The Wayward Child
The troubling question that has persisted throughout the ages of biblical
commentary on this week’s parsha is: What is Yitzchak thinking in regard to
giving the blessings and heritage of Avraham to Eisav? Basically the
comments and explanations fall into two categories. One of them is that
Yitzchak is fooled by Eisav and is really unaware of his true nature and
Rashi, quoting Midrash, interprets that Eisav “hunted“ his father with his
pious speech and cunning conversation. Yitzchak is fooled by Eisav and
believes that Eisav, the man of the world and the physically powerful figure
is better suited to carry on Avraham’s vision than is Yaakov, the more
studious and apparently more simple of the brothers.
The other opinion, more popular among the later commentators to the Torah,
is that Yitzchak is aware of the shortcomings of behavior and attitude of
his elder son. His desire to give the blessings to Eisav is due to his wish
to redeem and save his son, and to enable Eisav to turn his life around and
become a worthy heir to the traditions of his father and grandfather. He
thinks that by somehow giving the blessings to Eisav, Yaakov will not really
suffer any disadvantage in his life’s work, while Eisav will find his way
back to holiness through the blessings that he has now received.
These two divergent attitudes towards the wayward child in Jewish families
is one that is enacted daily in Jewish family life. Later Yitzchaks either
willfully allow themselves to be deluded regarding the behavior and
lifestyle of children or they are aware of the problem and attempt to solve
it with a giving nature and a plethora of blessings.
Rivkah, Eisav’s mother, is not fooled by her son’s apparently soothing words
nor does she believe that granting him blessings will somehow accomplish any
major shift in his chosen lifestyle. To a great measure she adopts a policy
of triage, saving Yaakov and blessing him while thus abandoning Eisav to his
own chosen wanton ways.
The Torah does not record for us the “what if” scenario – what if Eisav had
received the blessings would he then have been different in behavior and
attitude, belief and mission. However, from the words of the later prophets
of Israel, especially those of Ovadiah, it appears to be clear that God
somehow concurred with Rivkah’s policy and holds Eisav to be redeemable only
in the very long run of history and human events.
The verdict seems to be that one must be clear eyed and realistic about the
painful waywardness and misbehavior of enemies of Yaakov, be they from
within or without our immediate family and milieu. There are many painful
choices that need to be made within one’s lifetime and especially in family
There are few pat answers to varying and difficult situations. Perhaps that
is why the Torah itself does not delve too deeply into the motives of
Yitzchak and Rivkah but is content merely to reflect the different emotional
relationships each had with their two very different sons. The Torah
emphasizes the role that human emotions play in our lives and does not
consign all matters to rational thought and decision-making.
Rabbi Berel Wein