Parshas Toldos: The Simple Man of Torah

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Toldos, Yaakov – who becomes the father of the Shivtei Kah (Tribes of Israel) – and infamous Eisav – grandfather of Amalek, our arch enemy – are born to Yitzchak and Rivka.  After twenty years of childlessness, and much prayer, Hashem opens Rivka’s womb, and she births twin boys. 

As the boys grow, their distinct personalities, and vast differences between them, become apparent, and the Torah tell us:

וַיְהִי עֵשָׂו אִישׁ יֹדֵעַ צַיִד, אִישׁ שָׂדֶה; וְיַעֲקֹב אִישׁ תָּם, יֹשֵׁב אֹהָלִים,  And Eisav was a man who knew hunting, a man of the field; and Yaakov was a simple man, dwelling in tents (Bereishis 25:27).  Rashi notes that Yaakov dwelled in the tents of Torah (ibid).  Onkelos explains that Yaakov was a whole (complete) person, who served in the Beis Ulpan (house of study).   

Rav Soloveitchik zt’l teaches, “The Torah describes Eisav using two expressions: אִישׁ יֹדֵעַ צַיִד – a man who understood hunting, and אִישׁ שָׂדֶה, a man of the field.  Hunting in this context refers to aggressive ambition… More specifically, an אִישׁ יֹדֵעַ צַיִד relies on no one other than himself, his own initiatives and efforts.  He denies the concept of providence as the primary factor in determining a person’s successes and failures, and focuses exclusively on honing his talents and exerting himself in pursuit of his goals. 

“…An אִישׁ שָׂדֶה is a person drive by a passion for wealth, luxury and fame.  The field – the workplace – is not only the place where he earns his livelihood, but the very essence of his life.  He devotes himself tirelessly to the accumulation of wealth and luxury, and in this relentless pursuit, ideals such as compassion and sensitivity become obstacles… Eisav, as Chazal describe, cared little for the needs of those around him, preferring instead to focus his energies entirely on his personal aggrandizement, rather than concern for others.

“…Like Eisav, modern man also relies exclusively on his own efforts and refuses to acknowledge the hand of G-d in his fate.  Twentieth century man is guilty of being an אִישׁ שָׂדֶה, of allowing the pursuit of wealth, comfort and fame to overtake his life and define his very essence.  The accumulation of wealth has become an end unto itself, an end that justifies virtually all means.  People feel responsible only for themselves and their fortunes, and allow themselves to trample over others during their frantic pursuit of affluence.

“Jewish tradition teaches us to instead follow the example of Yaakov, whom the Torah here describes as an אִישׁ תָּם, יֹשֵׁב אֹהָלִים.  Yaakov’s simplicity cannot possibly refer to simplemindedness or naiveté.  After all, over the course of his life, he managed to outmaneuver both his murderous brother and his insidious uncle.  Rather, Yaakov’s simplicity manifested itself in the nature of his lifestyle, which was characterized by humility and contentment.  In direct contradistinction to Eisav, Yaakov felt no need to pursue luxury or prominence.  He felt perfectly content dwelling his his ‘tents’ of study, learning and practicing the laws of G-d, pursuing spiritual excellence rather than material excess.  Understanding what his brother couldn’t – that our sustenance and very lives depend upon Divine grace – Yaakov invested his energies in the service of G-d, rather than devoting himself to the pursuit of material gain.” (Chumash Masores HaRav, Bereishis, p.188-189)

These words are penned on 25 Cheshvan 5778, on the third yarzheit of what has become known as the “Har Nof Massacre”, R”L, when R’ Mosheh Twersky, R’ Kalman Levine, R’ Aryeh Kupinsky, R’ Avraham Shmuel Goldberg and Howard (Chaim) Rotman, zt’l HY”D, were brutally murdered as they stood in silent purity, praying before the Almighty.  Also killed in the attack was Master Sergeant Zidan Saif, who fell defending the Jews, as he attempted to take down the terrorists. 

These “simple men, dwellers in tents”, these kedoshim (holy ones), represented the beauty of our nation.  Unlike the Eisav’s around us, the hunters in the field, who represent brute force and the hatred of Amalek, and who represent the pursuit of material gain before all else, we choose a life of “humility and contentment.”

It is through this purity and simplicity, the אִישׁ תָּם within, that our nation survives and thrives. 

Of her husband, R’ Kalman Ze’ev Levine zt’l HY”D, his wife, Rebbetzin Chaya, relates, “One of the great gifts G-d has given every one of us is the power of speech… For my husband, this expressed itself in his avodah bein adam la’Makom, in davening… For him, davening was an opportunity to talk to G-d – our Father – Who loves us so much and is waiting to hear from us… There was nothing too big or too small to daven for; and anytime anything went right, ‘Hodu la’Hashem ki tov!’ (praise G-d for He is good) was his response.

“If he had to do something difficult, or there was an important decision to make, he always davened first – either with a request of his own or by saying Tehillim.  If we had a tzarah (painful time), he davened. If we had a simcha, he davened.  If an ambulance went by, if someone told him of their tzarah, whether or not he could do anything about it, he davened.

“He was also particular about saying brachos with kavanah (intent and concentration).  He would stop what he was doing and hold the food in his right hand and say the bracha aloud.  He said asher yatzar from a siddur

“When it came to bein adam l’chavairo (interaction with fellow man), he used speech to connect to people and to build people up; he never used it for cutting people down or hurting them.  He was against using nicknames and never told a joke at the expense of another person or group.  He only spoke well of others and refused to speak negatively about anyone… He did this because he knew every person is created b’tzelem Elokim (in the image of Hashem), and he believed in that goodness and never gave up on his talmidim, his children or anyone else…

“Anyone who came to Kehilat Bnei Torah on Simchas Torah remembers the way he danced and the joy on his face – he was so grateful to Hashem for the opportunity he had to learn Torah, to serve Hashem, for the beauty of the world, for all Hashem did for us.  This was the source of his simcha… His Torah and avodas Hashem filled the world with light and brought joy to anyone who knew him” (Living On, Feldheim, p.76-78).

May we always strive to be the אִישׁ תָּם, יֹשֵׁב אֹהָלִים, as we choose to dwell in the tents of Torah, chessed, and tefillah, for this is the source of our נצחיות (eternality).   May we continue on the path of life first forged by our forefather, Yaakov, the quintessential “simple man who dwelled in tents.” 

תהא זכרם ברוך. הי״ד

בברכת שבת שלום וחדש טוב,


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