Following are some of the ideas, insights and interpretations that emerge from our weekly Chumash learning group at the Young Israel of Oceanside, Long Island. We cite sources when possible. Some of our interpretations derive from ideas we may have seen elsewhere, possibly without attribution. Or we may simply have forgotten the source. For this we apologize. We invite your comments, observations and participation.
Birth of Yaakov and Eisav…Yaakov buys the Birthright from Eisav…Yitzchak’s Life: moves to Gerar because of famine; prospers in agriculture; first evicted by Avimelech, king of Philistines and his envious nation and then, at Avimelech’s insistence , swears an oath of non-aggression with him; is embittered by Eisav’s marriage to two Hittite women; blesses his sons; instructs Yaakov to travel to marry a women from Rivkah’s family in Padan Aram; blesses Yaakov with the Avraham promise of a Nation and a Land ; witnesses his son Eisav’s additional marriage to Machalas, daughter of Ishmael and granddaughter of Avraham.
Lessons in Parenting
Yitzchak prays repeatedly to Hashem in one corner of the room (opposite his wife) for Rivkah to conceive after twenty years of a barren marriage. It appears that they are not pleading together as one but as two individuals opposite one another. Rivkah conceives and goes to inquire of Hashem why she is experiencing the pains of what appears to be a struggle between the twin fetuses in her womb. She is told that she will give birth to individuals who will head nations that struggle with each other for domination and leadership—information that she seemingly does not share with her husband, Yitzchak. Eisav, born first , grows to be a hunter .Yaakov, who at the time of his birth seems to grabbing at his brother’s heel to pull him back, is described as Ish Tam (honesty, simple, unassuming) becomes a tent dweller (as a shepherd or as a student in Yeshiva). Yaakov favors Eisav and Rivkah favors Yaakov.
Lack of unity and parental favoritism breed an environment of intense sibling rivalry and potential fratricide. Psychologist Henry Kagan, cited by Rabbi Gunter Plaut, notes that each of the twins was half loved. Yaakov grows up filled with fear because he is insufficiently loved by a feminine father. Eisav, who is insufficiently loved by his masculine mother, grows up filled with hate. It took the “therapy” of life’s hardships for the brothers to mature enough to ultimately reconcile and respect one another.
Yitzchak blesses his sons
“When Yitzchak was old and his eyes were too dim to see” he calls his older son Eisav to hunt some game, prepare it into a tasty dish and serve it to him so that he may give him a special blessing before he dies. According to some, Yitzchak’s sight related to old age. Others think that “too dim to see” means his judgment was impaired with aging. A Midrash attributes his weakened sight to the tears of the angels that fell during the Akeda. To me this means that the trauma of the Akeda affected his sight and/or his judgment (insight regarding who the deserving son was).
Rivkah , who has been eavesdropping, instructs Yaakov to bring two choice kids from the flock that she will prepare for him to bring to his father so that he , and not Eisav,will receive the blessing. A reluctant Yaakov notes that, unlike his hairy brother, he is smooth skinned and fears “oouliey yemushanui avi— if my father touches me I will appear like a trickster and bring upon myself a curse, not a blessing”.
Rabbi Jacob Mecklenburg (German scholar,1785-1865), in his Haketav Vehakabbalah (cited by Nechama Leibowitz) points out how the words and the text point to Yaakov’s reluctance to be a deceiver. Yaakov says oouliey rather than pen. The latter implies that the speaker does not want the event to occur, whereas the former suggests that speaker hopes that the event does happen. Yaakov wants to be found out! His mother Rivkah accepts responsibility and he “went, took and brought” reluctantly carrying out his mother’s request without much enthusiasm. The Midrash adds that he went ”with duress, bent and weeping”.
