Since Thanksgiving weekend is such a notoriously difficult time to travel, I thought I would
share with you how I traveled this past week.
It is a very great mitzvah to bring happiness to a bride and groom. So when a couple from our
shul got married on Sunday in Columbus, Ohio and I needed to attend this wedding, I called a
friend of mine who lives in NY. He is a pilot of a small airplane—really, small. It can hold two
to three people (maybe four depending on the weight). I asked him if he wanted to help in the
mitzvah of bringing joy to the bride and groom by picking me up in DC, flying me to Columbus,
waiting till after the wedding and then flying me back. He said, “of course, that would be my
pleasure.” He is a really good friend!
But as I was spending time in the sky on my way to and from this wedding I had time to reflect
on this week’s parshah and on the theme of love. What I would like to study with you today is
what our Torah portion can teach us about love.
The Torah tells us that Yiztchak desired to give a special blessing to Esav. However, at Rivkah’s
urging and guidance, Yaakov intervenes and deceives his father and tricks Yitzchak into blessing
This story has always bothered me. How could a father only want to bless one son and not the
other? On top of that, why choose the wrong son? How could Yitzchak—the great and holy
Yitzchak—want to bless Esav and not Yaakov? And how could it be that a wife—a holy
matriarch like Rivkah—want to intentionally deceive her husband?
Indeed, to strengthen this last question, we should remember that other than this one incident of
deception, Yitzchak and Rivka seemed to have had the best relationship of any of the patriarchs
and matriarchs. So for example, at the beginning of the parashah when Rivka is barren, Yitzchak
takes an entirely different approach than that of his father. When Sarah was barren, Abraham
prayed to God so that he personally could have a child and he accomplished this by taking Hagar
as a second wife who bore him Yishmael, as a son. In contrast, when Rivka is barren, Yitzchak
prays for his wife, Rivkah: lenochach ishto (25:21). Yitzchak does not abandon his wife in the
dark times; he stays with her and prays for her. So how come now Rivkah is deceiving him?
I have an answer to these questions.
The Torah tells us that Yitzchak’s love for Esav was a conditional love, while Rivka’s love for
Yaakov was unconditional.
Vaye-ahav Yitzchak et Esav ki tzayid be-fiv, verivkah ohevet et Yaakov, Yitzchak loved Esav
because he brought him food, and Rivkah loved Yaakov (25:28).
The medieval commentator Chezkuni points out that Yitzchak’s love is written in the past tense;
i.e. he loved Esav; i.e. he did not always love Esav, but on those occasions where Esav brought
him food, then he loved him (she-lo hayah ohavo tamid elah beoto zeman ki tzayid befiv). In
contrast, Rivkah always loved Yaakov. Her love for him was constant and unrelated to whether
or not he brought her food.
There is a well known mishnah in Pirkei Avot (5:16) that teaches us that any love that is
dependent upon a condition will not pass the test of time.
“Kol ahavah shetelyuah badavar, batlah hadavar, batlaa ha-ahavah. Any love that is dependent
on a condition--when the condition ceases, the love also ceases. But a love that is not dependent
on a condition will never cease. What is a love that is dependent on something? The love of
Amnon for Tamar. And one that is not dependent on anything? The love of David and Yonatan.”
The love of Amnon and Tamar is told in the Book of Shmuel. We are told that Amnon loved
Tamar because he was physically attracted to her, but after he assaulted her and his lust had been
satisfied he no longer loved her.
The contrast to Amnon and Tamar is the story of David and Yonatan. Their story is also told in
the Book of Shmuel. Since today is the day before Rosh Chodesh we don’t read the usual
haftorah for Toldot and instead we read their story in the famous Haftorah called machar
hachodesh, tomorrow is Rosh Chodesh.
In this story we are told of the friendship of David and Yonatan and how they have a beautiful
friendship. So strong is their friendship that Yonatan willingly gives up his future as king in
order to save the life of David.
The story is read as the haftorah whenever Shabbat comes on the day before Rosh Chodesh. The
reason for that is that historically this story—when Yonatan saved David’s life—took place in
the context of Yonatan telling David that tomorrow his father, Shaul, will throw a feast for Rosh
Chodesh and at that feast Yonatan will be able to figure out if Shaul intends to kill David.
Aside from the fact that the story historically took place on the day before Rosh Chodesh there is
another connection with Rosh Chodesh. The Navi is teaching us that Davod and Yonatan’s
relationship—and every great loving relationship--is like the moon. A moon grows bigger and
smaller every month, but no matter its size it always remains a constant force in nature. So too, a
truly loving relationship will always remain despite the ups and downs it may encounter.
Sometimes I meet with families that have been through so many struggles and stresses and yet
they remain together. These families are stronger because of their struggles. Their love for each
other is not conditional, but is like the moon—always a constant force in nature, even though it is
sometimes hidden from sight.
