Thursday, December 16, 2010

On the Trail of Blessings: Yosef's Communique

[This is part 7 1/2 of the series. Begin the Trail here.]

After revealing his identity, Yosef is eager to send word to his father. He instructs his brothers:
Hurry! Go up to my father and tell him: "Your son Yosef says, 'God [אלוהים] has installed me as the master of all of Egypt...'" (45:9)
Did Yosef really think his brothers would forget to mention that?! Why the need for this communique? Compounding the mystery, the brothers don't deliver the message accurately. They return home and say this to Yaakov:
Yosef is still alive! And he is governor [מושל] of all of Egypt. (45:26)
They switched "master" for "governor" and left God out of the message altogether. If the brothers were trying to make the news more believable, their plan failed: "[Yaakov's] heart skipped a beat, for he could not believe them" (45:26). Seeing that that didn't work, they decided to follow Yosef's orders: "They told him all the words that Yosef had spoken to them, and he saw the wagons that Yosef had sent to carry him" (45:27). That worked: "The spirit of their father Yaakov was then revived."

What happened here? What was the significance of Yosef's choice of words? And how do the wagons factor in?

There is a basic difference between a master and a governor. A governor may have wide ranging powers, but no slaves. Masters have slaves. Yosef was telling Yaakov that אלוהים had made him master of all Egypt; i.e., Egypt served him. Yosef was confident that these words would trigger a flashback.

Many years earlier, Yaakov stood before his blind father Yitzchok wearing Eisav's clothes. Yitzchok began to speak:
אלוהים will give you from the dew of the heaven and from the fat of the earth; much grain and wine. Nations will serve you...
This is Yosef's message for his father: Yitzchok's blessing for Eisav, the blessing you were forced to steal and the blessing I dreamed about - it flows through my veins! Much grain, indeed! Nations serve me! It is nothing other than the blessing of אלוהים.

Yaakov heard these words and then saw "the wagons that Yosef had sent to carry him" (45:27). Just a few verses later those very same wagons are called "the wagons that Pharaoh had sent to carry him" (46:5) for these were royal chariots which could only leave the country by the king's order. But Yosef had sent them! Proof positive that the Nation of Egypt really did serve Yosef.

Governorship Yaakov did not recognize, but a divinely orchestrated Master of Nations - that was something he could believe. "The spirit of their father Yaakov was then revived."

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Light of the Shamash

A Shiur on Chanukah delivered yesterday at Gerber & Co. I must admit that it is D'rush, but good D'rush nonetheless. Click here to download.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

On the Trail of Blessings: A Light Unto the Nations?

[This is post number 4 1/2 of this series. Begin the Trail here.]

Hashem describes Avraham's relationship with the rest of the world in two different ways. Initially, in the Berachos at the beginning of Parshas Lech Lecha, Hashem says, ונברכו בך כל משפחות האדמה, "through you all the families of the earth will be blessed" (12:3). But later Hashem says this, "ונברכו בו כל גויי הארץ, "Through him all the nations of the world will be blessed" (18:18). And again, after the Akeida, Hashem says, והתברכו בזרעך כל גויי הארץ, "through your descendants all the nations of the world will be blessed" (22:18).

Obviously, "nations of the world" is not the same thing as "families of the earth." Why the difference? In light of what we have learned, this too can be explained. 

The original Beracha found at the beginning of Lech Lecha speaks to the Abrahamic destiny as it relates to the physical realm. This is the piece that Yitzchok broke off for Eisav and, as we have seen, it is not limited to the Land of Israel. (Indeed, Israel does not appear in this blessing.) In the end, this national blessing/mission of influencing the world for the good is fulfilled by the Jew in the Diaspora through personal contact with individual gentiles. Thus, it is משפחות האדמה as opposed to גויי הארץ that are impacted.

Later, however, Hashem is defining ברכת אברהם as it manifests itself in Yitzchok (cf. 18:18-19). The reason for the change becomes clear after after the Akieda. If Yitzchok is an עולה תמימה and can never leave Israel, how will he impact the world? How will the Beracha of ונברכו בך כל משפחות האדמה be fulfilled? This is the question that Hashem is addressing immediately after the Akeida, and this is the answer: וירש זרעך את שער איביו והתברכו בזרעך כל גויי הארץ, "Your descendants will inherit the gates of their enemies," i.e., they will  conquer Israel and build a Jewish State, and then, "through your descendants all the nations of the world will be blessed." Nations, not families. Even if the Jews never leave Israel and never come into contact with a gentile, they can still fix the world, for by creating a utopian Jewish State the Jews create a model for the nations of the world. This is what the prophet means when he describes us as an אור לגוים, "a light unto the nations" (Yeshaya 42:6). A light shines from a distance and from that distance it enlightens the nations. 

This also explains the other discrepancy between the blessings. To be a model to the nations of the world, a Jewish nation is needed. Thus in contrast with the blessing to the "families of the earth" which Avraham can effect by himself - ונברכו בך - the blessing to nations cannot occur through Yitzchok alone, but only through the nation of Israel, his descendants - והתברכו בזרעך.

Our theory is borne out by Yitzchok's prophecy in Parshas Toldos. Hashem tells him, ונתתי לזרעך את כל הארצות האל והתברכו בזרעך כל גויי הארץ, "I shall give to your descendants all of these lands," i.e., Israel, "and through your descendants all the nations of the world will be blessed." Here we have the exact same words Hashem said to Avraham after the Akieda. Never does Hashem say to Yitzchok what He said to Avraham at the beginning of Lech Lecha: ונברכו בך כל משפחות האדמה, for Yitzchok can never leave Israel to impact the gentiles of the world on a familial level. His destiny is limited to being a light unto the nations. The Beracha for משפחות האדמה has been replaced by the Beracha for גויי הארץ.

What does Hashem say to Yaakov on this crucial issue? Hashem addresses it only once and at a critical juncture - when Yaakov is on his way out of Israel, after stealing his brother's Beracha and usurping his brother's mission abroad. Here is what Hashem says: והיה זרעך כעפר הארץ ופרצת ימה וקדמה וצפנה ונגבה ונברכו בך כל משפחות האדמה ובזרעך, "Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth and you shall spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south," i.e., you and your descendants are destined to leave Israel and spread out all over the world and then,"through you and through your descendants all the families of the earth will be blessed" (28:14). The original Beracha that Hashem gave Avraham at the beginning of Lech Lecha has reappeared! For, as we have seen, it was precisely this Beracha - as an independent blessing and agenda  - that Yitzchok attempted to give to Eisav and ended up in Yaakov's hands.

All the families of the earth will be blessed through Yaakov, for the destiny of Yaakov, and the destiny of his descendants who follow in his path, is in the Diaspora. There they will meet the gentile, introducing him to family values and inspiring him with the beauty of a life grounded in monotheism. Not a broad and vague "light unto the nations" from a distance, but an intimate blessing of personal contact with the families of the earth.

Eisav was an unbridled pagan who failed to live up to his destiny, forcing Yaakov to "steal" his Beracha and go abroad to do Eisav's job. But Yaakov's loss is the gentile's gain. And, more often than not, that gentile is none other than Eisav himself.

