by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman
Our name is our essence, the keenest description of our most innate beingness. In Parashat Toldot we experience the birth and the naming of Ya'akov and Esav, the disparate twins of Yitzhak and Rivka. Ya'akov means supplanter, or heel, the ergonomically accessible point by which to pull another back and pass him by in the process, in the very same instant.
The blessings which accrue to Ya'akov give the Divine imprimatur to the Biblical idea of merit over birth order,of moral primacy over primogeniture. Yitzhak's rising over Ishmael was arguably won by dint of the power struggles between Sarah/wife and Hagar/handmaid-concubine, beyond solely the purity of the merit of the children.
But with the ascendancy of the younger Ya'akov over the older Esav, there is no question that they shared the same set of parents; all control factors accounted for; everything else being equal. The name Ya'akov in its deepest essence alludes to the ikvei mashiach, the footsteps of the annointed one, the future redeemer.
The age of redemption will be characterized by the vainquishing of the stronger by the weaker, of the still small voice of quiet prayer over the gluttonous, raucous, brutish impetuosity of strength and power and might. Hakol kol ya'akov ("the voice is the voice of Jacob") will win in the end over hayadayim y'dei esav ("but the hands are the hands of Esau").
Esav means "done," already made, his spiritual growth already completed by the time he left the womb. The name Esav has the rank odor of fermentation on the brink of spoilage, of the psychological security of amassed comforting false remembrances of the glory of things past asserting domination over the hope, aspirations and promise of the emerging moment of a new day that is dawning.
Yitzhak himself achieves fulfillment, by earning in the end his own name. Avimelech is gazing out his window (Gen 26:8) "and saw, and lo and behold, Yitzhak was "enjoying himself" with his wife Rivka ....vayar vehiney Yitzhak mitzahek eyt Rivka ishto."
Well, finally Yitzhak himself is living his name, whatever it may mean. Does anyone remember "laughter" in the Torah? In Lech Lecha, (Gen 17:17) Avraham laughs when G*d tells him that he and the newly named Sarah will have a son in their old age. Further on, in Vayera, Sarah now laughs (Gen 18:12) when she overhears the angel/man saying, "your wife Sarah will have a son." Later, however, in the same parasha, Sarah sees the son of Hagar "mitzachek-ing" with Yitzhak, which our holy commentaries say possibly allude to sex-play or scornful mockery.
Why was Ishmael's behavior seen as unworthy by the text in light of Sarah's insistence that Hagar and son be expelled on account of it, whereas it is seen as valorized and worthy when performed by Avraham, Sarah, and now, by Yitzhak himself? That is because, like the gift of speech, laughter itself is holy and must never be misused.
In all three of the latter cases, the laughter took place in the presence of the holy. Avraham's laughter took place in the presence of G*d, Sarah's likewise was in the presence of the angels, emissaries of the Divine. Finally Yitzhak's holy laughter took place in the presence of Avimelekh's glimpse into a Divinely granted vision of the future. How's that?
It says (Gen 26:8), Vayehi ki archu lo sham hayamim.... customarily translated as "when he had been there a long time." It could also be read deeply and metaphorically as "when "they" made his days long," alluding to a Divinely granted vision of the eschaton, the end of history, a long day, when all will be in a constant state of Shabbat, a yom she kulo Shabbat, a "day" which is entirely like Shabbat.
At the end of time Yitzhak will be Mitzachek, i.e., we, his descendants, will be in a state of holy bliss brought about by the awareness of being in the Presence of the Divine. On Shabbat we experience a temporary vision of the Yom SheKulo Shabbat, of the bliss which awaits the righteous at the end of days.
And "archu" is prefigurative of the psalmist's "orech yamim asbiayhu va'arayhu beyeshuati...(Tehillim 91) "With long life I will satisfy him, and I will show him my salvation." i.e., "he will witness the salvation I will bring about at the advent of the Messianic age." This, on the deepest level, is the meaning of Avimelech's gaze, connecting Yitzchak to the Divine laughter awaiting each of us in the end of days. Here (Gen 26:8), the "hashkafa" of Avimelekh precedes the ultimate Revelation of the end of days.
Divine laughter, holy laughter, is the celebration of all life on earth, that everything occurs according to G*d's plan, following the teleological timeline to cosmogonic bliss.
But Hagar's son's laughter was mocking laughter, not the laughter of the Divine Presence. He had crossed that fine line and Sarah's holy intuition perceived it. He is called here (parshat Vayera) in the text "ben-Hagar" purposely on account that he had learned the art of mockery from his own mother, who had herself scorned and mocked Sarai when she had conceived while Sarai had not.
The three angels gazed (vayishkefu) at Sodom (Gen:18:16), immediately prior to G*d's revelation of His plans for the city to Avraham. There, "hashkafa" (gazing) immediately precedes revelation. Likewise, Avimelekh's gaze prefigures awareness of the ultimate redemption.May we all, like Yitzchak, live our true essence, becoming the persons we were destined to be, and in our own worthy way, help bring about the vision of Avimelekh and taste the salvation of that long day, when the great light shall shine forth from Zion, and when all darkness shall be banished.
Shabbat Shalom. Good Shabbos.
© 1999-2008 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman
These words of Torah are written in the merit of my beloved father, Israel J. Melman, obm, Yisrael Yehoshua ben Harav Ya'aqov Hakohen ben Meir Yisrael Hakohen Melman, z"l
I was raised in the musar tradition of silence and meditative thoughtfulness, as were my father and grandfather before me. I was born on the first day chol hamoed Sukkos, which is also the yahrzeit of both Rebbe Nachman and the Vilna Gaon.
Chabibi stands for CHidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua(a chidush, from the word chadash, means a new, original or fresh perspective)Dedications are available.