One of the more puzzling episodes in Sefer Bereishit appears in this week’s parasha, Toldot, where we learn of the relationship between Yitzchak our forefather and his twin son’s Eisav and Yaakov.
The parasha opens up with Yitzchak and his wife Rivka praying for a child and Hashem answering their prayer with the conception of twins. Rivka is troubled however with intense abdominal pains and goes to enquire of Hashem as to what is happening inside her. She goes to Shem, the son of Noach, who was still alive at the time and he prophetically tells her the following:
“There are two nations in your womb, and two regimes who from your innards they will separate . . . .”
Who are these two nations? The Jewish People who will descend from Yaakov and the Nation of Edom who will descend from Eisav. What was the pain she was feeling? Rashi explains that when Rivka would pass a house of Torah learning, Yaakov would push to get out and when she passed a house of Idol worship, Eisav pressured to escape the womb (Rashi 25:22). Idol worship represents the deification and glorification of the material world in place of the hidden world of spirituality. This internal struggle in Rivka’s womb was thus the precursor of a cosmic battle that would be fought throughout history: The battle for supremacy of the material vs the spirit, of good vs evil. The battle of Eisav vs Yaakov.
Rashi also explains that the meaning of the words above “from your innards they will separate” is that they are already separating from the womb – this one towards righteousness and this one towards evil.
Eisav grows up and is described as a hunter, a man of the field. In fact, Eisav’s ‘field’ activities involved the ‘hunting’ of defenseless people ending in regular immorality and murder (Gemara Bava Batra 16b and the Midrash). Yaakov on the other hand spends his time focusing on the spiritual.
We thus find twin youths, focusing their energy and efforts in the areas to which their predispositions lead them – one to holiness and the other to evil. It is thus surprising that in the very next verse, after the Torah has told us that Eisav is a ‘hunter, a man of the field’, it goes out of the way to inform us of the split in how the parents felt about their children: And Yitzchak loved Eisav, for he was Tzayid BePiv and Rivka loved Yaakov”
Firstly, why tell us of the feelings of the parents towards their children and secondly, what does the verse mean to tell us that Yitzchak loved Eisav, after all, as innumerous sources express, Eisav was the evil one! Fast forwarding into the parasha, we find the famous episode of the blessings. Yitzchak is planning on giving the blessing to Eisav, and Yaakov, at the advice and orchestration of his mother, dresses up as Eisav and ‘ steals’ the blessing from him. How could Yitzchak have been so blind to Eisav’s nature? Surely he was aware of his own son’s negative ways. Why was he so intent on giving the blessing to Eisav over Yaakov. Finally, if Rivka was fully aware of Eisav’s negative ways, why did she not express this to her husband as did Sarah about Yishmael, where Hashem said to Avraham – Listen to your wife , she is right! Why did Rivka need to go behind Yitzchak’s back?
The answer begins with the understanding of the words “Tzayid BePiv”. The literal translation of these words is “ he entrapped him with his mouth”. Most commentaries focus the entrapping on Eisav, explaining that Yitzchak loved Eisav despite his evil because Eisav cleverly tricked Yitzchak, entrapping him so to speak through a smart tongue, making out as if he was really on the right path when in fact he was wicked.
However, to think that Yitzchak was blissfully unaware of Eisav’s faults is quite strange. After all, Yitzchak was a prophet, a forefather of the Jewish people, a man of indescribable spiritual stature. There are people today in the world, great Rabbis, who can look at a person’s face, read the glow of the soul that appears there and describe details about the person’s strengths and weaknesses even without ever having met the person before. ( I have witnessed this with my own eyes!). Surely then Yitzchak could see through Eisav’s façade? The Zohar asks this very question and states that Yitzchak was not able to see the essence of Eisav in order that the blessings should go to Yaakov without his knowledge. This is very strange, why did it have to be this way?
