Tag Archives: Toldot

Toldot: Eating Words

eat_words1“And Yitzhak was forty years old when he took Rivkah, the daughter of Besuail the Aromite, from Padan Arom, the sister of Lavan the Aromite, for himself for a wife”

Genesis 25:20

The Torah has already stated (in last week’s Torah portion) that Rivkah was the daughter of Besuail, the sister of Lavan, and was from Padan Arom. What do we learn from this seemingly superfluous information?

Rashi asks this question and answers that the Torah is emphasizing the praises of Rivkah. She was the daughter of an evil person, the sister of an evil person and lived in a community of evil people. Nevertheless, she did not learn from their behavior!

Many people try to excuse their faults by blaming others as the cause of their behavior. “It’s not my fault I have this bad trait, I learned it from my father and mother.” “I’m not to blame for this bad habit since all my brothers and sisters do it also.” “Everyone in my neighborhood does this or does not do that, so how could I be any different?” They use this as a rationalization for failing to make an effort to improve.

Dvar Torah on Torah Portion Toldot
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
quoted at Aish.com by Rabbi Kalman Packouz

I’ve had the displeasure of reading two very vitriolic and venomous blog posts written by a single individual (with comments, some of which were equally virulent) this week (no, not in my “morning meditations,” fortunately). I have to remind myself that online attack dogs are often really victims in a real or perceived sense (even if you misinterpret what is going on around you as “victimizing,” the emotional distress is still the same).

In this week’s Torah portion, we see some rather disturbing behavior by Isaac, his wife Rebecca, their son Jacob, and particularly Esau. Esau thinks so little of his birthright that he sells it to the rather clever Jacob for the price of a meal (it’s unlikely Esau was literally starving on that occasion). Both Isaac and Rebecca play favorites among their children, though Rebecca has some “inside information” about Jacob from God to guide her reasoning. And his two apparent acts of deception force Jacob to abruptly leave home and seek out the relative safety of the ancestral home of Paddan-aram and the house of Beuthuel.

Isaac is the son of Abraham, who walked with God, and yet he and his family, who should have known better, would be called “dysfunctional” in our day and age. But what does the Dvar Torah say of Rebecca (Rivkah)? She was raised in an environment of evil and you would expect that she’d emulate her family, including her father Laban.

We see from Rivkah that regardless of the faulty behavior of those in your surrounding, you have the ability to be more elevated. Of course, it takes courage and a lot of effort to be different. The righteous person might be considered a nonconformist and even rebellious by those in his environment whose standard of values are below his level. However, a basic Torah principle is that we are responsible for our own actions. Pointing to others in your environment who are worse than you is not a valid justification for not behaving properly.

Here we see that pointing the finger at others, even if the others are “worse” than you (or you only believe them to be worse) is no excuse for what you do or fail to do. Yes, it takes courage to walk the moral high road, to show compassion rather than negativity, to offer friendship rather than rejection, but how often is this kind of courage displayed by those people in the Bible who were closest to God?

messiah-prayerAlthough Sodom was unspeakably evil, Abraham pleaded with God to spare the city if it contained just ten righteous people (Genesis 18:16-33). After the sin of the Golden Calf, God was intent on destroying the Children of Israel and ready to start over by making a great nation of Moses, but Moses begged God to relent (Exodus 32:11-14). Even the Master, suffering on the cross, spoke no curses against those who were killing him but instead said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing,” (Luke 23:34).

If you ever find yourself saying, “It’s not my fault I did this. It’s because of the way I was raised or because I learned it from so and so,” change your focus to, “I’ll make a special effort to improve in this area to overcome the tendency to follow in the footsteps of others.”

Blaming others for your faults and saying that you cannot do anything to change them will be a guarantee that they will remain with you. Make a list of the negative traits you picked up from your early environment. Develop a plan of action to improve in those areas!

Even if someone wrongs you, even if someone disappoints you, even if someone you trusted seems to have betrayed you, how you react to them tells the world more about you than any flaw another person may have or display (whether that flaw is real of just imagined by you).

There’s no excuse for playing the victim card in order to express hostility, maliciousness, malevolence, spitefulness, viciousness, vindictiveness, or any other harsh or savage behavior or speech (and “speech” includes what you post in the blogosphere, in discussion forums, and on websites).

