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Parasha No. 6
Toledot: “Generations”

Bereshit 25, 19-28, 9

The beauty of marriage when lived according to the Torah


- Themes of the parasha
- Method of study
- The importance of sharing between partners
- Personal responsibility
- Perceiving the best in one's partner
- Fragility and instability of perception
- Perceiving each other in the context of the divine creation
- Our common place
- The reassurance that comes from being two
- The whole being
- One's partner, one's future
- The inner dynamics of marital happiness
- The contributions of Rashi's commentaries
- Love, a game of symmetry and asymmetry
- Fullness of life
- Rising together
- Lesson in personal development
- Memorization exercise




Themes of the Parasha

The parasha begins with the title "the generations of Yitzhak" and includes his marriage, his sterility crisis, his prayer and the child that arrives, the rivalry between Esav (Esau) and Yaakov, the descent into Egypt because of the famine, the abduction of Rivka by Avimelekh, the problem of the wells and the resolution of the conflict, the founding of the city of Beer Sheva, Yitzhak's blessing on Yaakov, Yitzhak's blessing on Esav, the demand that Esav not take a wife among the daughters of Canaan and Esav's transgression.

Our focus will be on Bereshit, verse 25, 21.
We will marvel at the love and sensitivity with which the commentators wrote about marital relations, through the problem of infertility.
Here is the verse:
Vayeetar Yitzhak laShem lenokhah ishto ki akara hu,
vayiater lo Hashem vatahar Rivka ishto
with the traditional translation:
"And Isaac entreated the Lord for his wife, because she was barren;
and the Lord let himself be entreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived."
(Rabbinate-authorized translation).

The parasha illustrates. through this problem of infertility, the deep, latent anguishes married couples experience, even though we all wish for marital life to be only bliss.
When we witness couples, who have everything to be happy, experience such trials, we cannot understand them, so we view them in terms of frustration and failure; we react with anger, aggression, depression, withdrawal or distancing because we are confused and do not know the right way to react, as individuals or as couples.
The parasha provides us with numerous guidelines as to how we should react and it is especially enlightening on the nature of marital relationships.

Method of study

" There are parashiot, such as this, where the peshat (the literal meaning), the sod (the secret meaning), and the musar (ethics of behavior or derekh eretz) appear together in one verse, as in the one we are going to study (Bereshit 25 21).

" In order to understand what the Torah teaches us, it is important not only to read this verse and the commentaries on it, but to take care to let the words to resonate in us for they will arouse parts of our inner being which are reflected in it - this is what I mean when I talk about "reading with resonance:" "speak, Your servant hears everything." This is an intimate, receptive, meditative type of reading which involves internalization and integration of our entire being; it is only in this way that the mitzva of study can be fully realized and lead to its goal: laasot, to do.

" Indeed the mitzva of study comprises 4 essential steps: lilmod (study), lelamed (teach), lizkor (memorize in order to remember), and internalization enables one to reach the last stage: laasot (accomplish).

" This methodical way of reading a Torah text is similar to the three-stage method used by the Shla hakadosh in Shnei Luhot Habrit which comprises:
--- understanding the mitzvot (ner mitzva);
--- understanding the pure teaching (tehora) which the Torah transmits at its
deepest level (tora or);
--- understanding the text through our own lives, with the aim of improving
ourselves and our lives (peula, tokhahat musar, derekh haim).

" We shall see once more that, only through the study of the Hebrew text and the commentaries can we discover the message of the text, just as the knowledge of the intimate expressions and ways of communicating of those close to us allows us to understand what is incomprehensible to outsiders. Conclusion: it is essential to learn Hebrew in order to read the Torah.

The importance of sharing between partners

Seeking to blame
Initial reactions of those who confront an infertility problem, as in this verse (or in life), involve feelings of frustration, failure, aggression, and blaming the other person for the problem, in particular the woman, as with Rivka.
Our Sages, who understood well the weaknesses of man, tell us how to understand the problem:
Tractate Yevamot 64 a, stresses that when
---"Isaac implored the Lord for his wife,"
--- we must take heed,
--- for this verse of the Torah does not say "for his wife" but "in the presence of his wife;"
--- our Sages conclude: "this tells us that both partners were infertile…" (melamed sheshnehem akurim).

