Likkutei Sichos-Parshas Toldos- Dealing with wayward children and the heretic Jew

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Parshas Toldos

Dealing with wayward children and the heretic Jew

(Likkutei Sichos Vol. 15 1st Sicha)

In this week’s Parsha, Parshas Toldos, the birth of Yaakov and Esav is discussed. While most people who read Scripture side with the righteous Yaakov as opposed to his evil brother Esav, most ironically, we find that Yitzchak the father of the twins sided with his son Esav and held him in greater esteem. In fact, the Midrash states that the main offspring of Yitzchak was not Yaakov but rather Esav. How is this possible to understand? Why would such a holy and righteous man like Yitzchak not take pleasure and focus on his likened righteous son, and rather associate with his son Esav? In answer to these questions, the Rebbe delves into the differences between the Divine mission and service of Avraham and Yitzchak, in which the latter represented the elevation of the mundane, while the former represented revelation to the mundane. Several differences in the lives of Avraham and Yitzchak are analyzed based on this understanding, such as the reason why Avraham left the land of Israel land married a maidservant while Yitzchak did not. The Rebbe then connects these differences between Avraham and Yitzchak to the difference in relationship that they shared with their wayward sons, Yishmael and Esav. The divine lesson that is procured from the above teaching is one of most valuable to this generation, teaching us the proper perspective in viewing a wayward son, and non-observant Jew.


Explorations of the Sicha:

1. Why was Yitzchak so fond of Esav to the point that he is considered his main child?

2. Why did Esav’s head receive the merit of being buried together with his father Yitzchak in the Mearas Hamachpeila?

3. What was the difference in divine service between Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov?

4. What was the difference between the evil of Yishmael versus that of Esav?

5. What hidden good is found in Esav, and within every single Jew?

1. Esav is the intended offspring of Yitzchak:

The first verse in our Parsha, “ViEileh Toldos Yitzchak/these are the children of Yitzchak,” begins the ensuing discussion of the birth and lives of the two sons of Yitzchak, which are Yaakov and Esav. We find an interesting and peculiar Midrash on this verse. The Midrash Raba[1] comments that the word “ViEileh” of the verse above which was written with an extra Vav is coming to connect it with the conclusion of the previous Parsha. In the end of the previous Parsha, Parshas Chayeh Sarah, Scripture discusses the offspring of Yishmael who were all men of evil and therefore, concludes the Midrash, that the intent of the term “offspring” here in our Parsha must likewise be referring to offspring of Yitzchak that were equally as evil as the descendants of Yishmael, and hence refers to only Esav and not Yaakov. In the words of the Midrash, “Who was the child of Yitzchak? This was Esav and his children who was the son of Yitzchak.” It is for this reason, continues the Midrash, that we find an anomaly regarding this verse in Scripture that the word “Toldos” is written Chaser, with a missing Vav [i.e.  תולדות versus תולדת] to exclude Yaakov from  the descendants of Yitzchak.

2. The questions on the Midrash:

The following questions are raised regarding the above Midrash, according to whom the intent of the offspring of Yitzchak discussed in the verse of “Eileh Toldos Yitzchak” refers only to Esav and not Yaakov.

  1. Where do we find throughout the Parsha that Esav is discussed more than Yaakov that we should conclude that the main intent of the word “Toldos” in this verse is specifically towards Esav?
  2. How can one possibly say that the main descendent of Yitzchak was the evil Esav and not Yaakov the righteous?

3. Yitzchak’s connection to his son Esav as his life mission:

In general, the answer to the above questions is as follows: The term Toldos/offspring in Scripture is not limited to biological offspring, but also refers to a Jews general service of God and his accomplishments. Hence, the above verse of “Eileh Toldos Yitzchak” is in truth a reference to the general divine service of Yitzchak, which is discussed throughout the Parsha. Now, one of the general differences that we find regarding Yitzchak and Avraham is in the relationship that they had with their evil sons. The relationship that Yitzchak had with his son Esav was much different than the relationship that Avraham had with his son Yishmael. It is this difference in relationship that is being emphasized in the opening verse of “Eileh Toldos Yitzchak,” in which the verse states, according to the Midrash, that the main work and service of Yitzchak was with his son Esav.