As a disciple of the Master, you have a responsibility to represent him in this world. So do I. So do all of us. We can either exalt or denigrate his name by our behavior. Provocation is no excuse. Any sense of victimization by others (real or imagined) is no excuse. Rachel didn’t use that excuse. Abraham prayed for Sodom. Moses pleaded for the Children of Israel. Our Master asked that the Father forgive his executioners.

Look at yourself in the mirror and ask, “What am I supposed to say and do?”

Be careful of the words you say. Keep them soft and sweet, because you never know, from day to day, which ones you’ll have to eat.

-K. McCarthy

Good Shabbos.

Toldot: Blessings Upon Israel

Isaac and Rebecca endure twenty childless years, until their prayers are answered and Rebecca conceives. She experiences a difficult pregnancy as the “children struggle inside her”; G-d tells her that “there are two nations in your womb,” and that the younger will prevail over the elder.

Esau emerges first; Jacob is born clutching Esau’s heel. Esau grows up to be “a cunning hunter, a man of the field”; Jacob is “a wholesome man,” a dweller in the tents of learning. Isaac favors Esau; Rebecca loves Jacob. Returning exhausted and hungry from the hunt one day, Esau sells his birthright (his rights as the firstborn) to Jacob for a pot of red lentil stew.

In Gerar, in the land of the Philistines, Isaac presents Rebecca as his sister, out of fear that he will be killed by someone coveting her beauty. He farms the land, reopens the wells dug by his father Abraham, and digs a series of his own wells: over the first two there is strife with the Philistines, but the waters of the third well are enjoyed in tranquility.

Esau marries two Hittite women. Isaac grows old and blind, and expresses his desire to bless Esau before he dies. While Esau goes off to hunt for his father’s favorite food, Rebecca dresses Jacob in Esau’s clothes, covers his arms and neck with goatskins to simulate the feel of his hairier brother, prepares a similar dish, and sends Jacob to his father. Jacob receives his father’s blessings for “the dew of the heaven and the fat of the land” and mastery over his brother. When Esau returns and the deception is revealed, all Isaac can do for his weeping son is to predict that he will live by his sword, and that when Jacob falters, the younger brother will forfeit his supremacy over the elder.

from “Toldot in a Nutshell”
Commentary on Torah Portion Toldot

As I write this, it’s early in the Thursday morning, just past 3:30 a.m. If most of you have been keeping up on the events in Israel, you’re aware of the terrorist attacks from Gaza and the response of the IDF.

My wife and children are Jewish. I believe the Jewish people have a right to Israel and a deep connection to the Land. These events may signal not just another round of terrorism and response but a prelude to another war. I can’t know that, of course, but it’s not as if it hasn’t happened before. That’s enough to keep me up at night or to wake me up too early in the morning, but then a friend of mine’s daughter is currently serving with the IDF, so it’s feels personal as well.

But that’s not all I have on my mind.

you realize that israel is the aggressor, right? they’ve been shelling women & children forever… after stealing their land

the US may be the second most evil country on earth, but Israel has 1st place locked up by a few miles.

where do you come up with that? can you show me any evidence? You’re either brainwashed or willfully ignorant.

is that really what you believe? seriously? where do you get your intel? ZionistPress? get real! Israel is the aggressor.

-from my twitter feed

As you can see, I try to follow a variety of opinions on twitter, but as someone on Facebook (ironically) said just recently about twitter, “the noise to signal ratio dropped to nothing but noise.” I want to be fair and give other opinions consideration, but it’s not worth my health or peace of mind, is it?

What does this have to do with Toldot and the story of Esau and Jacob?

I couldn’t help but draw parallels between two warring brothers (and only one becomes the patriarch of the Children of Israel and the Jewish people) and the events in Israel right now. Two related people struggling over what they believe are their rights but with only one, in my opinion and my understanding of the Bible, having the superior claim on the inheritance of the Land promised to Abraham.

The story we read in Toldot ends with Jacob leaving his home for an uncertain future:

So Isaac sent for Jacob and blessed him. He instructed him, saying, “You shall not take a wife from among the Canaanite women. Up, go to Paddan-aram, to the house of Bethuel, your mother’s father, and take a wife there from among the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother, May El Shaddai bless you, make you fertile and numerous, so that you become an assembly of peoples. May He grant the blessing of Abraham to you and your offspring, that you may possess the land where you are sojourning, which God assigned to Abraham.”