Personal responsibility

This tells us not only that both were infertile but that Yitzhak immediately understood that he, in particular, was also infertile. Indeed it is easier and more natural to consider the wife responsible, for the text makes it seem that Rivka was infertile; yet, well before this, the text stated the problem clearly (lenokhah), attributing it to both the spouses and stressing Yitzhak's awareness of this.

By reading a text in detail and by taking note of erroneous translations, we become aware of our blindness and our tendency to discriminate against women, which is very important.
Moreover, we achieve this awareness through the fact that the Torah text itself encourages ambiguity in the way it is constructed, which demonstrates that the problem is not one that is limited to any particular generation or figure, but is a much broader one, since the Torah is read by every generation.
This problem of the constant inferiorization of women requires a much lengthier discussion that I can do justice to here.

Perceiving the best in one's partner

Yitzhak's remarkable awareness teaches us that each partner has a duty to guard and uphold the image of his or her spouse at its highest possible level, just as he does with Rivka:
" if one partner has a problem or difficulty, for whatever reason, then it is the function of the other to ensure his or her stability and integrity with calm and joy: lenokhah isho "in the presence of his wife when she is infertile;"
" this means: "to be present at the level of his wife's true nature and needs" and not to distance himself ; not to perceive her through the perspective of the current problem, but to perceive her real being, beauty and perfection. The expression lenokhah means simultaneously "in the presence of" "facing" "against" (like the Hebrew neged, mul, as in Exodus 40, 24 where it says: "And he put the candlestick in the tent of the congregation, over against (moad nokhah) the table."
In English, as well, the expressions "facing" "face to face" can have a hostile
connotation (as in the Hebrew neged), a connotation of perfection in the face to
face, or "attentive consideration for" (as in the Hebrew sim lev le, beethem le…).

Fragility and instability of perception

Everything centers around the continual and immediate possibility of opting for one side or the other of the same word, which means within the same inner, intimate part of ourselves. How then can we ensure (despite our fragility, vulnerability and instability) a stable and consistent image of ourselves, of what is the best in us and in our partners?
The detailed study of a single word of Torah may help us to find the answer.

Perceiving one's partner in the context of the divine creation

Let us go further and higher.
This is not just a wise or psychologically correct concept "for getting on well with one's spouse in everyday life;" it involves recognizing and adhering to a single, shared image, which is made in the image of Hakadosh Barukh Hu, and is therefore perfect. Every couple exists within this reality, for He created Adam in His image and in His likeness as one being which is simultaneously "male-and-female" (Genesis 1, 27).
Thus, in every relationship between man and wife, it is important to recognize this level of our being which is the double neshama of each other (male-and-female) and that this neshama is totally pure, as is said near the beginning of the morning prayers: haneshama shenatata bi tehora hi.

Our common place

Similarly, when we recite this verse from Psalm 16, 8 which is inscribed in every synagogue and which we should always have before us: shiviti hashem le negdi tamid ("I have set Hashem always before me"), we understand, based on the verse of Bereshit, that this verse must also refer to being present for one's spouse. Indeed we are in just one place, that of God's divine plan (from the present to the final and complete creation). As with Yitzhak and Rivka, the place in which we are is also part of the common neshama of a couple, which is also part of the place that is God, the makom as is written in the Pesah Haggada.

It should be stressed that the above is also relevant to those who have not yet met the partner with whom they were created as one being.

Thus, just as with Yitzhak and Rivka in this verse, each partner must, spontaneously, without words, simply through a look or gesture, be present at the moment of difficulty:
"now, at the moment when you are in anguish or in difficulty, I am and will be the stability you need to ensure the permanence of your integrity, your happiness, your smile, your laugh, your stability and your aspirations, for I am you-us, I am your man (or your woman) within your-our eternal unity."

The Reassurance that comes from being two

The possibility of finding constant comfort and reassurance in one's partner is a great source of happiness. A mere look, gesture, intimate feeling, scent, thought, recollection of shared happiness, secret code, can communicate to the other that we are one, one sole being, within the perfection of the creator.

