Imrei Shefer - Parshas Toldos

Why did Yitzchok wait until forty to get married?

(25,19) “And these are the generations of Yitzchok the son of Avrohom; Avrohom begot Yitzchok. And Yitzchok was forty years old when he took Rivkah…to himself for a wife.”

These posukim are coming to tell us that although a zealous person should try to fulfil a mitzvah at the earliest opportunity, Yitzchok waited until forty to get married for two reasons. Firstly, he saw with prophetic vision that he was destined to give birth to a wicked son, and therefore he wanted to delay the matter in accordance with the principle that “one does not bring forward punishments (bad events)”. Secondly, he saw that the older Avrohom had been when he had offspring, the better they were spiritually - first he had Yishmael and afterwards Yitzchok. Therefore Yitzchok waited to marry in order that he would have offspring at a time when he was already advanced in years, so that the child would be more righteous.

Thus the posukim are saying that “these are the generations of Yitzchok” - Ya’akov and Eisav who are mentioned later in the parsha, as Rashi explains, and therefore Yitzchok wished to delay the birth of Eisav. Also, “Avrohom begot Yitzchok” - only after Hashem gave him the name Avrohom when he was already old, and many years after the birth of Yishmael. For these two reasons “Yitzchok was forty years old when he took Rivkah” to be his wife, and not earlier.

Why was the age of forty the right time to marry Rivkah?

(25,20) “And Yitzchok was forty years old when he took Rivkah, the daughter of Besuel the Aramean from Padan Aram, the sister of Lavan the Aramean, to himself for a wife.”

The Midrash asks that since the Torah writes that Rivkah was “from Padan Aram”, why does it also mention that she was “the daughter of Besuel the Aramean” and “the sister of Lavan the Aramean”? It answers that this is to teach us that her father was a swindler and her brother was a swindler, and even the people of the place were also swindlers, and yet this righteous woman emerged from amongst them! To what is she compared - to a rose amongst thorns. The Midrash is enigmatic - why does it compare her to a rose amongst thorns, and what point is it making with this?

It seems that the Midrash is answering the problem of why the Torah is emphasizing that they were all swindlers. We can't say that it is in order to show the greatness of Rivkah for remaining a tzaddekess amongst these wicked people, because this is not the right place for this, since it appears that the posuk is relating how old Yitzchok was when he married Rivkah, and does not intend to speak about Rivkah herself. Had the posuk wanted to tell us about Rivkah’s greatness, it should have written “And Yitzchok took Rivkah, the daughter of Besuel…", and not start by stating that Yitzchok was forty years old.

Therefore, the Midrash answers that the Torah's emphasis of the fact that they were swindlers is to explain why Yitzchok waited until forty to get married. Because even if we say, like the opinion of another Midrash, that the reason was because Rivkah was not born until the Akeidah (the binding of Yitzchok) when Yitzchok was already thirty-seven, we still have to ask why Hashem arranged matters so that he would have to wait so long to get married - have Chazal not said that Hashem curses someone who does not get married by the age of twenty!

Therefore this posuk is coming to provide us with the reason, which we can understand from the explanation of Rashi on the posuk in Shir Hashirim 2:2 “Like a rose amongst thorns” - which pierce it, yet it remains constant in its beauty and redness, "so is my beloved among the daughters" - who entice her to follow their ways, to go astray like them after strange gods, but she remains firm in her faith. We see from the words of Rashi, that a rose amongst thorns, even though it is beautiful, is not as beautiful as a rose which stands alone, because it receives lacerations. So too Rivkah - even though she was a tzaddekess, still, since she was amongst these wicked people it was impossible for her not to receive from their influence some bad character traits and false ideas. But Yitzchok helped to remove from her completely these bad influences, and made her a complete tzaddekess.

I found a proof for this idea from the Midrash on the posuk 26:35 “And they were a vexation of the spirit to Yitzchok and to Rivkah” (the Hittite women that Eisav married). The Midrash asks why Yitzchok is mentioned first, and answers that it is because Rivkah was not as vexed as Yitzchok about the vileness of the idol worship of the wives, since her father had also been an idolater. This is just like we explained, that she remained with some bad traits, and she needed Yitzchok's help to remove them.

