Photo Credit: Jewish Press

One wonders why Avraham waited so long to find a wife for Yitzchak, given that G-d had promised him that his offspring would come through Yitzchak (Bereishis 21:12). Wasn’t it up to Avraham to see to it that this prophecy would be promptly fulfilled? The answer to this question can be found in the words, “Bekachto es Rivkah lo le’isha – he took Rebecca as a wife for himself” (25:20). The same word “lo” appears when the Torah describes the marriage between Adam and Chavah: “E’eseh lo ezer kenegdo – I will make him a help to match him” (2:18).

We are told that originally G-d created man and woman as one unit and that afterward he separated them by taking one of man’s sides and fashioning it into a woman (see Rashi to 1:27). This is what the word “lo” is telling us. That one’s wife was originally part of oneself, “Etzem me’atzomei ubasar mibesari lezos yikareh isha, ki me’ish lukacha zos – bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh, she be called woman because she was taken out of man” (2:23). Marriage means finding one’s lost self, and that can take time. In Yitzchak’s case it took forty years until he found the wife who belonged to him, “lo le’isha.


Vaye’tar Yitzchak lenochach ishto ki akarah hi – Yitzchak entreated G-d on behalf of his wife because she was barren” (25:21). The word “Vaye’tar” denotes an attempt by man to overturn the will of G-d and reorganize His original design, like an atar, a pitchfork, that tosses hay from one corner to another. G-d foresaw that Rivkah, whose father Besuel was the less than perfect and whose brother was the duplicitous Lavan, would not only give birth to Yaakov but also to his nemesis Eisav. Knowing this, G-d would have preferred Yitzchak to have another woman bear him children in the same way as Avraham had a child with Hagar. But Yitzchak beseeched G-d and insisted that his child should come from Rivkah. Because both Yitzchak and Avraham had built up so much credit with G-d, G-d conceded to Yitzchak’s prayers. But sometimes, what one wishes for may not be the best for oneself. This is why we pray each month that “Sheyemalu mishalos libeinu letova,” that G-d should fulfill only those of our wishes that He determines are good for us, not those that we think are good for us.

And so the trouble started. “Vayisrotzetzu habanim bekirba – And the children fought together within her” (25:22). When she would pass by the door of the house of study, Yaakov would try to push his way out of her womb, and when she would pass by the door of houses of idol worship, Eisav would try to push his way out of her womb (Rashi to 25:22). It seems that Rivkah understood that she had twins, but she thought that they belonged to the same nation. She worried that they were engaged in a civil war. “Im kein lama zeh Anoche” (25:22); If so, she wondered, how will G-d ever achieve through me his plan of giving the Jews the Ten Commandments which begin with the words “Anochi”? The Ten Commandments would only be given when the nation lived in harmony. “Vayichan Sham Yisrael Keneged Hahar – And Israel encamped there opposite the mountain” (Shemos 19:2). “Ke’ish echad, belev echad – as one man with one heart” (see Rashi there). Unlike all the other encampments which were rife with quarreling and infighting, at this encampment at Mount Sinai the Jews were at peace with each other. And here I am, says Rivkah, ready to give birth to the nation that will receive the Torah and there is already infighting?

Vatelech lidrosh es Hashem” (25:22), so she went to consult with the elders, Shem and Ever. She wanted to know what the future would hold. The word “lidrosh” means trying to peer into the future, something which the Torah discourages. It warns us against it, “Lo yimatzeh bechasho’el av veyidoni vedoresh el hameisimtamim tiheyeh im hashem elokechah – among you there should not be anyone who consults mediums and oracles or who attempts to communicate with the dead. You must rely totally on G-d” (Devarim 18:9-15).

