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Rabbi Doniel Staum on Parshas Toldos
Spiritual Vitality
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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Years ago, when I was studying in Yeshiva, I was conversing with a younger student who had decided to switch out of the yeshiva, in order to attend a different type of yeshiva. He told me how thrilled he was to be escaping the yeshiva which he animatedly described as ‘a crazy place’. He then proceeded to list his personal grievances about the yeshiva, which included every possible component. He hated the dormitory, abhorred the food, couldn’t stand the teachers, disliked many of the students, and was even bothered by the aroma in the hallway. He was pretty convincing in depicting his stay in yeshiva as being completely untenable.

I realized how ingrained his acrimonious feelings towards the yeshiva were and I listening silently. He concluded by saying that it was so bad that he didn’t know he had survived until that point.

When he had completed his list, I told him that it all boiled down to one thing; in his mind he had ‘written the yeshiva off’. He had become sick and tired and, because the yeshiva was no longer a viable option for him in his mind, he allowed himself to become consumed by every minor frustration.

It was almost amusing when he returned to the yeshiva the next year. When I asked him about all of the things that he had mentioned the year prior that drove him crazy, he nonchalantly shrugged and said it wasn’t so bad.

Indeed; it’s all a matter of attitude.

[1]Throughout their youth, Yaakov and Eisav seemed somewhat similar. Although there were glaring external differences, as Eisav was ruddy and hirsute while Yaakov had smoother and whiter skin, the colossal future philosophical and spiritual disparities between Yaakov and Eisav were hardly noticeable throughout their formative years.

When they were fifteen however, that all changed. On the day that their grandfather Avrohom died at the age of one hundred seventy five, Eisav committed numerous egregious sins. The gemara[2] writes that on that day Eisav murdered, coerced a young girl who was engaged, denied the fundamental beliefs of Judaism, denied that there was a concept of resurrection of the dead, and sold/denigrated his first-born rights.

It is enigmatic that the Torah does not mention any of these sins, and merely states[3], “Esav came in from the field and he was tired.” If Eisav had committed such terrible sins, how could the verse merely state that he was exhausted? Why is there no mention of the reason for his exhaustion, i.e. all the sins he had violated? Do we refer to a murderer-idolater-heretic as merely ‘tired’?

Rabbi Nissan Alpert zt’l explained that the Written Torah teaches us the root and foundation of everything. The Oral Torah clarifies the Written Torah[4], elucidating the messages and lessons that are hidden in the Written Torah. Thus, while the Oral Torah writes the actual details of what occurred by explicitly listing the sins that Eisav committed, the Written Torah records only the root-problem of why it occurred. How did Eisav, who had been raised in the home of Yitzchok and Rivka, become such a heinous sinner? Because “he was tired”. He was tired in the sense that he had lost all his drive and ambition, and no longer saw achieving spiritual greatness as a feasible goal. When one gives up on himself he is capable of committing the worst sins, rapidly debasing himself almost without limit.

The verse alludes to this idea when it writes “and he was tired.” It does not simply say that Eisav arrived from the field ‘tired’. Rather, it says ‘and he was tired’, as if to imply that his entire essence was tired[5]. He was completely devoid of aspiration and passion, and that was the key to his hasty spiritual decline.

In a sense Eisav’s downfall lay in the fact that he was ‘sick and tired’. That attitude is extremely deleterious, and can have a disastrous effect.

At the time of Akeidas Yitzchok[6], Avrohom was one hundred and thirty seven years old. The Akeidah was the last of the ten tests that Avrohom was challenged with[7]. Yet Avrohom lived for another twenty eight years. If Avrohom had already traversed the ten major ‘tests’, what was left for Avrohom to accomplish during the remaining years of his life?

Perhaps the challenge of Avrohom was to maintain his level of spiritual accomplishment and to retain the lofty levels he had achieved, even while living a mundane life, devoid of major challenges and tests.

Yitzchok had a similar challenge. When he was thirty-seven years old he was bound as an offering to G-d. For the remainder of his life he was charged with maintaining that level of holiness. He was never allowed to leave the Holy Land even in the face of a famine, nor was he able to marry a maid when his wife was unable to conceive, despite the fact that his father had done so. Yitzchok was referred to as an ‘olah temimah – a complete (unblemished) elevation offering’, even after he was taken off the altar.

It is a daunting task for one to always maintain their spiritual vitality and not allow themselves to falter in their connection with G-d.

It is no coincidence that Eisav ‘left the fold’ on the day of his grandfather’s death. Avrohom lived his life with undiminished passion and vivacity. Until the day he died he never faltered or tired in his mission to spread the light of divinity throughout the world. The prophet[8] states, “Youths may weary and tire and young men may constantly falter. But those whose hope is in G-d will have renewed strength, they will grow a wing like eagles; they will run and not grow tired, they will walk and not grow weary.”

On the day that the spark of Avrohom was lost to the world, Eisav grew ‘tired’. Avrohom, whose hope was in G-d, had proverbial wings like an eagle, but Eisav was the youth who grew weary, and thus he faltered.

The holy Shabbos is a day of renewal and rededication. Dovid Hamelech expressed the ‘song of Shabbos’ as, “It is good to be thankful to G-d and to sing to Your Supreme Name[9].” The six mundane days of the week often cause us to lose sight of our true aspirations and goals. In the befuddlement of exile and our pursuit for livelihood we often grow ‘tired and weary.’ But when Shabbos arrives we are transformed into angelic beings whose whole lives are dedicated to G-d and spiritual pursuits. Shabbos infuses us with strength and vitality so that we are able to encounter the challenges of the next week.

On the night of the first Shabbos of a newborn baby boy’s life we celebrate the first opportunity that he has been granted to ‘taste’ the bliss of Shabbos and to be blessed with the gift of spiritual vitality. At the same time, we hope and pray that G-d will grant the newborn baby the merit and understanding to appreciate the holiness of Shabbos throughout his life and to never lose his spiritual vitality.[10]

“Esav came in from the field and he was tired”

“But those whose hope is in G-d will have renewed strength”

[1] The following is the speech I gave in our home in honor of the ‘shalom zachor’ of our beloved son, Avrohom Yosef, Shabbos Kodesh, parshas Toldos 5768.

[2] Bava Basra 16

[3] 25:29

[4] The Written Torah refers to the Chumash (as well as the Prophets and the Holy Writings), while the Oral Torah refers primarily to the Mishnah and Talmud.

[5] This is similar to the gemara Megilla which explains that when Megillas Esther states, - “ he was Achashveirosh” it means that “he was the same wicked Achashveirosh from the beginning until the end.” All of the events and miracles that occurred during his reign did nothing to change him. His wickedness was part of his very essence.

[6] The ‘binding of Isaac’ on Mount Moriah

[7] According to some opinions, the Akeidah was the ninth test, and the death of Sarah was the final test. The death of Sarah was immediately after the Akeidah.

[8] Isaiah 40:29-30; it is the haftorah for parshas Lech Lecha, the parsha which relates Avrohom’s ascent to greatness.

[9] Tehillim 92

[10] Thus the celebration of a shalom zachor is celebrated on ‘Shabbos shalom’.

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