In this week’s parsha, we have the infamous deception of Yitzchak by Yaakov for the coveted brucha. It’s a particularly troubling passage as it paints (without proper interpretation) our forefather in a pretty negative light. How could a son dressing up as his brother, lying to his father, and taking something specifically meant for another, possibly be just and righteous?
To understand how Yaakov could do such a thing, it’s important to understand who he was, who his brother Esav was, and what their father envisioned for the both them.
A Tale of Two Brothers
From the beginning Yaakov and Esav fought with one another. And when I say the beginning, I mean before they were born. There is a Midrash which says that while in the womb they were fighting “over the inheritance of the two worlds.” This world (olam hazeh) and the world to come (olam haba). Esav was a man of this world, into the physical; trapping, slaughtering, women, food, etc. Yaakov on the other hand was much more connected to the spiritual; learning Torah, prayer, and building altars. It was clear that Yaakov was committed to the Jewish mission while Esav had fallen off the derech (gone off the path).
Just so we’re clear, the blessing (or brucha) isn’t just some nice words you say before drinking a l’chiam. When a person gets a brucha from someone as exalted as Yitzchak Avinu, it’s real power. It can completely change their destiny.
And may the Lord give you of the dew of the heavens and [of] the fatness of the earth and an abundance of grain and wine. Nations shall serve you and kingdoms shall bow down to you; you shall be a master over your brothers, and your mother’s sons shall bow down to you. Those who curse you shall be cursed, and those who bless you shall be blessed. (Bereishis 27: 28-29)
Yizchak is about about to give Esav the keys to the kingdom. So if this distinction was so apparent between the brothers, why would Yitzchak favor Esav with the blessing?
The Partnership that was Meant to Be
One of the things that is unique about Judaism is that we’re not supposed to divorce ourselves from society and pray on a mountain all day. Judaism is a balance between this world and the spiritual. But originally that wasn’t the plan. It was to be a partnership between those who engage in the world and those who engage in the spiritual. That’s how Esav and Yaakov were designed to inherit the Jewish mission. It would be Esav’s job to fortify and protect the physical world with judgement and enforcement of justice, making a safe space for Yaakov to bring spiritual enlightenment and fulfillment to the world from on high.
Yitzchak knew of the problems with Esav, but hoped that giving him the brucha would set him straight. Rivka on the other hand had a stronger level of prophesy and knew that giving Esav the brucha would spell disaster. Let that be a lesson to you, when it comes to dealing with people, always listen to the wife.
So now that Yaakov had received the brucha, he had a whole new set of responsibilities he wasn’t really prepared for. He’d have to work the fields for 14 years under his uncle, he’d have to prepare for war against his brother, and he’d have to raise 12 sons while he should have only had to raise 6.
This is what we all face. There is a feeling, in the deepest depths of our hearts, our souls, and our psyche, that knows our world isn’t how it is supposed to be. Whether it’s at work, where we’re ask to do something outside our job description, or at home where the connections in our lives are misfiring and we just can’t find the right words that are needed to mend the relationships. And with the world at large, we see a divide in the Jewish people and we can’t fathom how our Jewish brothers and sisters have a view point about some issue that seems so antithetical to what it means to be Jewish. It’s because the world isn’t supposed to be this way. Starting from when Adam and Eve ate from the Tree, human history has gone off course and what is right and wrong became confused.
Cain killed Abel, Ishmael plotted against Yitzchak, and Esav failed in his commitment to the mission. Yaakov will raise his 12 sons and pick up the slack for Esav, but it will be at a far more daunting price than he ever could have imagined. So now, like Yaakov, we are left to grow beyond our natural gifts. We must venture outside of our comfort zones and we must reach out to everyone in an effort to supplement where we individually fall short. Because we can’t fix this world alone. We are the Jewish people and we need one another. But as the children of Yaakov (who next week will be renamed Israel) we are capable of it just as our forefather was.