The Torah states: “And Yitzhak was forty years old when he took Rivkah, the daughter of Besuail the Aromite, from Padan Arom, the sister of Lavan the Aromite, for himself for a wife” (Genesis 25:20) The Torah has already stated (in last week’s Torah portion) that Rivkah was the daughter of Besuail, the sister of Lavan, and was from Padan Aram. What do we learn from this seemingly superfluous information? Rashi asks this question and answers that the Torah is emphasizing the praises of Rivkah. She was the daughter of an evil person, the sister of an evil person and lived in a community of evil people. Nevertheless, she did not learn from their behavior! Many people try to excuse their faults by blaming others as the cause of their behavior. “It’s not my fault I have this bad trait, I learned it from my father and mother.” “I’m not to blame for this bad habit since all my brothers and sisters do it also.” “Everyone in my neighborhood does this or does not do that, so how could I be any different?” They use this as a rationalization for failing to make an effort to improve. We see from Rivkah that regardless of the faulty behavior of those in your surroundings, you have the ability to be more elevated. Of course, it takes courage and a lot of effort to be different. The righteous person might be considered a nonconformist and even rebellious by those in his environment whose standard of values are below his level. However, a basic Torah principle is that we are responsible for our own actions. Pointing to others in your environment who are worse than you is not a valid justification for not behaving properly.

The Torah states: “And Isaac loved Esau because he was a was a trapper with his mouth…” (Gen. 25:28). This means that Esau successfully deceived his father regarding his level of righteousness. Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler cited the Arizal (a famous kabbalist) that it is a mistake to think that Esau was a complete hypocrite and just tried to deceive his father. If Isaac made an error, there must have been good reason for such an error. The problem with Esau was that he kept all his spirituality “in his mouth,” without swallowing it. He spoke spiritual words, but did not become a spiritual person. Therefore, said Rav Dessler, anyone who speaks ethical and spiritual words without allowing them to penetrate his heart and soul is a colleague of the evil Esau. Rabbi Pliskin explains: The essence of an elevated person is to be totally integrated: the Torah ideals that one talks about must be part of his very being. There are many different levels along a continuum. Some people are unaware of how far they are from actually feeling what they say. Such a person can say he loves everyone deeply, but a perceptive person can tell that although he believes that he feels that way, in actuality he is very far from it. It is not sufficient to just repeat words like a parrot or a tape recorder. Whenever you learn a new idea, keep reviewing it until little by little it penetrates your soul and your words truly become part of you.

“And Yitzhak called Ya’akov, and blessed him, and commanded him saying, ‘You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan’ “ (Genesis 28:1). What is the connection between Yitzhak blessing his son and then admonishing him? The Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan, a great rabbi of the last generation, commented that we learn from here the most effective manner in which to reproach someone. Show that you truly care about his welfare; he will more readily listen to your reprimand. Often people who mean well give reproof in a harsh manner or by yelling — particularly if the recipient is one’s own child. Every person wants to do the right thing. If we can focus on our love for the other person, our desire to genuinely help and our knowledge that the other person wants to be good, then we can speak softly and give admonition which will be heard.

 Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim

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