There is an approach to understanding Yitzchak’s awareness of Eisav’s true nature which is brought in a sefer called Siftei Cohen on the Torah and can shed a great light on this entire parasha. He writes that perhaps the entrapping of the mouth was in fact being done by Yitzchak! Yitchak was well aware of Eisav’s evil tendencies, and precisely because of this he showed greater love, affection and care to Eisav, he spoke to him gently all in an effort to bring him closer, and draw him back to the path of righteousness. This is a phenomenal idea. Firstly, the verse in Proverbs famously teaches: “ Chanoch LeNaar Al Pi Darko” – “ Educate/raise the child according to his way (his unique personal makeup)”. As such, the Jewish approach to education should always be cognizant of the unique individuality of the student at hand. A ‘one size fits all’ approach is only going to squash many children into a mold that they don’t fit into. Perhaps Yitzchak, fully aware of Eisav’s ‘red’ fiery nature, was doing his very best to channel that nature in a positive direction. Indeed we find that the Gemara speaks of a child born with certain “bloody” tendencies who should channel them towards being a Mohel or a shochet rather than a something less constructive or damaging.
This answer may deal with the ‘love’ Yitzchak had for Eisav, ie an active love, but it does not deal with Yitzchak’s clear determination to give the blessings to Eisav. Why did he not realise, like his wife did, that the Jewish people through Yaakov were the nation destined for the Divine blessing?
Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler in his Michtav MeEliyahu ( Vol. 2) asks this question and develops a most wonderful answer. Each of the forefathers are known to have personified and excelled in a different characteristic of G-dliness. Avraham was the Chesed ( Kindness and Giving beyond the calls of Justice) personality while Yitzchak was a spiritual giant who personified the characteristic of Din, Gevura – strict justice. That being so, when it came to giving brachot, a blessing to his sons, he would only give the blessing that the child deserved and needed. Yaakov being the tzadik that he was did not need nor deserve the Divine assistance that comes through a blessing. The characteristic of strict justice dictates that you only get what you deserve and what you need, nothing more. Yaakov and his descendants would be able to succeed based on his own merit, even if through great struggles, and was in no need of external aids. Eisav on the other hand, having the negativity that he had was certainly in need of the Divine assistance, the external aid of a blessing to get him back on track. Yitzchak was therefore determined that the ultimate blessing should go to Eisav.
Indeed, when Yaakov, dressed as Eisav, approaches the older blind Yitzchak for the blessing, Yitzchak can sense something strange. The ‘voice is the voice of Yaakov but the hands are those of Eisav’. At this point, the Midrash explains that when Yitzchak smells the scent of the clothes Yaakov is wearing, he has a vision of two men, Yosef Meshisa and Yakom Ish Tzrodot, two future descendants who will go so far astray that they will be involved with unspeakable acts of immortality, nevertheless, they will return and repent and come back to the path of righteousness. As soon as Yitzchak sees this vision, his doubts over who is actually standing before him ( Yaakov or Eisav) are removed, and he gives the blessing. He is sure that it must be Eisav, afterall , Eisav is the one who needs the Divine assistance as we mentioned, to help him and his descendents get back on track, and this vision just proves it.
However Yitzchak was wrong. He was wrong in thinking he could bring an Eisav back on track. Rivka knew all along that this child was evil from start. Such a thing is hard to imagine in a young child, and indeed, Eisav’s evil was only really revealed once he grew up. But Rivka was privy to Divine information. She had been told that already from “her innards they would separate” , meaning, Eisav was evil already from birth.
When it comes to education and growth, as mentioned, one needs to look to the child, the student, to ourselves and be able to clarify what negative attributes are able to be directed for good and which need to be removed altogether. The mitzvah of brit milah teaches us that there are some aspects to our character which are not able to be channeled for good, but need to be severed to allow for our true potential to shine. While Yitzchak’s intentions were on track, he was held back from knowing that Eisav was not just a struggling child, but the DNA of hatred and evil against the Jewish people. He is the precursor for all the anti-semites in each generation.
Rivka knew that Yaakov, while a pure tzadik, would have descendants who would not always stick to the straight and narrow path of good. The Jewish people to come needed the bracha that would give them the ability, the Divine help to lift themselves up from the lowest of places. But Yitzchak would only give such a bracha to an Eisav whom he thought needed it. Thus the trickery of the disguise ensured that Yaakov would receive the bracha that the Jewish people needed. For all future generations ,the Jewish people would have the uncanny ability to rise up from the darkest places, the spiritual and physical lows, and thus remain the indestructible Eternal people.
Have a beautiful Shabbat,