In this Corner (2021)
RABBI WAGENSBERG ON PARSHAS TOLDOS
“In This Corner”
Toward the beginning of this week’s parsha, the verse tells us, “And Yitzchak entreated Hashem opposite his wife because she was barren, and Hashem allowed Himself to be entreated by him” (Parshas Toldos, 25:21).
Rashi (ibid) cites a Bereishis Rabba (Parshas Toldos, 63:5) which explains the meaning behind the words that say that Yitzchak prayed, “Opposite his wife.” These words come to teach us that Yitzchak stood in one corner and prayed, while Rivka stood in the opposite corner and prayed.
There is no doubt that Yitzchak and Rivka had a specific reason for davening in this peculiar way of standing in opposite corners. They could have sat at the table together and prayed to Hashem. Instead, they chose to pray in opposite corners. What were they thinking when they decided to pray in opposite corners of the house?
The Gaon of Ostrovtza, Rabbi Meir Yechiel Halevi Halstock (1852-1928, Poland), in his book Ohr Torah (Parshas Toldos), says that the answer to this question can be understood based on a Mishna in Meseches Yevamos (chap. 6, “Haba Al Yevimto”, Mishna 6, pg. 65b) which says that only a man is commanded to be fruitful and multiply, not a woman.
However, if a couple is married for some time and do not have children, not only can the husband divorce his wife so that he can marry somebody else and hopefully have children with his new wife in order to fulfill his mitzvah of being fruitful and multiply, but even the woman may claim that there are grounds for divorce so that she can get remarried to somebody else and hopefully have children with her new husband so that she will have family to depend upon in her old age. Her children will be able to support her, even financially, when she gets older.
We see from this Gemara that the primary motivation for a man to have children is to fulfill the mitzvah of Pru Urevu (be fruitful and multiply; Parshas Bereishis, 1:28). However, the primary motivation of a woman to have children is not to fulfill her mitzvah/obligation of having children because she is not commanded in that mitzvah; rather, her primary motivation is to have children so that she will have people at her side to lean upon when she is older. When she can no longer care for herself as she used to, she will have children who she will be able to rely upon.
Based on what we have just said, we will be able to understand the idea behind Yitzchak and Rivka standing in different corners of the house to pray. This will become clear after sharing the next Talmudic passage.
Rebbi Yitzchak said that if a person wants to become wise in Torah, he should pray facing the south, but if he wants to become wealthy, he should pray facing the north. The reason behind this is because the Menorah was placed on the southern side of the Beis Hamikdash, whereas the Shulchan (table of showbread) was placed on the northern side of the Beis Hamikdash (Baba Basra, chap. 2, “Lo Yachpor”, pg. 25b).
Since the Menorah represents the light of Torah, when a person prays toward the south, he taps into the light of Torah wisdom and draws from it. Since the Shulchan represents wealth (because bread is the staple of life), when a person prays towards the north, he taps into the wealth and draws from it.
Therefore, Yitzchak and Rivka davened in opposite corners. This is because although Yitchak and Rivka were praying for children, their motivations were different. Yitzchak’s motivation was to fulfill the mitzvah of Pru Urivu. This was a spiritual motivation. As such, Yitzchak davened in the southern corner because the south represents Torah wisdom and spirituality.
However, Rivka davened for children for a different reason. Rivka’s motivation was to have children so that she would have family to lean upon in her old age. This was a physical motivation. Therefore, Rivka prayed in the northern corner because the north represents wealth and materialism.
We will now elaborate on this idea by asking a series of questions.
In our parsha, we find a difference between Yitzchak and Rivka with respect to the blessings. Yitzchak wanted to give the blessings to Eisav (Parshas Toldos, 27:1-5), whereas Rivka wanted the blessings to be given to Ya’akov. Rivka worked toward that goal and succeeded (Parshas Toldos, 27:6-18).
We must wonder, what was the debate between Yitzchak and Rivka? Why did Yitzchak want the blessings to be given to Eisav, whereas Rivka demanded that they be given to Ya’akov?
