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Toldot – Kibud Av

Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel said, “All my days, I did not serve my father with one-hundredth of the honor with which Esav served his father. When I would serve my father, I would wear [ordinary clothes, even if they were] dirty, yet when I went out in the street I put on clean clothes. In contrast, Esav specially dressed in royal garments when he served his father.” (Devarim Rabba 1:14)

This week’s Parsha contains the story of Yakov and Esav, the two brothers who went their different ways. Yakov was righteous and Esav was wicked.

The Rabbis teach that although Esav was wicked, there was one mitzvah in which he excelled . His performance of the command to honour parents (Kibbud Av V’aim) was exemplary.

In the Midrash (Devarim Rabba 1:14), Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel declared that no one was as meticulous in kibbud av as he himself was, but later He retracted his earlier statements about his kibbud av when he discovered that Esav was even more respectful than he (see the above quotation).

This piece of information is related incidentally in the Torah: Rivka advised Yakov to impersonate Esav and don Esav’s BEST clothes, as Yitzchak may feel the clothes and thus realize that he was an imposter [Yitzchak was almost blind by that time].

Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel regretted his inability to serve his father properly.

There is a simple question on the Midrash there was an easy solution —

If Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel felt that something was lacking in the way he was dressed when he went to visit his father, why did he not change into better clothes? Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel should have simply worn his good clothing when he served his father!  Why would he believe that his Kibbud Av was not as good as Eisav’s if he could simply don fancy clothes and do as Eisav did?

The answer may be that Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel did not regret his inability to wear good clothing. He was regretting the difference of attitude between Eisav and himself. He certainly could have worn good clothing, but that would not have been the point: Eisav wore royal clothing for his father because he sensed that he was dealing with a King when he dealt with his father. Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel did not mean the absence of the appropriate wardrobe but rather of how his own sensitivity and emotion did not match that of Eisav for Yitzchak.  Moreover, he realized that he did not have sufficient appreciation for the mitzvah of honoring his father. Thus, if he were merely to change his clothes to serve his father, it would be nothing more than a meaningless imitation of no significance..

Eisav distinguished himself in that he recognized that serving and honoring one’s father was so important as to mandate the wearing of the finest clothing. It is not the clothes rather the underlying idea that those clothes represent which highlights Esav’s praiseworthy performance of Kibbud Av V’aim..

Don’t leave it too late

R’ Eliyahu Capsali z”l (Italy and Crete; 16th century (Meah Shearim Ch. 69 sefer on the subject of Kibbud  Av V’aim) asks if Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel recognized that his service of his father was not as good as Esav’s, why did he not improve his service and change his clothes? Rabbi Capsali z”l answers that perhaps Rabbi Shimon did not learn until his old age how Esav had served his father. This is implied by Rabbi Shimon’s words, “All my days, I did not serve my father…”

Sometimes we recognize the importance of Kibbud Av V’aim but only as we grow older and wiser do we appreciate its full importance and by then it might be too late for us and too late for our parents.

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