However, there exists the opposite concern, that perhaps, on the contrary, Yizchok will learn these negative traits from her. Perhaps she will entice him to follow her ways, as the Torah writes concerning the king, that he should not have too many wives lest they lead him astray. So too here, with Yitzchok, there should be this concern.

However, Chazal have taught that forty years is the age of understanding. Therefore, Yitzchok had to already be forty years old when he married Rivkah. By then he had already thoroughly investigated negative traits and understood perfectly that they were worthless, and would not allow himself to be seduced by falsehood - on the contrary, he was fully suited to remove from her all her bad traits.

This then is the explanation of our posuk: “And Yitzchok was forty years old when he took Rivkah”, and the reason that he waited such a long time was because she was “the daughter of Besuel the Aramean”, and the Midrash explains that since her father and brother were swindlers, and so too were the people of her place, and this tzaddekess who emerged from amongst them was like a rose amongst thorns, which receives some scratches, so too Rivkah received some bad traits from her family. Therefore, from this Yizchok was afraid, and so waited until he was forty. This explanation fits very well.

With this we can now understand the Midrash which comments on the posuk 26:34 “And Eisav was forty years old and he married...”, that the kingdom of Edom, which comes from Eisav, is compared to the swine. Just like the swine, which does not have all the signs required to make it kosher (it does not chew the cud), but it does have cloven hooves, and when it crouches, it stretches forth its hooves, as if to say: “I’m kosher”, so too was Eisav. For forty years he hunted married women and afflicted them, but when he reached forty he compared himself to his father and said that just as my father got married when he reached forty, so too will I now marry. The Midrash is saying that one of the evil character traits which epitomises the kingdom of Edom and which it inherited from Eisav, is hypocrisy, duplicity.

However, we need to understand what was so wonderful about Yitzchok marrying so late, such that Eisav came to hypocritically do the same. But with what we have explained above it is easily understood - he was coming to show that just like Yitzchok waited until forty in order that he would not be influenced by bad character traits, so too Eisav, except that by Eisav it was a complete falsehood, just like the swine who stretches forth his hooves and says to everybody “I’m kosher”.

What was the content of Yitzchok’s and Rivkah’s prayers?

(25,21) “And Yitzchok prayed to Hashem opposite his wife because she was barren, and Hashem accepted his prayer and Rivkah his wife conceived.”

In the Midrash it says that Yitzchok stood and prayed: May all the children that You are giving to mebe from this tzaddekess, and she prayed: May all the children that You will give to me in the futurebe from this Tzaddik”. The sefer Yefas Toar wondered at the difference in the wording of their prayers.

To answer this, let us first ask how the Midrash knew that this was the content of their prayers. Maybe each one was praying for themselves, and not praying about the other. It could be that the Midrash deduced that Yitzchok did not need to pray for himself, because Hashem had already promised to Avrohom “for in Yitzchok will be called your offspring”, referring to all the future generations which would come from Yitzchok, so why would Yitzchok need to pray that he should have children? Therefore, it must be that he was praying for Rivkah, that she should be the one to mother the promised offspring. This also explains why the wording of his prayer was “all the children that you are giving to me”, because when Hashem promises to give it is as if He has already given, since He is not like man who is given to changing his mind. But Rivkah, who had not been promised that she would have children, prayed “all the children that You will give to me in the future”.

And the Midrash deduced the content of Rivkah’s prayer from the following logic: if Yitzchok had been praying that he should have children, then Rivkah would have needed to pray for herself, because maybe he would given children from another woman, like Avrohom, who first begot a child from Hagar. But since Yitzchok’s prayer was that he should have all of his children from Rivkah, she did not have to pray for herself, since she had no doubt that her husband’s prayer would be answered. Therefore, it must be that she was praying that any children she would have in the future would all be from this Tzaddik, this point not being included in Yitzchok’s prayer. This explanation fits very well.

What does the phrase “opposite his wife” mean?

