Lessons to be Learnt from Rivka, Especially in Times of War

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by R. Eliezer Simcha Weisz

Rivka (Bereshis 27) devised a plan to secure Yitzchak’s blessings for Yaakov. Recognizing Esav’s unworthiness and Yitzchak’s failing eyesight, Rivka guided Yaakov to mimic Esav and take his blessings by bringing to Yitzchak favorite meal, usually prepared for him by Esav, and by donning Esav’s clothing to replicate his scent and feel. Though hesitant, Yaakov followed his mother’s instructions. Rivka reassured him with the words “עלי קללתך בני” (Upon me be your curse, my son), aiming to alleviate his fears of being caught and cursed by Yitzchak instead of receiving the blessings.

Rivka’s use of עלי to ease Yaakov’s concerns about stealing the berachos and potentially facing a kelalah instead of a beracha provides a deeper understanding of this biblical story. The Vilna Gaon interprets Rivka’s words עלי represents the three major nisyonos (challenges or trials) in Yaakov’s life—עשו, לבן, יוסף— and thus offers a unique perspective on the narrative and broader lessons. 

1. עשו (Esav) – Symbolizing persecution and anti-Semitism, Yaakov’s struggle with Esav reflects external threats and animosity faced by the Jewish people. By taking the berachos, Yaakov secures his spiritual heritage but will have to endure this challenge.

2. לבן (Lavan) – Representing those who promote assimilation, Lavan’s deceptive tactics mirror challenges of assimilation Jewish communities have encountered. Yaakov’s experiences with Lavan emphasize the need to remain faithful to heritage and values amid pressure.

3. יוסף (Yosef) – Symbolizing internal strife within the Jewish community, Yosef’s story reflects discord and division. Yaakov’s ability to navigate and reconcile with his sons illustrates the importance of unity. 

Rivka’s use of עלי underscores the idea that facing these nisyonos is integral to the Jewish people’s avodas HaShem (service to God). These challenges, represented by Esav, Lavan, and Yosef, offer opportunities for growth, learning, and strengthening one’s connection to faith and heritage.

The Vilna Gaon’s observation in Parashat Miketz on Bereshit 42:36, where Yaakov exclaims “עלי היה כלנה” (“All these things are against me!”) alludes to a tradition of only three major nisyonos, challenges that cover fundamental aspects of the Jewish experience. When faced with a potential fourth nisayon concerning Binyamin, Yaakov’s response, עלי היה כלנה(“All these things are against me!”), indicates his astonishment at another major challenge emerging.

Rivka’s words to Jacob serve as a blueprint for the historical challenges the Jewish people have and will face. Yaakov’s descendants will encounter external persecution from the Esavs of the world, pressure to assimilate from the Lavans of the world, and internal strife, just as Yoseph and his brothers did, as indicated by Rivka’s—a prophetic insight that מעשה אבות סימן לבנים (the deeds of the forefathers serve as a sign for the children). We are to be aware of the עלי; the results of internal strife can lead to the desire to assimilate and encourage our enemies to attack and try to destroy us.  

In conclusion, Rivka’s guidance underscores the importance of unity in facing challenges, providing strength against external threats and fostering a deeper appreciation for the beauty of Jewish life. Through unity, the Jewish people can uphold their heritage and remain resilient in the face of adversity. In our times, we continue to face monumental challenges – disunity, assimilation, and the need to defend ourselves against those who wish to destroy us. As Israel confronts war, Rivka’s timeless message serves as a reminder that unity is  the key to overcoming our challenges. When unified as one people, we will merit miracles and redemption, as Rivka’s timeless message emphasizes

This week we celebrate Rosh Chodesh Kislev, wish “Chodesh Tov” and in our blessing for Rosh Chodesh we said: “He who performed miracles for our ancestors and redeemed them from slavery to freedom will soon redeem us and gather our exiles from the four corners of the earth. Chaverim Kol Yisrael and let us say Amen.” The prayer says that He who performed miracles in the past will redeem us again in the future. What miracles are we looking for? On the surface it refers to Geulah- redemption, but it is not just the redemption. Redemption is predicated on unity, on  what is all to often seen to be a miracle: “Chaverim Kol Yisrael.” 

As Israel confronts war, we must come together as one people. By uniting and supporting each other, we gain strength to overcome current trials and fulfill our destiny. May we merit miracles and the complete redemption speedily in our days, Amen.

About Eliezer Simcha Weisz

Rabbi Eliezer Simcha Weisz is a member of The Chief Rabbinate Council of Israel

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