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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Vayishlach

The Silence Of The Ram

Yitchk'a silence give an answer to a question all parents have: Should we always "bail out" our kids, or is there a point where we allow them to make their own decisions? Do we continually save them from poor choices, or do we sometimes hold back?
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It’s detective time again, folks. At the end our sedra, after Yakov’s cataclysmic fight with the angel, after coming face-to-face with brother Esav, after the dramatic rescue of Dina from the clutches of Shechem, there are 2 little p’sukim announcing the death of Yitzchak.

Fair enough, I guess. But the problem is, Yitzchak did not die at this point in time! In fact, he died 12 years later, AFTER Yosef was sold into slavery! So why is his death not recorded at that point?

Rashi duly notes that the events are out of sync, and derives from here the principle that "there is no strict chronological order in the Torah." Fine and well; but still we can ask: Why is the death specificaly mentioned here? The Ramban suggests that Yitzchak’s death should actually have been reported the moment that Yakov took center-stage - since at that point Yitzchak retreats into the shadows - but the Torah writes it here in order to tell us that Yakov & Esav ultimately reconciled, & honored their father by conducting his burial together.

But Rashi? He gives no explanation at all.

Fast-forward to next week’s sedra. Yosef is sold by his brothers, and father Yakov grieves inconsolably. Rashi points out (37:33) that not only was Yitzchak alive, but he knew that Yosef was not dead, yet he did not tell Yakov! Why not?! Imagine all the anguish he could have saved him!

I believe we can solve both of the above problems at once. I suggest that Yitzchak’s passing is recorded here, before the saga of Yosef’s kidnapping & sale begins, as a way of saying that Yitzchak – though he was certainly the "elder statesman" of the family - had decided that he would not intervene in the sordid squabbling of his grandchildren, that he would remain, in a sense, as silent as a corpse.

Yitzchak was fully aware of the internal strife between the brothers, and no doubt it pained him tremendously, but he had decided that sometimes, events have to play out on their own, and families must learn the hard way how to act and get along with one another. Had Yitzchak "pulled rank" and intervened, he might indeed have imposed some temporary truce on the boys. But that would not have taught us the eternal lesson that Yosef’s ordeal - which led to the Egyptian experience and ultimately our redemption – was finally able to teach us: That a house divided against itself cannot stand.

Anyone who has children can surely relate to Yitzchak’s predicament. Should we always "bail out" our kids, or is there a point where we allow them to make their own decisions? Do we continually save them from poor choices, or do we sometimes hold back and enroll them in the "school of hard knocks," where they can earn the experiences that will last them a lifetime?

Yitzchak made himself "dead" so that his offspring would gain a virtue that would help make us immortal, the virtue of Unity. True, we would pay an enormous price for it. But - as is usually the case - you get what you pay for.
Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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