Toldot: Turning a New Leaf

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This week’s lesson is dedicated in loving memory of Rabbi Mendy Sasonkin, Shliach of the Rebbe to Akron, Ohio. Yartzeit, Simchas Torah 5779

The Talmud states that three categories of people are absolved of all their sins: the newly married, the newly appointed leader, and the newly appointed ‘sage.’ Why? Is this absolution attainable for ordinary people? Life-lessons from Esau, Rabbi Ze’irah, and Israel’s third president.

Lesson Contents:

A. Esau’s Wedding

After Jacob earns the wrath of his brother Esau, he is forced to flee to Haran. His father sends him there for another purpose as well: to find a wife. In the middle of this story, the Torah inserts another: Esau marries his cousin, the daughter of Ishmael (Source 1).

The Rebbe poses two questions: Firstly, why the sudden twist in the story? Secondly, our sages use the example of Esau’s wedding to teach us that a bridegroom is forgiven of all his sins. Was he really such a stellar groom?

As we read in the sources, Esau was anything but good. He married at age 40 to resemble his saintly father, while in reality, his behavior was a far cry from his father’s (Source 2). Our sages say that he despised anything that had to do with G-d (Source 3). Moreover: G-d caused Abraham to die early just to spare him of the anguish of seeing his wild grandson (Source 4). The sages actually specifically belittle this marriage of his (Source 5).

Why in the world, the Rebbe asks, is Esau the example of such a marriage?

The answer lies in the very question: in their quest to show just how important it is to establish a family, our sages say that even Esau was forgiven for all his sins when he took for himself a wife.

B. Spiritual Procreation

In the marriage between G-d and the Jewish people, the goal is to spiritually procreate: to engage with others and bring them closer to Judaism. 

This teaching of the sages is the greatest possible encouragement to those who engage in such work. Moreover, it negates those who claim that they must first be worthy on their own before they dictate to others this. The lesson of Esau’s marriage is that the procreation itself is what makes you worthy. 

C. Sage, Leader and Groom

A bridegroom is not the only one who was absolved of his sins. as the Jerusalem Talmud teaches us, so is a sage and a leader (Source 6).

The Rebbe points out the correlation between the three categories: they all have the task of bringing Jews closer to G-d.

The Rebbe expressed this view when Zalman Shazar — a non-observant Jew — became president of Israel. The very fact that he was appointed to that position, the Rebbe said, was enough to demonstrates his worthiness (Source 7).

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