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Welcome to our Shabbos Table!

We hope you enjoy this selection of short divrei Torah, presented to family and guests at our Shabbos table as a springboard for discussion. Each one is followed by a question. The responses shared at our table are enlightening, entertaining, and always thought-provoking.

Please share them at your own Shabbos table, and send us your most interesting responses. A selection of the best will be posted on the website, and eventually, included in a book. To respond, click on "Click here to respond" or email us at

Parshas Toldos #1

Getting Caught

“Perhaps my father will feel me, and I will be like a deceiver in his eyes, and I will bring upon myself curse, and not blessing” (Bereishis 27:12).

Rivkah instructed Yaakov to impersonate Eisav, so that he would be the one to receive the blessings bestowed by his father Yitzchak. Yaakov reminded his mother that Eisav’s skin was hairy, while his own was smooth – if Yitzchak touched him, he would immediately pick up on the deception. Rivkah had Yaakov dress in Eisav’s distinctive clothing, and to complete the disguise, she covered his arms and neck with goatskins. This is how he went in to serve Yitzchak.

Chazal tell us that Yaakov was the paradigm of honesty (Makkos 24a). As proof, they quote Yaakov’s words to Rivkah: “Perhaps my father will feel me, and I will be like a deceiver in his eyes.” Why would this incident, which revolved around an act of deception, be cited as proof of Yaakov’s impeccable honesty? Yaakov’s dealings with his father-in-law, related in Parshas Vayetze, would seem to be much stronger proof. In his twenty years with Lavan, Yaakov had been more than the perfect employee: he never made personal use of Lavan’s property, paid for all losses out of his own pocket, and worked both day and night shifts (see Bereishis 31:38-41).

Unwilling Deception

We can answer this question by studying the wording of the passuk. Rav Avraham Mordechai Alter of Ger, the Imrei Emes, points out that there are two Hebrew words for “perhaps.” One is ulai, and the other is pen. We find in the Torah that the word ulai implies that the speaker would like to see a certain outcome materialize. For example, when Avraham Avinu instructed Eliezer to bring a wife from his own birthplace for Yitzchak, Eliezer said, “ulai (perhaps) the woman will not wish to come after me to this land” (Bereishis 24:5). Chazal tell us that there was a certain conflict of interest involved. Eliezer had secretly hoped that Yitzchak would marry Eliezer’s own daughter. If a woman from Avraham’s family refused to follow him back to Canaan, Eliezer’s daughter’s chances would be much better. This is why he expressed his question to Avraham with the word “ulai”: maybe, hopefully, the prospective bride would refuse to come with him, leaving the way open for Eliezer’s daughter.

On the other hand, pen suggests an unwanted outcome. This was the word Avraham used to respond to Eliezer: “Pen (beware) that you do not take my son back there” (Bereishis 24:6).

Yaakov told Rivkah, “Ulai (perhaps) my father will feel me.” Yaakov said “ulai,” and not “pen,” indicating that this was the outcome he wanted. He was not afraid of being caught when his father felt his smooth skin – if anything, he was hoping to be caught. He went along with Rivkah’s plan because it was inspired by prophecy, and he had no choice but to obey his mother. This did not mean that he wanted to deceive his father, or cheat his brother. The very thought of falsehood was so abhorrent to him that he actually wanted to be found out! The consequences would obviously be extremely unpleasant, but in Yaakov’s opinion, anything was better than lying.

This is why the Gemara cites this particular passuk as proof of Yaakov’s honesty. Yaakov was duty bound to obey his mother, but he still hoped that the ruse would be discovered before it was too late, even if he would suffer as a result (Imrei Emes, cited by Rav Yehoshua Zilberman in his glosses to the reprinted Pardes Shaul, Parshas Balak, cited in Daf al Daf, Makkos 24a).

Question for Discussion:

We are often faced with a difficult choice: we can be dishonest and win, or be honest and lose. In situations ranging from returning extra change to copying homework, we are continually challenged to be honest with ourselves and others. Yaakov Avinu was eager to see the truth emerge, even at personal cost. What is one area where we can be more honest in our daily lives?

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Parshas Toldos #2

Well Dressed

“Rivkah took her older son Eisav’s special garments which were with her in the house, and dressed Yaakov, her younger son” (Bereishis 27:15).

Yitzchak Avinu instructed his son Eisav to prepare a meal for him, so that in the merit of the mitzvah, he would be worthy of receiving Yitzchak’s blessings. Rivkah understood the long-term significance of the blessings Yitzchak was about to bestow – and she also knew that Eisav was not the right son to receive them. She told Yaakov that she would prepare a suitable meal which he could then serve Yitzchak, and receive the blessings in his brother’s stead. To complete the impersonation, she had Yaakov wear Eisav’s special clothing, which he kept in her home for safekeeping.

What was so special about this one outfit, and why did it so clearly represent Eisav?

Chazal tell us that these clothes were an integral part of Eisav’s relationship with Yitzchak. Eisav had tremendous respect for his father, and went out of his way to honor him. He owned an irreplaceable outfit which he would not even trust to the care of his own wives. He kept it in Rivkah’s home, and would put on these one-of-a-kind garments whenever he served Yitzchak (Bereishis Rabbah 65:16).

Eisav’s Extra

By that time Yitzchak was blind (Bereishis 27:1), and did not even see what Eisav was wearing when he came to attend him. Eisav could have arrived in work clothes, hunting apparel, or any other casual wear, and Yitzchak would never have known the difference. And yet, Eisav took this extra step, and always made sure to honor his father by dressing in his finest clothes.

Eisav was not a pious man, but he is still remembered to this day for one redeeming quality: his exceptional kibud av. It did not matter if his father realized or appreciated this gesture of extra respect; he still made a special effort to do his best for him. In this area, we all have much to learn from Eisav (Rabbi Yissocher Frand, “At Least We Should Try To Act Like Eisav”).

Question for Discussion:

When it came to kibud av, Eisav was truly remarkable. What is one special way that we can better honor our parents?

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