Then Isaac sent Jacob off, and he went to Paddan-aram, to Laban the son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, mother of Jacob and Esau.

Genesis 28:1-5 (JPS Tanakh)

The conclusion of Toldot is a little easier to take knowing what happens next and the ultimate outcome of the journeys of Jacob, but in a very real way, those journeys have not yet ended. The Jews have returned to the land of their inheritance but it is an uneasy return. They face strife from terrorism within their borders, the threat of war from outside, and the aggression of a world that does not believe that Israel has a right to exist, let alone defend itself from hostile people who use the weapons of rockets and public opinion to chip away at the Jewish land, taking the Land and the lives of the children of Jacob bit by bit.

It was decades before Jacob could return to Canaan and in the meantime, Esau was there, doing as he willed, and remaining a threat and a barrier to Jacob’s blessings in Israel. Jews believe that in the age of redemption, all Jews will live in Eretz Yisrael and motivate all mankind to seek God (see Inwardness: The Path to Posterity). But as the path for Jacob was not easy and required a great deal of suffering and searching, both in the material and the spiritual sense, so too is the future of Israel between now and the time of Messiah.

And the servants of Isaac dug in the valley, and they found a well of living water.

Genesis 26:19

If a person tells you “I have toiled but I have not found”—do not believe him.

-Talmud, Megillah 6b

Rabbi Sholom DovBer of Lubavitch was deep in thought, struggling with some elusive idea deep in the recesses of his mighty mind. A bowl of soup had been set before him some time earlier, but the Rebbe was in another world; sharp lines of concentration plowed his forehead, as he sat gazing into the bowl and slowly stirring the soup with his spoon.

The Rebbe’s servant, who figured that the Rebbe must be searching for the egg noodles, exclaimed: “Rebbe, dig in further! The lokshen lies deeper down.”

A wave of contentment passed over the Rebbe’s tensed features. “Thank you,” he said to his servant, “You have revived my soul…”

-Rabbi Yanki Tauber
“Digging for Noodles”
from Once Upon a Chassid

Nothing is final. That Israel exists today is no assurance that it will continue as it is between now and the Messiah’s return. The people who govern Israel today are human. Israel is not yet perfected as a nation. As they are today, Israel is not immune from making mistakes out of their humanity. But that doesn’t mean that Israel and the Jewish people deserve annihilation as the Palestinian terrorists (and the Arab nations) and their supporters in the western nations declare.

I have faith that God will not let the Jewish people perish, but what is to happen in the Land of Israel now, I cannot know. Modern Israel has faced crisis after crisis in its young history. There were many times it looked as if it would be destroyed, only to be sustained by the miracles of God. Just as Jacob and his family ultimately returned and established themselves in Canaan, so too have the Jews returned to Israel. Just as Moses lead his people through the desert, there have been desperate struggles for the Jews. Just as Joshua lead Israel over the Jordan and into their Land, the Land promised to Abraham, and to Isaac, and to Jacob, so too will Messiah, son of David, lead his people to take final possession of their Land and into their promised rest.

But there is still much to do between now and then. The first task is to reassure and to fortify ourselves, to lift up and strengthen our faith. Israel is from God. It shall not be destroyed. God urges Joshua, as he takes command of Israel, to be “strong and courageous” four times in the first chapter of the book of Joshua. So too must the inhabitants of Israel today be strong and courageous. So too must we, the supporters of Israel and we who have faith in God’s promises…we must be strong and courageous, though Israel and everyone who loves her will be dragged through the mud and maligned for faith and trust and for obeying God.

Only God knows when the time of “living water” will come. We must be ready.

If you see what needs to be repaired and how to repair it,
then you have found a piece of the world that G-d has left for you to complete.

But if you only see what is wrong and how ugly it is,
then it is you yourself that needs repair.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Perceptive Repair”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

Blessings upon Israel and her people, the children of Abraham, and of Issac, and of Jacob.

If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill. Let my tongue adhere to my palate, if I fail to elevate Jerusalem above my foremost joy.

Psalm 137:5-6 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Continue to keep informed on the events in Israel at IsraelNationalNews.com.

