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Brotherly Love

Toldot (Genesis 25:19-28:9 )

by Rabbi Jared Viders

In 1965, the family-owned Monsey Kosher Bake Shop opened its doors on 51 Main Street in the then sparsely populated hamlet of Monsey. For decades thereafter, they serviced the Monsey community and Rockland County at-large supplying one and all with delectable challahs, yummy rugelach and pastries of all types. Known far and wide as "Mrs. Frank's Bakery," the proprietors faithfully supplied a great "knead" and presumably made quite a bit of "dough" along the way. (Okay, enough puns for now).

One day, a "new" bakery announced its grand opening, of all places - 40 Main Street, virtually across the street from Frank's. I did not call Monsey home at the time, nor did I ever discuss the matter with the proprietor's from Frank's, but one can only imagine the super-human strength necessary not to harbor ill-will towards the "new kid on the block" which - in the eyes of even an amateur economist - would inevitably siphon off customers (and profits).

One Thursday evening, many years later, a fire broke out in the small shopping strip at 40 Main Street. The damage was extensive and several stores had no choice but to re-locate. And yet, the very next morning, Erev Shabbos, the busiest day of the week by far, the 40 Main Street Bakery was somehow able to service its customers via a make-shift, street-side, temporary "store front" replete with challahs, rugelach and cookies. How was this feasible given last night's blaze and the destruction it caused to their ovens and production area?

When the owners of Frank's Bakery learned of the fire, they empathized with the plight of their "competitor" and in an act of remarkable selflessness, graciously invited the 40 Main Street bakery personnel to utilize Frank's own ovens (after hours) in order to service their loyal 40 Mai Street customers the next morning. No grudge. No ill-will. No "all's far in war in business." Just a sincere, deep-seated sense of connection with one's fellow Jews and an unadulterated desire to alleviate their plight.

* * *

To a significant degree, the history of our nation can be gauged by the relationship (or the lack thereof) amongst siblings. Yitzchak & Yishmael. Ya'akov & Esau. Leah & Rachel. Yosef & his brothers.

This week two such fraternal relations will be front-and-center at your Shabbos table. First and foremost, the parsha is dominated by the fledgling stages of the now-timeless rivalry between Esau and his younger brother Ya'akov. Despite sharing the same parents, education and upbringing, their diametrically opposed personalities and priorities were immediately apparent. The ensuing rift is readily apparent until this very day.

The situation festered to such a degree that Rivka confided in Ya'akov, "Behold, your brother Esau is having second thoughts toward you..." (Gen. 27:42). Rashi explains, "He has second thoughts over the sibling relationship that exists between you" and has come to harbor thoughts of alienation and estrangement, "i.e. thoughts antithetical to the proper relationship between brothers, to become estranged from you and kill you."

The demise of the Esau/Ya'akov sibling rivalry was mitigated, somewhat, just two generations later with the fraternal relationship between Yosef's sons, Ephraim and Menashe. Indeed, many a Shabbos meal the world over commences with a blessing upon one's son(s) with the heartfelt aspiration that "Hashem make you like Ephraim and Menashe." Of all the role models in our nation's history, why do these two represent the gold standard of nachas?

Rav Noach Weinberg, zt'l explains, "The relationship of Ephraim and Menashe epitomizes the way brothers should love and trust each other. When Yaakov gave the younger brother Ephraim the favored blessing, Menashe, the firstborn, could have protested and resented his brother for taking what was rightfully his, But Menashe said nothing. He understood that what matters most is not his position or status, but rather what is best for the Jewish People...We bless our sons to emulate Ephraim and Menashe because their relationship was without any trace of resentment. They are our role models."

Taking this notion one step further, the Haftorah traditionally read on Parshas Toldos will yield this week to a special Haftorah reserved for a Shabbos that fall out on Erev Rosh Chodesh (we usher in the month of Kislev on Saturday night). Rav Shimon Schwab, zt'l explains the reason why our Sages deliberately chose this particular passage to set the tone for the ensuing Rosh Chodesh (which on its face has quite little to do with Rosh Chodesh per se). The answer lies in the content which recounts the sincere, deep-seated "brotherly" love that Yonatan shared for Dovid (notwithstanding circumstances which justifiably could have bred jealousy and alienation). It is a snapshot of Jewish "brotherhood" at its best.

Our Rosh Chodesh, truth be told, is a mere shadow of what it should look like and what it did look like in the times of the Beis Ha'Mikdash. It was a time of a special mussaf korban that conferred a spirit of atonement upon the people and a corresponding spirit of renewal amongst Jews.

Why are we missing this opportunity today? Our Sages tell us it is on account of sinas chinam, baseless hatred, an estrangement, alienation and hatred of one Jew for his spiritual "brother." Hence, says Rav Schwab, when we read of the pure friendship of Dovid and Yonatan, we are presented front-and-center with an opportunity to re-assess our own personal connectedness and dedication (or lack thereof) to our fellow Jews' well-being. We are given a window into what those relationships could look like and should look like if we could just diffuse the jealousy, one-upmanship and petty emotional baggage that threatens to put so much static on the line.

We are reminded that at our core we are all brothers and sisters who share in the perpetuation of the values and dedication of our ancestors. As we approach a Shabbos and its cast of characters - Ya'akov, Esau, Ephraim, Menashe, Dovid and Yonatan, may we capitalize on the opportunity to renew our dedication to one another and enter the month of Kislev amidst shalom and love for your fellow Jew.

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