30 Nov 2016 Parshas Toldos: A Great Trembling
In this week’s parsha, Parshas Toldos, the second patriarch and matriarch, Yitzchak and Rivka, give birth to Yaakov and Eisav. Yaakov – later identified by the Sages as the בחיר שבאבות (the choicest of the patriarchs) is a simple man, a dweller of tents. He is one who dwells in the protective shelter of the “tents” of Torah, making Torah the focus of his life. Eisav, however, grows to be a hunter of the field, pursuing material interests and gain wherever, and from whomever, they may be found. Two brothers, born of the same womb, who could not be more different in their moral code, their ethical and practical behavior, and their life (and national) pursuits.
And so it happens that after a long day of hunting, Eisav returns home tired and hungry, and famously sells his birthright to Yaakov for the price of…lentil soup. With this monumental act, done in a moment of passion and exhaustion, Yaakov inherits the right to the bechorah (firstborn privileges in service of G-d) (See Bereishis 25:19-34).
This transaction paves the way for the famous incident later related in the parsha… Yitzchak Avinu is old, and unsure of when he will die. He wants to bless Eisav – the firstborn. Rivka overhears Yitzchak’s plans, and arranges for Yaakov to receive the firstborn blessings instead.
In a dramatic turn of events, Eisav enters his father’s tent to serve him delicacies that he has prepared and receive blessings he believes (or hopes) are rightfully still his, only to find that his twin brother, his younger brother, Yaakov, has already been there, preceded him, and received the blessings first!
As Eisav enters to receive his blessings, the pasuk tells us: וַיֶּחֱרַד יִצְחָק חֲרָדָה, גְּדֹלָה עַד-מְאֹד, וַיֹּאמֶר מִי-אֵפוֹא הוּא הַצָּד-צַיִד וַיָּבֵא לִי וָאֹכַל מִכֹּל בְּטֶרֶם תָּבוֹא, וָאֲבָרְכֵהוּ; גַּם-בָּרוּךְ, יִהְיֶה – And Yitzchak trembled a great tremble, and he said: ‘Who then is the one who hunted game and brought it to me, and I ate of everything while you have not yet come, and I blessed him!? He, too, shall be blessed!’ (Bereishis 27:33).
R’ Soloveitchik zt’l wonders, “Why was Yitzchak so frightened (or, as in the alternative explanation of Rashi, so surprised)?” He answers that, “It was because Yitzchak understood for the first time that Eisav had no right to enter the ohel (the tent) of Avraham, Sarah and Rivka. The ohel had kedushas (sanctity of the) Beis Ha’Mikdash; a game hunter and the Beis Ha’Mikdash are mutually exclusive concepts. Eisav’s home was the antithesis of his mother’s home. He was an ish sadeh, a man of the field, not an ish ohalim, a man of the tents (of Torah), and he had no use for the ohel. As a result, when Eisav came in, the entire ohel began to tremble. Wherever the Shechinah (Divine presence) resides, that place is a Beis Ha’Mikdash. When Eisav came into Yitzchak’s tent, it was a desecration of the Mikdash.”
Yitzchak shuddered and Yitzchak trembled because when Eisav, the man of the field, the man of base gashmius, the man of material pursuits, entered the makom Mikdash, the ohel of his father, the ohel of his grandfather, the entire ohel began to tremble with the desecration of G-d’s Name! Such a person, such a hashkafah, such a debasement and profanity, does not belong in the Makom Ha’Mikdash, in the place where the Shechinah dwells and rests!
As I stood last week in Yerushalyaim Ir Ha’kodesh, gazing from the rooftop of the Aish Ha’Torah building down onto Har Ha’Bayis – the Makom ha’Mikdash; gazing onto the makom where the kodesh ha’kodashim once stood – the place of the holy of holies; the place of ha’sharas ha’Shechinah (the dwelling of the Divine Presence, so to speak) in this world… and noting the desecration, the profanity, the ish sadeh who tramples atop our holy places today… וַיֶּחֱרַד יִצְחָק חֲרָדָה, גְּדֹלָה עַד-מְאֹד.
The prophet laments and cries, עַל הַר-צִיּוֹן שֶׁשָּׁמֵם, שׁוּעָלִים הִלְּכוּ-בוֹ – Upon Mt. Zion that is desolate; foxes prowl there (Eichah 5:18).
R’ Soloveitchik teaches that this verse speaks of two levels of churban, of destruction. The first level is: עַל הַר-צִיּוֹן שֶׁשָּׁמֵם – Mt. Zion is desolate. This is bad enough! The Mikdash has been destroyed, the people have been exiled, the Shechinah (so to speak) exiled along with them. And yet – if that is not punishment enough, שׁוּעָלִים הִלְּכוּ-בוֹ – foxes prowl there. Not only are our holy places destroyed, but when foxes prowl there, the pain, notes R’ Soloveitchik, is almost unbearable.
As we take note of – and give thanks for – the tremendous, and glorious, rebuilding of Yerushalayim in our day and time, let us not forget that the epicenter of kedusha, the Makom Ha’Mikdash, lies in ruin, in desecration, in profanity, in solitude.
For this we must surely tremble, for this we must surely cry, for this travesty we must fervently pray for the ultimate redemption.
Would that we merit the day when the children of Yaakov, Beis Yisrael, will be worthy to once again enter the Ohel in all its glory.
We are a hopeful people, and a nation of great strength and faith.
May this month of Kislev and the upcoming Yom Tov of Chanukah, the Yom Tov of great light in crippling darkness, herald a new day for our nation: עֹמְדוֹת, הָיוּ רַגְלֵינוּ בִּשְׁעָרַיִךְ, יְרוּשָׁלִָם – Our feet were standing within your gates, O Jerusalem; יְרוּשָׁלִַם הַבְּנוּיָה כְּעִיר שֶׁחֻבְּרָה לָּהּ יַחְדָּו – The built-up Jerusalem is like a city that was joined together within itself (Tehillim 122:2-3). May it be immediate and in our days, amen.
בברכת חדש טוב ושבת שלום,