(25,21) “And Yitzchok prayed to Hashem opposite his wife because she was barren, and Hashem accepted his prayer and Rivkah his wife conceived.”

The posuk writes that Yitzchok prayed “opposite his wife”. What does this phrase mean? (The Hebrew phrase לנכח אשתו lends itself to various interpretations).

Somebody who fully believes that everything that Hashem does is for the good would never pray if something bad happens to him, since he knows that even this is really good for him, so what is there to pray about? Like the gemora in Mesechta Berachos 60a writes, that Hillel the Elder, on hearing an outcry in the city, said "I’m sure that this is not happening in my home". About him the posuk says in Tehillim 112:7 “He will not fear bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in Hashem.” The Maharsha explains that since Hillel had accustomed his household not to cry out when something bad happens, but should rather say that it’s for the good, he knew for certain that the outcry could not have come from his home. This is the meaning of the posuk "he will not fear bad news" because "his heart is steadfast, trusting in Hashem" that He never does bad, only good.

Therefore, although Yitzchok himself knew that if he did not have children then it was for the best, and therefore he did not want to pray at all, he was forced to do so because his wife was distressed that she did not have children, and she was not able to accept with love that this was how things should be.

Here again we understand why she was referred to earlier as being the daughter of Besuel the Aramean. The household of Avrohom were certainly accustomed to behave like Avrohom, who had this good trait of Hillel to accept bad happenings with love. But Rivkah did not grow up in such an environment, but rather she was the daughter of Besuel the Aramean, the sister of Lavan the Aramean, and was therefore accustomed otherwise.

Therefore when our posuk says that he prayed “opposite” his wife, the meaning is that Yitzchok prayed for the sake of his wife, because she was barren and was distressed by this, and therefore he had to pray. But if not for this he would not have prayed, because he knew that what seems bad is really good.

Why did the Rivkah suffer greatly during her pregnancy?

(25,21) “…and Hashem accepted his prayer and Rivkah his wife became pregnant. And the children struggled within her, and she said, "If so, why am I this?", and she went to inquire of Hashem.”

Chava (Eve), after she sinned by eating the forbidden fruit, was cursed that she and all her offspring would suffer during pregnancy. But the Matriarchs, because they were very righteous, did not suffer the distress of pregnancy at all. Yet the Torah writes that Rivkah became pregnant, and this implies that Rivkah, one of the Matriarchs, felt her pregnancy.

But Chazal have explained that the reason why the Matriarchs were initially barren was because Hashem desires the prayers of the righteous. If so, Hashem also desired the prayer of Yitzchok and Rivkah. But unlike Avrohom and Sarah, Ya’akov and Rochel, who all prayed for children, and consequently the women did not suffer during their pregnancies at all, here only Yitzchok prayed and not Rivkah (I have already mentioned in the previous piece that the language of this posuk lends itself to different interpretations).

Thus on the one hand Hashem could not turn away Yitzchok’s prayer, because this would be disparaging to him. But on the other hand He could not remove from her the suffering of pregnancy since she did not pray. What did Hashem do? He increased her distress of pregnancy in order that she would pray.

This then is the explanation of our posuk, that “Hashem accepted his prayer, and Rivkah his wife became pregnant”, and she experienced the distress of pregnancy. But not only this, but also “the children struggled within her” - her distress was even greater than normal, “and she said: If so, why am I this?” - why did I not pray? If I had prayed then I would not be suffering this distress. Therefore, “she went to inquire of Hashem”, that is, she went to pray.

(25,22) What was Rivkah’s query concerning her difficult pregnancy?

(25,22) “And the children struggled within her, and she said "If so, why am I this?", and she went to inquire of Hashem. And He said to her "Two nations are in your womb".”

One explanation of this posuk is that Avrohom commanded his servant Eliezer that he should not take a wife for Yitzchok from the daughters of Aner, Eshkol or Mamre, nor from the daughters of Canaan. Instead he should go to Padan Aram, to take from there a wife for his son. The reason for this is that he knew prophetically that it would be impossible for Yitzchok to have righteous offspring from any the daughters of the land, except from his own family.

