Parshas Toldos – Who Is the Man of the Field?

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Toldos, twin sons – Yaakov and Eisav – are born to Yitzchak and Rivka, after many years of childlessness.  Eisav, reddish and hairy, is born first, while Yaakov is born second, holding on to the heel of his brother. 

As the boys grow up, their divergent personalities and essences emerge, as Eisav is attracted to hunting in the field, and Yaakov to the tents of Torah.  Yitzchak loved Eisav, Rivka loves Yaakov.  The stage of conflict is being set…

One day, exhausted and spent from his excursions in the field, Eisav returns home and demands that his quiet brother, Yaakov, pour into him “some of that red, red stuff, for I am tired!  Over a bowl of lentil soup and some bread, Eisav sells his rights to the bechorah, the first born (Bereishis 25:19-34). 

Many years pass and Yitzchak is now old and his eyes have dimmed.  Before his impending death, he wants to bestow blessings upon his first born son, Eisav.  Rivka, overhearing her husband’s intentions to bless wicked Eisav, orders her beloved son, Yaakov, to dress up as his brother Eisav, so that he will receive the blessings!  Rivka will prepare tasty delicacies for Yaakov to present to Yitzchak, and dressed in hunting clothing, Yaakov will be blessed.

Yaakov, the ish emes (man of truth), notes that he is unsure about this plan: אוּלַי יְמֻשֵּׁנִי אָבִי, וְהָיִיתִי בְעֵינָיו כִּמְתַעְתֵּעַ; וְהֵבֵאתִי עָלַי קְלָלָה, וְלֹא בְרָכָה – Maybe my father will touch me and I shall be as a mocker in his eyes; I will thus bring upon myself a curse and not a blessing (Bereishis 27:12).  To this, his mother Rivka replies: עָלַי קִלְלָתְךָ בְּנִי; אַךְ שְׁמַע בְּקֹלִי, וְלֵךְ קַח-לִי – Your curse be on me, my son; only listen to my voice and go fetch (meat) for me (to prepare for father) (ibid, v.13). 

Rivka Imainu, our second matriarch, the holy woman in whose merit the Divine blessings returned to the tent of Sarah (discussed in last week’s dvar Torah; Rashi to Bereishis 24:67), instructs her son to be the recipient of his father’s blessings, at all costs.  She is prepared to even have any curses that may result fall upon her, as she will accept full responsibility for his actions. 

What were her intentions, and why was it so fundamental to the continuity of Knesses Yisrael that Yaakov – the bechir she’b’Avos (choicest of the patriarchs) and the father of the Shivtei Kah (twelve tribes) – receive the blessings of the first born, and not Eisav?

R’ Soloveitchik zt’l powerfully and beautifully explains, “Rivka knew that if Eisav would be the only one ‘knowing to hunt, a man of the field,’ the only scientist, technician, farmer, speaker, politician to take over all the spheres of turbulent life, Yaakov would have no future.  If Eisav were to be the only master in the street, then the day might come, far be it, when Yaakov would be driven not only from the street, from public life, but also from his private domain, from his tents.  If in Be’er Sheva, in the environment of the Beis Medrash of Shem v’Ever, Yaakov could still keep himself away from the field, from the rush and tumble of secular life, if there he could still allow himself to leave the field to Eisav, it would be impossible to do the same when he would need to emigrate to a new land, to a new society, where the individual would be forced to take part in the life of the street, of the field. 

“‘Go now to the flock’ (27:9); my son, learn how to go out to the field, learn how to struggle for ‘the dew of the heavens and the fat of the land’; do not allow Eisav to rule over all!  Learn to hold a Gemara, to say the afternoon prayers, to observe Shabbos and kashrus and educate children to Torah not only in the warm tents of Shem v’Ever, but also in distant Charan, in the field.  There you will hold a Gemara in one hand and a plough in the other to subdue the ground, and the sword to defend yourself. 

“The mother explained to Yaakov her son that the field does not have to be a place of impurity.  Judaism believes that the field in all of its forms and transformations, with its speedy expansions and captivating glint, can be beautiful and glorious provided that Eisav the agnostic, the materialist, the coarse, the cynical denier, does not remain in sole control.  Yaakov, you can bring refinement to the field, you are able to hallow it.  Through you the field will be exalted…

“The field itself under Yaakov’s tutelage would receive something special – the blessing of G-d.  Yaakov’s field would sparkle with the reflection of light of the Divine Presence.  Yaakov would not only work hard in the field but he would find there meaning and purpose.  Only Yaakov possessed the qualities needed to transform the brutal, mechanical field into a Garden of G-d, into a place where the soul could find joy and repose.  וַיָּרַח אֶת-רֵיחַ בְּגָדָיו, וַיְבָרְכֵהוּ; וַיֹּאמֶר, רְאֵה רֵיחַ בְּנִי, כְּרֵיחַ שָׂדֶה – And he (Yitzchak) smelled the smell of his (Yaakov’s) clothing, and he blessed him and said: See the smell of my son is as the smell of the field which Hashem has blessed! (27:27)…

“Of course, it is easier and pleasanter to remain in the tents and not to go out into the field.  Certainly it is easier to hold the Gemara with both hands.  But when historical circumstances forces the Jew to engage in the field and to hold, together with the Gemara, the modern implements for the war of life, he must be ready to do it.  In short, Yaakov must sanctify the field” (The Rav Speaks, p.176-178).

From the tents of Torah, the batei medrash and yeshivos, from our shuls and Jewish homes, we must always strive to sanctify the name of G-d.  With the Torah in our hands, we must live by its teachings and ways.  And yet!  When we go into the “field,” when we leave our tents and go into the world around us, we must know that there, too, there is kedusha, holiness, that opportunities abound to make a kiddush Hashem in all that we do.  We must live by the truism that the blessing of G-d can be found both in the tents and in the field, based on our actions and interactions with those around us.

May we merit to live by the infinite wisdom of our Torah ha’Kedosha, wherever we find ourselves to be, as we become sanctified from the tents of Torah, and as we sanctify the fields of our lives.

בברכת שבת שלום, חודש טוב, ובשורות טובות,


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