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Living in Two Worlds

Living in Two Worlds

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Rav Yaakov Hillel on the Parasha
Rav Yaakov Hillel on the Parasha

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Published by: Harav Michael Elkohen on Nov 01, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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 Parashah Insights
 Rabbi Yaakov Hillel
 Rosh Yeshivat Ahavat Shalom  Parashat Toldot
 Living in Two Worlds
 Naming the Twins
“And the children struggled (
) within her, and she said, ‘If so, why do I live?’ And she went to inquire of Hashem” (
25:22). Rashi explains. “And [the children] struggled: This verse requires explanation. For  what is the significance of this ‘struggling’ [going on inside me]? And it says, ‘If so,  why do I live’ [to suffer like this]? Our Sages explained it to mean
, running.  When she would pass by the entrance of [the
 of] Shem and Ever, Yaakov ‘ran’ and jerked to get out, [and when] she passed by the entrances of [houses of] idolatry, Esav jerked to get out. Another explanation is that they were ‘
,’ struggling with one another and quarreling over the inheritance of two worlds.” Rashi’s words summarize the eternal conflict between Yaakov and Esav, which began as early as their time in their mother’s womb. The names given to Yitzhak and Rivkah’s twin sons are significant. Of Esav the Torah tells us, “And the first one came out red, all of him like a hairy coat, and they named him Esav. And after that his brother came out, and his hand was holding on to Esav’s heel. And he named him Yaakov” (
25:25-26). The commentaries explain that the first child was named “Esav” because he was
,” fully made and complete at birth (see Rashi,
, and
 Baal HaTurim
). The
 Baal HaTurim
 adds that the letters of the word “Esav” have the same numerical equivalent (
) as the word
, implying completeness. In fact,
 (25:25) writes that he was born not only with a full head of hair, but also  with a beard and a full set of teeth! The name “Yaakov” alludes to the word
, literally “heel.” The heel is man’s lowest limb.
 Esav’s name implies a finished product, while Yaakov’s implies an element of lacking. What did Esav have, and what did Yaakov lack? These names were given with Divine inspiration, and they foretell their bearers’ essence and what their task would be in this world. Esav was pure materialism. This is why his name suggests that physically, he was born complete. Our Sages teach that “an ox on the day it is born is already called an ox, and a ram on the day it is born is already called a ram” (
 Baba Kama
65b). In this sense Esav was similar to an animal, which is fully developed at birth, unlike man, who grows to maturity over the course of many years. The
Tzror HaMor 
1:27) explains further that man gradually perfects himself through Torah and
, the opposite of animals who are born mature. This is why the Torah says of a newborn animal, “an ox or a sheep or a goat when it is born” (
22:27). It is a fully developed animal immediately at birth, unlike a human being, who undergoes a long period of maturation. In describing the creation of other entities, which were created in their final, finished, perfect form, the Torah says “it was good.” The Torah does not use this expression in describing the creation of man, because “Man is born like a wild ass” (
11:12). He lacks perfection and “goodness,” and must acquire them gradually, step by step.
  Yaakov’s essence was spirituality, and his task in life would be to achieve spiritual perfection. At birth, he was clearly still far from perfection, with a lifetime of work yet ahead of him. This is why his name is related to
, the lowest of the limbs: this  was to be his starting point. He would develop himself from heel to head, working his way up from bottom to top.
 However, Yaakov’s name was not only “
;” it begins with the additional letter
, the first letter of Hashem’s Name, represents the core of holiness in man.
 The Maharal writes that the word
 (animal) is composed of the letters
, which also spell
 bah mah
. An animal is born complete, lacking nothing.
in it, there is
, its essence – it already has all it needs to perform its basic functions. Man’s name,
, is derived from the word
, earth. Man is like earth which has not yet borne fruit, but has  within it the potential to produce if properly cultivated. The same is true of a human being. He is born lacking, but has the potential to bring his latent capacity for perfection to fruition (
Tiferet Yisrael
, Chapter 3).
 Avraham, on the other hand, worked to perfect himself from head to heel; see
Insights on
 Lech Lecha
. Because he was the founding father of the Jewish nation, and the first ever to be involved in perfecting himself spiritually, it had to be done in this order. In subsequent generations, his children after him could begin their own spiritual endeavors from the point where  Avraham had left off. The advanced levels he achieved became the inheritance of his descendants.
Its numerical equivalent is ten, a number which symbolizes perfection.
 The very shape of the letter
 itself alludes to perfection. Unlike the other letters, it is not composed of separate parts combined to form a character. It is a single entity, like a dot, encompassing a head, middle, and end – it is self-contained perfection.  Yaakov’s name was
, an indication of his life’s mission of building up from the bottom, aided by the spiritual perfection of the
.  After Yaakov’s battle with Esav’s guardian angel, the angel told him, “No longer  will your name be said as ‘Yaakov,’ but rather, ‘Yisrael,’ for you have fought with
 (Heavenly beings) and with mortals, and prevailed” (
32:28). The name “Yisrael” is composed of the letters of the words “
li rosh
,” literally “mine is the head.” The bestowal of this name meant that Yaakov had achieved perfection in his spiritual labors, rectifying himself from heel to head, literally from the foundation up.
 Different Paths
The Torah tells us more about the diverging paths taken by Yaakov and Esav.  While still children, they were running on separate tracks which could never meet. “And the youths grew up, and Esav was a man skilled in hunting (
ish yode’a tzayid
a man of the fields, and Yaakov was a perfect man (
ish tam
) who dwelled in tents” (
25:27). Because Esav was pure physical materialism, with no connection to spirituality, he was incapable of finding satisfaction from within himself. He had to find his pleasures from outside sources, so he headed for the fields to hunt. Onkelos’ translation of the words
ish yode’a tzayid
 is revealing; it sums up Esav’s problem. He was a
 gevar nahshirchan
, a man who is bored. The bored individual is empty and hollow inside. Attempting to fill the void, he continually seeks excitement from external sources.  Yaakov was different. He was an
ish tam
, a perfect person who was at peace with himself. He lacked nothing from the outside, and was constantly occupied in improving himself spiritually. He had no external diversions, making him a perfect man whose life revolved around the tents of Torah study (see Rashi on 25:27).
The Sale of the Birthright
The sale of the birthright – the status of a firstborn son – was a major turning point, not only in the lives of the two brothers, but in the history of our people. Let us try to understand more about the deeper significance of this pivotal event.
Insights on
 Lech Lecha
 for a fuller discussion of this topic.

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