Rivkah also knew this, and therefore when she saw that the children were struggling within her - that whenever she passed a place of Torah learning Ya’akov struggled to get out, and whenever she passed a place of idol worship Eisav struggled to get out, and the Midrash explains that this is because Ya’akov came from the side of Yitzchok, and Eisav came from the side of Rivkah - she wondered “If so, why me?”. If wicked offspring are coming from my side, why did Yitzchok need to marry me? He could have equally married one of the daughters of Canaan!

Therefore, “she went to inquire of Hashem. And He said to her: Two nations are in your womb”. The Midrash explains that this refers to the Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, and the Jewish leader, Rebbi Yehudah HaNasi. She was being told that even though Eisav was wicked, in the future there would come from him a Tzaddik. But if Yitzchok had married one of the daughters of Canaan, Eisav’s offspring would be wicked for all generations.

Another explanation is that Rivkah thought that there was only one child within her, and the struggling, as explained by the Midrash quoted above, informed her that sometimes he would be righteous and sometimes he would be wicked. If so, that her child would not always remain righteous, why did Yitzchok have to marry her? About this she was told there is not only one child, rather “two nations are in your womb”, and one will be completely righteous, and this would not be possible if Yitzchok had taken a wife from the daughters of the land.

Why did Rivkah think that she had prayed for the wrong thing?

(25,22) “And the children struggled within her, and she said "If so, why am I this?", and she went to inquire of Hashem.”

Another way to explain the posuk is according to the Yalkut Shimoni on parshas Chayei Sarah, which says that when Yitzchok did not find evidence that Rivkah was a virgin, he suspected Rivkah and Eliezer of immoral conduct. Now, Chazal record a dispute about the understanding of the posuk in Bamidbar 5:28 which concerns a Sotah (a woman accused by her husband of committing adultery, since she had been seen in seclusion with another man) - "but if the woman had not become defiled and she is clean, she shall be cleared and shall bear seed". One opinion holds that this means that if she had been barren she will now become pregnant, but the other responded that if so, all the barren women will seclude themselves with another man in order to become pregnant. Rather, it means that if she had previously suffered a distressful pregnancy, she would now have a comfortable one.

With this we can understand that which is brought by Rashi from the Midrash on the posuk "and Hashem accepted his prayer" - Yitzchok's prayer, but not Rivkah's prayer, because the prayer of a righteous person who is the son of a righteous person is not comparable to the prayer of a righteous person who is the son of a wicked person. Therefore, Hashem accepted his prayer and not hers. All the commentaries ask about these last words (Therefore...) which appear to be completely superfluous.

But according to what I wrote above we can explain that I might have thought that the reason why he was answered was because her prayers were not needed at all since he had suspected her wrongly, and so even without her prayer she was guaranteed to give birth. Therefore, he was the one who was answered because of his prayers. But in actuality we hold like the opinion that if she had previously suffered distress she would now be comfortable, and not like the opinion that a barren women will give birth. Therefore, Rashi explained that his prayer was accepted because the prayer of a Tzaddik who is the son of a Tzaddik is not comparable to that of the son of a wicked person, therefore to him and not to her - the phrase "therefore..." is coming to emphasize that it is for this reason, and not because her prayers were not needed.

Now, we could explain that Rivkah initially thought that her being suspected by Yitzchok would be to her advantage, because now she will give birth in comfort. But when she saw that she was suffering greatly the distress of pregnancy, she said "If so, why am I this?", why was I suspected for nothing? Granted that Eliezer was suspected, because his actions caused Yitzchok to suspect him, as it says in the Midrash, but why was I suspected for nothing, without gaining any benefit? This explanation would seem to fit well.

However, Rashi did not explain this way - he explained the phrase "If so, why am I this?" - why did I pray to become pregnant? Because if the meaning is like the way we explained it, that she was asking why she had been suspected for nothing, it should have said "למה זה אותי" (why was this to me, this suspicion), and not "למה זה אנכי" (why was I like this, praying to become pregnant). Therefore, Rashi explained that it refers to her prayer, that she was questioning why she had prayed to become pregnant.

