’s intentions were good, as he did not want to distance Eisav. However, he could have done what Chazal (Sota 47a) call having one’s left hand push away and his right hand draw close.

So, the two nations in Rivka’s womb could have turned into two tribes, and jealousy between the two could have pushed them toward greater spiritual achievement. However, instead, Eisav, and eventually Amalek, emerged from the lost potential. The epic historical struggle that ensued will end with “Saviors shall come from Mt. Zion to judge the mountain of Eisav” (Ovadia 1:21). However, the blessing of the conception of twins could have ended positively.

Indeed we can find areas of gentleness and goodness in Eisav. His treatment of his parents was legendary (see Bereishit Rabba 65:16). Even his hypocrisy before his father stemmed from his sincere desire to make him happy. On the other hand, his bad attributes grew out of control, which led to transgressing five cardinal sins (Bava Batra 16b). How do these trends go hand-in-hand?

There is such a thing as a nature that one starts off with. Educational work is required to make the most of the nature, bridle it, and direct it. Eisav, the son and grandson of Yitzchak and Avraham, respectively, inherited very positive characteristics. But that is not enough. His personality as a whole had to be kept under a more effective guard. “I have created the evil inclination, and I have created Torah as a remedy” (Kiddushin 30b). That is the only way to restrain the wild side of an Eisav.

There are groups in Israel these days that talk about “Jewish identity.” We know they are not happy about the situation; they wanted more than this. However, identity is just not enough. It is not enough for an Israeli to grow up knowing how his father and his grandfather prayed, without following them. Having some respect for his parents is not enough to prevent him from fooling them into thinking that he is more than he really is. We need youngsters to dwell in the tent of Torah, like Yaakov.

“The actions of the fathers are a sign for the children.” The mistakes of our parents (i.e., Yitzchak) must also be a warning. Amalekites do not emerge immediately. It starts with Eisav, who at least had an element of embarrassment from sin. His grandson was a full-blown evil person. Pushing away with the left is an effective tool to accompany the drawing near with the right. We need this to fix our generation, as was the case throughout history.

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