Torah Fax

Friday, December 2, 2005 - 1 Kislev, 5766
Torah Reading: Toldot (Genesis 25:19 - 28:9)
Candle Lighting Time: 4:10 PM
Shabbat Ends: 5:14 PM

Are You Hearing Voices?

Our Parshah tells us how Rebecca overheard her husband Isaac tell their elder son Esau that he wanted to bless him before he dies. She then directed Jacob to receive the blessings by wearing Esau's furs so that if his father-who could not see-would try to touch him, he would think it was the hairy Esau that he was blessing.

When Jacob addressed his father Isaac, Isaac immediately detected that something was strange. It was the voice of Jacob, not Esau. So he asked him to approach so that he could feel him. When he felt the hairy texture of the fur, Isaac exclaimed: "The voice is the voice of Jacob, and the hands are the hands of Esau."

This expression has been used by our Sages to describe the different powers that are possessed by the descendents of Esau (specifically the Romans) and the descendents of Jacob (the Jewish nation):

While other nations of the earth expressed their strength by the use of their hands and arms, the strength of the Jewish people lies in their voice, in their prayers and study of Torah.

There is another interesting interpretation that has been given by one of the early Chassidic master, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polna'ah, a leading disciple of the Ba'al Shem Tov. This interpretation concerns the necessity of having the right intentions while performing a mitzvah.

According to Jewish law, as codified by Maimonides, if one were to hear the sounding of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, but not have in mind to fulfill a religious obligation, they would not have fulfilled their obligation. For example, if one were to hear the sounds of the shofar as he was passing by a synagogue, but did not think of fulfilling his obligation at that time, he would need to hear the shofar later.

There is a discrepancy, however, in this matter, for Maimonides himself rules that if one were to eat Matzah on Passover without the intention of fulfilling his religious obligation, he would not have to repeat the eating of Matzah, for he has fulfilled his religious duty. The intent is not crucial to the fulfillment of the Mitzvah.

So which is it? Why is it that for the Mitzvah of Shofar one must have the intent, whereas for the mitzvah of Matzah the intent is not imperative?

One answer given by one of Maimonides' earliest commentators is that hearing a sound is a passive function, whereas eating is active. In order to make a Mitzvah out of hearing, that takes no physical effort, one needs to expend the mental effort, thus turning the passive act of hearing shofar into an active Mitzvah.

By contrast, eating Matzah is an active performance. Hence there is no need to have intent to discharge one's obligation. The act itself has intrinsic value. To be sure, ideally, one should have both physical and mental effort in doing a Mitzvah, nevertheless, in the event that it was lacking, one still has accomplished something just with one's action.

This is how Rabbi Yaakov Yosef interprets the words of Isaac: "The voice is the voice of Jacob and the hands are the hands of Esau":

When it comes to a Mitzvah that involves hearing a sound (the Hebrew word for voice "kol" also means sound), it must be infused with the spirit of Jacob. One must have the proper intent. If, however, it is a Mitzvah that involves action, then even if it were the "hands of (the non-spiritual) Esau"; an act that is devoid of feeling, it is nonetheless a Mitzvah.

There is a dual lesson in the above:

One the one hand, we derive from this law that a Jew cannot be passive. Judaism is not a spectator sport. One must be actively engaged in one's Jewish life. On the other hand, one should not think that if they do not perform the Mitzvah with all of their physical and mental faculties that it may not pay to start. Any physical involvement with a Mitzvah, even if it lacks the infusion of the ideal mental, emotional and spiritual dimension, is nonetheless a bona fide Mitzvah.

The above has special application to the time in which we live.

Whenever we hear anything in the news, or learn of new discoveries in science or the like, we have to make sure that that “voice” permeates our soul; that it should have an effect on our lives. The “spirit of Jacob” has to act like a Jewish filter, to give us a spiritual perspective on the events that we hear about in our daily lives. If we just hear news, voices and sounds and don’t try and learn from them – it is tantamount to hearing a shofar with no intention to fulfill our obligation. It is a passive act that might not be counted as a Mitzvah.

Conversely, there are times when we need the hands of Esau. When we hear of someone that needs our help, we cannot be concerned with our motives and feelings.  When a decision has to be made to do a Mitzvah; just do it. The feelings will come later, but the opportunity to do that one act of kindness-the act that might be the one needed to change the balance of the entire world and bring about its salvation-will be lost.


Don't be concerned with the fact that some might call you a hypocrite because you did a Mitzvah and your heart was elsewhere. Jewish thought teaches that the “act is the main thing.” If a needy person is hungry, we cannot wait for the donor to have the right emotions before giving him some food. The act of giving the food is of immediate necessity; the emotions might be ignited later.


The zeal to do immediate acts of goodness, with or without a fully developed emotional mindset, will help usher in the era of Moshiach, when the “hands of Esau” and the “voice of Jacob” will be united for good.



Moshiach Matters
Why do our Sages describe Moshiach as a "metzora" (one afflicated with a disease, where blotches form on the skin) and the Holy Temple as "a house afflicted with 'leprosy' "? Since there are blotches of evil in the world that prevent the light of redemption from being manifest, the power of these lights is turned inward and is reflected in the leprous blemishes to be visited on Moshiach and the Temple. Ultimately, however, "the metzora will be purified" and the inner light identified with him will be expressed throughout existence. Then, "the spirit of impurity will be removed from the earth." (From Keeping in Touch by Rabbi E. Touger)
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