Not in Vain

During World War II, an askan in New York expended enormous effort to send matzos to non-religious Jewish soldiers in the American army. After Pesach, he was devastated to learn that some of them ate bread along with the matzos.

The askan came to Harav Avraham Yehoshua Heschel, the Kopyczynitzer Rebbe, zy”a, and poured out his heart.

The Rebbe assured him that his efforts were not in vain. “Every bite of matzah meant that they ate one less bite of chametz,” the Rebbe explained.


We have no inkling of the greatness of the Avos, nor can we possibly fathom the depth of their ways. But we can — and must — learn crucial and practical lessons from the teachings of the various meforshim that help explain these parshiyos.

The Torah informs us that “Yitzchak loved Esav, for trapping was in his mouth, but Rivkah loved Yaakov.”

Chazal (Bereishis Rabbah 63:10) teaches us that this meant that Esav knew how to ensnare and deceive his father, and used his mouth to do so. Through asking such questions as “How do we tithe salt and straw?” he gave the impression of being meticulous in keeping mitzvos, while in reality he lived a very different type of life.

It would seem perplexing that Esav, who was engaging in perpetual acts of evil, was able to deceive Yitzchak Avinu, the paradigm of avodas Hashem.

One explanation is that in reality, Yitzchak was well aware of what Esav was all about, yet precisely because he sought to deceive him, Yitzchak chose to show him love. For as long as he thought that he was fooling his father, Esav refrained from publicly committing sins. Despite all the evil acts that Esav was performing in secret, Yitzchak wanted to at least prevent  Esav from committing public sins.

In addition, the very fact that Rivkah openly showed her love for Yaakov was reason for Yitzchok to exhibit love to  Esav. Aware of  Esav’s propensity for jealousy and anger, out of love and worry for Yaakov, Yitzchak made certain to hide his love for Yaakov and show his love for  Esav. (Adapted from the teachings of the Ben Ish Chai)

This explanation contains a very relevant lesson: Avodas Hashem in general, and chinuch in particular, should never be viewed through a lens of “all or nothing.” Every sin, every negative act, that is avoided is an accomplishment in and of itself, even if the individual continues to commit other misdeeds.


Harav Chaim, the Rebbe of Chernowitz and author of Be’er Mayim Chaim, had a son who slipped off the right path. The Rebbe, however, continued to fully support him in comfort and provide him with every need.

When he arose each morning, the Be’er Mayim Chaim would declare: “Ribbono shel Olam, see how I am treating my son; even though he is not going in the [right] path, I still do with him so much good and kindness. If I, a mortal made of flesh and blood, do so, how much more so it would be befitting for You, our Merciful Father, Who is good and does good, to have mercy on us and do so, and even when Your children do not do Your Will, You should have mercy and grant them all their needs.”

His disciple, Harav Feivish of Bradishin, used this story to explain the passuk that “Yitzchak loved Esav for trapping was in his mouth.” Yitzchak exhibited great love to  Esav, so that later he could use this fact to be melamed zechus and defend Klal Yisrael.


Many meforshim also ponder a related question: Why did Hashem arrange it so that Yitzchak should originally intend to give the brachos to Esav, and only by dressing in the clothes of Esav and pretending to be him did Yaakov manage to receive the brachos?

Hagaon Harav Avraham Yaakov Pam, zt”l, Rosh Yeshivas Torah Vodaath, once said in a shiur that his “heart told him” the following explanation:

When Yaakov feared that the deception would be discovered and he would receive a curse rather than a blessing, his mother Rivkah told him “Alai kilelascha bni — your curse be on me.”

Rivkah knew that she was risking losing both worlds if a tzaddik like Yitzchak Avinu would curse the one who sought to fool him. She acted on a sublime level of mesirus nefesh for her beloved son.

The Ribbono shel Olam knew that Yaakov would suffer for 20 years at the hands of Lavan. He would need a great deal of strength during those difficult years, said Harav Pam, and so Hashem arranged the matter in such a way that his mother’s mesirus nefesh was activated, and its memory would be there for Yaakov Avinu to give him the chizuk to endure.