The whole being

Thus when the text writes that Yitzhak prays for his infertile wife, this is not a superficial or objective statement "on the theme of infertility," nor is it a philosophical definition of a couple or of women; the text does not say "about his wife" (in Hebrew al) but uses the expression lenokhah which is more intimate and carnal. The text says "in the presence of his wife." She has not become a medical issue or the subject of a problem; the wife-woman is a "whole being," the husband-man is a whole being, the spouses-man and woman are a whole being, present together.
For more on the relationship of caretakers to sick family members or to any sick person, refer to my book "La relation au patient" (Privat, Toulouse, 1992), which contains helpful analyses and examples.

One's partner, one's future

This concept of sharing difficulties as part of human sharing also appears in the commentary Bereshit Rabba 63, 5.
"This teaches us that Yitzhak was prostrated here and she was prostrated there and he said: Master, creator of the world, may all the children you give me come from this tzadeket, this righteous woman."

Not only is Yitzkak present with and for Rivka, but he himself describes his wife as being perfect, as his future, his happiness, and, through this confidence in her, he ensures the permanency of her future. And this future is felt and expressed in the present: "may all the children you give me….."

Following his example, what better compliment can one say of one's partner than this: "of all the women or all the men, it is only by you that I wish to have children and a future." Yitzhak knew that he would father Yaakov but he feared it might not be by Rivka; the proof of his immense love is that he asked that it be solely by her (cf I Zohar 137).

Another facet is illustrated in other commentaries which show that Yitzhak prays (in unison) and only afterwards is the problem cited in the verse for, even with Hashem, an encounter begins with the best, then moves onto problematic issues.

The inner dynamics of marital happiness

Let us examine further the nature of happiness that comes from sharing in unison: it is found not only in the intimate dialogue between husband wife and in their unity, but Hashem is also part of this intimate dialogue, for the midrash Bereshit Rabba continues its commentary on verse 25, 21 thus:
"why were our patriarchs and matriarchs infertile? Because Hakadosh Barukh Hu desires the prayers of the tzaddikim (righteous)."
This means that
--- Hashem not only wants to ensure a couples'greatest happiness (a child) by allowing spouses to participate fully in the process through their prayers, not just through the natural process,
--- but Hashem also wants each spouse, because of his or her limitations, to express his confidence; it is this unison in attested love that will transform the situation and lead to fruition.

We sometimes find it difficult to understand how we can be so important in the eyes of others. And it is even more difficult for us to understand that the creator needs us so much. Yet the Torah and the prophets keep repeating this (ahavat olam…shir hashirim..).

The contributions of the Rashi's commentaries

Rashi describes the intensity of this reciprocal need which is understood and shared by each partner, when he comments on this passage of Tractate Yevamot 64 a:
"lenokhah ishto mashma sheshenehem hayu tzoakim re mul ze
'facing his wife'means that they shouted facing each other."

This cry of one partner facing the other is necessary. It is this presence and assurance which characterized the Honi hameagel, the tracer of circles who brought rain on demand, as did his descendants; his name derived from the fact that he positioned himself in a circle and declared like the prophet Habakuk 2, 1 "at my guardpost I stand" (al mishmarti eemoda), only leaving it when his prayer was granted, like a child whose father concedes his every whim, says Tractate Taanit 23 a.
I have quoted this passage because Rashi uses it to comment on our verse from Bereshit 25, 21:
ze omed bezavit zo u mitpallel, vezo omedet bezavit zo u mitpallelet.

One must always refer to the sources used by Rashi because they provide important elements of meaning. Rashi chooses his sources with care. This passage of the Talmud says that Abba Helkia, the grandson of Honi hameagel, possessed the same gifts as his grandfather; moreover his relationship with his wife was very important because she would come, dressed up in all her finery, to greet him when he returned from his work, so that he would look at no other woman ( here again we see the role of reciprocal perception) and "when the rabbis came to ask him to make rain, he and his wife went onto the rooftop and he stood in one corner and she in another and they prayed and a rain-cloud appeared above his wife."

We now understand more fully the necessary loving base to which Rashi refers when he uses this phrase from Bereshit Rabba to comment on verse 25, 21 of our parasha.
On the surface, Rashi seems to explain simply the peshat, the primary and objective meaning, but through his sources, we understand that he is saying that lenokhah does not mean they were "face to face," since everyone knows that when one prays one must "face the wall" so that nothing intervenes between the one who prays and He to whom one prays, but means instead that they faced each other from a distance.
One can see that the objection, to which he apparently seems to be answering, has no validity since Rashi would not try to teach something that everyone knows (where to pray); moreover, he mentions that, when two spouses unite, they come "face to face" and Hashem is also present, particularly in such moments of procreation.

