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This week’s parashah focuses on the life of our Patriarch Yitzchak. Like his father Avraham, Yitzchak experienced a famine. Unlike his father, Yitzchak was not permitted to leave Eretz Yisrael to avoid the famine. G-d told him (26:2-3), “Do not descend to Egypt; dwell in the land that I shall indicate to you. Sojourn in this land and I will be with you and bless you; for to you and your offspring I will give all these lands, and establish the oath that I swore to Avraham your father.” Our Sages explain that Yitzchak had been set aside as a korban olah / burnt offering to Hashem. Just as no part of a korban olah may leave the Temple grounds, so Yitzchak could not leave Eretz Yisrael.

Hashem said in the quoted verse, “To you and your offspring I will give all these lands, and establish the oath that I swore to Avraham your father.” R’ Zvi Yehuda Kook z”l (1891-1982; rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Merkaz Harav in Yerushalayim) notes that Yitzchak was promised not only that his descendants would inherit the land but also that this was the fulfillment of the oath that Hashem had made to Avraham. Yitzchak was the chosen one.

R’ Kook notes further: Hashem said, “To you and your offspring I will give all these lands [i.e., plural].” Why not, “To you and your offspring I will give this land [i.e., singular]”? This, R’ Kook explains, alludes to the incredible variety of climates and sceneries that Eretz Yisrael offers. Virtually any setting that one could desire and find in another land, he could find in Eretz Yisrael as well. (Sichot Harav Zvi Yehuda)

“Yaakov simmered a stew, and Esav came in from the field, and he was exhausted.” (25:29)

The Gemara (Bava Batra 16b) teaches: Esav committed five sins that day: adultery, murder, denying the existence of G-d, denying techiyat ha’meitim/ resurrection of the dead, and giving away the bechorah / birthright. (The Gemara derives each of these sins from a verse.)

Considering the serious sins that Esav committed that day, why, asks R’ Yitzchak Kirzner z”l (1951-1992; mashgiach ruchani of Yeshivat Rabbeinu Yaakov Yosef in Edison, N.J.), does the Torah go into the most detail about the seemingly minor offense of selling the bechorah?

He explains: The first four of Esav’s sins demonstrate moral failings such as lust and anger. Nevertheless, such failings are not as disappointing as seeing a person waste or throw away an inborn positive quality, talent or attribute. That is what Esav did. He was the firstborn, with all the spiritual opportunities that that status entails, and he gave it up. Moreover, for what did Esav give up the bechorah? For a bowl of stew! That is a true calamity.

How do people come to throw away their in-born qualities? R’ Kirzner explains in the name of R’ Simcha Zissel Ziv z”l (1824-1898; the “Alter of Kelm”): People are born with many qualities, but those qualities are not truly their own until they control them. Until then, those qualities have no significance, just as wearing a borrowed gold watch doesn’t make a man wealthy. What causes a person to not work at mastering his good qualities? Our verses provide one answer, writes R’ Kirzner.

We read (verse 32), “Esav said, ‘Look, I am going to die, so of what use to me is a birthright?’” Rashi z”l elaborates: Esav said, “What is the nature of the sacrificial service that the firstborn are meant to perform?” [Originally, the firstborn were the kohanim.] Yaakov replied, ‘Many prohibitions and punishments–even the punishment of death–are associated with it, as we learn in the Mishnah (Sanhedrin 22b): The following priests are liable to death–those who carry out their duties after having drunk too much wine and those who officiate bare headed’.” Whereupon Esav said, “If I am going to die because of it, why should I desire it?” We see, writes R’ Kirzner, that Esav did not believe in himself. Obviously, it is not a given that a kohen will die performing the Temple service. Esav, however, lacked confidence that he could successfully perform the position that was his by birth, and that caused him to despise that position. Similarly, a lack of confidence in one’s ability to develop his G-d-given talents frequently is the reason why a person doesn’t even try. (Ma’oz La’tam)

“Yaakov drew close to Yitzchak his father who felt him and said, ‘The voice is Yaakov’s voice, but the hands are Esav’s hands’.” (27:22)

Rashi z”l explains: Because Yaakov spoke politely (“Please, arise”) rather than harshly like Esav (verse 31 – “My father should arise”).

