"And May God Give You of the Dew of the Heavens"

  • Harav Yehuda Amital

The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Student Summaries of Sichot of the Roshei Yeshiva
Yeshivat Har Etzion


PARASHAT TOLEDOT

SICHA OF HARAV YEHUDA AMITAL SHLIT"A

 

"And May God Give You of the Dew of the Heavens"

Adapted by Matan Glidai

Translated by Kaeren Fish

 

 

And may God give you (ve-yiten lekha) of the dew of the heavens and of the fat of the earth, and much grain and wine. (Bereishit 27:28)

 

Rashi is puzzled by the fact that the verse starts with "and." This verse is the beginning of the blessing; to what does the conjunctive "vav" refer?

 

One might suggest that it is meant as a continuation of the previous verse: "Behold, the fragrance of my son is like the fragrance of a field that has been blessed by God" (27:27).

 

Attention should be paid to the beginning of verse 27, and the fact that the text speaks of Yaakov's clothing: "He drew near and he kissed him, and he smelled the fragrance of his garments, and he blessed him" (ibid.), while afterwards Yitzchak says, "See, the fragrance of my son…."

 

The garments that Yaakov was wearing were those that Rivka had taken from Esav: "Rivka took the best garments of Esav, her elder son, which were with her in the house…" (27:15). Commenting on this, the midrash tells us:

 

Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel said: All my life I waited upon my father, but I never served him a hundredth as well as Esav served his own father. I, when I would wait upon my father, would serve him while I wore soiled clothes, whereas when I set out on a journey I would depart wearing clean clothing. But Esav – when he waited upon his father, he would only serve him in fine robes. He would say: It is not honorable for my father that I serve him in anything but fine robes. This is as it is written, "which were with her in the house." (Bereishit Rabba 62:16)

 

Esav admittedly excelled at the mitzva of honoring his parents. The gemara (Kiddushin 31a) questions to what extent is one required to honor one's parents, and recounts the story of Dama ben Netina, a non-Jew who once had the opportunity to close a deal involving a great sum of money, but the merchandise was locked up and his father was sleeping with the key under his pillow. Dama ben Netina chose not to waken him, and the Gemara notes that God rewarded him with a red heifer that was born into his herd. Why was this the specific reward given to him?

 

The Rebbe of Kotzk explains that, following this extraordinary example of honoring parents, Am Yisrael had an accuser in heaven: here was a non-Jew who honored his parents to a far greater degree than they did. Through the birth of the red heifer, God was hinting that the gentiles fulfill only such laws that are rational, but do not (and would not) fulfill commandments whose reasons cannot be understood (such as the law of the red heifer), while Am Yisrael do perform them.

 

Esav excelled at honoring parents, but not at other commandments. He fulfilled certain mitzvot, but only in the sense of "the fragrance of his clothes": it was external to him. Yaakov, on the other hand, was full of mitzvot; for him, fulfilling the will of God was his whole essence – "the fragrance of my son."

 

The Gemara (Sanhedrin 37a) teaches:

 

Even the least worthy among [Israel] are as full of mitzvot as a pomegranate [is full of seeds]. Rabbi Zeira deduced this from the words, "He smelled the fragrance of his clothes" – "Do not read 'his clothes' (begadav), but rather 'his deceivers' (bogdav)."

 

Thus, Yitzchak's blessing to Yaakov is that mitzvot should be intrinsic to him, like "the fragrance of my son," and to this he adds: "And may God give you…."

 

Rashi offers a different explanation for the conjunctive 'vav' in the word, "ve-yiten." He cites a midrash that says, "'Ve-yiten lekha' – may He give, and give again" (Bereishit Rabba 66:3). Let us try to understand what this midrash is saying.

 

Rabbi Bunim of Peshiskhe asks, concerning the verse, "You shall go upon your belly, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life" (Bereishit 3:14): What kind of curse is this? The snake is being promised that its food will always be readily available; it will never have to search for it! The curse, he explains, is that since the snake will always have food, it will never feel itself to be in need of God's mercies, and will never have the opportunity to pray to Him.

 

Concerning Eretz Yisrael, the Torah tells us:

 

It is not like the land of Egypt… where you sow your seeds and water it with your foot, like a vegetable garden… It is a land of hills and valleys; you will drink water from the rain of the heavens. It is a land which the Lord your God cares for; the eyes of the Lord your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. (Devarim 11:10-12)

 

In contrast to the land of Egypt, Eretz Yisrael does not have a permanent, reliable source of water. It is always dependent on rain, and therefore Am Yisrael must pray to God to bring rain. God could have chosen Switzerland, or any other country in the world. He could have led Am Yisrael to a quiet, deserted place with no troubles or concerns, a place blessed with abundant resources. However, in His infinite wisdom, He chose Eretz Yisrael – a land of complicated political, economic and defense issues; a land that is constantly in need of Divine mercies, and is dependent only on God. God's eyes are truly upon this land at all times, because He knows that it needs Him. Every year, as winter begins and the rains have not yet started, we already start fasting and adding special prayers.

 

In Sefer Shoftim, after every cycle of threats and trouble, Am Yisrael prays; thereafter we read: "And the land was quiet for forty years." It is never quiet permanently.

 

God desires our prayers. He wants us to ask for His mercies. The Gemara teaches (Yevamot 64a) that the reason the patriarchs and matriarchs were barren and waited so long before they bore children was because "God desires the prayers of the righteous." God desires a connection with us; He wants us to be dependent upon Him.

 

Esav was blessed that "your dwelling shall be of the fatness of the earth, and of the dew of the heavens from above" (27:39) – a permanent state of material abundance. Yaakov, in contrast, is given the blessing, "And may God give you of the dew of the heavens." His sustenance is dependent upon God.

 

"May He give, and give again" – in the case of Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael, God "gives" each time anew. Every year we pray to Him, and every year He provides for our needs.

 

 

(This sicha was delivered at seuda shelishit, Shabbat Parashat Toldot 5756 [1995].)