Project Genesis

What does Esau’s blessing mean?

Question: What is is meant by the blessing Issac grants to Esau when he says, “The fat places of the earth can still be your dwelling, and [you can still have] the dew of heaven.”

Answer: Jacob was given the great blessing of being the leader of the Jewish people. Esau was also given a blessing; he would lead a nation as well. According to Jewish tradition, Esau’s offspring ended up creating the “western civilization” known as Rome. Esau represented the physical world, and Western Civilization have become the masters of that world. He stood for and put his stock in the physical, the here and now, instead of the spiritual and the mystical. This is evidenced by his selling of the birthright for what he called the “red stuff” – the lentil soup. I hope that this puts Esau into perspective for you.

Rabbi Litt

Importance of the First Born

Question: What is the importance of the first born?

Answer:  The first born have been important since earliest times; Abel sacrificed the first born of his flock (Gen.4:4), G-d smote the Egyptian first born (Ex.11:4ff), and we are commanded to sanctify the first born of both people and animals (Ex.13:1). But most of the key Biblical figures were younger sons: Isaac, who was Ishmael’s younger brother; Jacob, who was Esau’s younger (twin) brother; Joseph, who was Jacob’s second youngest son; and Ephrayim, who was Menasheh’s younger brother (Gen.:48). Apparently, in spite of the fact that the first born were traditionally important, and they still require redemption and inherit a double portion (Deut. 21:17), they often don’t become the leaders.

All the Best,
Rabbi Azriel Schreiber 

How Could Jacob Steal the Blessings?

Question: What is the rational for the means justifying the ends with regard to Jacob stealing Esau’s blessing from their father Isaac. Why does the conspiracy between Jacob and Rebekah toward Isaac, and Esau, succeed?

Answer: Your question looks simple, but it is in reality quite complex, and could easily consume the pages of a large book. I’m not going to write that much but I’ll give you a few basics. G-d’s plan for the world was that Esau support Yaacov (Jacob) so that Yaacov could be free to study and undertake G-d’s priestly duties. To do this Esau and Yaacov would each receive the appropriate blessing. These are serious blessings through which necessary G-dly assistance would be received.Esau however was not going to adhere to his end of the bargain. Yaacov would not be able to survive over the long run without the assistance of Esau, UNLESS he had that Bracha (blessing). The fact of the matter is that Esau offered to sell the Bracha for a cheap price, because Esau did not see spiritual value, and Yaacov’s purchase makes the idea of theft merely philosophical discussion material. When Yaacov switched places with Esau it was to make sure Esau did not prevent him from receiving the Bracha he had already purchased.

In all of this G-d was orchestrating the sequence of events. Rivka (Rebecca) and Yaacov both had high prophetic abilities and understood Esau. Yitzchak (Isaac) was also a Navi (prophet) but was blinded by his son’s demeanor, as Esau’s greatest attribute was the honor in which he held his parents. In the world outside that honor however, he was a different person. Rivka and Yaacov knew this; Yitzchak did not, or would not accept it.

It was therefore a conspiracy of right over evil. Nevertheless, G-d runs the world on the basis of “Middah Knegged Middah,” more commonly known as, “what goes around comes around.” Since Yaacov committed this conspiracy, other conspiracies would be committed against him later on

And there you have an introduction,
Eliahu Levenson

Rabbi Avraham Danzig

Question: Who was Rabbi Avraham Danzig?

Answer: Rabbi Avraham Danzig was born in Danzig, Poland (which today is known as Gdansk). He studied in Prague. It appears that he lived in Vilna for most of his life where he served as a dayan – judge. However, until very late in his life he never accepted money for his religious activities but earned his livelihood as a merchant.