Good Shabbos.

Where Will We Find the Root of David?

lion-of-judahThere is another familiar case in which adjectives may cause more confusion than clarification: the misleading labels of “Orthodox”, “Conservative”, “Reform”, “Reconstructionist”, “Unaffiliated”, “Ashkenazic”, “Sephardic”, etc. It’s important to ask whether or not these words have anything to do with who we are in our kishkas (insides)! If we were able to perform a Litmus Test on our souls – or perhaps a “Litmus Configuration” on our souls, for “Midnight Run” fans who are more familiar with the Grodin/DeNiro technique for counterfeit money inspection – would we actually expect to find any trace of these labels? Do we really think that just as there are various blood types, a litmus test would reveal various “soul types”, such as AJ (Ashkenazic Jew), OJ (Orthodox Jew), UJ (Unaffiliated Jew), etc.? Do these labels somehow exist as “spiritual-chemical” elements on some kind of “Spiriodic Table”?

It’s crucial to keep in mind that the essential soul of a Jew has no such adjectives! A Jew is a Jew is a Jew. And the more we learn to focus on our shared essence, the more we can appreciate the splendor of our true unity! May G-d grant us the wisdom to continually discern the differences between external adjectives and essential nouns!

-Jon Erlbaum
“Birthright Battles & Material Worlds”
Insights from Torah Portion Toldos

It’s unfair to characterize a uniform Jewish view on just about any topic. As soon as you start talking about different periods [in history], it’s almost impossible to answer any question unless you specify what Jews, where and when. Essentially, uniformity of Jewish thought is impossible to find.

-Alan Cooper
Provost of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York
as quoted by jweekly.com

Seems confusing, doesn’t it? We have Erlbaum saying that regardless of the various differences between Jews, in fact, a “Jew is a Jew is a Jew.” We also have Cooper saying that it’s “unfair to characterize a uniform Jewish view on just about any topic.” Which view of Jewish people is correct? Probably both. Is this a problem?

Nope. Well, maybe.

A large part of this blog is devoted to trying to gather some sort of understanding about the Jewish classic religious texts and, in my case, attempting to apply that knowledge and insight to the faith of one, lone Christian. Me. If anyone else finds something of value here, then I am honored to have recorded it. But given Erlbaum and Cooper, it seems as if my search for knowledge will not be an easy one. There is not one “Judaism” that exists immutable and unchangeable across time from Moses and Sinai to the twenty-first century that we can point to and say, “that’s what it means to be Jewish” or “that’s the sum of the Torah.” If that’s the case, then what am I looking for?

Hillel told a would-be convert this:

“A gentile once came to convert to Judaism, on the condition that he could learn the whole Torah while standing on one foot. He approached Shammai, who rejected him, so he went to Hillel, who taught him: “’That which you dislike don’t do to your fellow: That’s the basis of Torah. The rest is commentary; go learn!” –Shabbos 31

A generation later, quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, Jesus said something similar:

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” –Matthew 22:36-40

This past week on my blog, I’ve been drawing a sharp contrast between religion and faith as well as between Judaism and Christianity. It seems as if these two poles at each end of the religious spectrum keep getting in each other’s way. It’s easy to see why most Jews don’t want to even touch the New Testament and why most Christians are relieved when their Pastors tell them that the Law is dead. It’s much less confusing to believe that one religion has nothing to do with the other and that Jews and Christians can remain self-contained within their own “silos” and not wonder or worry about what’s going on elsewhere.

Of course, to do this, Jews must come to the final conclusion that Jesus could never have been the person he claimed to be and that even if he was a good Jewish teacher, Paul twisted those teachings into a very Torah-bereft religion for the Gentiles. Christians, for their part, must believe that Jesus, born of a Jewish mother and of the line of David, did a very “unJewish” thing. They must believe that he lived a life in complete contradiction to everyone around him, somehow managing to gain a large following of Jewish disciples by preaching the Gospel of freedom from the Law and nailing the Torah to the cross. That last part is especially hard to believe. It would be like Joel Osteen visiting the biggest Orthodox synagogue in Houston, Texas during a Shabbat service and expecting to gain a large following of the Jews by taking their Torah scroll and lighting it on fire.

