Parshas Toldos: Spiritual Aspirations

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Toldos, after twenty years of marriage and a difficult pregnancy, Yitzchak and Rivka are blessed with twin boys.  

וַיִּמְלְאוּ יָמֶיהָ, לָלֶדֶת; וְהִנֵּה תוֹמִם, בְּבִטְנָהּWhen her term to bear grew full, behold! twins in her womb; וַיֵּצֵא הָרִאשׁוֹן אַדְמוֹנִי, כֻּלּוֹ כְּאַדֶּרֶת שֵׂעָר; וַיִּקְרְאוּ שְׁמוֹ, עֵשָׂוand the first one came out, red, entirely like a hairy mantle, and they called his name Eisav; וְאַחֲרֵיכֵן יָצָא אָחִיו, וְיָדוֹ אֹחֶזֶת בַּעֲקֵב עֵשָׂו, וַיִּקְרָא שְׁמוֹ, יַעֲקֹבand after that his brother came out, and his hand was grasping onto the heel of Eisav, and he called his name Yaakov (Bereishis 25:24-26).

As the boys grow up, they go their divergent ways – וַיִּגְדְּלוּ, הַנְּעָרִים, וַיְהִי עֵשָׂו אִישׁ יֹדֵעַ צַיִד, אִישׁ שָׂדֶה; וְיַעֲקֹב אִישׁ תָּם, יֹשֵׁב אֹהָלִים, and the boys grew up and Eisav became a man who knows trapping, a man of the field, but Yaakov was a wholesome man, dwelling in tents (v.27).  While Eisav spends his days hunting and trapping, Yaakov spends his days in the tents of Torah.  

The disparity between them was already foreshadowed while they were in utero.  Of Rivka’s pregnancy, the pasuk tells us: וַיִּתְרֹֽצְצ֤וּ הַבָּנִים֙ בְּקִרְבָּ֔הּand the children jostled within her (v.22).  Rashi explains: כְּשֶׁהָיְתָה עוֹבֶרֶת עַל פִּתְחֵי תּוֹרָה שֶׁל שֵׁם וָעֵבֶר יַעֲקֹב רָץ וּמְפַרְכֵּס לָצֵאת, עוֹבֶרֶת עַל פֶּתַח עֲבוֹדַת אֱלִילִים, עֵשָׂו מְפַרְכֵּס לָצֵאתWhen she passed by entrances of Torah study of Shem v’Ever, Yaakov would run and toss about to go out, and when she passed by entrances of idol worship, Eisav would toss to go out (ibid).  

Eisav grows to become the quintessential rasha, and Yaakov, the be’chir she’ba’Avos and man of Torah.  What is the inherent difference between these two personalities that resulted in two men, diametrically opposed to one another?

Ha’Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt’l (1943-2011, Rosh Yeshiva Yeshivas Mir Yerushalayim) explains, “Eisav, who was formed as a complete entity, lacked aspirations to advance.  One who does not yearn for more, who does not strive to move ahead, will not get anywhere in life.  Rav Chaim Shmulevitz zt’l (1902-1979) expressed the idea that he ‘abhorred’ complacent people who lack aspirations and ambitions to grow.

“Yaakov symbolized the diametric opposite.  From the moment of his emergence into the world, he was already grasping onto Eisav’s heel, demonstrating his desire to constantly attain more in life.  The name Yaakov derives from the word ‘eikev, heel,’ for one who perceives himself as a heel – the lowest part of the body, which we step on constantly – regards himself as incomplete and is constantly endeavoring to reach higher.  This is what inspired Yaakov to become a ‘yoshev ohalim’ – a mevakesh Hashem who seeks Him out at every opportunity…

“Eisav’s essence was one of completion and complacency.  He lacked spiritual aspirations, and his interests and desires focused on the pleasures of olam ha’zeh (this world).  Ironically, a spiritually complacent person is never satisfied with his lot, because even the sweetest of material indulgences dissipates quickly.  

“Yaakov, on the other hand, epitomized the incomplete person who is constantly lacking, yearning, and ‘grasping onto his brother’s heel,’ in order to further advance.  He thirsted for spiritual attainments, which filled him with joy and left him craving for more, yearning to ascend even higher.  There is no one happier than a person like this, for he experiences gratification that fills every fiber of his being and imbues him with zest, and this motivates him to strive for more.  As he matures, his inner joy and satisfaction grow, due to the spiritual wealth that he has amassed through learning Torah and fulfilling mitzvos” (Rav Nosson Tzvi Speaks, Artscroll, p.48-49).

Eisav rish’us, his wickedness, was rooted in his arrogant and false assessment of self.  He believed he was ‘finished’ and complete, and did not require any work to improve himself or advance in life.  In fact, the name Eisav itself – עֵשָׂו – is from the word ‘asuy’ complete, whole, finished.  As the Rashbam teaches, שמו עשו: אדם עשוי ונגמר שהיה בעל שערhis name was Eisav: a person who is fully mature/made, complete, for he was covered with hair.  Eisav’s essence was “I am done.” 

Yaakov Avinu, on the other hand, recognizes that he is never done, and no matter how much one has learned and accomplished in life, there is always so much more to do!  Whether in limud ha’Torah, asias ha’mitzvos, chessed and massim tovim, or tikkun ha’middos, the avodah of an eved Hashem is never complete.  

This difference between Yaakov and Eisav is actually alluded to in Rashi (quoted above) regarding their time in utero.  

Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel points out a beautiful chiddush: “… Based on this, we can appreciate a subtle difference in Rashi’s portrayal of Yaakov and Eisav in their mother’s womb.  Rashi comments that when Rivka passed by places of Torah study: יַעֲקֹב רָץ וּמְפַרְכֵּס לָצֵאת, Yaakov would run and toss about to leave the womb, whereas when she passed temples of idol worship: עֵשָׂו מְפַרְכֵּס לָצֵאת, Eisav would toss about to leave the womb.  Rashi uses the word רָץ, ran, only in regard to Yaakov, who embodied passion and determination to serve Hashem.  Eisav, in contrast, was never in a rush to advance in any way, thinking he was already perfectly complete” (Rav Nosson Tzvi Speaks, Artscroll, p.50).

Our nation is called after the third patriarch, Yaakov/Yisrael, as we are Am Yisrael.  While Avraham founded the nation, and Yitzchak was the bridge between the masorah of the past and the destiny of the future, Yaakov/Yisrael represents a tenacity of spirit that can never be extinguished.  No matter how many travails Yaakov faced in life (and they were many), he never stopped growing, doing, being and yearning, always molding himself to become closer to Hashem.  As the Bnei Yisrael – the sons of Yaakov – it behooves us to learn from his ways and always yearn to learn more, do more and grow more, irrespective of our accomplishments of the past.

,בברכת חודש טוב ושבת שלום


LZ”N my dear friend, Mrs. Alice Marks a’h, who was never satisfied with her spiritual level and who never stopped learning, in order to advance higher and higher in all areas of avodas Hashem.  Her sincere and pure quest for Torah and mitzvos was a tremendous inspiration to all.  May her memory be for a blessing.  

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