Now, the reason why she had prayed for this was because she had thought like the opinion that having been suspected she would now give birth in comfort, and therefore she did not need to pray for this. Therefore, she prayed to become pregnant, since it was possible that she was actually infertile, and for this her having been suspected would not help. But when she saw now that she was suffering the distress of pregnancy, it was clear that the other opinion was the primary one, that if she had been barren she would now become pregnant. If so, she regretted that she had prayed to become pregnant, and not for a comfortable pregnancy, since now she saw that she would have become pregnant without her praying for this. Therefore, she said "למה זה אנכי", meaning, as Rashi explained, why did I pray to become pregnant, and not for relief from the distress of pregnancy? And she went to inquire of Hashem.

But Hashem replied to her that in truth it was good that she had prayed to become pregnant, because the benefit of her having been suspected is only that she will have a comfortable pregnancy. And the reason why she is suffering distress is because the level of relief of the pregnancy is relative to the amount of suspicion - if she is suspected many times, then she has many comfortable pregnancies, and if only one time then only once. If so, since Rivkah had been suspected only one time, she could be granted relief from the distress of pregnancy of only one child, but not from two. And since she is having twins, she can get relief only from one of them. Therefore, she was suffering distress, but only half of the amount that two pregnancies would normally entail. Alternatively, she was suffering distress from only one of the babies. This is what Hashem said to her: "Two nations are in your womb", and you have been granted relief from one, but from the other you are suffering distress.

If Hashem has stated that "the elder will serve the younger", does this not take away their freewill?

(25,23) “And Hashem said to her: Two nations are in your womb…and the elder will serve the younger.”

The word יעבד (will serve) is written without a 'vav', and so can be read to mean "will be served by". On this the Midrash comments, that if the younger merits it, he will be served by the elder, but if he does not merit it, then he will serve the elder.

It seems to me that the reason why this allusion is needed, is in order to answer a problem. And that is, the Alshich spoke at length on the posuk in Eichah 3:37 “Who is this who has said and it came to pass, if Hashem did not command it”, explaining that when Hashem speaks, then it must certainly be. Because of this, when the angel brings the unborn seed to Hashem, and asks Hashem what will be its various traits, he does not ask whether he will be righteous or wicked, because if Hashem would state one or the other, then the person is forced to be so, and he would have no freewill.

According to this, I asked in my youth that here in our posuk it seems that Hashem told Rivkah that Ya’akov was righteous and Eisav was wicked, and if so, they were already forced to be so and had no freewill. However, we can answer that since it simply says that one will be wicked and one will be righteous, without specifying who will be which, each has the possibilty to be the righteous one and the other one will be wicked.

But there is still a problem, because it says that the elder will serve the younger, and why will this be so? It must be because the elder will be wicked and the younger will be righteous. If so, they have no freewill! For this reason the Torah made here a word which is written one way but that can be read another way, so that the matter of who serves whom is undecided, and each one still has freewill to be the righteous one and the other will be the wicked one.

However, Rashi explained here that the words “and Hashem said to her” means that he informed her through a messenger. According to this we can answer our question differently, that granted if it had been said by Hashem Himself then they would have been forced in the matter. But it was said through an emissary, that is, Hashem did not say anything but instead He put into the heart of the prophet to know His thoughts, as it writes by Bilaam in Bamidbar 24:16 "and he knows the thoughts of the Most High". And Hashem's knowledge does not force the matter, as the Alshich explained, only speech. And so, since the speaking was not from the mouth of Hashem Himself but through an emissary, they remain with their freewill.

Why was it necessary that Ya’akov and Eisav be born together?

(25,26) “And afterwards his brother emerged…And Yitzchok was sixty years old when she gave birth to them.”

It seems to me that the reason why the Torah mentions how old Yitzchok was when Eisav and Ya’akov were born is in order to allude to a great matter. Because I wrote elsewhere that the reason why Ya’akov and Eisav were born together can be learned from Chazal’s teaching that the sword and the book came down from heaven bound together. Here also, Ya’akov is the book and Eisav is the sword. And they came into the world entwined together to teach us that it is impossible to have one without the other - the book needs the sword because if not for the sword the book will not be observed.

