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Parashat Toldot

by Rabbi Yitzchak Luria

Apples from the Orchard

  

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This parasha contains the story of how Isaac, when he was old, wished to bless his son Esau, and how his wife, Rebecca, tricked him into blessing Jacob instead.

When Isaac was old and his eyesight failing, he called Esau, his elder son, and said to him, "My son," and he answered him, "I am here." He said, "Look, I have now grown old…so now, please…go out to the field and catch some game for me. Prepare it for me as delicacies in a way that I like…so my soul may bless you before I die."

Rebecca was listening while Isaac was speaking to Esau…. Esau went off to catch some game… Rebecca told Jacob, her son, "I have just heard your father speaking to Esau, your brother… So now, my son, listen to me, to what I command you. Go now to the flock and take two of my choice kid-goats, and I will prepare them as delicacies for your father in a way that he likes…so that he may bless you before his death."

Jacob said to Rebecca, his mother, "…Maybe my father…will consider me an imposter, and then I shall bring a curse upon myself and not a blessing."

His mother said to him, "Let your curse be upon me, my son. Only listen to me and go take from my [goats].

The allegorical explanation of this is as follows: When Adam [and Eve] sinned, in order to be rectified they were reincarnated into the three Patriarchs and three Matriarchs.

The sin of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil comprised the three cardinal sins that a Jew is commanded to lay down his life rather than transgress: idolatry, murder, and infidelity. (Zohar III:111b)

Abraham rectified the sin of idolatry when he was thrown into the fiery furnace in Ur, as it is written, "And you shall burn their Asherah-trees in fire." (Deut. 12:3)

The Asherah-tree was an idol. We see here that the destruction of idolatry is by fire, and Abraham submitted to the fire rather than serve idols. He thus rectified this aspect of Adam's sin.

[Abraham was not subjected to this ordeal] because of himself, but rather because of the spark of Ishmael that was still present within him. This is the mystical meaning of our sages' saying, "The righteous are caught in the sin of the generation." (Challah 6)

This saying of our sages explains why the righteous are sometimes seen to suffer: sometimes, it is simply because their generation needs to be rectified for some general sin and they, being part of this generation, are considered guilty by association. (Evidently, this means that they failed to exert the influence they could have to keep their contemporaries from sinning, opting instead to tolerate the generation's sin and concentration on their own spirituality.) Mystically, this refers to the fact that a righteous individual may have to suffer because he "hosts" (i.e. "tolerates") a pernicious presence within him.

Thus, when Ishmael issued from Abraham's body, he revealed his true nature, as it is written, "And Sarah saw that the son of Hagar the Egyptian was making sport." (Gen. 21:9) Our sages said that this means that he was serving idols. (Bereishit Rabba 53; Zohar I:118b)

When Abraham saw that Ishmael was wicked and had incurred the death penalty [for serving idols], he prayed, "If only Ishmael would live before You" (Gen. 17:18), i.e. would repent. And so it was, that Ishmael indeed repented, as is known. (Bava Batra 16a)

Subsequently, the spark of goodness present in Ishmael issued from him as Yitra the Ishmaelite, who married the daughter of Nachash. Understand this.

King David was challenged by his son, Absalom; "Absalom appointed Amasa over the army in place of Joab; Amasa was the son of a man named Yitra the Ishmaelite, who consorted with Abigail daughter of Nachash, the sister of Joab's mother Tzeruyah." (Samuel II 17:25) Tzeruya and Abigail were David's sisters (Chronicles I 2:16) so Amasa was his nephew through Abigail, and Nachash was evidently another name for David's father, Jesse.

Yitra is also called "Yeter the Ishmaelite" (Chronicles I 2:17), for, although Jewish, he lived in the land of the Ishmaelites (which is why they called him "the Israelite").

[Abraham then had] Isaac, who was his good spark, but present with him was a spark of murder. He therefore laid down his life as a burnt offering upon the altar [to be slaughtered]. Since [this murderous spark] was not his sin but that of someone else [dormant within him]; he was spared, and a ram was offered in his stead.

Afterwards, this evil impurity issued from him as Esau. Isaac, too, wanted to bless [his son Esau] and thereby cause him to repent [and be as righteous] as Jacob.