R’ Michel Zilber shlita (rosh yeshiva of the Zvhil yeshiva in Yerushalayim) asks: Since Yaakov went to such lengths to disguise himself, why didn’t he disguise his manner of speech as well?

He answers in the name of R’ Shmuel Betzalal shlita (rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Porat Yosef in Yerushalayim): This teaches an important lesson, namely that proper speech and good middot / character traits should be so ingrained in a person that he is unable to pretend not to have them even if he wants to. (Tippah Min Ha’yam)

“Yitzchak trembled in very great perplexity, and said, ‘Who – where – is the one who hunted game, brought it to me, and I partook of everything when you had not yet come, and I blessed him? Indeed, he shall remain blessed!’” (27:33)

Rashi comments on the words “I partook of all” – “Everything that I could have hoped to taste, I tasted.”

R’ Hersh Mendlowitz shlita (formerly of Silver Spring, Maryland; now of Yerushalayim) asks: The verse and Rashi’s commentary make Yitzchak sound like a glutton, G-d forbid! Moreover, is the mere fact that Yitzchak enjoyed the food a reason to re-affirm the blessing that Yaakov allegedly stole?

R’ Mendlowitz explains: The Gemara (Bava Batra 16b) teaches that three people – Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov – tasted Olam Ha’ba in their lifetimes. Of Avraham we read (Bereishit 24:1), “Hashem had blessed Avraham with everything.” Of Yitzchak we read (here), “I partook of everything.” Of Yaakov we read (33:11), “I have everything.” Thus, when Yitzchak said, “I partook of everything,” which Rashi explains to mean that Yitzchak tasted everything that he could ever have hoped to taste, he was not referring to how delicious the food was. Rather, when Yitzchak tasted the food that Yaakov served him, he tasted Olam Ha’ba. This signaled to Yitzchak that Yaakov had acted properly in deceiving him and, therefore, Yitzchak affirmed the blessing that he had unknowingly given Yaakov. (Ha’notein Imrei Shefer)

Zemirot Shabbat

“Yamina u’smola, u’baineihu kallah / To the right and to the left, and between them, the bride.” (From the zemer Atkinu Se’udata)

The “bride” is Shabbat, but what is “to the right and to the left”?

Commentaries explain that the three days before each Shabbat (Wednesday, Thursday and Friday) and the three days after it (Sunday, Monday and Tuesday) are associated with Shabbat. Thus, for example, a person who did not recite havdalah on Motzai Shabbat can recite it through the third day of the week. These sets of three days are “to the right and to the left” of the “bride”–Shabbat.

R’ Pinchas David Horowitz z”l (1876-1941; the first Bostoner Rebbe) offers another explanation: In kabbalah, the “right” and “left” represent the Divine attributes of “chessed” (loving-kindness) and “gevurah” (strength) respectively. Among our Patriarchs, Avraham epitomized chessed (the right) and Yitzchak, gevurah (the left).

Avraham fathered Yishmael, who, according to our Sages, refused to accept the Torah because it outlawed adultery. Adultery is the result of chessed (love) gone awry (see Vayikra 20:17). Yitzchak fathered Esav, who refused to accept the Torah because it prohibited murder, which is the mis-use of gevurah.

The nations on the right and the left observe their sabbaths to the right and the left of Shabbat, i.e., on Friday and Sunday, respectively. It is to this that the zemer refers.

Each of these three nations–Yishmael, Esav, and ourselves–claims to have the true Torah of Avraham. When we observe Shabbat, says the Bostoner Rebbe, we add to it a few minutes from Friday and a few minutes from Sunday, thus demonstrating that we are the true heirs of Avraham. (Quoted in Shoshelet Boston p.273)