19 November 2009

R Nachman Kahana Parsha Commentary

BS"D Parashat Toldot 5770

Aisav, the world’s first Reform Jew

The gemara (Yuma 83b) relates that Rabbi Meir was able to discern the basic character of a person from his name. And it is cited in various rabbinic works that when a parent names a child it is considered a nevu’a ketana - minor prophecy. So much so, that there are people who read lists of names at the brit at and when the baby open his eyes it is a sign that the name touched the soul of the child.

In our parasha the world’s most illustrious twins were named by their parents as Ya’akov and Aisav.

Aisav means free growing grass, weeds or herbs, and Aisav is described as "a man of the field" - eesh ha’sadeh. Yaakov, taken from the Hebrew aikev (heel) implies consistency, as when walking one foot follows the other with cadence and precision, and Ya’akov is described as "the dweller of the tents" - yoshev o’halim.

These descriptions serve to elaborate on the names and characters of the two brothers. A field is an open area permitting unhindered free access to wherever one wishes to go. There is no obligation or responsibility to any one point or area in a field, so when it becomes uncomfortable one can just move on. A field contains any assortment of weeds, grass and herbs intertwined or growing alone depending on how the wind scattered the seeds.

The open fields have no order. No law except the law of the jungle.

Just pick and choose whatever appeals to you at that given moment and discard what is disturbing and irritating.

This was Aisav - the man of the field. He discarded the responsibilities that come with being a first born, selling it for a pittance. He returns from the field so tired that he implores his brother Ya’akov to feed him lentils. The details are a drag on him, just give him the pleasures without the effort.

Aisav sees no importance in living a disciplined life because, as he says to Ya’akov (B’rayshiet 25:32):

ויאמר עשו הנה אנכי הולך למות ולמה זה לי בכרה:

I will soon die,why do it need the birthright

Aisav is the spiritual father of the reform movement and assimilation. Discard what is inconvenient, like shabbat, kashrut, family purity, marrying within the Jewish nation - and certainly the embarrassment of a Jewish State in Eretz Yisrael where Hebrew is spoken, and the chosen people take the Bible seriously. With so much Judaism in the way , it becomes uncomfortable to be with one’s gentile neighbors and more difficult to become assimilated in their ways.

If lentils were good enough for Aisav, son of Yitzchak and Rivka, then shrimp and lobster are good enough for them and their children. The wild weeds grow in their temples in the form of same sex marriages, and the "rabbi" who performs Joey and Jane’s wedding together with the local minister. The reform leader who services the whims of his congregant, and counts them as Jews when one parent is Jewish. Wherever the money and convenience is, there you will find the many Aisavs of reform.

Ya’akov is different. He lived a structured life where consistency is the rule of the day. He is the "tent dweller" which demands conduct suitable for living in a demarcated life style. Structured davening three times a day. Laws pertaining to what and when one eats. Moral and ethical conduct between people in accordance to the value system revealed by HaShem. The acceptance of responsibility without escaping through rationalizations based on weakness and fear.

Aisav cannot be Ya’akov any more than Ya’akov can be Aisav. Their dispositions, characters and ambitions are reflections of their souls. Rivka felt this when each child was aroused in her womb - Ya’akov, upon passing a place of Torah study, and Aisav when passing a place of avoda zara (idolatry).

The dichotomy of Ya’akov and Aisav is clear cut. Ya’akov clings to HaShem through Torah and mitzvot from which he derives his lifeblood of existence, whereas Aisav sees his survival through his ability to stalk his prey in the field with his bow and arrows. He has no need for HaShem for he is the master of his own life and future.

Now with the distinction between the God fearing, responsibility taking Ya’akov and the anarchistic, hedonistic Aisav so clear it would be true to conclude that the two cannot thrive together. One is either in the "orthodox" camp of Ya’akov or in the "reform-assimilated" camp of Aisav.

But things are not that tidy.

There can be a generation where the God fearing students of Ya’akov share in the bitter waters of Aisav.

It can occur in a generation when HaShem imposes great challenges before the Jewish nation, but a segment of "orthodox" Jews escape their national responsibilities with flimsy excuses based on so-called Torah principles, when in fact their evasion of responsibility stems from personal weakness and fatigue of Aisav and the desire for solace and comfort.

At this time in our history, HaShem has placed before His children of Israel the huge historic challenge of restoring our national independence within the borders of Eretz Yisrael, in preparation for the next stage of world history. This stage will witness the execution of Godly justice upon those nations which dealt so cruelly with Am Yisrael, while the Jewish people will be under HaShem’s protective wing in Eretz Yisrael.

But confusion is king. Not much different from the time of Chanuka, which we will be celebrating this month. Then as now, Am Yisrael was faced with an existential threat. A large percentage of our people were drawn to Hellenism and discarded the Torah. Each Jew was faced with the personal challenge to the depths of his faith - join with the Maccabim at the risk of your life or be a bystander in the life and death struggle for the soul of Am Yisrael.

Through the sacrifices of the strong and courageous, HaShem awarded us independence from foreign rule for 200 years. And it is the mesirat nefesh of those holy people that we celebrate the holiday of Chanuka.

At this juncture in our history, each Jew is again faced with the choice to be Ya’akov or Aisav. To pick up the gauntlet of the strong and courageous or to back off from the responsibility of a bechor.

The choices are: To join in the struggle to rebuild our nation in Eretz Yisael or to cringe in the corner behind the apron strings of one’s fears.

It is no secret that I have little patience or respect for the weak and meek of spirit. Not only do they not contribute to the advancement of Am Yisrael, they are a hindrance today as were the 80% of the Jews who refused to follow Moshe into the wilderness and died in Egypt, and those who caused the death of an entire generation by refusing to enter the land at the episode of the meraglim (scouts).

It is not easy to be a "Ya’akov" in a world surrounded by Aisavs, but it is the Ya’akovs who survive and guarantee the eternal existence of Am Yisrael.

Shabbat Shalom
Nachman Kahana