As Rivkah departs home to meet her destiny as the wife of Yitzchok, her brother Lavan confers a blessing upon her.
אחתנו את היי לאלפי רבבה ויירש זרעך את שער שנאיו (בראשית כד ס), Our sister, may you come to the thousands of myriads, and may your offspring inherit the gate of its foes.
Lavan was aware of the blessing bestowed upon Avraham after the Akeidah, where the angel conveys G-d’s promise, כי ברך אברכך והרבה ארבה את זרעך ככוכבי השמים וכחול אשר על שפת הים וירש זרעך את שער איביו (שם כב יז), That I will surely bless you and greatly increase your offspring like the stars of the heaven and the sand of the seashore; and your offspring shall inherit the gate of your enemy. Lavan was expressing his deep hope that the promise to Avraham would be fulfilled through Rivkah and not by another wife Yitzchok may select. (רש"י)
Lavan’s blessing is a nearly identical, with his making reference to numerous future descendants and the conquest of their enemies. But there is one glaring contrast. Although Lavan chooses to merely paraphrase the first half of Avraham’s blessing by quantifying it in numbers rather than using the metaphor of innumerable stars and grains of sand, in the second half he utilizes the exact words but strangely chooses to replace איביו, foes, with its synonym שנאיו, enemies. Why?
How are to understand in general the very essence of this wish, to vanquish our enemies? The existence of enemies is a sad reality we must face, but is that a ‘goal’ we aspire to or simply an unfortunate necessity we must resort to? Yet after passing the pinnacle of all challenges, the Akeidah, is this a most longed for ideal that needs to be expressed specifically here?
Who is this ‘foe’ the angel is assuring Avraham he will be overcome?
The Midrash reveals the foe intimated in this verse is the nation of תרמוד, Tarmud. The Midrash states that ‘fortunate is the one who will be privileged to see the downfall of Tarmud.’
What is the nature of these Tarmudians? Why are they highlighted as the enemy we must destroy more so than the evil offspring of Yishmael or Esav? Why is this mentioned precisely at this time, after the Akeidah?
Historically Tarmud is also known as Tadmor, and during Roman times as Palmyira. It is located northeast of Damascus. It is an oasis city within the Syrian desert. Tarmud/Tadmor was situated on the crossroads between Syria-Canaan and Mesopotamia/Bavel, on the one hand, and between these areas and Arabia on the other. Without doubt the rich trade between the ‘West’ and Mesopotamia, flowed through this gateway of Tarmud/Tadmor.
In Melachim it notes that the city of Tadmor was built by King Solomon’s slaves who were drafted to assist in the building of the Temple. The Talmud reports one opinion that the Tadmorians were known to have illicitly taken Jewish women as wives, with another opinion suggesting that these denizens of Tadmor had joined the armies that destroyed the Temple, and when most of the attackers looked to take the spoils of gold and silver, they turned to the daughters of Jerusalem.(יבמות טז:)
Rashi in Divrei Hayamim II notes that in the book of Melachim when this city is mentioned although tradition has it that we read it as Tadmor, it is written as תמר, missing the ד. תמר means to exchange. This he asserts refers to their ingratitude, for after all King Solomon had done for them in building up a marvelous city amidst this oasis, they disgracefully participated in the destruction of both Temples. (דבה"י ב ח, ד)
The Talmud records how when Hillel was once asked as why the eyes of the Tarmudians are weak, he responded because they live among the sand dunes and their eyes are assaulted by the shifting and blowing sand. The Maharsha sees in this exchange not only a medical malady, but a description of their spiritual weakness. They allowed their eyes and minds roam to all that was חול, profane and hollow, an alternative intimation in this same word that is used to describe sand, חול. They indulged in their instinctive drives that are akin to spiritual ‘sand in their eyes’.
We begin to get a composite of the character of these Tarmudians. They were ungrateful and indulgent folk who refused to be ‘see’ the world with clarity, permitting themselves to be blinded from seeing the light.
It’s been noted that the word for love, אהבה, and the word for foe, אויב, are both rooted in the word אבה, desire or will. When we pursue an objective with a positive desire to connect to it produces love. When we quest to remove something that interferes with our desires and interests we too are following a ‘will’, with the result being enmity and disdain.
