Parashat Toledot: The Long-Term Effects of Negative Influences
The Torah in Parashat Toledot tells that Esav married two women, both of whom were idolaters, and these marriages caused great distress to his two righteous parents, Yishak and Ribka. Significantly, the Torah writes that Esav’s wives were a cause of aggravation "to Yishak and Ribka," mentioning Yishak before Ribka. A number of Rabbis understood this to mean that Yishak was more disturbed by these marriages than Ribka was. Yishak grew up in the home of Abraham and Sara, and thus had little exposure to idolatry, whereas Ribka was raised in the home of Betuel, a corrupt idolater. She was accustomed to such beliefs and behavior, and thus although she was a righteous woman and was obviously very distressed by Esav’s choice of wives, her distress was less than that felt by Yishak.
When we consider the chronology of these events, a striking lesson emerges from this insight. Yishak was forty years old when he and Ribka married (25:20), and it was only twenty years later, when he was sixty, that their children, Yaakob and Esav, were born (25:26). Esav got married at the age of forty (26:34), and thus Ribka had been married for sixty years by the time Esav married. Imagine – she had been living with Yishak, a great Sadik, for sixty years, and yet she was still affected, if only infinitesimally, by the influences of her youth. Although she was strong enough to overcome these early influences and become a righteous woman, nevertheless, some effects still lingered. Even after sixty years, she did not completely rid herself of the impact caused by her exposure to idolatry.
This should serve as a stern warning to us, that we must exercise extreme care regarding what we choose to expose ourselves and our children to. It is simply incorrect to say that we won’t be affected, that we can read, see or hear whatever we like without being influenced. Even many years later, the media we expose ourselves to has an impact. None of us can claim that he is greater than Ribka Imenu. And if she was not impervious to the spiritually harmful effects of negative influences, then we are certainly vulnerable – and all the more so. It behooves each and every one of us to limit our exposure to hostile influences as much as possible, so we can continue growing and advancing in our spiritual development, and follow the example of greatness set for us by our righteous Abot and Imahot.