We see that when Rashi enlightens us on the peshat, it is never a superficial peshat or one just for children, but it is a peshat that includes all 4 levels of pardes (the 4 levels of meaning: literal, associative, logical and secret) and he always does this by seeking out another traditional text that perfectly expresses the deep meaning of the peshat he is commenting on. Thus, by choosing, in this case, the parallel scene of Abba Helkia and his beautiful, provocative, special wife who knew better than her husband the true nature of prayer (she succeeded, just by praying, in getting bandits to do teshuva), receiving the rain-cloud which she and her husband had prayed for, Rashi wants to illustrate the depth of meaning in the word lenokhah and all the parameters involved.

Rashi's conciseness presumes that we know by heart the traditional texts to which he refers indirectly; in this way he forces us to study not just the Torah, but all the other traditional texts.
He also teaches us the method I describe here: may we succeed in perceiving these messages through our sensitive and detailed study of the word lenokhah.

Love, a game of symmetry and asymmetry

When Rashi translates this Arameic phrase into Hebrew,
(ze omed bezavit zo u mitpallel
vezo omedet bezavit zo u mitpallelet,
he stands at this angle and prays,
and she stands at this angle and prays)
he achieves a wonderful symmetry and resonance that adds to what he is trying to say. It indicates, simultaneously, a quality that is totally identical and closed like the angles of a square, and the delicate nuances of masculine and feminine in the play on ze (this - masc.) and zo (this-fem.). Everyone should analyze this and tune into the resonances.
Let us now examine other shades of meaning on this love contributed by Rashi:
--- the stability of the verb "stands" (omed),
--- the fact that the place where each partner stands is an "angle," which signifies that it is not a flat wall but two walls which join together to form a perspective and an opening in which it is possible to breathe and live,
--- Rashi also shows us that, as with the image of the wife of Abba Helkia in the Talmud, it is in her angle that fecundity appears.

Fullness of Life

We have spoken of the way each partner perceives the other, reassuring him or her of his or her optimal level. Rashi demonstrates to us that, with Yitzhak and Rivka, this was at the level of perfection. We now understand why the Zohar (I, 136 b) says that Yitzhak was 60 at this time, for this is the fullness of age and this is also why the child Yaakov was perfect (shalem, complete):
"when Yitzhak conceived Yaakov, he was 60 years old in order to ensure that Yaakov would be perfect, a perfect man."

Rising together

The Talmud text which Rashi uses, indicates that they "went up." Let us examine this text: "addressing his wife…let us go up onto the roof to pray to the merciful one and may Hashem make the rain fall and not attribute the merit to us. They went up onto the roof, they prayed and a rain-cloud appeared above the corner of his wife…." It was a real act of unison, going up together in unison, with the greatest humility; this is what ensures the union between the two and with Hashem.

Rabbenu Behaye clarifies this union even further when he states: "she became infertile only in order that they would pray together for a child."

This act of going up together is also stressed in the commentaries specifically with regard to the verb "pray;" vayeetar instead of veitpallel. The explanation for this is found in Ezekiel 8, 11: vaatar anane-haketoret ole, and the cloud of incense 'rose' .

Other commentaries also insist on the fact that the verb atar always entails an element of piercing, like a drill that pierces a wall, and the Zohar notes that Yitzhak rose to the world Up High and he pierced what had to be pierced in the zone of fecundity (I Zohar 137 a) and the blessing flowed down, and the fruit was born below.

We can see how rich is the study of just one verse with our Sages.
How ignorant are those who believe that the Torah is a religion of obligation and fear, as opposed to other religions which are supposed to represent love; this is ignorance and nothing is more dangerous than the wisdom of the ignorant.


Lesson in personal development

Once you have accomplished and memorized the "technical" part of this study, it is important to meditate and reflect on the many existential questions that are raised in this Torah text. You should do this first on your own, then with someone you are close to. You will then see that what you have studied will become integrated, ipso facto, into your everyday life.

You will find below a list of questions related to the themes and issues that are raised in this parasha.
It should be read only after you have undergone your own personal, independent meditation.

