This week we feature one of our “classic” divrei Torah from Jordan Block, Eagle Scout, former Assistant Scoutmaster and rabbinical student.
This week, in Parshas Toldos, Yitzchak Avinu (our father Isaac) and Rivkah Imeinu (our mother Rebecca) are going to have a baby!
Unbeknownst to Rivkah at first, there are actually two kids in there, and they’re causing a ruckus. Rashi explains Rivkah feels kicking whenever she goes past a place that serves God (a synagogue of sorts back then), and she feels kicking whenever she goes past a place where they serve some other god.
The kicking seems to indicate that the baby is excited and wants to go to the place she’s passing. This is very confusing for her. Her baby wants to serve God and false gods as well?! What does she do?
The Torah says she goes to ask God. Why does it say she goes? Where would she go? Is God too high up, so she has to climb a mountain first? Maybe her father-in-law, Avraham Avinu (our father Abraham), has a red telephone with a direct line to God? Rashi tells us she went to the yeshivah (house of Torah study) of Shem (Noah’s son) to ask what the deal was. God tells Rivkah through Shem that she is actually going to have twins.
That explains the kicking for both God and false gods, but now we have more questions. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 91b) teaches that before a person is born he is unaffected by the yetzer harah – the evil inclination. This is the source of desire for anything in the world other than connection to God. That being the case, how could a baby who has not been born yet want to go worship idols?
The opposite natures of serving God and serving idols are part of the reason Rivkah went to ask Shem for advice rather than Avraham. The yeshivah of Shem was focused on abandoning the physical world in favor of ascending through the spiritual world. Houses of idolatry are focused on connecting to and using the powers of the physical world.
Avraham Avinu’s mission was bringing into the world the beginning of the unity of the spiritual and physical. His big accomplishments are examples of that: He settles the Land of Israel and works hard to raise sheep and dig wells there, he alters his body with a circumcision, he serves guests with water and food, he fights battles, and he makes physical sacrifices of animals and even his son Yitzchak.
Rivkah felt two different desires in her belly rather than a single unifying desire, so she had to seek advice from the scholar Shem, who specialized in the separation of these desires. She understood correctly, and Shem confirmed, that there were two separate desires in two separate children who would become two separate nations. Esav (Esau) wanted physical power and not spiritual power. Yaakov (Jacob) wanted spiritual power and not physical power.
Still, we learned that a baby cannot be evil from before his birth. The lesson here is that Esav did not have to be evil, even though he had this desire for the physical. He could have taken his anger and lust for power and used it to destroy the idols and fight for God. He could have taken his love of hunting and killed animals to sacrifice to God or to give to his brother in order to allow him to study Torah. Similarly, Yaakov did not have to be good. He could have taken his love of spirituality and abandoned everything physical, abandoning his mission in the world to create the 12 tribes and finish the job started by Avraham and continued by Yitzchak. He could have used his love of learning to learn how to manipulate others or to maintain superiority instead of trying to help.
Down the road, what happens? Esav, who loved the physical world, even abandoned that. He sold his firstborn birthright, which is a physical inheritance, to Yaakov for practically nothing. He said, “What do I need this for?” He gave up on both worlds.
Yaakov, however, overcame his preference for the spiritual and even distaste for the physical in order to serve God. He took risks and grabbed the firstborn rights when he could. He deceived his father to obtain the firstborn blessing. He absolutely hated lying to his father, but he overcame his personal feelings to serve God and prevent that precious blessing from going to his evil brother who would have abused it. Meanwhile, Esav cared only about himself and started hoping for his father’s death so that he could go kill his brother.
Remember, be nice to your little brother, and use your tendencies for good.