Rabbi Chaim Dovid Green
"You appropriately called his name Yaakov, and he tricked me ("Yaakov"ed)
This week's parsha is probably a major contributor to the centuries-old
distrust of Jews. The story of Yaakov tricking his father Yitzchok into
thinking that he was his brother Eisov, and receiving Eisov's blessings is
a puzzling story to understand. It has led many people to as many
conclusions, with the common denominator being that the Jew is
intrinsically dishonest, and worthy of scrutiny and suspicion. A careful
study of the verses sheds a different light on this topic, and reveals the
level of superficiality and anti-Jewish bias which went into arriving at
that ridiculous conclusion.
Yitzchok beckons from his older son Eisov that he go out to the wild and
hunt for tasty game to serve him before he bestows his sacred blessing.
Rivka overhears the conversation and begs Yaakov, Eisov's younger twin
brother to go as an imposter and receive the blessings first. Yaakov
reluctantly agrees, and allows his mother to prepare foods and dress him up
to go into his father posing as Eisov. After verifying that this person
bringing his food is indeed "Eisov," Yitzchok bestows the sacred blessing
on Yaakov only moments before the real Eisov enters.
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (19th cent. Frankfurt) begins his explanation
saying that as always, we accept the words of our Talmudic sages in
understanding this topic. We neither need nor want to be apologetic about
the events recorded here. We use the explanations in order to understand
the background of this event, and attitudes and lessons we can glean from
it. We are talking among ourselves about our Torah, and those who wish to
listen in and learn are welcome to do so. No apologies are being offered.
Rabbi Hirsch examines what Rivka thought she would gain by sending Yaakov
in as an imposter. It was clear from the outset that Yaakov would not be
able to hide what he did for long. Eisov was scheduled to return and there
was no way to keep Yaakov's actions a secret. If this was a blessing that
G-d was to bestow by Yitzchok's wish, how could Rivka expect G-d to agree
to bless someone receiving the blessing in this fashion? A blessing is not
unconditional. How could the blessing of Avraham, which was passed through
Yitzchok, fall on the head of a dishonest imposter? Alternatively, if this
blessing bestows some kind of legal preference to its recipient, then how
could Rivka expect the legal status to be binding under these
circumstances? The blessing will have been given under false pretences, and
as such, can be rescinded.
Rabbi Hirsch explains, based on the words of the sages, that Rivka had very
different intentions. In short she wanted to prove to Yitzchok once and for
all that he was very mistaken about who should be receiving this blessing.
In this she succeeded. If Yaakov, a person unlearned in the ways of the
world, could so easily trick Yitzchok into thinking that he is Eisov, than
how easily could Eisov, a cunning hunter, trick him into thinking that he
is a Yaakov - honest, straight, and sincere? This explanation is proven by
the words Yitzchok himself says in his conversation with Eisov, after the
revelation that he had been tricked. "...he shall even be blessed!"
Yitzchok does not rescind Yaakov's blessing; on the contrary, he even
What was the dispute between Yitzchok and Rivka? Rabbi Hirsch explains that
two elements were represented by Yaakov and Eisov. In Eisov - material
power. In Yaakov - spiritual power. Both factors are necessary for the
prosperity of the nation-to-be. Yitzchok could have believed that the
Abrahamitic calling was to be carried on by both Eisov and Yaakov in
brotherly unison, each one complementing the other. Consequently, he
intended to give Eisov a blessing of material content, and a spiritual one
Rivka, on the other hand, knew from Lavan, her brother, and her own
upbringing, the failure of such a division. The material can blossom to
blessing and true happiness only in a home guided by the spirit. She
recognized the curse that arises out of materialism devoid of spirit. Rivka
envisioned Yaakov at the helm with both of these forces in his hands, and
the dictates of the spirit as the guide.
When Yitzchok was forced to come to terms with how short Eisov had fallen
in terms of living up to his aspirations for his progeny, and according to
the Midrash, when he found out that Eisov had rejected and forfeited his
lofty destiny by selling his birthright to Yaakov, he was more than
convinced that Rivka was right. Then and there he validated Yaakov's
blessings, and recognized Yaakov as the sole spiritual inheritor of the
blessings and the calling of Avraham.
It is true that it is forbidden to compromise the laws of the Torah even at
the behest of a parent whom the Torah dictates that we must honor, but
Yaakov saw in his mother's demand for complete obeisance prophetic wisdom
which transcends even that rule. There are times when prophetically stated,
the rules can be set aside for a greater purpose - albeit only temporarily.
Yaakov's actions in this case were in direct conflict with his true essence
- a complete abhorrence for falsehood, cheating, and dishonesty. This is
why the same scriptures which relate this story to us call Yaakov by the
name Yeshurun which means "straight" and completely honest.
As Jews, we need to be closely in touch with this spiritual heritage of
honesty. We need to be its emissaries. We need to constantly be aware that
we are the ones who make or break our forefather Yaakov's image in the
world. Our actions directly effect peoples acceptance or rejection of the
lies which have been perpetuated about Yaakov and his progeny. We must take
this responsibility seriously, and we should be proud and overjoyed that we
are fortunate to be the ones to do so.
Text Copyright © 2001 Rabbi Dovid Green and
Project Genesis, Inc.