Parsha indian mother and baby 521.
(photo credit: Israel Weiss)
One of the most innovative and fascinating creations of Religious Zionism is the
educational institution known as “yeshivat hesder.”
This refers to
yeshivot which have an “arrangement” (hesder) with the IDF allowing observant
high school graduates to fulfill their three-year compulsory draft obligation by
attending a yeshiva for a year and a half, followed by a year and a half of
serving in the army and then a final two years of Torah learning.
was a creative compromise between secular Israeli society, whose members are
expected to enter the IDF for three full years after high school, and the ultra-
Orthodox (haredim), who are automatically exempted from the IDF as long as they
are registered as full-time yeshiva students.
I would submit that the
“spiritual mother” of the yeshivat hesder model was none other than the
Matriarch Rebekah of this week’s biblical portion – but we must read between the
lines to understand this analogy.
Our analysis begins with the very
troubling act of deception that Rebekah persuades her son Jacob to perpetrate
against her husband Isaac. She informs her beloved younger son that his elder
brother Esau is about to receive the blessings/birthright from the blind and
aged Isaac, and convinces him to dress and pose as Esau so as to preempt his
brother and receive the blessing himself. How could a righteous matriarch pit
one brother against the other in an act of subterfuge against her husband? And
didn’t Rebekah realize that her deception would be discovered? After all, in
only a few hours, Esau would return with the venison, present the dish to his
father and expect to receive the blessing, and Isaac would understand what had
happened. She and Jacob would be disgraced, at least in the eyes of Isaac –
perhaps irreparably. Why go through such a flimsy masquerade? I maintain that
Rebekah certainly understood the seriousness of deception and the certitude of
discovery, but was playing for very high stakes. The son who would receive the
blessings was to be the heir to the Covenant of Abraham, the carrier of a vision
of ethical monotheism which would eventually bring blessing and redemption to
all the families on earth. If the wrong son had received the patrimony, the
history of Israel would have ended almost before it had begun.
Abrahamic mission of bringing ethical monotheism to the world required profound
faith, commitment and intellectual acumen. It would also require courageous
physical prowess to defeat enemies of a God of love, morality and peace (witness
Abraham’s almost single- handed defeat of the four enemy kings).
knew her husband very well. The effect of being the son of an ambitious,
path-breaking and aggressive father – consummately successful in all his
endeavors – is to withdraw from competing, to flee from military conflict, as he
does with Abimelech, and to live a more passive, but no less dedicated,
But Isaac was also obsessed with the aggressiveness of his elder
brother Ishmael, who made him feel inadequate and unworthy of the Abrahamic
patrimony. He feared that his father really favored this “wild ass of a man”
(“Would that Ishmael live before Thee” had been Abraham’s response to God’s
message of Isaac’s birth), that his father was only too anxious to take him,
Isaac, to the akeda (binding) and get him out of the familial picture. And so
Isaac constantly wandered back and forth from Be’er Lahai Ro’i, the place where
the angel of God rescued and blessed Ishmael, consumed with jealousy toward his
Then Isaac and Rebekah are blessed with twin sons: the
elder – ruddy red, hirsute and aggressive – a man of the fields and of the hunt;
the younger – wholeheartedly naïve – an introspective and studious dweller of
tents. Isaac is immediately drawn to his older and more aggressive son; he
realizes that the heir to the Abrahamic Covenant requires physical courage,
strength and fortitude.
The wiser Rebekah, however, understands that the
essence of the patrimony is compassionate righteousness and moral justice,
spiritual strength and fortitude in faith. She also remembers how Jacob – even
in the womb – grabbed Esau’s heel, attempting to overcome and surpass this
physically aggressive first-born.
Rebekah realizes that all that Jacob
requires are the hands of Esau, the external garb of Esau – and he will be
capable of acquiring the essence of the Covenant which is the voice of Jacob,
the message of ethical monotheism.
Rebekah never sets out to deceive
Isaac. She merely wants to prove to him that Jacob has enough of the external
virtues of Esau to champion the cause of compassionate righteousness and moral
justice even on the battlefield, if need be.
Thanks to the yeshivot
hesder, Rebekah’s children have emerged victorious in the IDF even as they
realize that their essence lies in the words and love of the Divine
The writer is the founder and chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone
Colleges and Graduate Programs and chief rabbi of Efrat.