Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Toldot
To dedicate this lesson



Rabbi Berel Wein

The Torah emphasizes to us the importance of the continuity of generations in this week’s parsha. The name alone by which the parsha is called - "toldot" - generations, testifies to the stress that the Torah places on this vision in Jewish life. My wise old Talmud teacher said to his class: "Boys, if your grandparents and your grandchildren are both proud of you and your achievements, then probably Heaven is also satisfied with you."

Sixty years later I fully comprehend at last the import of his words. Midrash teaches us that Abraham died earlier than the destined amount of the years of his life so that he would not have to witness the betrayal of his life style and value system by his grandson Esau.

I believe that there is nothing more shattering to family life and personal serenity than the fracturing of familial tradition. Jewish life always prided itself on the continuity of generations. It was the cement that bound the small, persecuted people of Israel together in all of the lands of its dispersion. It also was, and is, its dissolution that heralded the breakup of the Jewish home and the wave of assimilation and intermarriage that has now engulfed much of Jewish society.

The pressures of modern life, of mobility and geographical distance have contributed to this fraying of generational continuity. Basically, it is the weakening of individual commitment to family and generational continuity that has contributed to this situation. Family generational continuity somehow is no longer the priority that it once was in many Jewish homes and societies.

Our mother Rebecca recognized that her eldest son Esau was a danger to the generational continuity which is the foundation upon which a Jewish nation is founded. Unfortunately, as every school teacher can testify, the survival of educational progress relies on a system of triage. Not everyone can and should be entitled to attend graduate school or become a brain surgeon.

The same is true in the spiritual world. Not everyone is entitled to proclaim one’s self a kabbalist, a halachic decisor, or a holy person. Not everyone is cut out to spend an entire day studying Talmud, as admirable and necessary as such an occupation is. Because Joseph was so beloved by their father, the brothers feared that the disagreement with Joseph, which was based on the triage that eliminated Yishmael and Esau from Abraham’s and Isaac’s family, would also eliminate them.

They were well aware of the process of triage that seemingly dominates Jewish generational continuity. Perhaps this is one of the causes of the low numbers in the Jewish population. And, therefore, the problem of generational continuity is a touchy, delicate and mostly painful process. And it changes from place to place, time to time, and generation to generation.

That is why the Torah always portrays our future as an uncertain one - with barren mothers, fathers threatened by outside enemies who covet their wives and assets, and the difficulties of raising children in an unwholesome environment. And that is why "toldot" somehow remains the key to Jewish survival and success.
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