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Perashat Toledot

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Perashat Toledot

Friday, November 21, 2014 Author: Rabbi Daniel Greenwald

In this week’s perasha, we are introduced for the very first time, to the conflict between Esav and Yaakob; something which spans the next two perashiot in the Torah – and an eternity in the history of man.   We are told that the conflict begins in utero, continues with the selling of the birthright, the competition for their father’s blessing, the flight of Yaakob to Mesopotamia in order to avoid his brother’s wrath, the struggle with the angel said to be the representative of Esav, and finally, a face-to-face confrontation between Yaakob and Esav upon his return to Canaan. 

Our sages saw the entire conflict between Yaakob and Esav as a portent of things to come in Jewish history, ruling that, “Halakhah – Esav Soneh L’Yaakob” – it is an indisputable fact that Esav hates Yaakob, and as promised in Esav’s blessing, he will do whatever it takes to throw the yoke of Yaakob off his shoulders.  If one accepts this conflict as a metaphor for our history, then it seems that it has played out exactly as foretold.  The nations of the Christian world, identified as Edom, have attempted to prevail against us many times and destroy the Jewish people. We have suffered terribly with the loss of many of our people  through persecution, forced conversions, expulsions, inquisitions and pogroms.  It would seem that this culminated in the unspeakable savagery of the Holocaust which dwarfed all previous attempts to destroy the Jewish nation.  We might have thought this was the end of the Exile of Edom.    However, the parallel does not end there.  At the end of this perasha, we see Esav combining forces with Yishmael, as he goes and marries Mahalath, the daughter of Yishmael.   This too, has found its parallel in contemporary history where our confrontation is now primarily with the descendants of Yishmael.  Indeed, Esav has aligned himself with Yishmael in the battle against Yaakob’s newfound identity as Yisrael – read the State of Israel.   The Zohar (Debarim 32a) teaches us that,

In the future, the sons of Yishmael will return to the Holy Land when it was vacant from inhabitants for much time, and they will prevent Yisrael from returning to their land until that merit of the sons of Yishmael expires. At a certain time, the sons of Yishmael will be roused to wage brazen battles in the world. The sons of Edom will gather together and stage a war against them; one on the sea, one by land, and one close to Yerushalayim. At that time a nation will come from the end of the world onto Rome and make a battle with them for three months, and they will fall in their hands, until all the sons of Edom will gather from all corners of the world. 

We have witnessed the one-two punch of the Esav-Yishmael alliance in these past few weeks.  While Esav, in this case the EU and the West has plotted to destroy the State of Israel by dictating Interior policy (what other nation is told by other countries where, when and how much they can build in their own sovereign state?!), the sons of Yishmael have descended to new lows in their battle against the Jewish nation, including vehicular homicide and violating the sanctity of a house of worship by slaying innocents who were in the midst of their prayers! Ironically, it is Yishmael who was guaranteed – as contained within his name as well, Yishma-El (‘G-d will hear’) – that Boreh Olam would hear and be responsive to his prayers.  Yet, they who value the institution of prayer, would deny that of others!  

Our sages have taught us )Baba Mesia 59a) that since the destruction of the Bet HaMikdash, the Gates of Prayer have been locked, but not the Gates of Tears.  After enduring this past week’s events, one wonders if that is what Boreh Olam wants from us; that somehow our tears will put us over the top and help us overcome the prayers of the sons of Yishmael so that we may finally merit the land.  Perhaps this is the reason for so much of our suffering… but who can say… how can we really know?

The Zohar (Shemot 17a) teaches us that, “There is no exile more difficult for Yisrael than the Exile of Yishmael.”  Although it is not clear in the Zohar that the Exile of Yishmael will end with the coming of Mashiah, perhaps we can take comfort in the words of the Ba’al HaTurim (Ber. 23:18): "Next to this [verse it is written] ‘And These are the descendants of Yishak son of Abraham’, to tell us that when Yishmael falls in the end of days, then the son of David [Mashiah] will sprout forth, for he is the descendant of Yishak."  May we merit to see that day soon.

In Memory of those who died ‘Al Kiddush Hashem in Yerushalayim, Nishmatam BeGan Eden:
Rabbis Moshe Twersky, Aryeh Kupinsky, Avraham Shmuel Goldberg, and Kalman Ze’ev Levine, and Officer Zidan Nahad Seif

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