Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Toldot
To dedicate this lesson

All in the Family

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Rabbi Stewart Weiss

Kislev 3 5781
One of the reasons why the Torah is such a timeless work, inspiring and educating every generation, is that the personalities here are real. They are not gods or demi-gods; they are human beings. Superlative, exemplary human beings to be sure, but human all the same. And, as humans, they are not perfect. They are fallible, they face all the temptations and challenges that all of us face, and sometimes they err in the extreme. As Shlomo HaMelech reminds us, "There is no person who does not sin." Even Moshe, in all his greatness, makes mistakes and must suffer the consequences, harsh as they are.

One of the recurring problems faced by the Avot and Imahot is the raising of children, one of the toughest tests Hashem sets before us. Avraham and Sara struggle regarding what to do about Yishmael, born to Hagar, who served as a surrogate for Sara. Sara feels Yishmael is a bad influence on Yitzchak, and wants him banished from the household, along with Hagar. Avraham feels differently - the Torah pointedly says this decision "was bad in Avraham's eyes" - yet Hashem says that Sara's request must be granted. In the course of history, this event will contribute to the animosity between Bnei Yisrael and Egypt - Hagar, after all, was an Egyptian princess - and is even cited as one cause of our slavery in Mitzrayim.

In our sedra, there is a clear difference of opinion between Yitzchak and Rivka regarding their twins. The pasuk spells it out: "And Yitzchak loved Esav.....while Rivka loved Yakov." The resulting incident of the B'chora will lead to total estrangement in the family, as Yakov flees his home and Rivka, understandably, cannot have a relationship with Esav. This, too, has cosmic repercussions, as Esav/Edom becomes an eternal nemesis of the Jewish People.

And then there is Yakov and his children. Yakov miscalculates by favoring Yosef; the Gemara (Shabbat 10b) quotes Rav who says "A parent should never single out one son among many, for on account of 2 sela's worth of silk (the Coat of Many Colors) Yosef's brothers became jealous, which resulted in our descent to Egypt." The schism between brothers is a tragedy that plagues us throughout history, to this very day; a kind of malevolent spiritual herpes - the curse that keeps on giving.

Is it any wonder that the Kohen Gadol, when entering the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur to secure atonement for the nation, was first required to reconcile with himself, and his own family? Change the world? That's a tough assignment. But change ourselves, and keep our family together in love? That challenge may be even tougher.
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