One of the strangest things about this parsha is the
special favor Yitzhak shows towards his elder son, Esav: "Yitzhak loved Esav...and
Rivka loved Yaakov." (25, 28) Yitzhak, we remember, plans to give Esav a special
blessing; overhearing him say this to Esav, Rivka intercedes on behalf of Yaakov, whom she
sees is more worthy, and tells him to dress up as his older brother and receive the
blessing in his stead. Why did Yitzhak love Esav so much, and what was his motive in
desiring to bless him? Did he not perceive Esav's true character, as his wife did?
In truth, the Torah contrasts the two brothers further back in time, long before their adolsescence. Before Yaakov and Esav even take their first breaths on earth, their basic tendencies are in place. Describing Rivka's unusually intense labor pains, the Torah says, "The children struggled [vayisrotzatzu] within her.." (25, 22) Noting the similarity of this term to the Hebrew word for running, "rahtz," the Midrash explains that the children were "running" in her womb: whenever Rivka would pass by the Torah academies of Shem and Ever, Yaakov would "run" to get out; when she passed houses of idol worship, Esav would "run" to get out. Though Esav--like every human being--certainly had free will, and was able to control his passions, it is clear, nonetheless, that he had a powerful attraction to evil.
So, again, how could Yitzhak, a sage and a prophet, have such love for Esav? Yaakov was the son who embodied the traditional Jewish values of sincerity, diligence, and gentleness! To say that Yitzhak was naive, or prematurely senile, or a slave to the tasty venison Esav would bring him seems unsatisfying. As Rav Avigdor Miller, shlita, likes to point out in his lectures, the Patriarchs were sharp as well as profound, wise in the ways of the world no less than in the ways of G-d; they could spot a scoundrel far quicker than we can. Surely, paternal love would not have blinded them to spiritual truth...particularly when it came to something as crucial as establishing the foundations of the Jewish people!
The Torah tells us that Yaakov loved Esav "...for game (or, hunting) [tzayid] was in his mouth." The simple meaning, as alluded to above, is that Esav would prepare delicious food for Yitzhak, thereby showing his filial love and devotion; Esav's game was always in Yitzhak's mouth. But Rashi quotes a deeper, midrashic explanation: Esav's "hunting" was in Esav's mouth--he "hunted" his father with his words, convincing Yitzhak that he was deeply religious by asking him about fine points of Torah law.
Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz, zt'l, in the book, Da'as Torah, explains that this was much more than a two-bit sham; Esav, at least in his younger years, truly thought of himself as deeply pious! The Torah, then, is revealing to us an unpleasant truth about Esav that he himself was not fully aware of: his devotion to G-d was "in his mouth" alone, and not in the depths of his heart. Yaakov, on the other hand, is referred to as ish tam--a simple, or wholesome man; Rashi explains that his heart and his mouth were in unison; there was no hypocrisy in his character. While Yaakov was wholehearted in his devotion to Hashem, Esav was divided--a tragically split personality. (Not exactly the mustache-twirling villain we might have imagined from Sunday school.)
Many commentators explain that despite the convincing front that Esav put up, Yitzhak was quite aware of his basic nature. Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, zt'l, one of the most profound of 20th century Torah thinkers, is particularly clear on this point. Yitzhak knew that Yaakov was a tzaddik [righteous person], a person utterly devoted to doing G-d's will. As for Esav, Yitzhak was aware of the evil in his soul, and he realized that Esav would have to struggle mightily to control, and sanctify, that dark part of his personality. This was precisely why Yitzhak lavished so much extra time and attention on him: Esav needed his guidance more than Yaakov! As a result, he came to love Esav more, for it is an axiom in the thought of Rav Dessler that true love is an outgrowth of giving selflessly to another. Because he gave so much of himself and his time to his elder son--the "problem child"--, he loved him especially.
Moreover, Yitzhak recognized himself in Esav, for Yitzhak's perfection in the service of G-d was based on the trait of gevura, of complete control of oneself--the same trait Esav would have to master in order to subdue his nature. (Avraham's service, on the other hand, rested primarily on the trait of chesed, lovingkindness.) This spiritual affinity between Yitzhak and Esav also brought them closer.
Now we can understand, writes Rabbi Dessler, why Yitzhak wanted to give Esav a special blessing: Esav needed extra "help from Heaven" in order to subdue his evil inclination and succeed spiritually, a boon that Yitzhak felt was unnecessary for Yaakov. Blessing Esav did not ever mean, however, supplanting Yaakov and his descendants as the bearers of the mission of Avraham. We see this clearly from the end of the parsha: as Yaakov prepares to leave home to find a wife--and escape the murderous intent of Esav--, Yitzhak bids him farewell: "May He [Hashem] grant you the blessing of Avraham, to you and your offspring with you, that you may possess the land of your sojourns which G-d gave to Avraham." (28, 4. Artscroll Chumash, p. 143) Yitzhak intended Yaakov to be the next Patriarch, not Esav. Esav, however, was more in need of Yitzhak's own blessing for heavenly aid.
According to Rav Dessler and others, Yitzhak did
misjudge the true extent of Esav's internal surrender to evil. The Talmud states that
besides committing murder and adultery, Esav ended up denying G-d and the eternity of the
soul: when Yaakov offered to buy the birthright for a
Many people think that the Torah wants us all to be carbon copies of Yaakov. "If I'm not a rabbi or a great scholar," a person might think, "I've failed." Or one may suppose that the practice of our faith is limited to the synagogue and the study hall. What a narrow and flawed view of Torah, and of what G-d wants! Here are the beautiful words of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, zt'l, in a provocative essay entitled, "Lessons From Jacob and Esau":
"The tasks set by the Abrahamite covenant for its adherents are as complex and variegated as life itself; they require the talents of every nuance in the multicolored spectrum of individual personalities and abilities. The basic task is the same for everyone, but it can be accomplished by each individual in the context of his own strengths and abilities, and of his own particular station in life. Any strength and ability that is utilized in the service of the universally binding Will of G-d has equal standing in the great household of G-d's Kingdom on earth...The Will of G-d can and must be done in field and forest, on the sea, in hovels and palaces, in workshops and at offices...in council chambers and at stock exchanges--everywhere and at all times with the same loyalty and devotion for the realization of G-d's Kingdom on earth." (Collected Writings: Volume VII, p. 325)
Hirsch goes on to argue that Yitzhak failed
pedagogically with Esav: he treated him too much like a Yaakov, failing to educate him
according to his nature. (Perhaps Rav Dessler would disagree.)
Rabbi Yosef Edelstein, Savannah Kollel. Phone: 355-0157; fax: 354-9923; e-mail address: Yosef18@aol.com
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