[Continue the Trail here.]

Monday, November 29, 2010

On the Trail of Blessings: Yaakov Abroad

[This is part 5 1/2 of the series. Begin the Trail here.]

To sum up what we have learned thus far: Eisav's life-mission, as Yitzchok understood it, was to be מקדש שם שמים outside the the Land of Israel by subjugating all natural forces before the One God. These forces are manifest in God's intermediaries, the angels. Eisav failed miserably, worshiping the very forces that he was supposed to dominate, and Yaakov is forced to commandeer his brother's mission. It follows that Yaakov must now confront angels, and that, indeed, is exactly what happens.

The development of Yaakov's relationship with angels makes for a fascinating study. Soon after Yaakov heads out for Charan, ויפגע במקום - Yaakov encounters the gate to heaven, a place of angels. Here Yaakov sees angels for the first time. The angels are ascending and descending a ladder connecting heaven to earth, attending to their business - and ignoring him (28:11-12). Still in Israel, Yaakov deals only with Hashem Himself. But that is soon to change.

Now a successful rancher, Yaakov is engaged in ongoing financial conflicts with his father-in-law Lavan. One night in a dream, Yaakov has a vision of angels taking sheep from Lavan and carrying them over to Yaakov's corral! (31:10; Rashi ad loc.) The angels are working for him! A clear sign that Yaakov is succeeding in getting the natural world under his control. Indeed, earlier in the story we find Yaakov  manipulating the laws of nature through the use of practical Kabbalah, genetically engineering the offspring of his flock (30:37-39; Rashi to 38). Avraham and Yitzchok never engaged in this kind of mystical practice, nor did Yaakov once he returned to Israel. But becoming an איש שדה, gaining mastery over nature, is central to Yaakov's mission abroad.

His third meeting with angels at the end of the Parsha is described this way: ויפגעו בו מלאכי אלהים - "God's angels encountered him" (32:2). In contrast to the beginning of the Parsha where ויפגע במקום, he encountered them, now, on his return to Israel, ויפגעו בו, they encounter him! Yaakov has gained supremacy over nature and the angels, and now he is the point of reference. His prowess knows no limits. וישלח יעקב מלאכים, "Yaakov sent angels..." (32:4). Incredibly, angels are subservient to Yaakov and do his bidding. More, ויאבק איש עמו, he wrestles an angel - and wins! (32:25-26). But the climax is yet to come.

When Eisav and Yaakov finally meet, Eisav asks, מי לך כל המחנה הזה אשר פגשתי, "What is your relationship with this whole encampment that I encountered?" (33:8). Rashi quotes the Midrash:
[Eisav] met up with groups of angels that pushed him and his men. [The angels] asked them, "Who are you with?" "We are Eisav's men," they responded. "Attack!" yelled the angels. The men said, "Leave us alone. He is the son of Yitzchok!" They paid no attention. "He is the grandson of Avraham!" They payed no attention. "He is the brother of Yaakov!" "If so," said the angels, "then you are one of us." 
Yaakov reached a level of dominance over nature that Avraham and Yitzchok never achieved, for this is a mission Yaakov inherited from Eisav, a mission for the Diaspora. When the Jew lives in a world ruled by nature and is forced to be an איש שדה, then his physical and spiritual survival depend on remaining on top of his game - physically and spiritually. He cannot become subservient or worshipful of the forces - natural or market - that define his world; on the contrary, his mission is to be מקדש שם שמים by demonstrating that he will not bow nor surrender before anything other than the One God. This is the definition of success: איזהו עשיר השמח בחלקו. It is a mindset: nature is God's agent and it serves the Tzaddik, not the other way around. The Beracha that Yaakov stole and the mission that came with it are thus one and the same. And, unlike his brother Eisav, Yaakov aces it.

איתא בכתובות דף סו ע"ב, "בכה רבן יוחנן בן זכאי ואמר אשריכם ישראל, בזמן שעושין רצונו של מקום אין כל אומה ולשון שולטת בהם..." וכתב המהרש"א באמ"ד, "כי כל אומה יש לה שר ומזל בשמים משא"כ ישראל שאין להם שום מזל אבל הם חלק ה' עמו כי יעקב חבל נחלתו (יעקב דייקא - י.ג.) וע"כ כשעושין רצונו הם למעלה מכל האומות ושריהם, כמ"ש "הבט נא השמימה" שדרשו שהוציא את אברהם החוצה למעלה מכל צבא השמים דאין הבטה אלא ממעלה למטה..." ע"כ. ויש להוסיף שהקב"ה אמר שם לאברהם "כא יהיה זרעך" ונראה דכוונתו ית' ליעקב, דביעקב אנו רואים קיום הבטחה זו שהוא למעלה מכל צבא השמים, כנ"ל. ואולי י"ל דהיינו מש"כ בחלום הסולם, "והנה ה' נצב עליו", ה' דוקא, אמנם הסולם ומלאכי אלוהים אינם עליו, שהוציאו למעלה מכל צבא השמים  

[Continue the Trail here.]

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving and the Heresy of Entitlement III

[You can read this post on its own, or for the full effect begin the series here.]

Yaakov is praying for his life. "Please save me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Eisav!" But first he says this: קטנתי מכל החסדים - "I have been diminished by all of the kindnesses... for I crossed this Jordon River with my staff and now I have become two camps!" (32:11). Why is Yaakov saying this here? What does Yaakov's success have to do with Eisav's immanent attack?

Rashi explains as follows: Yaakov was afraid that God's many blessings, blessings which transformed him from a destitute refugee into a successful rancher with a large family, had used up - "diminished" -  his chips, and he now lacked sufficient merit to protect him from Eisav.

There is an obvious problem with this reading. If Hashem's blessings were indeed reward for Yaakov's mitzvos, then why does Yaakov call them kindnesses?! A kindness, by definition, is unearned and would  use up no chips at all.

There can be only one answer to this question. In his humility, Yaakov never assumed Hashem had given him free gifts; all that he received must have come as reward for his mitzvos. (Itself a most humble thought, for tzaddikim receive no reward for their mitzvos in this world. Cf. Kiddushin 39b; Rashi ad loc.) Nonetheless, Yaakov viewed reward itself to be a divine kindness! 

God owes us nothing at all. Ever. Even when He is rewarding us for our good deeds, it's still just a חסד.

ונראה להוסיף דאמירת "קטנתי מכל החסדים" קודם לתפילת "הצלני נא..." היתה בזה קיום של סמיכת גאולה לתפילה. יעיין תר"י ברכות דף ב ע"ב בדפי הרי"ף. ודו"ק  

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What Was Yitzchok Thinking?!

Last year I put up three posts on Yitzchok's decision to divide up the blessings between Yaakov and Eisav. The first explains it in light of the twin's different personalities, the second in light of the dangers of wealth and the third in light of the fundamental difference between the land of Israel and the rest of the planet. I've polished them up a bit; read them by clicking here.

Did Yaakov even want those blessings his mother commanded him to steal? I think not. See this post.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Curb Your Enthusiasm?