But Rivkah disregarded this sage advice. She needed to know what the future would hold. And she was told that contrary to what she assumed, the twins did not belong to one nation, but to two. And although they were two separate nations, Yaakov and Eisav were dependent on one another and their histories would be inexorably linked: “Ule’om mileom ye’amatz verav ya’avod tzair – One regime will become strong from the other regime, and the elder shall serve the younger” (Bereishis 25:23). Furthermore, “V’haya ka’asher tarid u’farakta ulo me’al tzavarecha – If Israel will transgress the Torah, Yaakov will lose its dominance and Eisav will have the upper hand” (27:40 and Rashi there). The message that Rivkah received here is that for as long as Yaakov remains loyal to the Torah, Eisav will be there to support him, just like Zevulun supported Yissachar. Eisav will also be there to serve Yaakov if he discards the Torah. He will serve him by persecuting the people of Yisrael until they understand that they have to change their ways and return to observing the Torah and its mitzvos. Haman served Mordechai not only by dressing him in majestic garments and parading him around on a royal horse, but also by posing a real threat to the continued existence of the Jews which ultimately made them reaffirm their commitment to G-d and His Torah.

Vayeitzei harishon admoni kulo ke’aderes, sei’ar – And the first was borne with a ruddy complexion and as hairy as a fur coat” (25:25). Eisav emerges like a fully developed person. His character is formed at birth and will develop no further with age. Yaakov comes out like a baby and will work on himself to mature into an “Ish tam yoshev ohalim” (25:27), a serene man living in the company of G-d, for the word Elokim and ohalim are made up of the same letters.

As Yaakov emerged from his mother’s womb, “yado ochezes be’akeiv Eisav,” Yaakov’s hand was pulling down on Esav’s heel. The heel referred to here is the crushing heel of the Roman persecutors, the descendants of Eisav who trampled, crushed and annihilated all who stood in their path (see Daniel 7:7and 23). Yaakov tries to restrain the devastating power of his brother by grabbing his heel. The only way Yaakov can overcome the power of Eisav is by holding on to the mitzvos, even the seemingly unimportant ones that people trample with their heels. It is G-d’s promise to us that if we keep all the mitzvos, even “hamitzvos hakalos she’adam dash be’akeivav” (Rashi to Devarim 7:12), even the ones that seem insignificant to us, that a person, so to speak, tramples with his heels, then G-d will protect us and Israel will prevail over all of its enemies. Indeed, Israel will be victorious “eikev asher shama Avraham bekoli vayishmor mishmarti, mitzvoei, chukosei vetorosei – all because Avraham obeyed G-d’s voice, His commandments, decrees and laws” (Bereishis 26:5), even though he could have ignored 606 of them that did yet not apply to him. But Avraham understood that the 606 mitzvos were there as a mishmeres, to safeguard the observance of the seven Noachide laws.

Haliteini na min ha’adom ha’adom hazeh ki ayef anochi” (25:30), Eisav asks Yaakov to pour for him some of the red lentils that Yaakov was cooking for the mourners returning from Avraham’s funeral. Eisav was exhausted because his conscience was bothering him. As soon as Avraham died, he allowed himself to run wild and violate five major prohibitions including the prohibition of murder. The first time a person commits a crime, he carries the weight of his guilt. But as he repeats it, he gets used to it and it no longer bothers him.

It was only Rivkah to whom G-d revealed the true character of Eisav, as it says, “Vayomer Hashem la,” G-d told it to her, not to be repeated to anyone else, not even to Yitzchak. It’s not that Yitzchak was oblivious to the character differences between Eisav and Yaakov. After all, even though he was blind, he said “Hakol kol Yaa’kov vehyadayim yedie Eisav” (27:22), he was able to identify Eisav by his rough hands and his brash speech and Yaakov by his respectful manner and gentle voice. But Yitzchak’s ideology was “Tamim tiheyeh im hashem Elokecha,” which means do your best with what G-d has given you and try to keep your wayward son in the fold, without judging him. Yaakov learned this lesson from his father and blessed both Ephraim and Menashe, even though he knew that the wicked kings Yeravam and Achhav would emerge from Ephraim, (See Rashi to 48:8). Sometimes too much knowledge can become a self-fulfilling prophecy and less knowledge coupled with and hope and kindness can defy the soothsayers.

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Raphael Grunfeld received semicha in Yoreh Yoreh from Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem of America and in Yadin Yadin from Rav Dovid Feinstein. A partner at the Wall Street law firm of Carter Ledyard & Milburn LLP, Rabbi Grunfeld is the author of “Ner Eyal: A Guide to Seder Nashim, Nezikin, Kodashim, Taharot and Zerayim” and “Ner Eyal: A Guide to the Laws of Shabbat and Festivals in Seder Moed.” Questions for the author can be sent to [email protected].