4. The difference between Esav and Yishmael:

Although both Esav and Yishmael were evil men and considered wayward sons, we find the following differences between them and the relationship that they shared with their fathers.

  1. Repentance: While Yishmael is known to have repented and returned to the path of God already in the lifetime of his father Avraham[2], we do not find mentioned anywhere that Esav repented. On the contrary, Chazal[3] state that even on what would turn out to be his last day on earth, he continued in his evil ways and tried to delay the burial of his brother Yaakov under false claims.
  2. Jewish identity: Although both Yishmael and Esav shared Jewish fathers, we only find that Esav is referred to as a Jew while Yishmael is not referred to as a Jew. Scripture explicitly excluded Yishmael from being considered a legal descendent of Avraham, and hence we find it stated in Scripture that he was not to be given a portion in the inheritance.[4] On the other hand, Esav is referred to as a heretic Jew[5], who was a befitting heir of Yitzchak, and indeed was given land as an inheritance by his father Yitzchak in the blessing that he received from him. The reason for the difference in Jewish identity between Esav and Yishmael can simply be explained due to the fact that Yishmael’s mother was a maidservant, while the mother of Esav was Jewish. However, this explanation does not suffice, as in truth we find that even the sons of Yaakov who were born from the maids are considered legitimate sons and counted as part of the 12 tribes, hence proving that prior to the giving of the Torah it was possible to be considered a Jew despite being born to a mother who was a maidservant.

The key to understanding these differences is the understanding of the relationship that each father had with his respective son, Avraham with Yishmael and Yitzchak with Esav.

5. The head of Esav was buried with Yitzchak:

Regarding the connection shared between Yitzchak and his son Esav we find a most peculiar statement of the sages[6], who state that the head of Esav rests within the bosom Yitzchak. The intent of this statement is quite literal, that the physical head of Esav was buried together with Yitzchak and rests within his arms, on his chest. [The Talmud[7] relates that when Chushim the son of Dan came to understand that the burial of his grandfather Yaakov was being delayed because of his great Uncle, Esav’s, claims, he proceeded to chop off his head. The head of Esav rolled into the bosom of Yitzchak, hence meriting to be buried together with him.]

How can an evil man like Esav be buried with Yitzchak? The above statement is a most wondrous matter, as according to Halacha[8] it is forbidden to bury a Rasha near a tzaddik. In fact, the Talmud[9] relates to us a story that when a certain false prophet was thrown into the burial cave of Elisha the prophet, God made a special miracle to resurrect the false prophet and have him be ejected from the grave, so Elisha does not have an evil man buried next to him. Hence, under what basis did Esav merit to have his head buried in the Mearas Hamachpeila, together with his father Yitzchak?

6. Esav had an evil body but a holy soul:

The explanation to the above is that the evil of Esav was only from the respect of his body, however from the respect of his head and his soul, he was not an evil person at all, and on the contrary he had an attachment and soul connection with his father Yitzchak. The root of Esav and how he came out of his father Yitzchak was holy and good, however, as it made its way down into this world, and became attached to the body of Esav, it became attached to absolute evil and could no longer shine its light.

The difference between Esav and Yishmael-A deeper look: The above aspect of Esav having a root in holiness is the advantage that Esav held over his uncle Yishmael. Both Esav and Yishmael held spiritual powers that they received from their father, and both of them carried these powers into the sides of evil. However, by Yishmael, the spiritual influence that he received from his father was not of enough intensity and quality to consider him an actual offspring of Avraham, although it did suffice to influence him to return and repent. This is in contrast to the spiritual influence that Esav received from his father Yitzchak, which was enough to consider him the actual offspring of Yitzchak but not strong enough to bring him to repentance. To understand this matter further, and comprehend why Yitzchak’s influence on his son Esav was not enough to help him repent, despite him being considered his son and inheriting a high level of holiness, we must first introduce a difference in divine service between Avraham and Yitzchak.