In Parshas Chayei Sara we have, to all appearances, a classic example of "Hashgacha Pratis," divine providence. Upon arrival in Charan, Eliezer asks God for a sign: He will ask a girl for a drink, and if she offers water to both him and his camels that will be proof positive that she is destined to be the wife of Yitzchok. And then, "even before he finished speaking, and behold! Rivka was coming out..." (24:15).

But yet, things are not as biblical as they seem. Just a few verses earlier the Torah informs us that Eliezer arrived at the well "in the evening, at the time when women go out to draw water" (24:11). Now, had the Author consulted with the good editors at Artscroll, He surely would have left that line out. It kills the story dead! Here we are, trying to tell an inspirational story, the key element of which is the extraordinary timing of Rivka's appearance. Did we really have to mention that Rivka was coming out anyway because it was water drawing time?!

But this is the way of Hashgacha - it is never as extraordinary as people would have it, but that makes it more amazing, not less. Yes, it is true that Rivka was coming out anyway - she always went out to the well at that time of day - but was it just a coincidence that Eliezer happened to arrive at that spot at precisely that moment?

In other words, Hashem orchestrated this encounter before Eliezer prayed for it! By telling us that Eliezer arrived in Charan "at the time when women go out to draw water," the Torah is identifying an event of unilateral Hashgacha. Although it certainly appears as if the timing of Rivka's walk to the well was a divine response to Eliezer's request, his prayer actually had nothing to do with it at all. (Indeed, the Talmud says it was wrong of Eliezer to be looking for signs from Heaven, cf. Taanis 4a.) This is what the Torah means when it says, "...even before he finished speaking, and behold! Rivka was coming out." The meeting was preordained and Eliezer's request was irrelevant. Eliezer could have - and should have - left it to Hashem to guide him to the right girl, just as Avraham promised back in Chevron (cf. 24:7).

The source of Eliezer's problem can be found in his misunderstanding of his master's words. When Eliezer questioned the wisdom of his mission, Avraham tells him that Hashem would send an "angel ahead of him" that would see to his finding the right wife for Yitzchok (24:7). Indeed, the extraordinary timing of Eliezer's arrival was divinely orchestrated. The Midrash says that Eliezer arrived in Charan the same day as his departure from Israel, a distance of approximately a four hundred miles, by way of a miraculous k'fitzas haderech, "jumping the road" (cf. Rashi 24:42). This wormhole was undoubtedly built by the angel referred to by Avraham, and it was designed to bring Eliezer to the well in Charan at the exact moment that Rivka was walking towards it. As Avraham foretold, an angel was a step ahead of Eliezer making all the necessary preparations. But Eliezer didn't understand this. He thought his discovery of Rivka was due to his prayer, and when he tells the story to her parents he quotes Avraham as saying that Hashem will send an "angel with him" (24:40), not "ahead of him" as Avraham had actually said. 

Yes, we must pray for all our needs. And yes, Hashgacha Pratis is happening all around us, all the time. But maybe it's a little presumptuous to think we can always get an accurate read on how God is running His world.

Naive & Proud of it!

Avraham's attempt to save Sodom is noble, inspiring, and sad. Sad not only because he fails, but because he is so far out of touch with reality. Avraham honestly thought there were at least fifty Tzadikim living in Sodom! The greatest outreach professional of all time has no understanding of the reality of the world in which he lives! In short, Avraham is embarrassingly naive - and Hashem loves him for it.

Hashem loves Avraham's naivete, Avraham's innocence, Avraham's instinctive assumption that people are good. Hashem knows how Avraham thinks - כי ידעתיו - and He wants to draw it out of him for all the world to see and emulate. "A person must ask, 'When will my behavior be like the behavior of my forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov?'" (Tana D'Bei Eliyahu 24). We must strive for naivete.

Avraham has blind faith not only in God, but in man as well. And this is no coincidence.

The man who discovered Hashem by way of the Divine characteristic of Kindness is obviously going to have trouble seeing evil in the humans created in the divine image. This is not a handicap in his outreach work; on the contrary, Avraham's boundless faith in man makes him all the more beloved, inspirational and influential. And this belief in the inherent goodness of the world is what fortifies Avraham with the innocence required to fulfill his ultimate mission - not outreach, but the building of his own eternal family: כי ידעתיו למען אשר יצוה את בניו ואת ביתו אחריו ושמרו דרך השם לעשות צדקה ומשפט.

Naivete may have helped Avraham HaIvri in other ways in his struggle against a corrupt world. In his memoir, Natan Sharansky describes how it helped him:
In retrospect, as I look back on my first days in Lefortovo I am shocked at my own naivete about Soviet justice. On the other hand, perhaps naivete is an essential component for the person who rejects the spiritual slavery of his society and struggles against a powerful regime. Perhaps it guarentees that you won't be frightened to death or paralyzed by fear. Naivete helps draw you into the struggle, where you're able to meet the growing danger head-on, with a firmer resolve.
Fear No Evil, pg. 22
Naivete clearly has its merits, but let us not be naive. It can also be quite dangerous. Back in Parshas Lech Lecha, Avraham battled four kings and won, conquering a broad swath of the country - including the territory of Sodom. In a surprising move, instead of coronating himself as the new King of Israel, Avraham reinstates the evil Bera, the defeated King of Sodom (cf. 14:21-24). According to the Talmud, this was a grave error:
Why was Avraham punished with having his descendants enslaved in Egypt for 210 years? R. Yochanan said, because he prevented people from entering under the wings of the Shechina, [for the King of Sodom said to Avraham], "Give me the people and take the booty for yourself..." (14:21).
Nedarim 32
Had Avraham understood how bad things were in Sodom would he have acted differently? Probably. But then he wouldn't be Avraham - and Hashem loves Avraham.

We do not laugh at Avraham's mistake. No, it is not sad; it is humbling. Even in the evil society of Sodom, there must be fifty Tzadikim. Even if there aren't.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

There Once Was An Elul

MP3 recording of shiur delivered at Selwyn's office on what Elul was, isn't, and might be. Click to download:

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Tisha B'Av audio

Firstly, an overdue thank you to Mordechai Dixler, who created Ekiruv and Torah Media which graciously hosts these MP3 files. Yasher Koach!

The link below is an audio shiur delivered last year in Selwyn's office on the 2nd of Av 5769. It is an attempt to view the destruction of Jerusalem from God's perspective.
(The shiur is based on an article published in the JSN's Focus journal in 2006. It can be downloaded here. Find it on page 40.)

Below is a link to this year's Rosh Chodesh Av shiur at Selwyn's office. While warning against the trend of turning Tisha B'Av into Yom Kippur, it explains why Tisha B'Av is a prerequisite for meaningful Teshuva on the High Holidays.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Ground Calf, Burned Cow & Cooked Intelligence

An audio shiur on the Egel, the Meragilm, the Parah Adumah, the 17th of Taamuz, the 9th of Av, Emunah & Bitachon. What more could you ask for?