the-teacherYou can only believe all of that if you choose to remain in your silos, both in community and in mind, and refuse to consider the alternative. You also will be unable to explain men like Rabbi Isaac Lichtenstein, Chief Rabbi in the Northern District of Hungry, Rabbi Daniel Zion, Chief Rabbi of Bulgaria, Rabbi Israel Zolli, Chief Rabbi of Rome, and scores of other Jewish people (see Rabbi Joshua Brumbach’s Yinon blog for more information) who amazingly found the Jewish Messiah in the person of Jesus Christ, the man, prophet, and Messiah who neither denied the Torah nor abandoned his people, the Jews. They found that there is no inconsistency between being Jewish and discovering their Moshiach in the pages of the New Testament.

But these people are exceedingly rare among both Jews and Christians. 2,000 years of heinous persecution of the Jewish people by Christians explains why the vast majority of Jews are extremely hesitant (to put it mildly) to consider the validity of Christianity, but what makes Christians so adamant about rejecting the Judaism of Jesus?

To be perfectly blunt: I must say the Christians have robbed the Jews! And perhaps what is worse is that this thievery has been encouraged by theologians, pastors, and even Sunday School teachers, where small children are taught to sing the song, “Every promise in the book is mine, every chapter, every verse, every line.”

Every promise in Scripture in some way benefits Christians, but it is not all promised to Christians. Sometimes the thievery has been inadvertent and unintentional. It’s like thinking that the raincoat hanging in the office closet is yours for wearing home because of unexpected showers. Hopefully, you will discover the raincoat belongs to a fellow worker and you will restore it. It is not as if Christians do not have the greatest promise of God, which is 1 John 2:25: “And this is the promise that He hath promised us, even eternal life.”

-Moishe Rosen
as quoted from the Foreword of Pastor Barry E. Horner’s book
Future Israel: Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must Be Challenged

This isn’t happening in just the traditional church setting, either.

One of the consequences is that many Jews are starting to feel like the “other” in what we thought was a Jewish movement. IMO, limitations on Gentile involvement – some of which are legitimate, in my view – arise in large part from a sense of that a majority of our movement no longer feels that it is essential or even important for us to remain demographically Jewish. This isn’t just a feeling on my part: it comes from numerous conversations with Gentiles and Jews in our movement. I routinely ask, “Do you think we need a majority of Jews in the movement to legitimately call ourselves ‘Jewish’?” Apart from obnoxious Jews like myself (and a smaller number of Gentiles), the answer is almost universally “no.” The discomfort increases when the percentage is lowered: 40%? 25%? 10% – “Ten percent – a tithe. That sounds right!” How about less 5%?” It turns out that it’s very difficult for these otherwise reasonable folks to assign any bottom limit to the percentage of Jews necessary to call our movement, or a congregation, Jewish.

-Rabbi Carl Kinbar
Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council
as quoted in the comments section of
Morning Meditations

Sometimes I say to myself as a kind of joke that, “if God hadn’t replaced the Jews with the Christians, then the Christians would have done it themselves.” It’s a personal “joke”, though a very sad one, because that’s exactly what Christianity did: decide to replace the Jews in the covenant promises of God, all of them, with Christians. Small wonder that Jews don’t want to anything to do with Christianity and that attempting to convert a Jew to become a Christian is considered deeply insulting by Jews. Christians believe that in order for a Jew to come to faith in the “Jewish” (I put the word in quotes because from the church’s point of view, the “Jewishness” of Jesus was undone on the cross) Messiah, he or she must completely deconstruct their own Jewish identity and remake themselves as a Christian goy. Yeah, like Jesus, Peter, and Paul did that to themselves, right?

Supersessionism isn’t just an artifact of the past but a lived reality of the present. Many churches still comfortably believe that Judaism is a “dead religion”, that Jesus did away with the law, that God changed His infinite mind about choosing Israel, played a game of bait and switch with the Israelites, ripped the covenant promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob away from the Jews, and devoted His love, compassion, and mercy exclusively to Christianity.

