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‘VAYE’EHAV Yitzchak et Eisav ki tzayid befiv, veRivkah OHEVET et yaakov’
‘Yitzchak lovED Eisav for game was in his mouth; but Rivka lovES Yaakov’.
There are two questions on this passuk that I would like to raise:
1) Why is Yitzchak’s love of Eisav written in the past tense whereas Rivka’s love of Yaakov is written in the present tense?
2) Why does the Torah explicitly give the reason for Yitzchak’s love of Eisav (i.e. because ‘game was in his mouth’) whereas it does not explicitly state why Rivka loves Yaakov!
The Chizkuni (who lived in Provence around 1250) explains beautifully. He writes that the Torah is teaching us that Yitzchak only loved Eisav whilst the game was in his mouth, whereas Rivka’s love of Yaakov was constant.
In contrast to Yitzchak’s love of Eisav which was dependant on what Eisav did, Rivka’s love of Yaakov was not dependent on anything, since it was a love of who Yaakov himself was (rather than what he did), it was unconditional, and therefore ever-present. Therefore, when describing Yitzchak’s love of Eisav, it is written in the past tense and it specifies the reason, whereas when describing Rivka’s love of Yaakov, it is written in the present tense and no reason is specified.
The Dubner Maggid (quoted by Rabbi Frand) takes this concept further. He writes that in a non-Jewish society, people are defined by what they do, however, according to Jewish values, people are defined by who they are. Eisav represented non-Jewish values, he defined himself and expected others to define him by what he did. The basis for the admiration and love of other people was what he had accomplished in the past. If he would stop being a hunter, then people’s admiration for him would also stop. Therefore Yitzchak ‘loved’ eisav in the past tense ‘for the game he put in his mouth’, the things that he had done in the past. But Yaakov represented Jewish values. He was defined by what he was rather than what he did, and therefore Rivka’s love for him was constant.
Indeed, Yaakov was defined by who he was. Yaakov was an ‘ish tam’ (Bereishit, 25:27). Rashi defines ‘tam’ as a person who is not skilled in deceiving others. Yaakov, was an ‘ish tam’, he was a master over the trait of being a tam. He was totally honest, though when it was appropriate to use cunning strategy in order to accomplish the appropriate result, he was able to do so (Rabbi Pliskin), most notably in taking the birthright.
This fundamental message of how to define ourselves is evident in Pirkei Avot 4:1. Ben Zoma says that the wise one is the one who learns from everyone, the strong one (the gibor) is the one that conquers his inclination, the rich one is the one who is happy with what he has, and the honoured one is the one who honours others. Why is not that the wise one is the one with the highest IQ? Why is it not that the strong one is the one who can lift 5000 tonnes? Why is it not that the rich one is the one who has made trillions of pounds?
The answer is that our values, Torah values, are different. The Torah is teaching us that what defines us is not what we do in comparison to what others do (e.g. I am really strong because I can lift 5000 tonnes, whereas everyone else in the world can only lift up to 4000 tonnes). What defines us is who we are. What defines us is how we use the traits that we have been given. Every one of us can be wise – by recognising that we can constantly be learning from all those around us. Every one of us can be strong – by overcoming the inclinations that tempt us to sin. According to the Torah, our uniqueness is not determined by what we do in comparison to others, it is determined by how we channel the traits that G-d has given us.