Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
Yitzchak loved Eisav, for there was game in his mouth. But Rivkah loved
Rashi offers two explanations of the "game" that won Yitzchak's affection.
One understanding is that Yitzchak was swayed by the fact that Eisav
attended to him - feeding him and taking care of other needs. The "game"
refers to the animals Eisav would hunt, cook up, and serve to his ailing
father. Rashi's other explanation is that Yitzchak was the game - Eisav
"hunted" him with his words. He would "pepper" his father with
questions of exceptional piety, such as: "How does one tithe salt and
straw (which require no tithing!)?" Yitzchak was pulled-in by Eisav's
That Yitzchak should be swayed by Eisav's loyal support, say mefarshim
(see Michtav Me'Eliyahu) is not a criticism of Yitzchak, but rather a
testimony to the power of shochad - bribery. The Torah forbids a dayan -
a Jewish judge - to receive payment from any of the parties that come to
him for adjudication, even if he's already made up his mind, and even if
he's sure he would never be swayed by such petty issues as a small
favour, financial or otherwise. "Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds
the eyes of the wise (Shemos/Exodus 23:8)." Indeed Yitzchak was
blinded, both physically and perceptually, by his dependence on Eisav.
Rashi's second explanation requires some examination. No doubt Eisav
was a sly and wily fellow, but how did Yitzchak not pick up on his
overdone piety? To say that Eisav knew how to "pour it on thick" just
doesn't explain how Yitzchak could be taken in by someone so insincere
and superficial. While I'm sure none of us consider ourselves on
Yitzchak's level of piety nor wisdom, I think we pride ourselves on the
ability to see through insincerity and artificiality; should we not expect
the same from Yitzchak?
In the future, the Holy One blessed is He will say to Avraham, "Your
children have sinned before Me." Avraham will answer, "Master of the
Universe, may they be blotted out in the sanctification of Your Name."
Hashem will say, "Let me tell Yaakov, who went through such difficulties
with his own children, perhaps he will arouse Heavenly mercy upon
them." "Yaakov, your children have sinned before Me." Yaakov will
respond, "Master of the Universe, may they be blotted out in the
sanctification of Your Name." Hashem will say, "The elderly [Avraham]
have no sense; the youth [Yaakov] have no wisdom." He will say to
Yitzchak, "Yitzchak, your children have sinned before me." Yitzchak will
answer, "Master of the Universe, are they my children and not Yours?
And furthermore..." (Shabbos 89b)
Yitzchak continues to argue with Hashem - that they should split the
responsibility for their wayward children, "And if not, I accept full
responsibility! Was I not prepared to offer my very life upon the Altar
before You." At that point in time, we will say to Yitzchak, "Yitzchak, you
are our father!"
Besides the fact that this Gemara seems to dispel the popular notion that
Yitzchak was the most unforgiving and harsh of the forefathers, it seems
almost unthinkable that Avraham and Yaakov would so easily consent to
our "blotting out [yi-machu, literally "may they be dissolved"]" without
putting up so much as even a perfunctory argument. When confronted
with the evil people of Sodom, Avraham prayed with all his might for
their salvation; are we not deserving of at least equal service?
At any rate, says R' Meir of Preimishlan zt"l (Divrei Meir), it was
Yitzchak, whose line, "Are they my children and not Yours?" saved the day. It
would seem that by Hashem's calling us, "Your children," He was trying,
so to speak, to disown us. Yitzchak, with his retort, wasn't letting the
Almighty off so easily. "They're yours just as much as they're mine." On
what did he base his argument?
Yitzchak, says R' Meir'l, argued the following: "Master of the Universe,
you are unhappy with the behaviour of the Children of Israel, and
rightfully so. You therefore seek to disown them, telling me, "Your
children have sinned. Avinu She-bashamayim, Father in Heaven, are they
worse than my son Eisav, whom I never ceased to love, even in the face
of his wickedness and obviously disingenuous "piety?" Though there was
little to love him for, a father never gives up on his child. No matter
how far he may stray, a father always leaves the door open, should his
son wish to return. Is Your love for Your children - the Jews - less than
my love for Eisav, that You so are so quickly ready to abandon them?"
It was this argument that forced Hashem's hand, so to speak, and He
acquiesced because of Yitzchak. This explains why the Jews responded
by saying to Yitzchak, "You are our father," for it was with your extreme
fatherly love that you succeeded in placating Hashem's anger. And this,
explains R' Meir, was the "game" in Yitzchak's mouth. Yitzchak loved Eisav,
for - in the future, there would be game in his - Yitzchak's, mouth - for it
would be based on this unconditional love for Eisav that Yitzchak would
win the "war of words" with Hashem.
Perhaps this offers us as well a deeper understanding into the above
Gemara. We find in the writings of the Prophets that the Almighty was
frustrated with our serving Him outwardly (action), while the inner
aspect of our service (i.e. thought/intent) was incomplete. "With his lips
he honours Me, but his heart is distant from Me (Yeshaya/Isaiah 29:13)."
Hashem came to Avraham with this complaint. Avraham's response was,
May they be dissolved in the sanctification of your name - like the sloppily
applied veneer, dissolve their mitzvos, removing the lacquer and polish,
the insincerity, and allow only the purest of thoughts and actions to
remain. Yaakov agreed. Yitzchak was the one who argued that even the
outward piety of the Jews shouldn't be shunned, for a father never shuns
the deeds of his child, even when they seem blatantly insincere. A father
sees his son in the most favourable light imaginable, and Yitzchak could
not bear that Hashem should "dissolve" everything but the purest of
deeds. "If I accepted Eisav's 'piety,' deceitful as it was, then how could
You not accept all of a Jew's deeds, both the great and the less-than-
optimum?" To this as well Hashem acquiesced.
It's not to say, mind you, that we should no longer work on davening and
performing mitzvos with all our hearts. But for the times that we try, and
our hearts just aren't there, it's good to know we've got someone
routing for us.
Have a good Shabbos.
This week's publication was sponsored in memory
of Pessel bas R' Bunim Dohan, by her son. May her
memory be a blessing.
Text Copyright © 2003 Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Torah.org