David Walk

It’s a Gift!!

Everybody loves a gift. I remember when a dear friend gave me a volume of a new edition of the S’fat Emet. He wrote a sweet note inside: Hey, Walk, it’s a gift! It doesn’t get warmer than that. This just reinforced for me the idea that we all enjoy receiving presents. These days visiting grandchildren, there’s something lovely about giving out gifts. It doesn’t matter that they’re mostly little trinkets, the sort of stuff one might buy Manhattan Island with. They just love getting something from Zeydie. This reality figures prominently in this week’s Torah reading. 

At the beginning of Chapter 25, Avraham remarries. It doesn’t concern me, this week, whether Ketura, the new wife, was a do-over with Hagar or someone new. I’m fascinated by the new brood of children, six in all, and then grandchildren. After the roster of offspring is enumerated, the text states: And Avraham gave all that he had to Yitzchak (Breishit 25:5). I find this fascinating and a tiny bit bewildering for two reasons. First of all, because in the very next verse we’re informed that Avraham ‘gave gifts (MATANOT) to the children of these co-wives.’ How did that work? Didn’t he just give ‘all that he had’ to Yitzchak? Did Avraham go over to Yitzchak and get permission to distribute some of the wealth to these half-siblings? Perhaps. 

Secondly, what was the nature or content of these gifts? Were they chattel or real estate? If they included real estate, wouldn’t that cause a new problem, because clearly all of the land holdings (Eretz Yisrael) belonged exclusively to Yitzchak.  

Rashi avoids all these problems by informing us that the ‘everything’ given to Yitzchak was the power to be a ‘BRACHA’ for others. That special Divine ability to confer blessings upon anyone else first conferred upon Avraham at the beginning Lech Licha. Fine, but hardly a solution to the language of ‘giving’ and ‘gifts’, which sound like more concrete or specific items. 

 The Kli Yakar suggests that the KOL or ‘all’ that was given over to Yitzchak was his portion in the World to Come. With this approach many issues are resolved. First, we understand what Sarah had meant, when she announced, ‘the son of the maid will not inherit with my son, with Yitzchak (Breishit 21:10). Sarah, like Avraham, was talking about the World to Come. And, of course, this helps our problem here. The other sons had plenty of worldly possessions to receive, because Yitzchak was bequeathed spiritual wealth. 

So, let’s assume that Yitzchak was given spiritual wealth and power, what did the other ‘boys’ get? Ibn Ezra says cash. That’s always good and avoids the problem of them possessing any land in Eretz Yisrael.  The Sforno, on the other hand, explains these gifts were to avoid the Torah laws of inheritance, would have greatly benefitted these offspring, because it demands a fair dispersal of all possessions. Remember, many authorities want to believe that the Avot were keeping the Torah laws before it was given. 

But the S’fat Emet, whose volume began this whole discussion, offers a fascinating solution to the conundrum. The Rebbe suggested in 5638 or 1878 that the key to the mystery is the word KOL. This is the KOL from the beginning of chapter 24, when we’re told that, ‘God blessed Avraham with KOL (P’SHAT: ‘everything’, all requirements for a wonderful life).’ But we know that this is code used by our Sages to describe the wonderful, blessed attributes of our Avot. Avraham was B’KOL, Yitzchak was M’KOL and Ya’akov was KOL. 

This was the gift! Avraham transferred to his beloved Yitzchak the KOL of his personality, strength, and character. Yitzchak did the same for Ya’akov. Ya’akov who had his brood of heirs then distributed this bounty according to the personal strengths of each one of the soon-to-be Tribes. 

 This concept is crucial to the chain of the tradition. It also explains another famous issue. There’s a difficult Rabbinic statement: Each and every Jew is obligated to say, ‘When will my actions reach (YAGI’U, equal?) the actions of my AVOT, Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov’ (Tanna D’vei Eliyahu, 25).  

A little presumptuous? Do we have the Chutzpa to compare ourselves to these saintly ancestors? Well, no. What if the meaning of that requirement is: When will I give over to my offspring all of my spiritual strengths, just like the Avot did? 

That’s the KOL, and that’s the assignment. My love for my children is immense. I want so much for them, but my first job is to make sure that they replace me. Yes, that’s a biological requirement, first of all, but it’s also a Jewish responsibility. We learned that from the Avot. I want my children and grandchildren to know what was critical to me and my soul, and to let them know that this is my greatest legacy and, yes, gift. 

About the Author
Born in Malden, MA, 1950. Graduate of YU, taught for Rabbi Riskin in Riverdale, NY, and then for 18 years in Efrat with R. Riskin and R. Brovender at Yeshivat Hamivtar. Spent 16 years as Educational Director, Cong. Agudath Sholom, Stamford, CT. Now teach at OU Center and Yeshivat Orayta.
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