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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Yonah Burr

Toldos: Behold, I Am Going to Die.

ויאמר עשו הנה אנכי הולך למות ולמה זה לי בכורה
And Eisav said; “behold I am going to die; what use is the firstborn privileges to me?

The Gemara in Berachos [5a] teaches:

לעולם ירגיז אדם יצר הטוב על יצר הרע, שנאמר רגזו ואל תחטאו. אם נצחו מוטב, ואם לאו – יעסוק בתורה. שנאמר אמרו בלבבכם. אם נצחו מוטב, ואם לאו - יקרא ק"ש שנאמר על משכבכם. אם נצחו מוטב, ואם לאו י- זכור לו יום המיתה, שנאמר ודומו סלה.

One should always pit his yetzer tov against his yetzer hara; as it says ‘tremble and do not sin’. If he is successful, good; and if not, he should toil in Torah, as it says, ‘speak to your hearts’. If this works, good, but if not, he should recite the shema; as it says, ‘before you lie down’. If this works good, if not, remember the day of death, as it says ‘and the silence is forever’.

The Gemara is giving us a sure-fire way to overcome our evil inclination and make the right choices; firstly, try to fight against the temptation of life. By rising to the challenge, and trying to do the right thing even when it is hard. If that fails, that probably means that his urges are too strong, or that he is lacking in the resolve to win. So, the next step is to internalize and absorb the lessons of the Torah. The power and energy of Torah study will surely help. Not only topics directly relevant to his struggles, but even other subjects of Torah will give him the spiritual strength and will to reenter the ring. If still not, perhaps he has doubts or lacking commitment- so recite the Shema, and accept and confirm the Yoke of Heaven and Mitzvos. And finally, remember the day of death. This will surely put life in the proper perspective, and reset our priorities, and guarantee putting us on the proper path.

In our parsha, Eisav says, behold I am going to die, and I have no use for the rights of the firstborn.

Asks Rav Elya Lopian zt”l: how can it be that even the last and most powerful tool we have against the the Yetzer hara didn’t work for Eisav? Remembering the day of death is supposed to be the ‘priority setter’ that works for sure! But Eisav says ‘anyway I am going to die, I have no use for the firstborn, the spiritual status and lifestyle that it affords. I would rather just spend my life in this world with its pleasures and indulgences. Not only does it not seem to help, it even serves as more reason to sin and go off the path. How do we reconcile this phenomenon with the advice of the Gemara?

Rav Elya explains: the idea of remembering the day of death certainly brings a sense of urgency. Time is short, we don’t live forever, and we need to accomplish as much as we can in the time we are given. However, what is it we want to accomplish? Only after struggling with our yetzer hara, and internalizing the Torah, and committing ourselves to Hashem will our priorities be to grab as many mitzvos as we can; on the other hand, if we never absorbed these lessons, and allow ourselves to stray, we will come to a very opposite conclusion- grab as much pleasure as we can, and live it up as much as we can. Fortunate are we the recipients of the Torah, who have the manual of life; may we all merit to maximize our time, and reach our full potential!

Have a wonderful Shabbos!

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