7. The difference between the service of Avraham and Yitzchak:

Avraham and Yitzchak represented two opposite forms of divine service. Avraham’s mission was to reveal G-dliness to all portions of the world, even to the most evil and desolate of spirituality. This is referred to as “Milimaleh Lemateh/from above to below.” This is expressed in Scripture in its description of Avraham’s hospitality, in which he opened his home even to idol worshipers to become his guests. On the other hand, Yitzchak’s mission was the opposite, to elevate the below to the above, Milimateh Lemaleh, to refine the evil and raise it to the level of holiness. This is expressed in Scripture in the description of Yitzchak’s digging of wells which entails the removing of earth and dirt and filth from the ground until water is revealed. The level of Avraham represents bringing holiness and G-dliness to the level of the recipient, irrelevant of how low he is, while Yitzchak represents cleaning and refining the recipient until he is ready to receive spirituality.

8. The advantage and disadvantage in each form of service:

There is an advantage and disadvantage in each form of Divine service of Avraham and Yitzchak.

Avraham-Above to below: When one draws G-dliness below, as was the service of Avraham, the level below gets to enjoy a much higher form of revelation, however, on the other hand it does not change his essence or nature. The low-level simply gets to enjoy and experience the high revelation while he maintains his low state and form. Nonetheless, this itself is the advantage of this form of service, that even low levels get to receive G-dliness without any prerequisites or demands. This was seen in the service of Avraham in his hosting of the Arab idol worshipers in his inn. He opened his home and provided food even for idol worshipers, and would force them to acknowledge God and thank Him for their meal. [What a sight it was, to see so many disbelievers be forced to acknowledge monotheism and give thanks to the one and only God. On the other hand, this was a mere temporary solution to their heresy, as it was forced upon them by Avraham, and was not due to a true personal change in their perspective. Thus, Avraham never actually elevated them from their low state, and they remained idol worshipers just like before.]

Yitzchak-Below to above: When one elevates from below to above, as was the service of Yitzchak, the below becomes refined and changed. He no longer remains a low being who gets to enjoy high revelations of G-dliness, as was the service of Avraham, but rather becomes elevated to a higher spiritual being who is befitting of this revelation. This could be seen in the service of Yitzchak in his digging of the wells, in which the water that comes into the well is not from an outside source but from the well itself, hence representing the idea of refining the lower being to a higher level. However, the disadvantage of this approach is that the low state itself will never receive G-dliness, as only if he changes and elevates himself to a higher spiritual state is he worthy of receiving it. [This would be synonymous to Yitzchak not allowing guests into his inn if they did not possess true monotheistic beliefs. Avraham allowed even heretics to be his guests and simply required of them in the end of their meal to express monotheistic beliefs. However, Yitzchak requires a true change of character, and hence the above would not suffice.]

9. How the above differences expressed themselves in the lives of Avraham and Yitzchak:

Leaving to the diaspora: Based on the above, we can understand another difference between Avraham and Yitzchak in regard to them leaving the land of Israel to the diaspora. Avraham left Israel and descended to Egypt, in contrast to his son Yitzchak who was never allowed to leave the land of Israel. The reason behind this difference is based on that which we explained above. Avraham had the power and mission to reveal G-dliness even to the lowest of states, even to the land of Egypt which was the capital of abomination in those times. However, Yitzchak was prohibited from leaving the land of Israel as in his service and mission he was unable to shine divine light to the lower states, and required them to be elevated to his level.

Marrying a maidservant: Based on the above, we can also understand why Avraham was allowed to marry a maid as opposed to Yitzchak. Avraham had ability to shine his light even to a person of low lineage, such as the maid that he ended up marrying who was from Egypt. However, Yitzchak was unable to do so and therefore could not marry a maid in addition to his wife Rivka.