Speaking of husbands and wives and the differences between them, we find a fascinating Gemara in Meseches Baba Metzia (chap. 4, “Hazahav”, pg. 59a) where Rebbi Chelbo said that a person should always be very careful with the respect and honor that he gives to his wife, because blessing is found in a person’s house only on account of the wife, as it says, “And he (Pharaoh) treated Avraham well for her (Sarah’s) sake” (Parshas Lech Lecha, 12:16). If Avraham became wealthy because of Sarah, we are meant to learn from them that a man’s success in producing a livelihood depends on his wife.
The Gemara goes on to report to us that Rava would tell the people of his town, “Respect your wives so that you will become rich.” These statements in Chaza”l beg us to ask why blessing in the home is solely dependent on the wife and not on the husband?
Another well-known Gemara is found in Meseches Sota (chap. 2, “Haya Meivi”, pg. 17a) where Rebbi Akiva said that if a husband and wife are meritorious, the Shechina (Divine Presence) will dwell between them.
Rashi (ibid) famously demonstrates where we find the Shechina dwelling between husband and wife. He says that Hashem took His Name “KA” (spelled Yud and Hey) and distributed it among man and woman. Hashem planted His letter Yud from “KA” in the word “Ish” (man; spelled aleph, yud, shin), and then He took His letter Hey from “KA” and planted it in the word “Isha” (woman; spelled aleph, shin, hey).
This passage raises the question as to why Hashem specifically give the letter Yud to man and the letter Hey to woman? Why not the other way around? Additionally, of all the Names of God that Hashem has at His disposal, why choose specifically the Name “KA” to distribute between man and woman?
At this point, we are going to share a teaching from one of the commentaries that the Shvilei Pinchas quotes, because this approach will begin to open a path which will start addressing all of the aforementioned questions.
The Keren L’Dovid (Rabbi Eliezer Dovid Greenwald, 1867-1928, Austria) on Parshas Chayei Sarah cites a verse in Yeshaya (26:4) that says, “For with ‘KA’ Hashem fashioned the worlds.” The Gemara in Menachos (chap. 3, “Hakometz Rabba”, pg. 29b) cites Rebbi Yehuda bar Rebbi Ilai who says that this verse comes to teach us that Hashem created the worlds of Olam Haba (the heavenly world) and Olam Hazeh (the earthly world) with the two letters Yud and Hey of His Name “KA.”
The Gemara (ibid) gets more specific. It says that Hashem used His letter Yud to create Olam Haba, whereas He used His letter Hey to create Olam Hazeh. Now, Olam Haba is a spiritual world, whereas Olam Hazeh is a physical world.
The Keren L’Dovid says that this is why Hashem specifically placed His letter Yud in the word Ish. It is because Hashem was informing us that a Jewish man’s primary tafkid (purpose, function, mission) in this world is to engage in Olam Haba type of activities such as Torah study and mitzvah performance. We can see this from the letter Yud in the word Ish. Since the Yud created Olam Haba, a spiritual domain, man (Ish) should be primarily occupied in spiritual pursuits, which translates into Torah study.
Before we go any further, I feel it necessary to interrupt the words of the Keren L’Dovid because we are starting to suggest delegating different roles to men and women. This can be a somewhat sensitive topic and sometimes people take offence to such proposals. Therefore, let me be clear.
What we just said about men does not exclude man from his responsibilities as the bread-winner. The curse of working to provide for a family was said to man (Parshas Bereishis, 3:19), not to women. The responsibility to provide for a family falls squarely on the shoulders of the man as it is written in the Kesuva.
Moreover, what we said above about man being preoccupied in the spiritual does not exclude him from participating in chores around the house. In fact, a story is told of a man who went to the Steipler Gaon (Rabbi Ya’akov Yisrael Kanievsky, 1899 Ukraine-1985 Bnei Brak; father of Reb Chaim Kanievsky, YBL”C) to ask him a question.
