May You Be Like Yitzchok and Like Rivka
November 5, 2021
By Rus Devorah Wallen

I’m Rus Devorah Wallen, and I’d like to share my T for 2, my Torah thought for two minutes, more or less.

This week is parshas Toldos which means “offspring” and “generations,” that is , the children and stories of a person’s accomplishments. The portion begins with a strange, seemingly redundant phrase: “Eileh toldos Yitzchok ben Avraham, Avraham holid es Yitzchok – These are the generations of Yitzchok the son of Avraham.  Avraham fathered Yitzchok.”  We know there is nothing extraneous in the Torah, so why is this verse repetitive? One commentary refers to the pride and honor Yitzchok gave to his father Avraham as well as the honor his father gave to  him. The Midrash Tanchuma states regarding this seemingly superfluous phraseology: “There are children who are embarrassed by their parents, and there are parents who are embarrassed by their children. With Avraham and Yitzchok, it wasn’t like that: Yitzchok prided himself in that he was “Yitzchok the son of Avraham,” and Avraham prided himself in that he fathered Yitzchok.”

It is a well-known fact that children often emulate or oppose their parents’ values and behaviors. The role modeling of Avraham and Sara and their vigilance in protecting Yitzchok from various influences, helped him follow in their ways.  Yitzchok and Rivka similarly taught their children Jacob – Yaakov and Esau – Esav to honor them.  However, we know from the beginning of Toldos that when Rivka was pregnant, she knew she had two children of opposite dispositions in her womb. The Midrash Rabba says, “whenever she passed by the doors of the Torah study (i.e., the Schools of Shem and Eiver) Yaakov moved convulsively in his efforts to be born, but whenever she passed by a pagan temple Esav pushed to be born.” Then, the verse says, “When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the outdoors; but Yaakov was a wholesome man who dwelled in the tents.”  Rashi quoting the Midrash Rabba here says, “When they reached the age of thirteen, one went his way to the house of learning and the other went his way to the house of idolatry.” The verse goes on to say, “Yitzchok favored Esav because he had a taste for game, but Rivka favored Yaakov.” 

The commentators explain that Esav honored his father by hunting for him, but Yaakov was scholarly and more reserved. Rivka knew the differences from early on, so she told Yaakov to bring a tasty dish to his father in Esav’s stead and advised him to put on Esav’s fur garment to receive the blessing.  The Talmud explains, this coat was removed from King Nimrod when Esav murdered him the day he was “exhausted,” and sold his birthright to Yaakov for a pot of lentils.  It says, “Esau committed five sins on that day: he dishonored an engaged woman, he committed a murder, he denied G‑d, he denied the resurrection of the dead, and he spurned the birthright.” Yitzchok, although   physically blind, knew the deep-rooted potential in Esav’s troubled soul. To bring Esav close to his ways, Yitzchok wanted to give him the merit of honoring him. Thus, knowing Esav’s inclination towards the material world, Yitzchok’s deathbed request was of food.  What a parenting lesson for all of us! Even if a child’s conduct is horrible, we can never give up.  Even into their adulthood we must continue to develop their inner potential, digging deep into their wells of being.  The Talmud tells us we are responsible for one another, whether biologically related or not, whether perfectly behaved or not.

So, back to the story, it says regarding the tasty dish Yaakov “brought it to his father – Vayavo el Aviv.”  The two words vayavo and aviv have the same letters, “He brought” – “to his father,” but in the opposite order like a palindrome “Vayavo” is spelled Vov, Yud, Veis, Alef and “Aviv” is spelled Alef, Veis, Yud, Vov! This hints at idea that if you honor your parents sincerely, your children will honor you back and your good deeds will be returned to you.  The Torah even describes a reward for this mitzvah – “l’ma’an yerichun es yomecho – your own years will be lengthened.” Since Esav also honored his parents, even though with material and superficial things, he, and Yaakov both lived to a ripe old age.

Tanna D’vei Eliyahu says, “Every Jew is obligated to say, ‘When will my deeds reach the deeds of my forebears?” May we honor our parents and emulate our matriarchs and patriarchs who endowed us with their spiritual DNA.  Our transcendent genome has kept us impacting the world in unique and statistically unimaginable ways. May we be able to keep up our inheritance of kindness and compassion, giving pride, nachas to Hashem as well as our biological or spiritual parents and children wherever they may be.

Rus Devorah Wallen is an accomplished musician, performer, social worker, psychotherapist, and educator.

May You Be Like Yitzchok and Like Rivka - Jewish thought of the week graphic