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Monday, Mar-Cheshvan 29, 5784 / November 13, 2023


This week's Parsha, Toldot, begins with the birth of twins to Yitzchak and Rivkah.  Yitzchak was 60 and Rivkah 23 when the twins, Esau and Yaakov were born.


The Torah relates why they were named Esau and Yaakov.  "And the first born came out red, full of hair like a hairy garment; and they called his name Eisav (Esau).  After came his brother and his hand was holding the heel of Eisav, and he called his name Yaakov (Jacob)."


The name Esau comes from the word grass, for he looked at birth, "like a hairy garment."  The name Yaakov is from the word Eikev which means heel, for he was born, "holding on to the heel of Esau."


The Torah tells us, "And the boys grew, and Esau was a hunter, a man of the field; and Yaakov was a quiet man sitting in the tents."  Their father, Yitzchak, who was blind, wasn't aware of the true character of his older son and he loved Esau, but Rivkah loved Yaakov.


Our sages explain that while they were small, the difference between Esau and Yaakov wasn't as noticeable.  Only when the boys reached Bar Mitzvah, one could tell between the behavior of Esau and Yaakov.  Esau spent his time in the fields hunting animal and robbing people while Jacob devoted his time in prayer and study. The struggle between Esau and Yaakov, which began while they were yet in their mother's womb, continued throughout their life.


Because Yitzchak was blind, Esau was able to fool his father into thinking that he was a pious person. But Rivkah knew the true character of her son, Esau.  Yet, in order not to cause her husband pain, she didn't reveal Esau's true identity to him.   When Yitzchak told Esau to bring him food so that he may bless him, Rivkah prepared the food and had Yaakov bring it to Yitzchak instead.  Yaakov, dressed in Esau's clothes, pretended to be Esau.


The blessings which Yitzchak gave to Yaakov begin, "May G-d give you of the dew of the heaven and of the fat of the earth..."  To Esau, Yitzchak later also gave a blessing, but reversed the blessing and said, "Of the fat places of the earth shall be your dwelling and of the dew from heaven above..."


Our sages explain that the blessing to Yaakov, patriarch of the Jewish people, was that "heavenly matters" should come first - that the performance of Mitzvot be the goal for material success.  The fat of the earth, should be secondary - a means to achieve spiritual goals.


The Midrash gives the following parable: A bear was standing in the marketplace adorned with many diamonds and precious stones.  A man called out, "Whoever will go on top of the bear can have everything on it." A wise person in the crowd called out, "You may all be watching the diamonds that are on top of the bear, but I'm watching its teeth..."    So too, says the Midrash, when the fat of the land is preceded with, "the dew of the heaven - spirituality and purpose" then wealth is a blessing.  But, if the "fat of the land" is more important than the "spiritual purpose," then one must be aware of the dangers of the "teeth of the bear...".