He was the author of several works. The most famous of his works are the Chayei Adam and the Chochmas Adam. Chayei Adam deals with the laws of daily conduct, prayer, Sabbath, and holidays, the laws discussed in the Orech Chaim section of the Shulchan Aruch. Together with the Chayei Adam he published Nishmas Adam, in which he discusses the halachic issues in greater depth. Chochmas Adam discusses the laws of kashrus and other issues discussed in the Yoreh Deah section of the Shulchan Aruch. Together with Chochmas Adam he published Binas Adam, which parallels the Nishmas Adam published with the Chayei Adam.

Both of these works gained very widespread popularity and have become standard sources for halachic study. In fact, throughout Europe groups began to form called Chevros Chayei Adam which were devoted to the study of Chayei Adam. (There were many such chevros – associations. For example, practically every town had a Chevra Shas – devoted to the study of the Talmud.)

While today the Chayei Adam has been somewhat superseded as a general standard later works, like Kitzur Shulchan Aruch and Mishna Berurah, the Chayei Adam and Chochmas Adam remain important works which are widely studied.

In addition to these two works for which he is best known, Rabbi Danzig also wrote other books. Among these: Zichru Toras Moshe – an introduction to the laws of Shabbos, Kitzur Sefer Chareidim – an abridgment of the classic Sefer Chareidim by Rabbi Elazar Ezkari, Toldos Adam – a commentary on the Passover Hagadah.

He also mentions a work titled Shaarei Tzedek in his introduction to Zichru Toras Moshe, but I have not yet been able to determine what this book is about.

All the Best,
Rabbi Azriel Schreiber

Isaac vs. Rebecca

Question: Who was greater – Isaac or Rebecca, and why?

Answer: Hi! It’s really not for me, or anyone, to judge who is greater. Only G-d knows the tests that people go through and how difficult they were. I can only stand in awe of such people who spend their entire lives in his service.

I will tell you a Midrash, which points out that the verses at the beginning of Parshas Toldos imply that Isaac’s prayer for children was answered before Rebecca’s. However, the Midrash also gives the reason – because Isaac had the merit of his father Abraham behind him as well.

Best wishes,
Michoel Reach

Why is it called “Toldos” and not “Yitzchak”?

Question: If the portion of Noach begins “These are the children of Noach…” and the portion is then named Noach, why is this weeks portion which begins “These are the children of Yitzchak…” not called “Yitzchak” but “Toldos?”

Answer: Thank you very much for your recent inquiry about the naming of portions.

Quite simply: As far as possible a Parshah name should enable someone who knows nothing about the bible to identify the sections involved.

If I gave someone a Bible and asked “Which chapters are described by the word “Noach” then they would come up with Gen 5 – 10(Please read these chapters to make sure you understand what I am getting at). So Noach (Which covers parshos 6 -11) is a very GOOD parshah name.

But if I ask a person to identify all chapters described by the word Yitzchak they would include chapters starting at chapter 22. So the word Yitzchak is too broad.

I think the key to the Parshah of Toldoth is that it relates stories about THE CHILDREN. (Toldoth can mean both GENEALOGIES and CHILDREN). For parshat Noach, Toldoth means genealogies and indeed we have the genealogies of 70 nations! But for Parshat Toldoth, Toldoth, means THE CHILDREN. And indeed, we have several stories of the “children” – (the selling of the birthright at the beginning of the Parshah, the fight for blessings, the anger that could have led to murder, the brothers copying each other in obtaining good wives etc. We even have the story of Yitchak and Rivkah who were caught having a happy fun marriage.

So “the children” (Toldoth) is a good name for this parshah. It is certainly better than Yitzchak which could include everything starting from the birth of Yitzchak in chapter 20.

To summarize: A parshah should have a punchy name describing what is going on – GENEALOGIES describes Gen 6 – 9. THE CHILDREN describes Gen 27-30.

Hope this clarifies (And please reread the parshahs with this idea).

Russell Jay Hendel;

Dating Tips

Filed under: Marriage and Dating

Question: Does the Torah offer any guidelines or advice on choosing or finding a suitable partner?