Recorded live this Tuesday at Selwyn's office. Click here to download MP3.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Korach: What Went Wrong

An audio shiur for your listening pleasure, recorded in 2009 at Selwyn's office. Click here to download the MP3:

Friday, April 16, 2010

Through the Looking Glass

Among the many mysteries of Tzaraas, the involvement of the Kohen stands out.

While no one can claim to really understand what Tumah is, the Torah always treats it as an objective reality: you catch it and you are Tamei. There is no need for a psak Beis Din or the pronouncements of a Kohen. But Tzaraas is different. Even if you are diagnosed with Tzaraas, even if your symptoms match the Torah's descriptions to a tee, you are only Tamei if and when a Kohen declares you so - and then you are Tamei from that point forward. The Kohen is not informing us of the existence of Tumah; he is literally creating the Tumah by his say so. Beyond a biblical anomaly, it is difficult to understand how Tumah could be dependent on a verbal proclamation. Simply put: Either you got it or you don't. Who needs the Kohen?

Another question: A person guilty of a crime of "Kareis" is spiritually disconnected from the nation, but he is still a fully functioning member of the community. However, a person with Tzaraas who is declared Tamei by a Kohen must leave the community and "live alone - outside the camp is his dwelling place" (Vayikra 14:36). The requirement to live alone has no parallel in all of Torah.

One more mystery, far more basic: Why, among all the hundreds of Biblical prohibitions, does a violation of Lashon HaRa cause our skin to break out? A Jew can commit crimes far worse than Lashon HaRa without any visible allergic reaction. (Tzaraas is only found in the Torah as the result of Lashon HaRa, cf. Shemos 4:1,6; Bamidbar 12:1-10. However, there are a few other sins that can cause Tzaraas, cf. Arachin 16a.)

II
Concerning anyone who tells Lashon HaRa, God says, "He and I cannot coexist in the world." (Arachin 15b)
Cannot coexist with God? Well then, if he isn't in the same world as God, where exactly is he?! There is only one possible answer. A person who speaks Lashon HaRa enters different world; a world of his own creation. A world without God.

In God's world, God is Judge. He judged it daily as He created it and his judgment was consistently positive: "And God saw that it was good..." It could be no other way. If God is good then His creation is good.

Even Man, a being clearly capable of great evil, can be judged only by God. The factors of human behavior are so complex, the plethora of genetics and hormones, upbringing and conditioning, innate drives and ways of thinking are so diverse, to be judgemental is not merely presumptuous, it infringes on the divine.
This accounting [of a person's spiritual status] depends not on the number of merits and sins but on their size. There are merits which outweigh several sins... and sins that outweigh several merits... This accounting can only be done by the mind of the God Who Knows. He is the one who knows how to measure merits against sins. (Rambam, Laws of Teshuva 3:2)
One guilty of Lashon HaRa, character assassination, is guilty of more than a crime. Seeing evil where God sees good, he debates God on the nature of His creation. And declaring his fellow man unholy, he usurps God's role as judge, taking it upon himself to judge his fellow man. To speak Lashon HaRa is thus to deny God. Indeed, the Talmud compares one who speaks Lashon HaRa to a Kofer B'Ikar, a heretic (Arachin 16b).

The nature of this person's heresy is such that it places him entirely outside of the community. He has stepped out of the world where God is judge, creating an alternate reality where man is judge. And he is doomed to live in the hell of his own creation.

In God's world, good, evil, purity and impurity are objective truths. Man's opinion on these matters is obviously irrelevant. Step through the looking glass into a world of negative images and spiritual reality is defined by human subjectivity. In the world of Lashon HaRa, a person's purity or impurity, his very spiritual state, is determined not by God but by the Kohen - a fallible religious leader! A nightmarish universe indeed!

In God's world, man's spiritual state is a private affair, knowable to God alone. But in the world of Lashon HaRa, man is judge, and man can only judge what he sees. The residents of this world must therefore have their rotten inner selves turned inside-out, and their ugly spiritual state becomes visible to all as Tzaraas.

Here perfidy is the new morality. A man completely covered by Tzaraas is perfectly fine (13:13), but healthy skin is a sign of impurity (13:10). Such is life in the evil realm fashioned by Lashon HaRa.  

It is no coincidence that Tzaraas also appears on the gossiper's clothing and home, ultimately leading to their destruction. This person judged others based on those very externals, creating a world where self-worth is defined by appearances. In the fascist world of fashion, styles change fast - and the critic is quickly devoured by the black hole of his own making.

Of course, man cannot live without God. The Tzaraas world is a thus a twilight zone of the living dead. Indeed, the Torah considers one infected with Tzaraas to be a dead man (cf. Bamidbar 12:12; Nedarim 64b). Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi's observation should not shock us: Tzaraas is actually decomposing flesh.

Ultimately, Hashem desires rehabilitation, not annihilation. The marvel of Torah is that both are achieved simultaneously. Measure for measure, the gossiper loses his house, his clothes, his good looks, and his social circle. For him this is indeed death. A favorite expression of the gossiper is apt: he literally "has no life." Stripped of every vestige of his old identity, this man is forced to forge a new one, one founded on the value of his soul, not that of his house or his designer clothes. When that happens, he will finally see through the mirage of materialism and will cease judging himself and others by the irrelevant barometers of looks, wealth and social standing.

Understanding how Tzaraas rehabilitates a person helps explain a surprising teaching quoted by Rashi. The phenomenon of Tzaraas on a house is introduced with these words: "When you come to the land of Canaan which I am giving you as an inheritance and I place a plague of Tzaraas on a house of the land of your inheritance..." (14:34). Rashi explains the emphasis on the land of Canaan: "It is informing them that Tzaraas will come because the Ammorites hid gold treasure in the walls of their homes... because of the Tzarras, the house will be demolished and [the treasure] will be found." When the Jews conquered Canaan, they took possession of the existing Canaanite homes. Unbeknownst to them, gold was hidden in the walls for safekeeping. When the house gets Tzaraas, the walls will be knocked down and the treasure will be discovered.

On the face of it, this teaching is incomprehensible. A house gets Tzaraas when those who live there speak Lashon HaRa (Rambam, Laws of Tzaraas 16:10). Why would Hashem reward gossipers with gold?! Based on what what we have learned, the answer is clear. Hashem wants to factor out the financial loss. One might be tempted to think that the destruction of his home is a mere penalty for violating the laws of Lashon HaRa. Hashem therefore gives him gold to reimburse him for his loss. It's not about the money. It's about identity.

III

One who speaks Lashon HaRa abandons God, leaves the community, and creates an ugly, alternate universe. Is atonement possible?
The academy of Rebbi Yishmael taught, "For which [sin] does the [burning of] Ketores [in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur] atone? For Lashon HaRa. Let something private come and atone for something private." (Yoma 44a)
To rectify the departure inherent in Lashon HaRa, the nation's representative, the Kohen Gadol, must enter God's inner sanctum. And there he deodorizes the rot of Loshan HaRa by perfuming God's beautiful world.
And God saw everything that He made, and behold, it was very good... (Bereishis 1:31)
Who is the man who desires life? Lover of days to see good? Guard your tongue from evil... (Psalms 34:13-14)
Who... desires life... to see good! Seeing good is God's perspective. The perspective of life. If you want to be a part of the world of the living, then guard your tongue... Otherwise, you're out through the looking glass.

