Toldot

December 1, 2016

He built an altar. (26:25)

Meshech Chochmah explains that people in the Tanach built such altars when they wished to publicize a miraculous occurrence or an episode of prophecy. Thus, we find “Hashem is my miracle,” and “Hashem made whole.” (Shoftim 6:24)

The Torah does not tell us about any altar built by Yitzchok upon the occasion of his earlier prophecy, in which he was promised that he and his descendants would inherit all the lands of the region. This was not something that Yitzchok wished to publicise. He did not want to incite a jealous backlash from the local inhabitants, who would certainly find such a claim arrogant, offensive and dangerously hostile.
Yitzchok understood that he was not a warrior. Additionally, even ignoring the physical danger to which such a claim might expose him, it was not the right thing to do. Yitzchok lived peaceably with his neighbors. It would be boorish to announce to them that one day his descendants would take over their lands.

Yitzchok’s later nevuah was different. It made no mention of inheriting land. It told him not to fear, and that he would be blessed. Here was something that he could trumpet to his neighbors, without fear. He therefore built an altar to draw attention of his prophetic experience at that place.
The sharing of information succeeded. His neighbors responded with, “We see that Hashem is with you!”
Building the altar amounted to announcing in advance that Hashem had promised him success. When that success materialized, the people were able to relate his astounding success to his earlier claim that Hashem had appeared to him, and assured him that his efforts would be hugely successful.

According to the Meshech Chochmah, it was Yaakov’s hurried departure that led to Yitzchok giving an additional berachah to Yaakov, beyond the one for material, earthly success over which he contended with Esav. Part of the blessing to Avraham had been the forecast of a long, dark galus. Yitzchok now saw Yaakov leaving his home, ready to live the life of an exile. He realized that this was the beginning of the fulfillment of that prophecy, and that it was specifically in Yaakov that the rest of that berachah would be realised. He reasoned that if it was Yaakov who was willing to pay off the “debt” in the contract offered to Avraham, that he would become the owner of the “document.”

Many years later, the generation of the wilderness would send a proposal to the King of Edom, asking for safe passage through his land, in order to enable them to reach Canaan. Surprisingly, their proposal to the king recounts much early history which seems irrelevant to their request. Why do Moshe’s emissaries relate that their forebears descended to Egypt, and there endured terrible hardship? And why do they refer to their people as “your brother Yisrael?” Why the politically-correct brotherhood? Rashi explains that as brothers because of their common descent from Avrohom, the burden of galus should have been shared. Rashi means what we proposed above: because the Bnei Yisrael assumed responsibility for the contract’s “debt,” they were entitled to the proceeds. By shouldering the burden of the Egyptian exile, they were entitled to collect the deed for the Land of Israel.

Chodesh tov veShabbat shalom

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