As a side, I was privileged to meet the Steipler Gaon on a few occasions. Those meetings were impactful, to say the least. In fact, I have a number of stories which have emerged from those meeting, but they are beyond the scope of this article.
In any case, getting back to the previous story, this man asked the Steipler if it is true that if a man folds his Tallis on Motzoi Shabbos (Saturday night) in front of his wife, it is a segulah (charm) for Shalom Bayis (harmony in the house). The Steipler Gaon responded that if he wants a segulah for Shalom Bayis, he should pick up a broom and help his wife clean the house.
Again, nobody is trying to encourage a man to shirk his duties around the house. Rather, the Keren L’Dovid is just trying to say that the primary responsibility of a man to God in his Avodas Hashem is to engage in as much Torah study and mitzvah performance as possible.
Now let us get back to the Keren L’Dovid. He goes on to say that Hashem placed His letter Hey in the word Isha to teach us that a Jewish woman’s primary tafkid is to help her husband and assist her children in the study of Torah. We can see this from the letter Hey in the word Isha. Since it was the letter Hey which was used to create the physical domain of Olam Hazeh, it teaches us that the Isha should primarily be engaged in preparing the physical needs of her family (i.e., food and clothing) so that they will have the time to study Torah.
Again, I feel it necessary to interrupt the Keren L’Dovid and add that this does not exclude women from Torah study or mitzvah performance. On the contrary, when women learn Torah, they will have a greater appreciation for what they are being moser nefesh to support. Rather, it just means to say that a Jewish woman’s primary responsibility to God in her Avodas Hashem is to support others in their pursuit of Torah study and mitzvah performance.
When women assist men in learning Torah, they will also merit to be resurrected at the time of Techiyas Hameisim (Resurrection of the Dead). This is because the only mitzvah that has the power of bringing a person back to life after he has died is the study of Torah (Kesuvos, chap. 13, “Shnei Dayenei”, pg. 111b, based on Yeshaya, 26:19).
Once this has been established, the Gemara in Berachos (chap. 2, “Haya Koreh”, pg. 17a) tells us that Rav asked Rebbi Chiya, “How will women be resurrected?” His question is based on the idea that women do not have the same responsibility of Torah study as do men. Therefore, if women do not learn Torah, how will they come back to life at the End of Days? Are men the only ones who will be resurrected?
Rebbi Chiya responded that women will also merit resurrection by sending their children to study Torah, and by sending their husbands to the Beis Medrash to learn Torah. Not only that, but the women should wait up until their husbands return from learning. This last bit of advice contains a dose of psychology. Imagine a wife who tells her husband, “Honey, I know you had a long day at the office, but still, go to the Beis Medrash and listen to a shiur, or learn with a chavrusa.”
Envision that the man listens to his wife, but when he comes home the house is dark and cold, and everybody is sleeping. When his wife tries to encourage him to learn the next evening, he may not be so eager to go because he will feel like he is going to miss out on the companionship that he wants with his wife. But if she stays up for him until he comes home, he will feel like he is not going to lose anything by going to learn Torah.
In any case, we see from this Gemara that woman will be able to cash-in on Techiyas Hameisim by supporting their husbands’ Torah study. The man’s Torah learning is also credited to his wife when she is supportive of his learning. Therefore, she too will have the power of being resurrected.
Now we can understand why Hashem specifically placed His letter Yud in the word Ish. It is because Olam Haba was also created with the same letter Yud. Since Olam Haba is a spiritual domain, the letter Yud represents spirituality. Therefore, Hashem placed the letter Yud in Ish to teach us that a Jewish man’s primary tafkid is to preoccupy himself in spiritual pursuits such as the study of Torah.
This also explains why Hashem specifically placed His letter Hey in the word Isha. It is because Olam Hazeh was also created from the same letter Hey. Since Olam Hazeh is the physical domain, the letter Hey represents physicality. Therefore, Hashem placed the letter Hey in Isha to teach us that a Jewish woman’s primary tafkid is to preoccupy herself in physical matters. This does not mean that women are meant to pamper themselves and overindulge in physical pleasures, rather, it means that women are supposed to utilize the material world and elevate it by using it to help further the study of Torah.