I, for one, prefer God's world.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Shiurim on the Haggadah

Two classes on the Haggadah for your listening pleasure, both delivered at Gerber & Co. in Century City, Los Angeles.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Purim is Always Tomorrow (recorded live at Gerber & Co.)

Click here to download a shiur about Megillas Esther & Amalek entitled "Purim is Tomorrow" and here for a shiur about drinking on Purim entitled "Drowning Amalek in a Bottle: Ad D'lo Yada and the Sobering Problem of Evil." Both shiurim were delivered at Gerber & Co in Century City, Los Angeles. (The first last year and the second this year.)
Special thanks to Selwyn Gerber for being the host par excellence and all the good Jews who attended.
Both shiurim are based on my blog posts about Purim; those posts and more on Purim can be found by clicking the "Purim" label below.

Happy Purim!
Don't drink & daven!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

On the Trail of Blessings: Spoiling the Spoils of Esther's War

[Although this is technically the ninth installment of a series on the development of the Birchas HaAvos, it stands on its own as a piece about Megillas Esther. But don't let me stop you if you wish to begin the Trail from the beginning.]

At the end of Megillas Esther, the Jews behave strangely.

After Esther has Haman killed, she convinces Achashveirosh to issue a new decree, allowing the Jews to kill their enemies. Nothing strange about that. [Simply revoking the original decree wasn't an option, for "something written in the name of the king and sealed with the king's signet ring cannot be revoked" (8:8).] In this new decree, the Jews are given license to annihilate their enemies and take spoils (8:11). The Jews take full advantage of their license to kill, but for some reason they take no spoils (9:10). Now, that's strange! If you're going through the trouble of killing your enemies, why not take their money?

In his commentary to Parshas Beshalach (Shemos 17:16), Rabbeinu Bechaye (d. 1340) explains this in line with the Targum which states that all those killed were Amalekites. It is forbidden to take pleasure in the spoils of Amalek, writes Rabbeinu Bechaye, and Mordechai remembered well King Saul's terrible mistake of taking spoils after his battle with Amalek centuries earlier. This, says R. Bechaye, is why the Jews didn't take the money.

There are three problems with this approach. Firstly, if their enemies were indeed Amalekites and Jews truly wished to observe the mitzvah of annihilating them, that would require the destruction of the spoils, not just abstaining from taking them, as the Torah states, "erase the memory of Amalek" (Devarim 25:19; cf. Rashi ad loc.). Secondly, according to R. Bechaye, how could Esther take Haman's house (Esther 8:1)? And thirdly, even if this explains why the Jews didn't take spoils, it makes it far more difficult to understand why Mordechai and Esther had the right to take spoils included in the orginal royal decree. (For an altogether different approach which lacks these problems, see R. Dovid Tavil, Drashos Beis Dovid 11.)

I believe the answer to Rabbeinu Bechaye's question can be found in Parshas Bo. When the Jews were just about to leave Egypt, Hashem made the following request of Moshe: "Please (נא) speak in the ears of the nation: they should borrow - each man from his [Egyptian] friend and each woman from her [Egyptian] friend - silver vessels and gold vessels" (Shemos 11:2). Although it is certainly a Jewish value to be polite, nonetheless, it is unusual for God to say "please." The Talmud explains. "The academy of Rabbi Yannai said, the word "נא" always connotes a request. Hashem said to Moshe, go say to the Jews, please borrow silver and gold vessels from the Egyptians so that Tzaddik [Avraham] won't complain [and say to Me]: "They shall enslave them and afflict them" (Bereishis 15:13) You fulfilled for them, but "afterwards they shall go out with great wealth" (ad loc.) You did not fulfill for them?!" (Berachos 9b).

No one demonstrated better than our father Avraham how a Jew can simultaneously be fabulously wealthy and lead the battle against paganism. Avraham understood the blessing of wealth to be integral to the mission of the Jew and he did not want to see the nation sidestep their destiny. So when they left Egypt, Hashem begged the Jews to take the money so that Avraham wouldn't complain.

The problem here is obvious. Since when do Jews need convincing to take money? Moreover, if Hashem promised that the Jews would leave Eygpt with wealth, then it should be the divine promise that drives this request, not the fear of Avraham's complaint!

Strange as it sounds, it seems that Moshe (and, presumably, the Jews) didn't want the gold of Egypt. Even Hashem's promise did not suffice, for a promise of wealth can always be pardoned by the recipient. It was only Hashem's "please," driven by "fear" of Avraham's complaint, that convinced Moshe to pass on the message.

Why doesn't Moshe want the gold? Well, we know what Moshe thinks: "Master of the World, it's because of the gold and silver that you gave the Jews until they said 'enough!' - that's what caused them to build a Golden Calf!" (Berachos 32a). As we have seen before, money is a leading cause of paganism. This is why Hashem had to beg Moshe to take the money. [The fact that this teaching was also taught by the academy of Rabbi Yannai, and its significance in understanding the reason why Hashem had to say "נא" was pointed out by R. Reuven Margolias (נצוצי אור, ברכות).]

The story of Megillas Esther occurs at the end of Galus Bavel, just a few years before the Second Temple is built. Just like at the Exodus, the anti-Semites are vanquished and the Jews are given the opportunity to take the wealth of their oppressors with them as they return to Israel. In the spirit of Hashem's promise to Avraham, "afterwards they shall go out with great wealth," Mordechai and Esther have the right to take spoils written into Achashveirosh's new decree. But the Jews don't take any spoils - history has taught them a thing or two.

The Jews know that the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash and Haman's decree were both divine reactions to the sin of idolatry. They did not want to fall into that again. Last time, they acquiesced to Hashem's request. They took the Egyptian gold and silver and it led to the sin of the Golden Calf. This time they were more than happy to pardon Hashem's generous blessings.

The Jews return to Israel impoverished, barely able to cover the costs of constructing the Second Temple. The even had to settle with a wooden Menorah! But idolatry qua idolatry was not an issue in the Second Temple era. (The allure of Hellenism was more social than theological.) Unlike the First Temple, the second was destroyed not for idolatry but for baseless hatred - and with its unique set of mitzvos, Purim fixes that as well.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

On the Trail of Blessings: Yaakov Comes Full-Circle

[This is the final instalment (for now, at least) of a series on the development of the Birchas HaAvos in Sefer Bereishis. Begin the Trail here. It has been an exciting venture. Originally envisioned as a three-part series, the trail mushroomed to eight as more and more pieces fell into place - all of it leading up to this final post. Special thanks to Alain Kuppermann for encouraging me to put it all in writing.]