This is what is alluded to by the names Ya’akov and Eisav. The gematria of יעקב is 182 and the gematria of עשו is 376, which together make 558, and by adding the sixty years of Yitzchok’s age at the time of their birth and one for each of the names Ya’akov and Eisav, we arrive at 620. This corresponds to the 613 mitzvos of the Torah plus the 7 Mitvos of the Rabbis, thus hinting to us that Ya’akov and Eisav were born together because both of them are needed in order to observe the Torah. That just as Ya’akov is necessary to receive and observe the Torah, so too is Eisav necessary to be a sword for those who transgress the Torah, thus forcing them to keep it.

But not for all the mitzvos is the sword of Eisav necessary. Because Chazal teach that Hashem does not punish someone for not fulfilling one of the 248 positive commandments (except at a time of Divine anger), apart from two - the Pesach sacrifice and Bris Milah, both of which are punishable by Kareis (spiritual cutting off, a type of death). This is alluded to by the gematria of Ya’akov by itself together with the four letters of his name and the sixty years of Yitzchok which adds up to 246. Because for 246 of the positive commandments there was no need for Eisav to assist in their fulfillment, for Eisav to be the sword and the punishment, because for these there is no punishment. Only the other two which are punishable require the sword of Eisav.

Why did Hashem repeat that He was giving Eretz Yisrael to Yitzchok’s descendants?

(26,3) “Sojourn in this land and I will be with you and bless you, because to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will uphold the oath which I swore to Avrohom, your father. And I will increase your offspring like the stars of the heaven, and I will give to your descendants all these lands, and through your descendants shall be blessed all the nations of the land.”

Since Hashem already said in the first posuk “to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands”, why did He say again in the second posuk “I will give to your descendants all these lands”? Also, why did He first say “to you and your descendants”, but afterwards He said only “to your descendants”?

But we can explain these posukim according to what I wrote elsewhere, that the repentance that Yisrael does whilst they are in exile is not a perfect repentance, because in order to achieve this the repentance must be done in the same place and under the same conditions as when the sin was comitted. Therefore, since they sinned when they were living in Eretz Yisrael and whilst they had abundant goodness, and their repentance is being done when they are living in exile and whilst they are troubled by deprivation and suffering, these are very dissimilar circumstances.

The best that this deficient repentance can achieve for them is to arouse the remembrance of the patriarchs and to bring redemption in their merit. However, once they have been redeemed they will be able to repent a second time when they are again experiencing abundant goodness, and then they will be worthy of living in abundant goodness and peace in their own merit.

This is what it is saying here: Initially the giving of Eretz Yisrael will be “to you and to your descendants” - in your merit I will give to your descendants all of these lands, because before they are given the Land their repentance will be deficient and so the giving can only be in your merit. But if once they are living in the Land and living in complete comfort they repent anew, then the Land will be theirs in their own merit. Then “I will give to your descendants all of these lands” - in their own merit, and then “through your descendants will be blessed all the nations of the land” - to be like them.

Why would killing Ya’akov be a consolation for Eisav?

(27,42) “And Rivkah was told the words of Eisav her elder son, and she sent and she called for Ya’akov, her younger son, and said to him: Behold, Eisav your brother is consoling himself with you by killing you!”

We can explain that Eisav could have killed Ya’akov even while Yitzchok was still alive, but the reason why he delayed, saying to himself that when “the days of mourning for my father shall draw near I will kill Ya’akov, my brother” is because he knew that when he kills Ya’akov he will be very happy, and on the other hand he knew that when his father dies he will be greatly distressed. Therefore he wanted to delay Ya’akov’s death until his father dies, in order to alleviate the distress that he will experience on his father’s death by killing Ya’akov.

This is what Rivkah was saying to Ya’akov: “Behold, Eisav your brother is consoling himself with you by killing you” - he is planning to console himself at the time when he will be in need of consolation - when his father dies - by killing you.

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