ויתרוצצו הבנים בקרבה ותאמר אם כן למה זה אנכי ותלך לדרוש את ה'
“And the children struggled inside of her, and she said, ‘If it is so, why did I want this?’ And she went to seek out G-d.” (Bereishis 25:22)
Rashi explains the word “vayisrotzetzi – struggled” to mean that every time Rivkah passed a house of Torah study, Yakov struggled to leave the womb, and every time she passed a house of idol worship, Eisav struggled to leave the womb.
We can understand why Eisav was trying to leave the womb, where he was unable to worship idols. But why did Yakov want to leave? We know that every child is taught the entire Torah in his mother’s womb, so Yakov should have been content where he was, learning Torah from an angel.
Rebbe Yakov Dovid of Amshinav, who was the son of the holy tzaddik Reb Yitzchok of Wurke, once chanced upon a young friend with whom he studied together in cheder. He was saddened to see that his friend had left the path of Torah, and he asked him what happened to him. “You must understand,” replied the friend, “it’s easy for you to remain frum; after all, your father was a great tzaddik and you come from such a wonderful home. I come from a simple family. I had to go out to work at an early age, and therefore I slipped away from the Torah path.”
Reb Yakov Dovid said to him, “I envy you!” Surprised, the friend asked him why he would envy him. “I envy you because you come from a simple family, and learning Torah doesn’t come easily to you,” Reb Yakov Dovid explained. “Every time you overcome your hardships to learn Torah, you earn tremendous merit and reward. I, on the other hand, do not deserve so much credit for my Torah accomplishments, and therefore I will not receive as much reward.”
The friend was deeply touched by Reb Yakov Dovid’s words, and began to dedicate more time for Torah learning, until he eventually grew up to be a big talmid chacham.
There is a story with a similar message about the great tzaddik, the Baal HaTanya. He once called over his grandson, the future author of Tzemack Tzedek, and said to him, “Mendele, I will teach you the secrets of the Torah.” Smart little Mendele answered, “Zeidy, I want to toil in learning on my own! I want to discover these secrets through my own efforts.”
This was why Yakov wanted to leave his mother’s womb whenever he passed a house of Torah study. Although he was learning Torah from an angel, he wanted to toil in learning on his own. When he studied at the Yeshiva of Shem and Eber, his learning didn’t come easily to him. Torah scholars were ridiculed at that time, and conditions were hard. Yakov couldn’t wait for the opportunity to enjoy the sweetness of Torah study through his own hard work.
“And Yakov said, sell me your birthright today.” (Bereishis 25:31)
The Torah relates how Eisav sold all his firstborn privileges for a pot of lentil stew. Why did Yakov feel entitled to pay such a measly price for such a priceless thing? The Torah tells us (Vayikra 25:17) that one may not take advantage of others in business. For example, if a person has a copper vessel he may not convince a buyer that it is gold. Likewise, if a person has a valuable item but is unaware of its true value, we may not cheat the person by buying it at for an unreasonably low price. Wasn’t Yakov obligated to inform Eisav of the true value of his firstborn rights?
Later on in the parsha, after Yakov stole the blessings from Eisav, Eisav cries, “He cheated me twice!” (Bereishis 27:36) How could Eisav say that Yakov cheated the firstborn rights from him, when he openly spurned it and willingly sold it to him for a pot of lentils? He showed no interest in his firstborn status, and was glad to be rid of it. He even laughed at Yakov for buying it from him (Bereishis 25:34). How can he now complain that he was cheated?
We can understand this with an interesting story that took place in the times of the holy Apter Rav. A Chassid once came to the Apter Rav and poured out his heart. He told the Rebbe that he is about to marry off his daughter but he has no money for the wedding, or for his family’s daily needs, for that matter. The Rebbe kindly asked him how much money he needs. The Chassid replied that he would need at least a thousand rubles to marry off his daughter respectably, with a proper dowry, and also be able to support his family.
“How much money do you presently have?” the Rebbe continued.
“Only one ruble,” said the Chassid.
“Take this ruble,” the Rebbe instructed, “and purchase the first thing that is offered to you.”
The Chassid left for home, and stopped at an inn for the night. As he huddled in a corner, a group of wealthy diamond merchants were conducting business with the innkeeper around a small table. One of the merchants turned to the Chassid and asked him if he is interested in making a deal.
“Yes,” came the confident reply.
“How much money do you have?” asked the merchant.
