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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Toldot

"I am" myself - without external factors

Rabbi Berel Wein28 cheshvan 5769
Dedicated to the memory of
Asher ben Chaim
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The conflict between Yitzchak and Rivkah over the future of their oldest son Eisav is reflected in the dramatic story of the blessings of Yitzchak. Yitzchak is apparently convinced that his blessings may yet transform Eisav and save from the abyss of Hell where he is heading. Rivkah, a more realistic pragmatist, performs an act of triage in sending forth Yaakov to obtain his father’s blessings at almost all cost. Yaakov is a very reluctant participant in the struggle against Eisav. He does not raise his claim to his father that Eisav had in fact sold to him the rights to the blessings. He does the bidding of his mother and wears the clothing of Eisav thus misleading his father as to who is actually appearing before him. And when Yitzchak asks Yaakov "who are you?" Yaakov answers "I am your eldest son Eisav." Apparently this statement of Yaakov’s contradicts his entire essence of being a truthful, serene simple person. Rashi interprets Yaakov’s statement as being divided into two distinct parts. One is "I am" and the second part is "Eisav is your eldest son." Everything in this formulation is absolutely true, though it is obvious that this interpretation is not the literal simple explanation of the verse. Nevertheless Rashi seems to insist that this formulation of the words of Yaakov is the correct one and should be adopted when studying this parsha and its deeper meaning. What does Rashi see in the verse that allows him to offer up this interpretation as the mandatory one of the verse?

I have always felt that the interpretation lay in the fist part of Yaakov’s answer "I am." The core of Judaism is that a person must have an acute and accurate awareness of one’s self. If a person feels that he or she is only part of the herd and has little or no self-awareness then it is impossible to grow spiritually and intellectually. We have a tendency to judge ourselves through the prism of external factors. Wealth, age, appearance, career success, public opinion and other factors completely external to our true selves blind us to our true essence. The great rebbe of Kotzk, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Morgenstern (Halperin) stated: "If I am I and you are you, then I am I and you are you. But if I am you and you are me then I am not I and you are not you." Yaakov tells his father "I am"– I am I and not a creature of external forces, drives and ambitions. I am here because through me the Jewish people will be built. That is my essence and my soul and my mission in life. Eisav on the other hand is formed by purely external factors – jealousy, physical desires, violence, greed and station in life. His claim to fame is that he is your son but that is an external accomplishment not related to his true identity. The blessing to which I am entitled can in no way help Eisav for he has no permanent deep self-identity. He will live by the sword but no lasting holy people with a divine and eternal mission can be built from him. So "I am" is the correct response of Yaakov to his father Yitzchak.
Rabbi Berel Wein
The rabbi of the "HANASI" congregation in Yerushalim, head of the Destiny foundation, former head of the OU, Rosh Yeshiva of 'sharai Tora" and rabbi of the "Beit Tora" congregation, Monsey, New York.
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