10. Understanding the difference in the relationship that Avraham and Yitzchak had with their offspring:

Avraham and Yishmael: Being that Avraham’s life mission is to illuminate even the low levels without any precondition of them changing, therefore he was able to marry a maidservant and have a child born to him who is completely separate and divided from his high state. This child was his son Yishmael. However, in light, and as a result of, the fact that Avraham’s life mission was to illuminate divinity even to the lowest of levels, it affected that even Yishmael received the light of Avraham and ended up repenting in the end of his life. However, this repenting was the result of Avraham’s constant influence on him, and was not due to a true internal realization of a necessity to change. In other words, internally, Yishmael never intrinsically transformed himself to a holy level that is befitting of being an heir of Avraham, and he simply changed himself externally and acted like a Baal Teshuvah due to his father’s influence. For this reason, Yishmael is not really considered a true son of Avraham, and is therefore not defined at all as a Jew even though he ended up repenting and living a more righteous life than his nephew Esav.

Yitzchak and Esav: Being that Yitzchak’s life mission was to elevate the low to a higher level, and not be engaged in illuminating the low levels until change takes place, therefore he was unable to marry a maid, and his children, including Esav, were born on a high level similar to his. For this reason, Esav was considered a Jew and a rightful heir of Yitzchak, even though he was a heretic. Likewise, for this reason, Esavs head was buried together with Yitzchak, as indeed the level of the head and root of Esav is pure and holy and an extension of the level of his father Yitzchak. However, Esav’s body, and his manifestation in this physical world, was that of a very evil man who is completely distanced from the level of his father Yitzchak, and has no connection with him. Esav, therefore, did not repent, as Yitzchak could have no relationship with him on that low level, and likewise due to this reason the evil of Esav is worse than the evil of Yishmael.

The reason that Esav was considered Yitzchak’s main child: The reason that Esav was considered Yitzchak’s main child as opposed to his son Yaakov, is because the life mission of Yitzchak was specifically in dealing with his son Esav. His life mission was to take someone of low level and reveal within him the high level that he intrinsically contains hidden beneath the surface of his evil, similar to revealing the water found in the well. This form of mission was completely irrelevant with his son Yaakov, being that he was born holy and acted in a holy matter, being compared to a well that functions quite well and does not require any digging to get more water.

11. The divine service of Yaakov:

Our forefather Yaakov inherited the divine missions and services of both his father Yitzchak and grandfather Avraham. On the one hand, he was able to leave the land of Israel and lower himself to live in Haran with his evil father-in-law, and marry two maidservants [i.e Bilah and Zilpah], as did his grandfather Avraham. On the other hand, he also managed to elevate that low area, and have four of the 12 tribes born to him from the maidservants, hence representing the service of his father Yitzchak in transforming the low to high.

12. The reason Yitzchak desire to bless specifically his son Esav:

Based on all the above, we can also understand why Yitzchak desired to give the blessings to his son Esav as opposed to his son Yaakov, and as to why the Scripture of Parshas Toldos spends so much time discussing the giving of the blessings. The reason for this is as follows: Yitzchak was well aware of Esav’s evil behavior, but was also aware of the hidden treasure of good that he contained within his head and root. Precisely for this reason, he desired to bless his son Esav to help reveal that inner good, and have him transform from evil to holy. Yitzchak perceived that within his son Esav there are levels of holiness that even surpass that of his son Yaakov, as can be seen from later on in history that from the descendants of Esav came Unkoles the convert and Rabbi Meir, thus proving that Esav contained within him many holy souls. The act of Yitzchak blessing Esav to reveal these holy sparks is synonymous with his act of taking earth out of the well to reveal the water. The reason, however, that God arranged for Yitzchaks plans to bless Esav to not be successful, is because in truth Esav had departed so far from the level of his father Yitzchak which he contained in his root and source, that he could no longer be brought back through Yitzchak. Rather, it would take his son Yaakov to do this work of digging to bring Esav back to his roots, and the spiritual power necessary for Yaakov to accomplish this he received in the blessings from his father. The reason that Yitzchak could not do so himself, and needed his son Yaakov to do so for him, is because Yitzchak is unable to descend so low, to the low level of Esav, and refine him, and it is specifically Yaakov, who received also the aspect of his grandfather to shine even to the lowest of the low, who has the ability to dig even that deep, even to the depth of evil found within Esav.

