Third Temple Torah, True Teachings

Parashas Toldos

From the Book of Bereishis (Genesis)

Greetings from the holy city of Jerusalem!

In this week's parsha, Toldot, we are introduced to our patriarch Yaakov and his twin brother Esav. Rashi explains (Gen. 25:27) that it was impossible to distinguish between the different natures of the twins while they were still minors, but that, as soon as they reached the age of 13, their true characteristics emerged: Yaakov went off to learn Torah, while Esav went off to serve idols. It seems strange that Esav's corrupt behavior emerged so suddenly especially since the Talmud (Shabbat 105b) states explicitly that a person's inclination toward negativity (yetzer hara) does not operate in this fashion! The yetzer hara, rather than advocating sudden change, entices us to sin by urging, "Just do this one small thing." The next day, it tries to persuade us to perform another small misdeed until eventually, a person can be convinced to serve idols! If the nature of the yetzer hara is to gradually wear down our defenses, how could Esav have gone off the Torah path so abruptly? After living his whole life as a tzaddik, how could his behavior have changed so radically the moment he turned 13?

Based on our Sages' explanation of the nature of the yetzer hara, we must conclude that Esav's behavioral shift WAS a gradual process. We can understand this by looking more carefully at the wording of Rashi's comment. Rashi states that, when Yaakov and Esav were children, it was impossible to DISTINGUISH the difference between them not that there was no difference! Although Esav's external behavior may have been the same as Yaakov's, nevertheless, something about them was not the same. What was this difference? We can suggest that Esav was a "big picture" person, who was more concerned with generalities than with details. Although, as a child, he performed the same mitzvot as Yaakov, he disregarded the nuances and subtleties of the commandments and it was this inattention that ultimately led him reject the Torah path entirely.

Dismissing the importance of details can lead to two primary dangers. First, our Sages advise (Pirkei Avot 2:1), "Be as careful with a 'minor' mitzvah as you are with a 'major' one, for you do not know the reward for the mitzvot." Who are we to say that what seems like a minor detail is in fact unimportant? Since we do not know the extent of the reward for our actions, it is foolish to disregard details as being unnecessary.

Furthermore, even if we are correct in our assessment, and what seems small to us is in fact small, the cumulative result of a person's inattention to detail may eventually result in his performing more serious transgressions. The care and attention we put into performing the details of G-d's commandments can serve as a buffer zone to prevent us from performing more serious misdeeds. We see this idea in Parshat Eikev (Deut. 7:12), where the verse enumerates all the blessings that will come to the Jewish people "if you listen (eikev tishm'un)" to Hashem. The word "eikev" literally means "heel," as Rashi explains: "If you listen to the light, seemingly insignificant commandments that a person tramples upon with his heel (b'EIKAVav), then all the blessing will come." If we are careful with the small mitzvot, eventually we will merit all of them. This potential benefit only shows how much we risk losing if we focus only on the big picture and ignore the fine points of the mitzvot.

Esav's name hints to his lack of concern with details. Rashi explains (Gen. 25:25) that the name "Esav" comes from the word "asui," meaning "completed." Esav was interested only in the finished, final product, not the details and this approach, eventually, led to his rejection of the big picture, as well. The name Yaakov, on the other hand, contains within it the word "eikev" (heel). Yaakov is born holding on to his brother's heel, demonstrating his attention to the details that are so easily trampled on and overlooked. For Yaakov, the nuances and details of the mitzvot are top priority. This awareness only strengthens his commitment to the framework within which the details belong.

May we all merit to serve G-d in totality, and not miss the trees for the forest (or vice versa). May we recognize that big things sometimes come in small packages, and create, through our attention to details, a shield of spiritual success that will benefit ourselves, our communities, and all of klal Yisrael.

Shabbat Shalom -
Aba Wagensberg

Photos and Data © Third Temple and/or Avrahom Dovid 1980 through 2005. Parsha Highlights © Rabbi Aba Wagensberg.