It turns out that it was specifically the Name “KA” that Hashem chose to use to distribute between man and woman because this Name guides and instructs man and woman as to how they can fulfill their tafkidim.
These two distinct missions of men and women are not just relevant as to how a husband and wife are meant to behave in their marriage, but this also has an effect on how they are supposed to educate their children. This is because it is the father’s job to teach his sons Torah (Meseches Kiddushin, chap. 1, “Ha-isha Niknis”, pg. 29a, based on Parshas Eikev, 11:19). Teaching Torah to the children is not the mother’s responsibility (Kiddushin ibid pg. 29b). Rather, the mother must see to it that the physical needs of her children are met (i.e., meals to eat and clean clothing to wear).
The Shvilei Pinchas says that now we can understand why blessing in the house is dependent solely on the wife, and not on the husband. It is because the letter Hey is found in the word Isha in order to hint to the woman that her job is to tend to the Olam Hazeh needs of her family so that they will be able to spend more time learning Torah. When women use materialism for that purpose, Hashem rewards them, measure for measure, by giving the family more parnassah so that she can continue using that materialism to further promote Torah study.
The Shvilei Pinchas adds that Rebbi Chelbo emphasized that a person should have tremendous respect for his wife (Baba Metzia 59a mentioned above) because, unfortunately, some men and some women might make the mistake of thinking that the man who studies Torah is superior, whereas the woman who is involved in cooking and cleaning is inferior. Such thoughts could lead to disrespecting the woman.
In order that nobody should mistakenly think that way, Rebbi Chelbo said that one should be extremely careful as to how he treats his wife. Meaning, he must demonstrate absolute respect for her because her role is not inferior but rather equal to the man’s role. A man’s role and woman’s roles may be different from one another, but that does not make one better than the other. Rather, when each one fulfills his and her tafkid, in God’s eyes, they are equal.
Moreover, when a man respects his wife, he taps into the letter Hey of Isha which allows him to draw from the energy of the letter Hey which means that he can draw from physical success of Olam Hazeh which was created by the letter Hey.
The Shvilei Pinchas says that we will now be able to understand the debate between Yitzchak and Rivka regarding the blessings. Both Yitzchak and Rivka recognized their perspective tafkidim in this world. They knew that Hashem had placed His letter Yud in Ish so that he would be involved in activities that are in sync with Olam Haba that was created by the letter Yud.
Yitzchak also knew that his children were men. As such, they should be primarily focused on Olam Haba pursuits. However, Yitzchak saw that Eisav was not engrossed in Torah study. Eisav spent his days roaming around the deserts and forests. Since Yitzchak cared for Eisav, he came up with a plan. The plan was as follows.
The blessings of Yitzchak were not spiritual in nature. At Bar Mitzvahs today, the Rabbi will bless the young man to become a Tamid Chacham and a Yirei Shamayim. That was not the nature of Yitzchak’s blessings. Rather, Yitzchak’s blessings were all about gashmiyus (materialism). Yitzchak would bless his son with the dews of heaven and with the fats of the land. The blessing would be to have grain, wine, and political power (Parshas Toldos, 27:28-29).
The reason why these were the blessings that Yitzchak chose to give was because Yitzchak said to himself that if Eisav is not going to learn Torah, let him at least be blessed with wealth so that he can support Ya’akov and his learning of Torah.
In this way, Eisav would have a part in Ya’akov’s Torah learning just as Zevulun would be credited with the Torah learning of Yissachar on account of his supporting Yissachar. In this way, Eisav would also be deserving of resurrection when the time would come.
This sounds like a great plan. Why did Rivka object? The answer is that Rivka agreed that hypothetically this was a good idea. However, Rivka realized that if Eisav would be given the blessings of wealth, he would not be writing checks out to Ya’akov to support him in Kollel, nor would Eisav pay the yeshiva’s bills or build the Yeshiva building. Rivka knew that Eisav would take his money and run to Vegas where he would waste his wealth on emptiness.