" How do you react personally to frustrating situations in life?
" How do you react in particular towards the person you are close to, as a spouse or as a friend?
" What is your level of sharing?
" Are you aware of spontaneous reactions when blame of your partner reflects your own unhappiness and suffering (projection)?
" Are you aware of being blind in certain situations and having a discriminatory attitude towards women?
" In moments of stress and difficulty, do you strive to uphold the best image of your partner, ensuring integrity, calm, laughter and happiness?
" Do you strive, in moments of everyday stress, not to distance yourself from your partner, not see him or her in the negative light of the moment, and do you continue to see him or her as a beautiful, perfect person?
" How do your react when you are face to face with your partner: what is your presence, look, silence, absence, contact, mirror, wall, confrontation, hostility, openness?
" Are you aware of moments when you opt for a word, or inner feeling, that is either positive or negative?
" Do you strive to assure your partner - in spite of your fragility, vulnerability and instability - of your stable presence and the best of yourself?
" Does your partner represent the source which ensures your own best functioning, your strength, joy, happiness, smile, laugh?
" Are you sufficiently aware of the way your partner ensures your sense of stability?
" In your relationship with your partner, are you aware of the qualities in you and your partner which reflect the double neshama that you both possess (male-female), and that this neshama is totally pure?
" Does the presence which you ensure for your partner have the same spirit as the phrase: " I have set Hashem always before me." ?
" In moments of stress, do you and your partner use a secret code, verbally or non-verbally, to remind each other of shared happiness?
" Do you consider that you and your partner are part of one living entity?
" Does this man-woman partnership form one entity, an entity that is one for the other?
" Is there a quality of humility in your relationship, as though each of you were prostrated before the essence of the other? Before Hashem?
" Do you believe in your heart that you ensure the success and future of your partner, through your presence and confidence in his or her development?
" What are appropriate silent forms of communication in a marital relationship?
" Are you aware that the Creator needs you and desires your prayers as a couple?
" Do you consider the "cries" between partners to be a healthy form of communication, and a necessity in order to express individual and shared suffering?
" Are you aware of the "need" for a woman to be a beautiful, devoted, exclusive wife? And what about a man?
" Do you feel that you are totally involved in your partner's prayers and she/he in yours?
" Do you feel that a wife knows better than her husband the right ways of praying?
" Is the game of symmetry which characterizes a couple's relationship balanced or unbalanced in favor of one or the other?
" Does this symmetry also respect the richness that comes from differences?
" Do your reactions of withdrawal or silence become a wall, or do they lead to moments of reflection and openness towards your partner?
" Do you feel that a woman is responsible at all levels for fecundity in a marriage?
" Do you take care to mentally represent your partner according to the optimal representation he or she has of him or herself?
" Do you feel this quality of "rising" together and rising "only together"? and of helping each other to rise?
" In moments of stress and difficulty, do you succeed in remaining within this structure of intimate and concrete unity?
" Do you feel that "all" differences between two partners are creative?

Every student should formulate these questions in his own terms.

Memorization exercise

" Recite by heart the 4 essential steps in the mitzva of study:
lilmod, lelamed, lizkor, laasot.
Reminder: lilmod (study), lelamed (teach), lizkor (memorize in order to remember), laasot (accomplish).

" Study regularly this lesson on personal development.


- Psychology and Repentance
   (in french)

Part 15

Part 16

- Jerusalem excavations
- Terror and counseling
- Peace and peoples
- Israel and Iran
- Visual study & song on snow
for, through our union with the song of nature, the plan of Creation will be fulfilled

Poem: to be moon

In french

Avec Modia, vivez
vos vacances en Israël,
Texte et photos

- Par Modia, arrivez au Kotel
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- Ici, tout sur Jérusalem
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- et ici aussi, autre caméra

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Part 17

- Love towards all people
- Light in war
- Before the hanukiah
- Land of Israel
- Jerusalem excavations 2007
  Proof of the lies propagated
  by the media

In french - Hope in Israel

Part 20
"Encounters with God
in the real"

- You are planning a tour in Israel - Photos
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- New year of beauty
- Flowers
Gallery photos

Part 21

- My english songs


Rav Professor
Yehoshua Rahamim Dufour
(Dipur, in hebrew)

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