At the end of the book, Yaakov is at the end of his life; the time has come to bless the children. Yaakov spreads out the family destiny among all twelve of his sons; forging them in the process into one united "Bnei Yisroel." But before he does that, Yosef visits him first. What transpires is a meeting of historic consequence:
ויגד ליעקב ויאמר הנה בנך יוסף בא אליך ויתחזק ישראל וישב על המטה
ויאמר יעקב אל יוסף אל שדי נראה אלי בלוז בארץ כנען ויברך אתי
ויאמר אלי הנני מפרך והרביתך ונתתיך לקהל עמים ונתתי את הארץ הזאת לזרעך אחריך אחזת עולם
When Yaakov was told that Yosef was coming to him, Yisroel summoned his strength and sat up in bed. Yaakov said to Yosef, "אל שדי appeared to me in Luz, in the Land of Canaan. He blessed me and said to me, 'I will make you fruitful and numerous, and have you give rise to an assembly of nations. I will give this land to you and your descendants as their property forever.'"
By now, we recognize this blessing of אל שדי. This is the spiritual blessing that Hashem gave to Avraham at the end of Lech Lecha, Yitzchok reserved for Yaakov at the end of Toldos, and Hashem Himself gave to Yaakov in Vayishlach. This is the Beracha that Yaakov is now passing on to Menashe and Ephraim, the two sons of Yosef:
ויברך את יוסף ויאמר האלהים אשר התהלכו אבתי לפניו אברהם ויצחק האלהים הרעה אתי מעודי עד היום הזה
המלאך הגאל אתי מכל רע יברך את הנערים ויקרא בהם שמי ושם אבתי אברהם ויצחק וידגו לרב בקרב הארץ

רש"י: וידגו - כדגים הללו שפרים ורבים
פרו ורבו, "be fruitful and multiply," is a signature element of the original Beracha of אל שדי! Yaakov is giving the Beracha of פרו ורבו to the sons of Yosef, thereby pronouncing them inheritors of the Beracha of אל שדי.

Later, when Yaakov gathers all his sons around him for their blessings, he again directs the Beracha of אל שדי in Yosef's direction:
מאל אביך ויעזרך ואת שדי ויברכך
What is amazing is that Yaakov chooses to share this particular blessing with Yosef. For, as we are well aware, there is another blessing in the family.

The Beracha that Hashem gave Avraham at the beginning of Lech Lecha, the Beracha that Yitzchok reserved for Eisav, the Beracha of material bounty and physical power - this Beracha too is held by Yaakov; under orders from his mother, he stole it from his brother. Why does Yaakov make no mention of this Beracha? Wouldn't this Beracha be more appropriate for Yosef? Does Yaakov not see that in Yosef the blessing of abundant grain and bowing brothers and nations is being fulfilled? Is it not obvious that Eisav's Beracha is Yosef's destiny? Why doesn't Yaakov strengthen Yosef's role as the supporter of the nascent Jewish people?

There can be only one answer: Yaakov sees the way things are developing, and he doesn't like it. Grabbing destiny by the horns, he steers it in a different direction.

Once upon a time, Yaakov bought in to Yitzchok's idea of a partnership between a "Yaakov" and an "Eisav," and he struggled against his mother's attempt to unify the blessings. But in his old age, Yaakov has come to see the wisdom of Rivkah. He doesn't want Yosef to be an idealized Eisav. He wants Yosef to be another Yaakov: a man who has it all. Consciously ignoring the facts on the ground, Yaakov directs the blessing of אל שדי to Yosef.

Yaakov knows exactly what he's doing. Listen to what he says to Yosef:
ברכת אביך גברו על ברכת הורי

The blessing of your father will override the blessing of my parents.
What does this mean? Note that Yaakov does not say that his blessing overrides his father's blessing, he says that it overrides his parent's blessing. Yaakov is talking about the Beracha he stole from Eisav! It came from Yitzchok, but Yaakov only got it because of Rivkah - ברכת הורי indeed! (See Rashi ad loc. who interprets the word הורי as referring specifically to a mother.) Yaakov is telling Yosef that his blessing overrides the Beracha of Eisav. Yaakov doesn't want Yosef to be Eisav 2.0; he wants Yosef to get the Beracha of אל שדי!

This gives us a new appreciation for Yaakov's strange statement at the beginning of the Parsha:
ועתה שני בניך הנולדים לך בארץ מצרים עד באי אליך מצרימה לי הם אפרים ומנשה כראובן ושמעון יהיו לי
Yaakov is telling Yosef, "I don't want your children to be any different than Reuven or Shimon! The entire family shall share in all the Berachos equally!"

The Midrash tells us that Yosef's two sons led different lives. Menashe, the older brother, served as his father's secretary in the government (Rashi 42:23), while Ephraim learned Torah with zeide Yaakov (Rashi to 48:1). When he blesses them, Yaakov famously switches his hands, directing the greater Beracha emanating from his right hand onto the head of the younger Ephraim. Yaakov explains that although both will be great, Ephraim will be the greater of the two (48:19), but in light of Yaakov's underlying agenda we can better appreciate what he is doing here.
Following in his father's footsteps, Menashe is primed to inherit Yosef's position. The natural thing for Yaakov to do would be to grant the Beracha of power, wealth and the role of supporting Klal Yisroel to Menashe. But Yaakov does the exact opposite. He gives Yosef's sons the Beracha of אל שדי, and elevates Ephraim, the יושב אהלים, over his older brother, the איש שדה! Strange as it is, we recognize this behavior. Yaakov is doing to Yosef's sons the exact same thing he did to Yosef himself - raising the spiritual over the physical and smothering the emergent Eisav in the Beracha of אל שדי.

[We're going to hold it here for now. Not that the trail's gone cold (compare 48:8, 49:25 and Devarim 33:13 to Bereishis 27:28-29; cf. Rashi to Devarim 33:28 & Rashi to Shemos 6:4), but we're halfway through Sefer Shemos and it is time to move on. There's always next time around, be"H & bl"n.]

I guess not. I had a thought on Megillah Esther that flowed directly out of the ideas developed in this series. That would make it part-nine.

**** 2017 UPDATE: THE TRAIL CONTINUES! ****
Click here to learn how Yosef's dreams are informed by the family legacy and manipulated by none other than Yosef himself.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

On the Trail of Blessings: Yitzchok's Wisdom, the Land of Israel & the New Yaakov

[This is the fourth installment in the series. Begin the Trail here.]

As we have seen, it was Eisav's job to subjugate all the forces of the physical world - both the inner negative drives and the outer pagan belief systems - to the One God. Surprisingly, the place for this important work is not in Israel. For when Hashem created the world, he placed each land and each nation under the influence of an angel through which he guides and directs their affairs. But not so Israel. Israel - both the land and its people - have no intermediary between them and God. They relate directly to God Himself (cf. Ramban, Vayikra 18:25). "Outside the Land of Israel, although it belongs to God, yet its purity is not perfect, because of "the servants" who hold sway there, and the nations go astray after their princes to worship them as well" (Ramban ad loc., trans. Chavel).

This explains why, when Hashem wants to debunk Paganism - He does it not in Israel, but through the Ten Plagues in Egypt. For in Israel there is nothing other than the One God.

This is also explains why Yitzchok refused to give Eisav the Land of Israel. Eisav's mission to subjugate the "gods" can only be done where the gods hold sway, i.e., outside the Holy Land.