Besides, Rivka argued that the best people to be Ya’akov’s supporters would be his future wives. After all, that is their tafkid. Therefore, Rivka maintained that the blessings of materialism should be given to Ya’akov so that after Ya’akov marries Rochel and Leah, those blessings of material success would be passed on to them. Then, Rochel and Leah could use those blessings to help support Ya’akov’s Torah learning and to help support their son’s Torah learning.
The following Gemara will fit into this entire approach and even offer another layer of understanding as to why Yitzchak and Rivka davened in different corners.
In Meseches Berachos (chap. 1, “M’eimasai”, pg. 5b), Rebbi Chama b’Rebbi Chanina said in the name of Rav Yitzchak that anyone who places his bed between north and south will have male children (who will succeed in Torah).
The disciples of Rabbenu Yona (Gerondi, 1200-1263, Spain) explain this passage in Meseches Berachos based on the passage from Baba Basra (pg. 25b) that we mentioned above which said that facing south while davening is propitious for obtaining Torah wisdom whereas facing north while davening is auspicious for procuring wealth.
Therefore, when the Gemara in Berachos said that a person’s bed should be placed in the directions of north and south, the very position of the bed is meant to remind the parents to pray on behalf of their children that they succeed in Torah from the energy of the Menora which was situated on the south, and that they should succeed financially from the energy of the Shulchan which was located on the north.
It turns out that the Gemara in Baba Basra serves as a commentary on the Gemara in Berachos. May I just add that it is interesting to note that both statements which were made in these two perspective Talmudic passages came from Rebbi Yitzchak. Therefore, it is not shocking that one statement of Rebbi Yitzchak should clarify another statement from the same Rebbi Yitzchak.
In any case, the Shvilei Pinchas uses this information to suggest a chiddush (novel Torah thought) with respect to how Yitzchak and Rivka prayed. He suggests that Yitzchak and Rivka placed their bed in the direction of north and south, just as the Gemara had instructed couples to do. They were privy of this information way before the Gemara was written down.
Right before they were together to try and bring children into this world, Yitzchak and Rivka’s bed reminded them to pray towards those directions in order to benefit from what each one had to offer. As a man, Yitzchak concentrated his efforts in prayer on the southern side for the spiritual success of his children represented by his letter Yud, and Rivka, as a woman, concentrated her efforts in prayer on the northern side for her children’s material success represented by her letter Hey. May I just add that it is interesting how relevant Rebbi Yitzchak’s teachings were to explain that practice of Yitzchak Avinu, his name’s sake.
After sharing these insights, there are three practical take-away messages that we could implement immediately:
1) The first exercise is for all of us men. Let us try to make an even greater effort of honoring and respecting our wives. Not only will this improve our Shalom Bayis, but it will allow us to tap into the letter hey of Isha upon which we will be able to draw even more parnassah for our families.
2) The second exercise is directed at women. May women go to even greater lengths to help facilitate Torah learning. This may translate into encouraging husbands to learn more, which might require tending to other chores, even more so, in order that those precious moments can be taken advantage of and utilized by the husbands. This also means helping our children study more Torah. This can also translate into financially helping support people who have committed their lives to Torah study. This will bring blessing to all parties involved and it will also ensure that all people will be brought back to life at the time of Techiyas Hameisim.
3) Another practical application of this teaching would be for all of us to strengthen our davening. Let each and every one of us “pick a corner” in the house from where we are going to beg Hashem for what we need and even for what we want. We learn from Yitzchak and Rivka that prayer goes a long way.
So, may we, from the four corners of the earth, be blessed to increase our respect for each other, and may we try to do more for each other, and may we also increase our commitment to Torah and Tefillah, in order that we and our families be blessed by KA with healthy marriages, and with healthy children that we get true Yiddishe nachas from.