“One ruble,” said the Chassid.
The innkeeper and the merchants burst out laughing. “Ha ha!” they jeered. “He wants to buy diamonds with one ruble!”
The innkeeper, who was not the most pious individual, thought that this would be an opportunity for some entertainment. He turned to the Chassid with an offer: “I cannot give you diamonds for one ruble, but I can offer you my portion in the World to Come for one ruble.”
Remembering his Rebbe’s instructions, the Chassid immediately agreed to the deal. He requested that a formal contract be drawn up, to which the innkeeper readily agreed. “This is turning out to be even more fun than I thought,” he laughed inwardly. A contract was signed on the deal, with the merchants serving as legal witnesses. The innkeeper and the merchants had a merry time, laughing at the fellow who gave away his last ruble.
Upon hearing the merry commotion coming from the dining area, the innkeeper’s wife came to see what was going on. When she learned that her husband just sold his entire portion of the World to Come, she was horrified. “Come with me to the Rav immediately!” she demanded of her husband. “I want a divorce! I will not live with a person who has no share in the World to Come!”
The innkeeper became alarmed. “Why are you making such a fuss over this silly joke?” he asked.
“Listen,” his wife said seriously, “You’re not the greatest tzaddik, and I know it. I know that you do not have much Torah or many mitzvahs, but at least I knew that you have a share in the World to Come. But now that you gave it up, you are nothing but a goy, and I will not live with a goy. I demand a divorce, and I want you to come with me to the Rav right away!”
The innkeeper realized that he is deep trouble. He called over the Chassid and asked him to revoke the contract. “I’ll give you back your ruble, and give me back my share in the World to Come.” The Chassid refused. The innkeeper offered to pay him two rubles, and then offered him more money until he was ready to give him a hundred rubles, but the Chassid stood his ground. The innkeeper felt desperate. His wife declared that she will not live with him another day if he doesn’t buy his Olam Habbah back, and the Chassid refused to budge. Left with no other choice, he offered the Chassid more and more money, until he was ready to give him a thousand rubles.
Now the Chassid felt that his Rebbe’s instruction to use this one ruble in order to earn a thousand rubles was being fulfilled. He agreed to return the contract. The innkeeper dolefully paid the thousand rubles, and his wife was finally satisfied.
After this entire episode, the innkeeper’s wife decided to discuss the matter with the Apter Rav, who she knew was behind the Chassid’s purchase. “Rebbe,” she said, “I know my husband only too well. He is not much of a tzaddik at all. Do you really think his Olam Habbah is worth a thousand rubles? Didn’t we overpay?”
“I’ll tell you,” said the Rebbe. “When he sold his Olam Habbah it wasn’t even worth one ruble, but after he gave a thousand ruble for charity to help marry off an impoverished bride, his Olam Habbah is worth much more than a thousand rubles – much more than ten thousand! Your husband made a terrific deal by buying such a beautiful share in Olam Habbah for such a great price.”
The same thing happened between Yakov and Eisav. When Eisav sold his birthrights to Yakov, it wasn’t worth more than a pot of lentil stew. Yakov didn’t cheat him; the birthrights were only worth as much as Eisav valued them. True, for Yakov it had great value, but for Eisav it didn’t. As soon as Yakov earned the rights, the value went up tremendously, which is why Eisav later complained that he was cheated.
Every Jew can measure how much his share in Olam Habbah is worth. How so? He should see how much he values every mitzvah; this is a good indicator of the value of his share in the World to Come.
“A sample of Olam Habbah is the Shabbos day of rest.” When a person offers something for sale, he would often give potential buyers a small free sample so they should know that the product is worth buying. Hashem is rewarding us with Olam Habbah for our mitzvos. He wants us to sample Olam Habbah, so we should know that it is something very valuable, and that it pays to work hard to earn it. He therefore gave us Shabbos, which is a sample of the spiritual pleasure of the World to Come.
Tzaddikim have said that if a person wants to know what his Olam Habbah will be like, he should see what his Shabbos is like. If he feels spiritual joy on Shabbos, it is a good indicator that his Olam Habbah will be full of joy. On the other hand, if he does not feel anything special on Shabbos, he waits for Shabbos to be over so he can take a cigarette, then he should make some improvements in himself, because otherwise he will not have too much pleasure in the World to Come.
Hashem should help, we should be zoche to feel true spiritual joy on Shabbos, which is a small sample of Olam Habbah.