Since Adam had been cursed because of Eve, the blessings were given to Jacob through [the efforts of] his mother [Rebecca], who was a reincarnation of Eve.

By being a conduit of blessing, Rebecca rectified the sin of Eve, who had brought a curse upon the world.

They [i.e. the blessings] were not transmitted to him by his father Isaac, for Isaac thought that Jacob had not yet rectified reality. And it is known that "when this one falls, the other one rises." Therefore, [Isaac reasoned that Esau, the personification of] the snake, was fit to receive the blessings.

Since, in Isaac's eyes, Jacob had not done his job by rectifying reality, he was in a low state, and therefore Esau, his nemesis, was in an exalted state, fit to receive and capitalize on the blessings.

Esau, after all, is a reincarnation of Cain, and that is why [Cain] killed his brother Abel with his mouth, as is known.

He bit him profusely, not knowing where his soul would leave him. (Zohar I:54b) Esau is the image of a wild man "whose game was in his mouth." (Gen. 25:28)

This is the meaning of the verse (Gen. 27:1):

"He called Esau, his older son…" - Esau was like the older of the original brothers, Cain. "…and he said to him, 'My son'" - This means: you are the reincarnation of Cain, the son of Adam. "…and he answered him, 'I am here'" - i.e. yes, I am. He then commanded him [to bring him game], for just as Cain took the [untamed] land [while Abel pastured the domesticated flocks], Esau likewise was "a hunter, a man of the field." (Gen. 25:27) He therefore spent his time in the fields killing, as did Cain.

And since Cain came from the impurity of the snake [who had raped Eve], which caused Adam to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil, tasting two flavors [i.e. good and evil] - [Isaac] therefore commanded [Esau] to "make me delicacies", in the plural, implying two flavors. "Just as Adam hungered for two flavors, make me [a dish] of two flavors: good and evil."

Thus, Isaac was attempting to have Esau rectify the murder-aspect of Adam's sin by having him bring him a two-flavored dish acquired by killing. Isaac's eating the two-flavored dish for positive purposes (to bless Esau and thus continue the line of Abraham and the work of rectifying the world) would rectify Adam's eating a "two-flavored dish" (the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil) for negative motives.

It is an accepted principle of Biblical exegesis that whenever the Torah uses the plural, it implies two of the referent. This is so because we assume the Biblical text intends to be explicit, rather than vague, and the minimum a plural can imply is two.

For [Isaac] thought that the world had not yet been rectified, [as stated above]. Jacob also thought that the sin of Adam had not yet been rectified. Therefore, he reasoned, if he tricked his father, he would be adding iniquity to the existing [and unrectified] sin [of Adam]. [He was afraid] this would bring a curse upon him, the opposite of what the blessing would bring upon him, i.e. the rectification of Adam's curse. This is the meaning of what Jacob said: "…and I will bring upon myself a curse and not a blessing." Rebecca was saying, "I, in my incarnation as Eve, caused Adam to be cursed. I am now rectifying this."

His mother then told him that the time had come to rectify this aspect of the sin of Adam. She therefore told him, "Listen to my voice." In so doing, she was rectifying Adam's sin [of listening to his wife, as it is written:] "And to Adam, [G-d] said, 'Since you listened to the voice of your wife…'"(Gen. 3:17)

Adam sinned by listening to his wife for improper purposes. By having her son listen to her for proper purposes, Rebecca sought to rectify this aspect of Adam's sin.

In this context, Rebecca's words "Upon me be your curse, my son" mean "the curse you suffered in Adam's time is my fault."

"I, in my incarnation as Eve, caused Adam to be cursed. I am now rectifying this."

This also explains why she continues, "Only listen to my voice…" [The word "only"] limits her words [implying that "this time you should listen, while last time you should not have"] because that was listening for bad purposes.

And because the sin of Adam was that [Eve] squeezed grapes and gave him [to drink] (Bereishit Rabba 19:8; Zohar III:236a), so too, here, "[Jacob] brought [Isaac] wine and he drank." [This was real wine,] not one-day old grape juice with its dregs.

He who understands will understand all this at length. I [Rav Shmuel Vital] copied this from the book Etz HaDa'at by [my father] Rabbi Chaim Vital.

(Gen. 27:1-13)


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