Ironically, as Rabbi Kinbar points out, a form of supersessionism also seems to have invaded the one religious movement that exists to allow a Jew to live and worship as a Jew and yet be a disciple of Yeshua (Jesus) as Messiah and Savior. It’s like Gentile Christians just can’t stand the idea that “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22). We know from examples we read about in Acts 10 and Acts 15 that the Jewish disciples were responsible for carrying the Word of salvation to the Gentiles and administering how it was to be interpreted, but at the point where Gentiles began to outnumber Jews in the “Nazerene” faith, we also began to rewrite the rules and scriptural interpretations. We stacked the deck in our favor and loaded the dice so the Jews didn’t even have a chance. We invented a system whereby the Jews lost all control and involvement in their own Messiah and we would only let them back in if they agreed to stop being Jewish and to turn into us.

Fat chance. Why should they?

Tree of LifeWe’ve gotten it all backward. We’ve put the cart before the horse. We’ve elevated ourselves to place God never intended us to be. Romans 11:17-20 is Paul’s cautionary tale to the Gentiles about becoming arrogant with being grafted in at the expense of the natural branches. The Tanakh is replete with examples of God restoring those branches and when He does, what will become of us and our so-called “replacement” of the Jews? How will the grafted in answer for the insult to the natural branch of the vine?

More than anything, as frustrating and aggravating as it can be sometimes to struggle with the Jewish perspective on Torah and Talmud, we must look to ancient and modern Judaism if we ever expect to understand our Savior and our faith. We Gentile Christians embrace our comforting supersessionist “teddy bears” at great peril. I know Christianity is afraid of Christ’s Jewishness because we’re afraid of having to play “second fiddle” to the Jewish people and we hate the idea that not all of the promises belong to us. We hate the idea that our easy-going lives of faith and grace, with virtually no behavioral expectations of us by God, are somehow in contrast to the rich and beautiful morning prayers of Judaism, the holiness of the Shema, the Psalms of the Priests in the Temple, the night blessings at bedtime. It all seems so alien, so…Jewish.

But so is Jesus. Not “was”; “is”:

Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” –Revelation 5:5

“The Lion of the Tribe of Judah” and “the Root of David”. Verse 13 of the same chapter of Revelation says “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” Why do Gentile Christians have such a difficult time giving honor and glory to the Jewish “the Root of David”, or have I already answered that question?

Almost a month ago, I wrote another small article called In Search of the Jewish Voice of Jesus. If you’re a Christian who wants to find out about the Jesus no one talks about in church, you can discover him in that blog post.

Toldot: The Servant and the Coachman

studying-talmudIt was a hot July day during the summer of 1866. The children of Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch, five-year-old Sholom DovBer and his brother Zalman Aharon, had just come home from cheder and were playing in the garden which adjoined their home.

In the garden stood a trellis overgrown with vines and greenery which offered protection from the heat of the sun. It was set up as a study, with a place for books etc., and Rabbi Shmuel would sit there on the hot summer days.

The children were debating the difference between a Jew and a non-Jew. Zalman Aharon, the elder by a year and four months, argued that the Jews are a “wise and understanding people”who could, and do, study lots of Torah, both its ‘revealed part’ and its mystical secrets, and pray with devotion and ‘d’vaikus’, attachment to G-d.

Said the young Sholom DovBer: But this is true only of those Jews who learn and pray. What of Jews who are unable to study and who do not pray with d’vaikus? What is their specialness over a non-Jew?

Zalman Aharon did not know what to reply.

The children’s sister, Devorah Leah, ran to tell their father of their argument. Rabbi Shmuel called them to the trellis, and sent the young Sholom DovBer to summon Ben-Zion, a servant in the Rebbe’s home.

Ben-Zion was a simple Jew who read Hebrew with many mispronunciations and barely understood the easy words of the prayers. Every day he would recite the entire book of Psalms, pray with the congregation, and make sure to be present in the synagogue when Ein Yaakov was studied.

When the servant arrived, the Rebbe asked him: “Ben-Zion, did you eat?”

Ben-Zion: “Yes”.

The Rebbe: “Did you eat well?”

Ben-Zion: “What’s well? Thank G-d, I was sated.”

The Rebbe: “And why do you eat?”

Ben-Zion: “So that I may live”

The Rebbe: “But why live?”

Ben-Zion: “To be a Jew and do what G-d wants.” The servant sighed.

The Rebbe: “You may go. Send me Ivan the coachman.”

Ivan was a gentile who had grown up among Jews from early childhood and spoke a perfect Yiddish.

When the coachman arrived, the Rebbe asked him: “Did you eat today?”