This is the lesson that Rivkah wanted to teach Yitzchak. She was telling Yitzchak that he was
being blinded by his love of food. And that he shouldn’t just love Esav because he brought him
food to eat. That is a poor reason to love someone.
Of course, Rivkah could have told this to Yitzchak directly. But do you know how hard it is to
try to convince someone that they are misguided in their love. Just try it sometime. It is a very
difficult thing to do.
So Rivkah had to teach this lesson to Yitzchak in a way he would be willing to accept.
This is why Rivkah had to deceive Yitzchak. She had Yaakov bring him the food that Yitzchak
had just asked Esav to bring. Yitzchak had said to Esav: bring me food and then I will bless you.
To which Rivkah thought: If your blessing is about food then anyone can bring you food. Your
blessing needs to be about something much greater than food—a real love.
Rivkah knew without a shadow of a doubt that Esav would eventually return and her ruse would
be uncovered. But that was the point. She wanted Yitzchak to know she had tricked him
because she was teaching Yitzchak that if you love Esav just because he brings you the food,
then that is silly, as Yaakov can just easily bring you the food.
Rivkah was trying to teach Yitzchak that you can’t love one child more than the other just
because one child brings you food; rather, the love for both children needs to be absolute and
There is a verse in the portion that proves this. Rivkah overhears Esav say, “Ahargah et Yaakov
achi, I will kill Yaakov my brother” (27:41). We might expect her to lash out at Esav when she
learns of this murderous plot. We might expect her to say: “Esav is a murderer and he is trying
to kill Yaakov, let us throw him out.” But instead she sends Yaakov away to protect him
because she says, “lamah eshkal gam sheneichem yom echad, why should I lose both of you on
one day” (27:45).
Even though Esav is threatening to kill Yaakov, even though she despises with all her life the
women who Esav brings home (katzti bechayai mipnei benot chet, v. 46) Rivka’s love for Esav
remains unconditional. Rivka does not approve of Esav’s actions, and she is not excusing his
actions or saying that they are not worthy of punishment, all she is saying is that she still loves
him. She doesn’t want to lose them both. She doesn’t want to lose Yaakov or Esav.
She has unconditional love for both of her children.
When we love a child we must love unconditionally.
This idea that we must love unconditionally is so important because it is relevant to our
relationship with God. We want God to love us unconditionally and we must love Him
The normal Haftorah for parashat Toldot is usually from the book of Malachi, chapter 1.
Malachi is considered to be the last of the prophets to live and to prophesize. After the first
Temple was destroyed in 585BCE by Nebuchadnezzar the Babylonian, the Jewish people were
led into a Babylonian exile. Then the Persians defeated the Babylonians and they allowed the
second Temple to be rebuilt. After it was rebuilt Malachi came along and shared with the people
the prophecy contained in the Haftorah for Toldot.
What are the first words of his prophecy? “Ahavti etchem amar Hashem, I love you, so says
Hashem” (Malachi 1:2). And then he continues, and if you will ask how do I know that God
loves me? The answer is that even though we were in exile He redeemed us. He didn’t redeem
the Edomites. He redeemed us when we were exiled. Our Temple was destroyed but His love
for us remained.
The message of Malachi is that even though we were cast into exile and we will again be cast
into exile God’s love for us will never cease and our love for him must never cease.
Malachi tells us that just as Hashem loves us unconditionally, we too must love God
It is hard to love God unconditionally.
Soon after I became a rabbi and I was working in Riverdale, a family who I didn’t know and
weren’t even members of our shul asked if I could officiate at a funeral. I said that I would help
them out. But to my shock, one of the mourners lashed out at me and started yelling at me. I
said to Rabbi Weiss: “Here I am doing them a favor and they are returning the favor by yelling at
me.” Rabbi Weiss explained to me that often people will be in pain at a funeral and they will
feel anger towards God and they will lash out at the rabbi because the rabbi represents a religious
figure. When people suffer a loss they often feel rejected by God and thus they turn their anger
This is one of the ideas behind the mourner’s recitation of the kaddish prayer. After a mourner
undergoes a loss it is his obligation and responsibility to recite the kaddish prayer. The kaddish
prayer does not mention death at all. Instead it declares the greatness of God and our
responsibility to make His name great. Thus, at a time when a mourner might be tempted to give
up on God, we encourage him not to. At a time when for the mourner it is so very dark in the
world, we remind him to express his unconditional love for God. And we also remind him to act
in a way that expresses love for the deceased even though they are not physically present, and in
doing so the mourner is declaring that his love is not dependent on a physical presence. It is an
So with the recitation of the kaddish the mourner is declaring his unconditional love for God and
for his now departed loved one.
And just like we love God unconditionally we believe with all our heart that He too loves us
unconditionally. This means that no matter what we have done, no matter where we are, and no
matter the consequences of our actions we can still return to the love of God.