Answer: Abraham sends his servant Eliezer to find a wife for his son Issac (Genesis Ch 24). The first significant factor to consider is that Abraham made Eliezer swear that he would not take a women from among the Canaanites, but rather that he would travel hundreds of miles and conduct his search only among Abraham’s own family. There were certain intrinsic character traits possessed by his family that Abraham felt were essential for any future wife of Issac – some of those traits were genetic, and some cultural – but an important implication of this is to emphasis that people don’t exist in a vacuum. Everyone is a product of their family, of their nation, and of their culture, and these factors have to be taken seriously when choosing a person you’re going to have to live with for the rest of your life. An example of a case in which this would apply is where, for example, one of Ashkenazi descent is considering marrying one of Sephardi descent. Now if “Men are from Mars and women are from Venus”, then one has to think twice before they further complicate this ‘war’ between the sexes, by marrying someone who has been brought up in a completely different Jewish culture and thus will almost certainly have an entirely different way of relating to the world.

Now, what criteria did Eliezer use to find the right women? As soon as he arrives in Aram, the area where Abraham’s family had settled, he says a short prayer to G-d: “Hashem, G-d of my master Abraham, may you arrange it for me this day that You do kindness with my master Abraham. See, I stand here by the spring of water and the daughters of the townsmen are coming out to draw. Let it be that the maiden to whom I shall say, ‘Please tip over your jug so I may drink,’ and who replies, ‘Drink, and I will even water your camels’, it is her that you have designated for your servant, for Issac, and may I know through her that You have done kindness with my master.” We can learn a number of things from this scene: firstly, we see that prayer is essential when it comes to finding a wife; Eliezer asks G-d to, literally, set up the whole situation whereby the women meant for Isaac would simply cross his path at that moment – and indeed that is precisely what happened – before he had finished his prayer, Rebbecca was on her way out. Secondly, the one simple characteristic that he was looking for was Kindness, but not just doing what is asked but going beyond the call of duty – ‘Drink, AND I WILL EVEN WATER YOUR CAMELS’. Each partner in a marriage relationship must be sensitive and totally responsive to what the other partner needs, even when not asked or told – Rebecca, with those seven extra words proved to Eliezer that she was a woman suitable to enter the Household of Abraham, the ‘Man of Kindness’.

Yours sincerely,
Ari Lobel

Rebecca’s Mother

Question: What is the name of the Rivka (Rebecca) the Matriarch’s mother?

Answer: There is a Medrash Agada that writes that Devorah (or Deborah, Rebecca’s wet-nurse) was Rivka’s mother.
The Medrash also says that Devorah was the daughter of Utz (Besual’s brother, see end of the Torah portion of Vayera).

All the Best,
Avraham Yeshaya Cohen

Shoveling Dirt on the Coffin

Question: Why do family and close friends cover the coffin with a few handfuls of dirt at a funeral?

Answer: A rabbi once told me of an experience he had in the greater NY area. He was called in to conduct a funeral for a woman whose relatives were not only non-observant, they weren’t even vaguely familiar with the traditional customs of Jewish burial. As the rabbi and a few of the assembled finally took shovels in hand and began filling in the grave with earth, someone among the crowd murmured how “barbaric” it seemed to do this dirty work in public and by hand.

The rabbi stopped for a moment and taught a lesson:

“Mrs. So & So has left this world. Just yesterday, there were so many ways through which we could show her kindness, in which we could give to her. But now, she has no earthly needs. There is no longer anything we can give her.”

“Except for one thing.”

“We can perform for her one final kindness: seeing that her body, the vessel of her soul, is honorably and properly buried. This is the last act of kindness we can directly perform for Mrs. So & So. So shouldn’t we do it for her in as involved a way as we possibly can?”

Burial in the ground is a Torah commandment (see Deuteronomy 21:23, and Talmud, Sanhedrin 46b). Abraham, the first Jew, purchased a burial ground in Hebron and laid his beloved wife, Sarah, to rest there. The Torah further records many times over examples of how our wise ancestors buried their dead with dignity. (more…)

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