(שרשים לר' שלמה פאפנהיים אות א אב)
Our credo is founded on אמת, truth; on attaining the proud appellation of אדם, Man, rooted in דמה, meaning similar, emphasizing our emulating G-d in His attributes and in the godly power to choose rather than do indulge reflexively; and on אור, light, the principles of Torah that illuminate even the darkest corners of life.
The saintly Reb Yisroel Charif of Satinov, one of the famed disciples of the holy Baal Shem Tov, quotes the Arizal who says that Adam after having sinned diminished three fundamental אלפי"ן, alephs from the world.
He reduced the א from אמת; אדם; אור. אמת without the א is מת, death. אדם absent an א is דם, blood, merely a physical life force no different than animal. אור subtracting the א is left with just ור. He then goes on to suggest that תרמוד is comprised of the letters that remain when one removes the א, the primary letter that represents אלופו של עולם, the Chief of the world; the Creator, from one’s life.
The Tarmudians who lived by their own selfish interests were incapable of gratitude, for it would stand in the way of achieving their goals. Gratitude requires an honest assessment of whom one is indebted to. Those who live not with truth, however, can never feel obligated. They indulged in promiscuity for they sought not the nobility of choice, slipping instead mindlessly into instinctive and vacuous pleasures. They refused to see clearly, befuddling their vision by permitting the blowing winds of enticement to cast abrasive sand in their eyes.
The Akeidah was the greatest testament to Avraham and Yitzchok’s allegiance to these three vital principles. Only one who lived with total honesty and trust could carry out the sacrificing of one’s own son, not simply out of duty, but with love and joy. Yitzchok displayed mightily the ability to not only control and forfeit one’s instincts, but the ability to choose to sacrifice that greatest of all reflexes, to desire to live. Finally, only one who adhered unswervingly to the exact dictate of the word of G-d could ward off the Satan’s attempts to convince Avraham of the mistake he was about to make.
G-d’s promise to Avraham that he would inherit his foes wasn’t a promise of physical submission of his enemies, rather it was the victory of the promotion of the ‘will’ of G-d over those who gave precedence to their own ‘wants’. It was the triumph of אהבה, love, over איבה, enmity.
Lavan exhibited all the flaws of the Tarmudians. He was Lavan the Deceiver, the promoter of dishonesty in all his dealings. Only Lavan could brazenly claim that all the financial successes he achieved were due to himself rather than to the arduous and devoted labor Yaakov invested in his enterprise. He was unable to give credit where it was deservedly due.
Lavan’s devious swapping of his daughters on the night Yaakov was destined to marry Rachel, only to discover in the morn that it was Leah, was evidence of Lavan’s treating his women as chattel to be prized, not humans to be cherished. Isn’t that flaw at the core of all promiscuous behavior, which is void of any respect and decency to the ‘object’ of one’s selfish indulgence?
G-d appears to Lavan in a dream clearly commanding him that he foists no harm upon Yaakov in deed or word. Nevertheless, when meeting up with Yaakov, Lavan first arrogantly states, “It is in my power to do you all harm; but the G-d of your father addressed me last night, saying, ‘Beware of speaking with Jacob either good or bad.’ It would seem as if Lavan is intimating that he is still capable of harming him but decided to take G-d’s ‘advice’ in receding. Only someone blinded by granules of selfishness can misportray G-d’s clear threat and instruction into merely friendly advice.
Lavan understands very well this ‘battle of wills’, but rather than facing the truth, continues his deceptive ways, conveniently detouring from this powerfully laden word איוב, choosing the simpler שונא, downplaying this fatal battle towards eternity, and presenting it as the mere physical containment of one’s enemy.
Are we living on an oasis in the middle of a desert, allowing ourselves to be blinded by the shifting sand dunes of temptation, denying ourselves supernal happiness in exchange for fleeting pleasures?
Are we ready to face the truth; control our instincts; follow without doubt the will of G-d?
Are we Tarmudians or are we ready to be guided by the ultimate אלף, the word and will of G-d, and restoring our values, character and drives and achieving true joy and love in life?
May we conquer all of our foes, those on the outside, but more importantly those from within.