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Torah Sparks

November 17, 2001/5762

Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations

Annual Cycle: Genesis 25:19 - 28:9 (Hertz, p. 93; Etz Hayim, p.146)
Triennial - Year I: Genesis 25:19 - 26:22 (Hertz, p. 93; Etz Hayim, p. 146)
Haftarah - Malachi 1:1-27 (Hertz, p. 102; Etz Hayim, p. 162)

This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary

(25:19-26) Isaac marries Rebecca. During her pregnancy, she feels a struggle within her. She gives birth to twins, Esau and Jacob.

(25:27-34) Esau sells his birthright to Jacob for a pot of stew.

(26:1-11) Isaac and Rebecca, fleeing famine, go to Gerar to live with the Philistines. God appears to Isaac and renews the covenant with him. Fearful of the Philistines, Isaac lies and says Rebecca is his sister. Abimelech finds out the truth and warns the people to leave Isaac and Rebecca alone.

(26:12-16) Isaac prospers, inciting the jealousy of the Philistines, who block the wells he dug. Ultimately, Abimelech asks him to leave.

(26:17-22) Isaac moves to the valley of Gerar, where there are further quarrels with the Philistines over wells. He finds a peaceful place to settle and names it Rechovot.

(26:23-33) Abimelech makes a peace treaty with Isaac, seeing Isaac's prosperity as a sign of God's blessing.

(26:34-35) Esau marries two Hittite women, to his parents' distress.

(27:1-27) Isaac, his sight now dim, announces his intention to bless Esau, but Rebecca and Jacob conspire to trick him into blessing Jacob instead.

(27:28-45) Isaac blesses Jacob. Esau returns home and Jacob's deception is discovered. Esau weeps and pleads for a blessing from Isaac, who complies. Enraged, Esau plots to kill Jacob when Isaac dies. Rebecca hears of this and advises Jacob to flee to her brother Laban in the land of Haran.

(27:46-28:5) Isaac blesses Jacob and sends him to Haran.

(28:6- 9) Esau realizes that his Canaanite wives displease Isaac, so he takes a daughter of Ishmael for a wife.

This Shabbat's Theme: How (Grand) Parents Influence Their (Grand) Children

Isaac pleaded with the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord responded to his plea, and his wife Rebekah conceived. But the children struggled together within her... (Genesis 25:21-22)

  1. But the children struggled together within her...When she would pass the doors of the Torah academies of Shem and Ever, Jacob struggled to come out, and when she passed the doors of idolatry, Esau struggled to come out (Rashi - h"ar. This is the acronym for Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzhak (1040-1105). Bible and Talmud commentator. Troyes, France)
  2. On Rashi's comment above... What this teaches us is that one's environment is of great importance, both in a positive sense and in a negative sense. A person with a strongly held opinion or ideology may be changed by his environment. Even a righteous woman such as our matriarch, Rebekah, can hope to raise a good child such as Jacob as long as she passed the academies of Torah but if she passes the doors where idolatry is taught, an Esau is born. (Derashat HaRamah)
  3. (God) took (the Israelites) out of Egypt. (Exodus 32:11) Rabbi Huna said in the name of Rabbi Johanan: This can be compared to a wise man who opened a perfumery shop for his son in a street frequented by harlots. The street did its work, the business also did its share (since perfumery is one of the things needed by prostitutes). The result was that his son fell into evil ways. When the father came and caught him amidst the prostitutes, he began to shout: "I will slay you!" But his friend was there, and he said: "You were the vehicle for destroying the character of this young man and yet you dare shout at him! You ignored all other professions, teaching him to be a perfumerand then you ignored all other possible locations and set up a shop for him just in the street where prostitutes dwell"! (So God took the Israelites out of Egypt) (Exodus Rabbah 43:7)
  4. Judaism was always very sensitive to the powerful influence of environment. As the Midrash explains, when Korah organized his rebellious campaign against Moses (Numbers 16:1 f.), both Dothan and Abiram joined him because they were his neighbors. Man is a highly imitative creature. He absorbs from his environment the values and behavior patterns of those about him, and in his ways tends to conform to them. (Irving Bunim, Ethics from Sinai, Vol. I, pp. 65-66)
  5. "Every man came with his household" (Exod. 1:1) - Because Jacob knew that the Egyptians were steeped in immoral acts, he made certain to marry off his children and children's children before they came to Egypt. (Midrash Hagadol)
    • Comment (on above Midrash): Despite modern notions to the contrary, it certainly is the duty of parents to be concerned with the type of mate their children will choose. While parents should not dictate such a choice, nevertheless it is their duty and obligation to guide their children in this matter so that they may make the proper choice. Decisions as to the community in which the family will reside while the children are of marriageable age or the college a youngster will attend should be made with due regard to the opportunities for finding a suitable mate. (Amos W. Miller, Understanding the Midrash, p 17)
  6. Rabbi Zev Zitomirer, the "Or ha-Meir", (d. 1800) once glanced through the window of his home and saw a man and his son, both drunk, staggering down the street and falling into the gutter. "I envy that father," said the rabbi to his son, Israel Dov, with a sigh. "He has accomplished his goal of having a son like himself. As for me, I do not know yet whether you will be like me or not. I can only hope that the drunkard is not more successful in training his son than I have been with you." (Bet Pinchas, by P. Shapiro, 1926, pp. 18-19)

“Sparks” for Discussion:

Until what point in their lives are we able to guide and influence our children in the way which we would hope they would go? Do we ever lose them in this regard? How can we give them the distance, the independence, that they need and yet, still be able to impact on their lives?

From the above observations, garnered from our Jewish tradition, there seems to be unanimous agreement that one's environment has a powerful effect on one's behavior. It then follows that if we want our children and grandchildren to adhere to wholesome values we should give serious consideration as to where one could find them. In what environment are they ordinarily? In this respect, as parents and grandparents we have the ability to help determine where that environment will be.

In terms of Jewish commitment, how can we as parents and grandparents provide a reinforcing environment when our (grand)children are still young? When they are teenagers? When they are deciding on which summer camp or college to attend? When they are "traveling to see the world"? When they are considering where to settle? When they have their children to bring up?

To what extent can we help determine the future environment of our children and grandchildren?

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