13. The divine lesson:

A major lesson that we can all deduce from the above talk is in regard to how to look and treat another Jew who is not yet observant in Torah and mitzvah’s. If even Esav who was prior to the giving of the Torah is considered a Jew being that he is the son of Yitzchak, and despite the fact that he was a heretic, then certainly regarding every single Jew born after the giving of the Torah, he is considered a Jew and to contain the high and holy qualities of a Jew even if he acts in a way that is most contrary to that of the Torah. This especially applies in light of the fact that the Jews of today who are not observant are in majority, if not all, considered “Tinokos Shenishbu” and hence not considered heretics at all. Thus, if even Esav was viewed by his father Yitzchak to contain holiness and Yitzchak tried to influence him to reveal this good, then certainly all the more so is one to place effort to try to influence every single Jew, even the most distant from Judaism, to embrace the holiness that he intrinsically contains.

Bringing the Jew to the Torah not the Torah to the Jew: Although, as stated above, one is to try to influence and have faith in every single Jew irrelevant of spiritual level, nevertheless, it is necessary that one specifically draw the Jew to the Torah and not the contrary to draw the Torah to the Jew. Meaning, that one should not compromise in any law or philosophy of Torah for the sake of making it more appealing to the Jew so he embraces it, as in such a case rather than elevating the Jew one is simply lowering the Torah to the world of falsehood. Rather one is to present the true and original Torah without any compromise to the Jew, one level at a time, until slowly and surely he brings him towards observance without any compromise. When a person looks at a Jew in a way that he sees that his root and soul is really holy and pure, then there is no need for him to start compromising on Torah principles to make it appealing to him, and he rather simply has to reveal within the Jew the will and desire to observe it. However, when one looks at a Jew similar to the level of Yishmael, that he is completely distanced from the level of Avraham, then this can mislead him to think that he must compromise on Torah values for the sake of having the Jew embrace them, and the result of such a form of “Kiruv” is that the Jew never really goes through any real change.


A lesson in Chinuch:

In this generation perhaps more than any other, countless parents are challenged with children who unfortunately do not follow in the path of Torah and mitzvah’s that they have been educated in. There are many ways in dealing with this type of situation, many of which are driven by raw emotion which is so difficult to bear. The Rebbe here offers us a little bit of change in perspective in how we should look at such a child, which can help us adapt the raw emotion of anger and despair, to one of acceptance and transformation. The classical ancient way of looking at a wayward child is by viewing him as a worm in the family tree, and disassociating oneself from him. The Rebbe here offers us a new perspective in which we understand that not only does every single Jewish child contain a hidden good which can be dug up and revealed, but furthermore that for some parents this may very well be their Divine service and mission in this world, to help cultivate and develop the seed of goodness that their child contains, as did Itzchak with his son Esav, hence having Esav be considered his main son. Nonetheless, this does not mean that the father himself always has the right tools to do the digging, as his emotions and temperament may not permit him to properly associate with such a low level as was the case with Yitzchak and his son Esav. Rather, he may need to hire appropriate individuals who know how to dig the good out of a child of even this disposition, as did Yitzchak with giving the blessings to Yaakov to have him do the job of digging out the wellspring of G-dliness from Esav.



[1] Shemos Raba 30:3

[2] See Bava Basra 16b

[3] Sotah 13a

[4] See Vayera 21:10

[5] See Kiddushin 18a

[6] See Targum Yonason Ben Uziel Vayechi 50:13; Sotah 13a; Pirkei Derebbe Eliezer 39

[7] Sotah ibid

[8] Michaber Y.D. 362:5; Sanhedrin 47a

[9] Sanhedrin 47a

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