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5 Kislev 5784 - November 18, 2023

Parshat Toldot

Rabbi's Reflections

-Faith and Action, Faith in Action-

At the beginning of Parshat Toldot, Rivkeh becomes pregnant with twins, causing her great pain and distress, as it says, “And the children struggled within her, and she said, ‘If it be so, why am I like this?’” (Bereshit 28:22). She asks God why she suffers so, and God tells her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two kingdoms will separate from your innards, and one kingdom will become mightier than the other kingdom, and the elder will serve the younger” (Ibid., 25:23). Rivkeh now has the prophecy! She knows that whichever child is older will serve the younger! Thus, when Esav appeared first, Rivkeh knew that Yaakov must be the promised child. That being said, we have to ask the question, if Rivkeh knew that Yaakov was destined to be the bearer of the covenant, why then, when she heard that her husband Yitzchak wanted to bestow his blessing upon Esav, did she have Yaakov pretend to be his brother, fool his father and “steal” what God had promised was rightly his? That is to say, why did Rivkeh feel the need to do anything? Why not just sit back and say, “God promised the elder will serve the younger, so who am I to get in the way of His plan?” Did Rivkeh show a lack of faith when she told Yaakov, “And now my son, listen to my voice, to what I am commanding you” (Ibid., 27:8)?

According to Rav Soloveitchik, “Rivkeh was responsible for the covenant being transmitted to Yaakov instead of Esav. Yitzchak had contemplated entrusting the spiritual heritage to his oldest son. At the hour of crisis Rivkeh intervened, and thereby determined the historical destiny of the covenantal community” (Family Redeemed, pp 118-9). We can learn a very powerful lesson about Jewish faith from Rivkeh’s actions. Of course, she had complete faith in what God had promised. Yet, at the same time, she also knew that in order to see that promise come to fruition, human action, human initiative, intervention and resolve was required. That is to say, faith does not come to the exclusion of action and action does not come to the exclusion of faith. Rather, one is always an expression of the other. Thus, it was because of Rivkeh’s faith that she acted.

This Shabbat, let us consider that while we maintain our faith – faith that the Israeli hostages will be released and that Israel will one day dwell securely within its own borders, we must also act by doing all we can make that so – through pro-Israel activism, opposing anti-Semitism at every level, and relentlessly advocating for Israel’s right to exist. During these difficult times, may we all be like Rivkeh – having faith by taking action to ensure the eternity of the covenant God has promised us. 

Shabbat Shalom!

-Rabbi Dan

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