This sedra is arguably the most action-packed one of chumash Bereishis in terms of major points/questions. Yaakov ‘buys’ the birthright from his twin brother Esav (they are both born at the start of the sedra), and then pretends to be his twin brother Esav in tricking his blind father Yitzchak into giving Esav’s bracha to him. Yes, it’s the famous ‘brachos-gate’ scandal! As you can imagine, there are many questions which crop up almost automatically here, eg What is a bracha‘s power? How could Yaakov trick his father? What does the ‘birthright’ really mean? How can it be bought if it is a ‘genetic’ fact? But that’s all homework! There are some great answers out there for all of those questions (and please let me know if any particularly appealing/interesting answers come your way.) What we shall be focussing upon is one particular perspective throughout this entire episode; that of Yitzchak avinu…

Let’s ask the question ‘what was Yitzchak thinking in wanting to give the bracha to Esav?’ The traditional answer to this question is that Yitzchak did not know the truth about his son Esav; he thought that Esav was a pious character, and thus thought Esav to be more fitting of the bracha than Yaakov. In fact, we are certainly told that Esav’s kibud av was impeccable, and that he tried to trick his father into believing that he was righteous by asking him intricate halachic questions regarding maaser on salt and straw (Rashi 25;27). However, upon closer inspection, this answer is not as watertight as it seems…(most of the following is based on something I read several years ago in the sefer ‘lekach tov’)
We are told that Esav was a hunter, whilst Yaakov spent his time learning Torah (25; 27). Did Yitzchak really not know what his sons did with their time in preferring to give the bracha to Esav? Moreover, the psukim clearly say that both Rivkah and Yitzchak were distressed at Esav’s choice of wives; he married two idol-worshippers (Rashi 26;35). The third challenge to the premise that Yitzhak did not know Esav’s real character is the fact that Rashi (26;34) tells us that for 40 years Esav would take wives from their husbands; could Esav really do this for so long without news trickling back to his parents? And if the reason that Rivkah liked Yaakov over Esav was because she knew the truth about Esav, then why did she not tell her husband? Furthermore, when Yaakov, dressed up as Esav, comes to Yitzchak for the bracha, Yitzchak tells him to ‘come near so I can feel you.’ Rashi comments (27; 21) that which prompted Yitzchak’s suspicions was the fact that Yaakov (masquerading as Esav) had mentioned the name of HaShem, and Esav would rarely mention the name of HaShem. Lastly, perhaps the ‘nail in the coffin’ is that we must remember who Yitzchak was; he was the one to continue and solidify Avraham’s legacy to the world, and the only of the Avos not to venture out of the land of Israel [when he nearly does go to Egypt because of famine, HaShem stops him (26;3).] He also found HaShem in his own way (that’s why we say ‘Elokei Avraham, Elokei Yitzchak…’ as opposed to just Elokei Avraham v’Yitzchak in our amidah; R’ Pinkus), and HaShem spoke to him. Is it really fitting that a man of such spiritual greatness completely miscalculates his son’s character?

Taking all of these points into consideration, another answer has been given as to why Yitzchak wanted to give Esav the bracha…

Yitzchak knew full well that Esav was more connected to the world of physicality & materialism, whilst Yaakov was more connected to the world of spirituality. He knew that Esav spent his day hunting, whilst Yaakov was learning, and realised exactly what Esav was like. However, Yitzchak’s idea was that Yaakov and Esav (and indeed their descendants) would be able to work together as a partnership; Esav would provide the physical and material needs, whilst Yaakov would thus be able to focus upon spiritual endeavours. Consequently, Esav’s physical toil would be uplifted (for it would be used for spiritual ends in aiding Yaakov), with Yaakov’s spiritual toil also being uplifted, for he would have more time and effort to focus upon it, and Yaakov would ultimately be able to influence Esav to act lesheim shamayaim. Yitzchak saw this potential for Esav’s physical endeavours to be uplifted to spiritual goals from the very fact that Esav would bring home his hunting spoils to his father in fulfilling the mitzvah of kibud av. Moreover, this is also hinted at in the very questions that Esav would ask his father Yitzchak; he would ask him about taking maaser from salt and straw - the idea here is the using of the raw materials of the physical world (straw and salt) to a spiritual purpose/task (maaser) (R Tatz).

However, Rivkah had already received a prophecy that the two children would head two separate nations who would be completely antithetical to each other; when one would be on the ascendancy, the other would fall and visa versa (Rashi 25;23). Thus, she knew that there was no chance of the ideal partnership that Yitzchak was vying to achieve, and told Yaakov to make sure that he received the bracha.
And the rest, as they say, is history…!


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