Toldot 5763

June 23, 2009

7 min read


Toldot (Genesis 25:19-28:9 )

GOOD MORNING!  Once, while visiting people in the hospital, I met a man who was especially happy to see me. He told me, "You are the first rabbi I have spoken with since my Bar Mitzvah 50 years ago! I want you to know that you'll never find a Jew with more pride in being Jewish than me! If anyone says anything against another Jew or the Jewish people, I'll beat him up!" I was duly impressed with the commitment and bravado of this 63 year-old man. I then asked him, "Please, I would love to know what it is that you take so much pride in the Jewish people." He responded, "Rabbi, weren't you listening? I told you that if anyone says anything against another Jew or the Jewish people, I'll beat him up!"

I tried twice more to find out the source of his pride in being Jewish, but there was nothing; he only reiterated his pugilistic prowess. There are many reasons to be proud of being Jewish. Every morning when I get up I thank the Almighty that I am part of the Jewish people and working for the Jewish people!

What if you could buy one book that would fill you (or your children or your brother-in-law) with pride in being Jewish and give you all the ammunition you needed to respond to a curious rabbi visiting you in the hospital?

Rabbi Ken Spiro, my colleague and friend, has written such a book, WorldPerfect: The Jewish Impact on Civilization. For years, Rabbi Spiro, a historian, would begin his class on Jewish history by canvassing his students as to what are the values that they and the world hold dear which are necessary for a utopian society. Here are the results compiled from approximately 1,500 students:

  1. Value of Life - People have the right to life, and to live with a certain basic dignity and rights.

  2. World Peace - On all levels, communally and globally, people and nations should co-exist in peace and harmony with mutual respect.

  3. Justice and Equality - All people, regardless of race, sex, or social status, have the right to be treated equally and fairly in the eyes of the law.

  4. Education - Everyone has the right to be functionally literate as a basic tool for personal advancement and the ability to attain knowledge.

  5. Family - A strong, stable family structure is necessary
    for the moral foundation of society.

  6. Social Responsibility - Individually and nationally, we are responsible for each other. This includes responsibility for: disease, poverty, famine, crime and drugs, as well as environmental problems and animal rights.

Where do these values come from? Most people would say Greece or Rome. Would you be surprised to find out that they are wrong? In a highly readable, well-documented and fascinating book, Rabbi Spiro illuminates the origins of values and virtues in Western Civilization. Would you be surprised to learn that these values came from the Jewish people?

If you are thinking "the good rabbi is exaggerating a 'bit' about
the Jewish influence on civilizing humanity," I bring John Adams,
Second President of the United States! Writes Mr. Adams:

"... I will insist that the Hebrews have done more to civilize men than any other nation. If I were an atheist and believed in blind eternal fate, I should still believe that fate had ordained the Jews to be the most essential instrument for civilizing the nations.... They are the most glorious Nation that ever inhabited this Earth. The Romans and their Empire were but a bauble in comparison of the Jews. They have given religion to three-quarters of the Globe and have influenced the affairs of Mankind more, and more happily than any other Nation, ancient or modern." (from a letter to F.A. Van der Kemp, 1808. Pennsylvania Historical Society.)

Paul Johnson, a Christian historian, writes in his book, The History of the Jews, (New York: Harper & Row, 1987):

"One way of summing up 4,000 years of Jewish history is to ask ourselves what would have happened to the human race if the Jewish people would not have come into being. Certainly the world without the Jews would have been a radically different place. Humanity might have eventually stumbled upon all the Jewish insights. But we cannot be sure.

"To [the Jews] we owe the idea of equality before the law; of the sanctity of life, of collective conscience and of social responsibility; of peace and love, and many other items which constitute the basic moral furniture of the human mind.... It is almost beyond our capacity to imagine how the world would have fared if they had never emerged."

If you are fascinated to learn more about the impact of the Jewish people on humanity, you can purchase a copy at any bookstore (though it is nice to support your local Jewish bookstore!) or by calling toll-free 877-758-3242. There is also an online interactive multi-media seminar at

Torah Portion of the Week

Rivka (Rebecca) gives birth to Esav (Esau) and Yaakov (Jacob). Esav sells the birthright to Yaakov for a bowl of lentil soup. Yitzhak (Isaac) sojourns in Gerar with Avimelech, king of the Philistines. Esav marries two Hittite women, bringing great pain to his parents (because they weren't of the fold).

Yaakov impersonates Esav on the counsel of his mother in order to receive the blessing for the oldest son by his blind father, Yitzhak. Esav, angry because of his brother's deception which caused him to lose the firstborn blessings, plans to kill Yaakov, so Yaakov flees to his uncle Lavan (Laban) in Padan Aram - on the advice of his parents. They also advise him to marry Lavan's daughter.

Esav understands that his Canaanite wives are displeasing to his parents, so he marries a third wife, Machlath, the daughter of Ishmael (Ishmael).


Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah states:

"Jacob was an 'Ish tam' (straight person) who sat in tents (of study)" (Genesis 25:27)

What do we learn from the fact that Jacob was an "Ish tam"?

Rashi defines the word "tam" as a person who is not skilled in deceiving others. As is his heart, so are his words. Jacob was not called a "tam," but an "Ish Tam." That is, he was a master over the trait of being a "tam." He was totally honest, a man of great integrity. However, in those situations when it was appropriate to use cunning strategy to accomplish something, he was able to do so.

The Rebbi from Lublin teaches that a person needs to be the master over all of his traits and appropriately use them. As the Sages say, "Whoever is compassionate when he should be cruel will eventually be cruel when he should be compassionate." If a person fails to apply so-called negative traits in their proper times, he will end up applying them when it is wrong to do so.


"Let the honor of your fellow be as precious to you as your own."
    -- Rabbi Eliezer

(or go to

Jerusalem  4:09
Guatemala 5:12  Hong Kong 5:24  Honolulu 5:32
J'Burg 6:10  London 4:03  Los Angeles 4:35
Melbourne 6:39  Miami 5:17  Moscow 4:20

New York 4:27  Singapore  6:33


You can't hold someone down ...
without staying down with him.
-- Booker T. Washington

With Special Thanks to
Neil B. Hamburger
for dedicating this edition

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