Malbim compares Yitzchok's vision of Yaakov and Eisav to the relationship between Levi and the rest of the tribes, but the Yesachar/Zevulun relationship seems a better match. Zevulun leaves Israel to do business abroad, "Zevulun will settle the seashore, he shall be a harbor for ships..." (49:13), in support of his brother Yesachar (Rashi ad loc). "Rejoice Zevulun in your excursions and Yesachar in your tents" (Devarim 33:18). Like Eisav - the איש שדה - Zevulun is not bound to Israel, and like Yaakov - the יושב אהלים - Yesachar is in his tent.

Although Avraham was never supposed to leave Israel (cf. Ramban to 12:10), Hashem does let him go. This is because Avraham received the first Beracha of Lech Lecha, the blessings of materialism, as an independent Beracha before he came to Israel. Avraham can therefore exist outside of Israel and, interestingly enough, it is there that this Beracha is fulfilled - Pharaoh enriches him. (This explains Avraham's acceptance of Pharaoh's gifts outside of Israel verses his rejection of the gifts of the king of Sodom inside of Israel.) Unlike his father, Yitzchok was born into both Berachos as a unified package; this is why Hashem does not allow him to leave Israel at all (26:2). But when Yitzchok breaks the Berachos in two, he creates a New Jew - an "Eisav" who is not tied to Israel and whose destiny is on the international stage: "יעבדוך עמים וישתחו לך לאמים".

This resolves a difficult point in our story: Why does Yitzchok tell Yaakov to leave Israel? The need to find a wife is no excuse - Avraham sent Eliezer to find a wife for Yitzchok; Yitzchok could have easily done the same for Yaakov. If Avraham's sole departure from Israel to escape a famine was criticized by the Ramban and if  Hashem (and, earlier, Avraham) explicitly forbade Yitzchok from leaving, then how could Yitzchok, unaware of Eisav's murderous intent, instruct Yaakov to leave?

In light of the above, the answer is obvious. Yitzchok designed a Beracha for Eisav which described his vision for his firstborn son: an international Jew whose mission lies outside the Land of Israel. When Yaakov steals these Berachos, he is not merely stealing blessings - he is stealing a mandate. And so, immediately afterwords, Yitzchok commands Yaakov to leave Israel and fulfill Eisav's role abroad, just as Yaakov's son Zevulun will do in the future.

Yitzchok immediately understood the consequences of Yaakov's theft. He tells Eisav, והיה כאשר תריד ופרקת עולו  מעל צוארך - "When he [Yaakov] falls, then you can cast off his yoke" [cf. Rashi] (27:40). Why should Eisav's submission before Yaakov be conditional on Yaakov's success? The answer is that Yitzchok is not referring here to Yaakov's traditional role as the יושב אהלים; Yitzchok is referring to Yaakov's new role as the איש שדה, the role he just usurped from Eisav. Yitzchok is telling Eisav, "Your brother has taken over your role as the גביר and you are therefore now subservient to him, but whenever he fails in that role, if he fails to do your job right, then there will no longer be any reason for you to be under his yoke." (כן העיר ר' צבי יונגר) 

This explanation enables us to understand the prophecy Rivka received when she was pregnant with her two sons: ולאם מלאם יאמץ - "Each nation will get its strength from the other." Rashi  explains, "when one rises the other falls... Tyre was not filled but from the ruin of Jerusalem" (cf. Megillah 6a). Another example of this phenomenon appears at the end of Parshas Vayishlach where the Torah lists eight Edomite kings which descended from Eisav. Rashi cites a Midrash, "Correspondingly, [eight kings] also came from Yaakov and the kingdom of Edom ceased to exist during that period..." (Rashi to 36:31).

History shows that Yaakov and Eisav cannot succeed simultaneously, but there is more here than a mere seesaw.

If "when one rises the other falls" is the sole point, then the original prophecy would have limited itself to those words. Instead, the prophecy states, "Each nation will get its strength from the other." This foretells Yaakov's "theft" of Eisav's destiny and explains their symbiotic relationship. When Yaakov successfully blends his new-found worldly power and Kingship with his original destiny of sitting in the tents of Torah then Eisav loses his raison d'être and his very existence as a nation begins to fade. But if and when Yaakov fails, then Eisav shall rise again.

This idea was foreshadowed by the very birth of the the two twin brothers. Eisav came out first, immediately followed by Yaakov "his hand grasping the heal of Eisav" (25:26). As the Alshich asks, why is Yaakov named for this seemingly meaningless event? (See Abarbanel, cited by Malbim.) In light of the above, the meaning is clear. Yaakov's grasping Eisav's heal illustrates not only the fact that Eisav will fall when Yaakov rises, but also tells us why: Yaakov is destined (doomed?) to seize his elder brother's very mission of power and destiny as the firstborn. Just as the prophecy foretold: ולאם מלאם יאמץ - Yaakov will get his strength from Eisav.

Eisav failed to live up to his destiny and Yaakov takes all. With both blessings securely in his pocket, Yaakov heads out of Israel for Charan - leaving his brother behind. But in this, their third generation, the Berachos of Avraham have evolved. En route, Yaakov receives this prophecy:
וְהִנֵּה יְהוָה נִצָּב עָלָיו וַיֹּאמַר אֲנִי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי אַבְרָהָם אָבִיךָ, וֵאלֹהֵי יִצְחָק הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה שֹׁכֵב עָלֶיהָ לְךָ אֶתְּנֶנָּה וּלְזַרְעֶךָ. וְהָיָה זַרְעֲךָ כַּעֲפַר הָאָרֶץ וּפָרַצְתָּ יָמָּה וָקֵדְמָה וְצָפֹנָה וָנֶגְבָּה וְנִבְרְכוּ בְךָ כָּל מִשְׁפְּחֹת הָאֲדָמָה וּבְזַרְעֶךָ. וְהִנֵּה אָנֹכִי עִמָּךְ וּשְׁמַרְתִּיךָ בְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר תֵּלֵךְ וַהֲשִׁבֹתִיךָ אֶל הָאֲדָמָה הַזֹּאת. כִּי לֹא אֶעֱזָבְךָ עַד אֲשֶׁר אִם עָשִׂיתִי אֵת אֲשֶׁר דִּבַּרְתִּי לָךְ
There is a new element here, a blessing that we have not seen before: ופרצת... Hashem is confirming what Yitzchok already understood: The Berachos fiasco was the only way compensate for Eisav's failure to live up to his destiny. A new Yaakov has been created - a hybrid of the יושב אהלים and the איש שדה. Spiritual Man is now vested with the mission of bringing the Beracha of Israel to the rest of the world! The ונברכו בך כל משפחות האדמה of Avraham - part of the physical blessing at the beginning of Lech Lecha - must now be realized by way of ופרצת - direct interaction with the nations, on their turf. This is what you get when you patch together the Avraham that Yitzchok divided in two. Yaakov leaves Israel, and in Charan he is fruitful and he multiplies - both physically and spiritually.

[Continue the Trail here.]

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

On the Trail of Blessings: Yitzchok's Wisdom & the Curse of Wealth

[This is the third installment in the series. Begin the Trail here.]

