Toldot 5770

Posted on March 23, 2011

by Tyler Dratch

November 21, 2009/4 Kislev 5770

As I started thinking about the torah portion this week, I realized that life is full of choices. Sometimes our choices will affect the rest of our lives, while others have no meaning whatsoever after the choice is made. Regardless, it is clear that choices should be made with care. Judaism teaches us to live in moderation and to think carefully before making an extreme choice.

This week’s Torah portion, Toldot, deals with the idea of making choices. Rebecca was blessed with the birth of twins, Jacob and Esau. The twins are very different, and the midrash says that even before they were born they were fighting. The climax of the parasha comes with Jacob, the second born, steals Esau’s birthright given by their father Issac to the first born son. Early in the portion Esau is very hungry and “trades” the birthright for some soup Jacob had been preparing. This instance brings up an important lesson about choices.

We live in a society full of instant gratification. Everything in our society is meant to be as fast as possible. Highways offer EZPass at toll booths, restaurants offer fast food, and cell phones with the internet allow us access whatever we want whenever we want at very fast speeds. Sometimes we do not have time to slow down and make the right choices. As Jews we learn from Esau’s mistake. Esau expected the instant gratification of eating the soup over the long-term gratification of the birthright. We learn not only that choices are important, but also how easy it can be to make the right choice if one is conscious about it.

As USYers we make important decisions every day. Post bar and bat mitzvah age we are now responsible for our own actions. How will you behave? Will you go for the instant gratification, or will you wait for the right choice? How will you choose?

Seventh-Day Stretch:
#8: The Talmud requires us to eat three meals on Shabbat: one Friday night, one after prayers in the morning, and one in the afternoon. Shabbat in the Book of Isaiah is called oneg (literally “delight”), and therefore not only do we refrain from fasting, but we also bring our meals up a notch by serving a menu that is not typical during the week. People also set their tables to look nicer than would normally be during the week. Shabbat meals are made holier through singing zemirot and talking about the parasha and general words of Torah. We begin the first two of our Shabbat meals with Kiddush. We are commanded twice in the Torah to sanctify the Shabbat, and we do so using wine (or grape juice). The two reasons for doing so go back to Shamor v’Zakhor in the Ten Commandments that I talked about at the very beginning, where we commemorate the Exodus in the former and Creation in the latter.

There is no doubt that Shabbat meals are quintessential to observing the holy day. It is our easiest time to sit down with family and friends and to not be in a rush to eat and return to daily activity. Much emphasis has been placed on observance in the home, and the Shabbat table is the place to sanctify Shabbat.

#9: I recently read a quote in A Treasury of Shabbat Inspiration by Rabbi Sidney Greenberg about the pertinence of using the word “Shabbat” in describing the day. In Summary, when one calls this day Saturday, it is easy to forget about the primary nature of Shabbat and overlook it as just any day to do something. When we call it Yom Ha-Shabbat, however, we emphasize that Shabbat is a holy day for the Jewish people, and we do not engage in our secular activities. Even if one were to go to the mall on Shabbat, one would be reminded that it is a special day when one says Shabbat than “I’m going to the mall on Saturday.”

Rather, we go to synagogue on Shabbat. Because we’re not under the pressures of the normal week, we add more psalms, increase our singing, have Divrei Torah, and read more of the parasha than we do during the week. Of course, this can get very long, so I’d like to suggest a couple of things to make your Shabbat morning worthwhile:

  • Times that you don’t find engaging in the service, study a Jewish text – even Pirkei Avot in the back of the siddur.
  • Read the commentary of the Etz Hayim Humash during the Torah reading – you’ll learn a lot more.
  • Look out for special references to Shabbatin the Shabbat liturgy and think about how you relate to them throughout Shabbat.
  • Less is more – it’s often better to say less prayers and concentrate and connect to them more than to rush through and feel the rote nature of prayers.