When Yaakov arrives, his father Yitzchak asks “which of my sons are you?” to which Yaakov responds “I am Eisav your first born…please sit up and eat”. Yitzchak draws Yaakov near and exclaims :”Hakol Kol Yaakov v’hayadayim yeday Eisav—the voice is the voice of Yaakov but the hands are the hands of Eisav”. Yaakov blesses his son with material rewards (V’yetain Lecha Haelokim Meetaal Hashamayim…).No sooner had Yaakov left then Eisav arrives and orders his father to sit up and eat. Yaakov is seized with a violent trembling when he realizes that it was Yaakov who he blessed earlier. Eisav bursts into a wild, bitter sobbing and pleads to also receive a blessing. Yitzchak hesitates but ultimately blesses him with enjoying the fat of the earth and the dew of the heavens above—but predicts that he and his offspring will struggle to remove the yoke of servitude under his brother and his offspring.
When Rivkah learns that Eisav plans to murder Yaakov she urges Yaakov to flee. At Rivkah’s instruction, Yitzchak sends Yaakov to her family in Padan Aram to find a wife. Yitzchak prays that G-D grant him and his descendents the blessings to possess the land that He gave to Avraham.
Why did Yitzchak insist on blessing Eisav?
Yitzchak favored Eisav, and affection distorts one’s judgment. He experienced a kind of spiritual blindness (according to Abravanel) that prevented him from perceiving reality. The previously-quoted Midrash also offers another explanation : at the Akedah, Yitzchak glanced on high and saw the Divine Presence. One who has gotten so close to the Truthful G-D is no longer capable of understanding falsehood.
Hayyim Ibn Attar (Moroccan Kabbalist,1696-1743) in his Torah commentary, Or Hachayyim, opines that Yitzchak wanted to bless Eisav because of his weakness and misconduct, hoping that blessings of bounty would influence Eisav to mend his ways.
Rabbi Menachem Leibtag’s approach focuses on the centrality of the Bechira process--G-D’s designation of Avraham and his offspring to become His special nation--in the Book of Bereshit. Since Yaakov and Eisav are born from the same mother, Yitzchak assumes that BOTH would be receive the Divine promise of Land and offspring.
Bechira stands in contrast to Bracha, a father’s personal blessing to each son based on his individual potential. G-D establishes Bechira; a father bestows Bracha. Yaakov’s intention is to bestow a Bracha to Eisav of prosperity and leadership since Eisav is the family man with children who has a job and takes care of others , in contrast to Yaakov who is single and living at home. It is assumed that Yitzchak would also bless Yaakov with prosperity and spiritual leadership at a later time.
Rivkah intervenes because she knows from inquiries during her difficult pregnancy that “There are two nations in your womb and two separate peoples shall issue from your body…and the older shall serve the younger”. But she never shared this knowledge with Yitzchak. Therefore, Yitzchak assumes that both sons are part of the Bechira, while Rivkah knows that it only will be Yaakov.
Rivkah has a serious dilemma and only limited time to act. Fearful that Yitzchak intends to give the Avrahamic blessing to the wrong son, she resorts to trickery to ensure that it is the younger brother, Yaakov, who (correctly) receives it. When the real Eisav arrives, Yitzchak realizes his mistake and, recognizing that Eisav is not suitable to receive the spiritual leadership blessing he saved for Yaakov, instead grants him a different Bracha of prosperity. Because the blessing of political leadership was already mistakenly given to Yaakov, Yitzchak tells Eisav that he can become the leader only in the event that Yaakov’s leadership falters.
Rabbi Leibtag assumes that at some point Rivkah explains to Yitzchak the reason for her behavior and Yitzchak then realizes that it is only one son, Yaakov, who is part of the Bechira process. Therefore, when Yaakov leaves for Padan Aram, Yitzchak prays that G-D grant him the blessings promised to Avraham of a special Nation inheriting a special Land.
Was Yitzchak really deceived?
Rabbi Plaut suggests that on some (unconscious) level Yitzchak was aware of Yaakov’s identity but pretends to be deceived. He wants to be deceived because in his heart he knows that his favorite son Eisav lacks the ability and character to carry on the destiny of Avraham. Being weak and indecisive, he does not have the courage to face his son with the truth. It is only after the confrontation with Eisav --with the father trembling and the son weeping bitterly--that Yitzchak summons up the courage to face Yaakov and grant him the blessings promised to Avraham.
Rabbi H. L. Berenholz
Last edit: 8 years 4 months ago by Heshy Berenholz.