“Did you eat well?”


“And why do you eat?”

“So that I may live”

“But why live?”

“To take a swig of vodka and have a bite to eat,” replied the coachman.

“You may go,” said the Rebbe.

-Rabbi Yanki Tauber
“The Difference”
Commentary on Torah Portion Toldot

Not a very flattering comparison between Jews and Gentiles, is it? Of course, the coachman, though he had “grown up among Jews from early childhood” obviously had not spent any time considering how the teachings of the Jewish people could apply to him. More’s the pity. He didn’t consider the example of Abraham and his household and how Abraham taught his non-Hebrew servants of the One God.

We know from last week’s Torah Portion that Abraham sent his most trusted servant to find a bride for Isaac from the land of Abraham’s father. We know that this non-Hebrew servant had learned the lessons of Abraham’s God well, as evidenced by his impassioned prayer.

And he said, “O Lord, God of my master Abraham, grant me good fortune this day, and deal graciously with my master Abraham: Here I stand by the spring as the daughters of the townsmen come out to draw water; let the maiden to whom I say, ‘Please, lower your jar that I may drink,’ and who replies, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels’-let her be the one whom You have decreed for Your servant Isaac. Thereby shall I know that You have dealt graciously with my master.” –Genesis 24:12-14

The result of the servant’s life of faith depended on Abraham teaching him, and all of the non-Hebrew household, of the God who created us all in His image. Rabbi Eli Touger also speaks to this point in his Torah commentary for Toldot.

Our Sages relate (Shabbos 89b) that in the Era of the Redemption, Jews will praise Yitzchak, telling him: “You are our Patriarch.” For in that era, the inward thrust of Yitzchak will permeate all existence. “The occupation of the entire world will be solely to know G-d. The Jews will be great sages and will know the hidden matters, attaining an understanding of their Creator to the [full] extent of mortal expression.”(Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Melachim 12:5).

Although all Jews will then live in Eretz Yisrael, they will as their ancestor Yitzchak did influence mankind as a whole, motivating all to seek G-dly knowledge. “And it shall come to pass in the end of days that the mountain of G-d’s house will be established on the top of the mountains…. and all the nations shall flow unto it. Many people shall say: ‘Come let us ascend the mountain of G-d… and He will teach us of His ways.’ ” (Isaiah 2:2-3) May this take place in the immediate future.

So what happened to Ivan the coachman? Did the Rebbe fail to teach him the same lessons or to live out the same holy life as an example to Ivan as he did to Ben-Zion? Is Rabbi Tauber simply telling us that Jews “naturally” seek the things of God while Gentiles only seek the temporal pleasures of the world? I can’t speak to Rabbi Tauber’s intent, but let’s compare Ivan to Eliezer (assuming Eliezer is “the servant” in the tale of Rivkah). What is the difference between these two men? They both spent many years in the household of a man of God. Did the Rebbe fail where Abraham succeeded or did Eliezer see and hear something in Abraham and in what he taught that Ivan chose to ignore in the Rebbe’s household?

Regardless of opportunity, the path of faith is walked by the individual. We are not old-fashioned wind up toy soldiers that are primed, set on the floor, pointed in a direction, and then set off to march. We make choices. We cannot blame others if our faith is weak or even if it’s non-existent. Ivan chose to consider the purpose of life as taking a “swig of vodka and having a bite to eat” while Eliezer chose to drink deep from the wells of salvation (John 4:13-14).

The path has been set before us. All we need to do is choose to face it, set our foot upon it, and take the first step…or to turn away and follow another trail through the wilderness. Our choice. But like the Samaritan woman at the well, we have already been talking to the one we seek.

“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.” –John 4:21-26

Who are the sons of God? Israel is the obvious heir based on the promises of the Almighty to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but then why were the Jewish people expected to teach the rest of the world about God? If we are not heirs, who are we and what do we matter except maybe as “slaves” or “dogs”? Paul offers us hope. Paul said that we can be grafted in (Romans 11) to “sonship” through faith such as what Abraham had (Romans 4). He also wrote something else encouraging.

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. –Galatians 3:26-28

The Jews are the sons of the Mosaic promise yet we Gentiles, through faith in the Messianic promises, will also be sitting with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the feast in the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 8:11). God be willing and merciful to us all.