The different natures of Yaakov and Eisav was not the only reason Yitzchok divided up the blessings. Yitzchok wanted to protect Yaakov from the corrupting force of power and wealth. In the words of the Seforno,
[Thinking he was talking to Eisav, Yitzchok said,] 'Be a lord to your brother' (27:29) - [Yitzchok] thought it would be best for Yaakov to make do with the inheritance of Israel and to live there with a degree of servitude [to his brother] so that he should not be overly preoccupied with physical things [i.e. the economy, business, politics, leadership, etc.] and passing vanities, as in fact occurred to his descendants [as a result of his 'stealing' this blessing], as the verse states, 'I abhor the pride of Yaakov' (Amos 6:8).
The Seforno's insight is undeniable. Take, for example, these verses:
יַרְכִּבֵהוּ עַל במותי אָרֶץ וַיֹּאכַל תְּנוּבֹת שָׂדָי
וַיֵּנִקֵהוּ דְבַשׁ מִסֶּלַע וְשֶׁמֶן מֵחַלְמִישׁ צוּר
חֶמְאַת בָּקָר וַחֲלֵב צֹאן עִם חֵלֶב כָּרִים וְאֵילִים
בְּנֵי בָשָׁן וְעַתּוּדִים עִם חֵלֶב כִּלְיוֹת חִטָּה
וְדַם עֵנָב תִּשְׁתֶּה חָמֶר
וַיִּשְׁמַן יְשֻׁרוּן וַיִּבְעָט
שָׁמַנְתָּ עָבִיתָ כָּשִׂיתָ וַיִּטֹּשׁ אֱלוֹהַּ עָשָׂהוּ
וַיְנַבֵּל צוּר יְשֻׁעָתוֹ
Wealth corrupts. But how exactly does this happen? How do material blessings lead to spiritual downfall? The Torah describes the process:
הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ, פֶּן תִּשְׁכַּח אֶת יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, לְבִלְתִּי שְׁמֹר מִצְו‍ֹתָיו וּמִשְׁפָּטָיו וְחֻקֹּתָיו אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם פֶּן תֹּאכַל וְשָׂבָעְתָּ וּבָתִּים טֹבִים תִּבְנֶה וְיָשָׁבְתָּ וּבְקָרְךָ וְצֹאנְךָ יִרְבְּיֻן וְכֶסֶף וְזָהָב יִרְבֶּה לָּךְ וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר לְךָ יִרְבֶּה. וְרָם לְבָבֶךָ וְשָׁכַחְתָּ אֶת יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ הַמּוֹצִיאֲךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים הַמּוֹלִיכְךָ בַּמִּדְבָּר הַגָּדֹל וְהַנּוֹרָא נָחָשׁ שָׂרָף וְעַקְרָב וְצִמָּאוֹן אֲשֶׁר אֵין מָיִם הַמּוֹצִיא לְךָ מַיִם מִצּוּר הַחַלָּמִישׁ. הַמַּאֲכִלְךָ מָן בַּמִּדְבָּר אֲשֶׁר לֹא יָדְעוּן אֲבֹתֶיךָ לְמַעַן עַנֹּתְךָ וּלְמַעַן נַסֹּתֶךָ לְהֵיטִבְךָ בְּאַחֲרִיתֶךָ. וְאָמַרְתָּ בִּלְבָבֶךָ כֹּחִי וְעֹצֶם יָדִי עָשָׂה לִי אֶת הַחַיִל הַזֶּה. וְזָכַרְתָּ אֶת יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ כִּי הוּא הַנֹּתֵן לְךָ כֹּחַ לַעֲשׂוֹת חָיִל לְמַעַן הָקִים אֶת בְּרִיתוֹ אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע לַאֲבֹתֶיךָ כַּיּוֹם הַזֶּה
Paradoxically, the divine blessing of wealth can cause man to forget about God, leading him to think that he created all this wealth himself. But it does not end there. With God forgotten, man imagines other sources of power. This concern is stated in the Shema:
וְנָתַתִּי מְטַר אַרְצְכֶם בְּעִתּוֹ יוֹרֶה וּמַלְקוֹשׁ וְאָסַפְתָּ דְגָנֶךָ וְתִירֹשְׁךָ וְיִצְהָרֶךָ וְנָתַתִּי עֵשֶׂב בְּשָׂדְךָ לִבְהֶמְתֶּךָ וְאָכַלְתָּ וְשָׂבָעְתָּ הִשָּׁמְרוּ לָכֶם פֶּן יִפְתֶּה לְבַבְכֶם וְסַרְתֶּם וַעֲבַדְתֶּם אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים וְהִשְׁתַּחֲוִיתֶם לָהֶם
Wealth can lead to Paganism! This is what Moshe said to Hashem, "Master of the World, it's because of the gold and silver that you gave the Jews until they said 'enough!' - that's what caused them to build a Golden Calf!" (Berachos 32a). This is why Yitzchok reserved the blessing of wealth for Eisav: Eisav was born to battle Paganism. It's a shame he didn't put up much of a fight.
There is another problem with wealth, a problem which poses a particular challenge to Yaakov:
וּבָאוּ עָלֶיךָ כָּל הַקְּלָלוֹת הָאֵלֶּה וּרְדָפוּךָ וְהִשִּׂיגוּךָ עַד הִשָּׁמְדָךְ כִּי לֹא שָׁמַעְתָּ בְּקוֹל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ לִשְׁמֹר מִצְו‍ֹתָיו וְחֻקֹּתָיו אֲשֶׁר צִוָּךְ וְהָיוּ בְךָ לְאוֹת וּלְמוֹפֵת וּבְזַרְעֲךָ עַד עוֹלָם תַּחַת אֲשֶׁר לֹא עָבַדְתָּ אֶת יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּשִׂמְחָה וּבְטוּב לֵבָב מֵרֹב כֹּל
Eisav's blessing is Yaakov's curse! The blessing that Yitzchok attempted to divert to Eisav, the blessing of "כל", the so-called blessing of "having it all," it is this blessing that destroys Yaakov - for it is Yaakov's mission to serve Hashem with joy, and having it all oftentimes saps all the joy out of life.

In the final words of the "blessing" that Eisav ultimately extracts from his father, Yitzchok says, "And when you have a complaint [when his sons abandon the Torah - Onkelos (cf. Rashi)], you will [then be able] to cast off his yoke from upon your neck" (27:40).

Why is Yitzchok so certain that Yaakov will fall and abandon the Torah? Because Yaakov is encumbered with the blessing of wealth.

Appreciating the dangers of wealth also allows us to understand why Yitzchok made things conditional.
  ויתן לך האלהים מטל השמים ומשמני הארץ ורב דגן ותירש 
  מהו אלהים?  בדין.  אם ראוי לך יתן לך ואם לאו לא יתן - רש"י
Yitzchok said that "Elokim" should grant the blessing of wealth (27:28). Elokim refers to God's attribute of justice, and Rashi explains that Yitzchok meant to introduce a major qualification. Only if it is just, only if his son deserves to be wealthy, will he receive the blessing.

Why would a loving parent want to limit a blessing? In light of all we have learned, the answer is obvious.