Parshat HaShavua Toldot
By: Rabbi Nissim Mordechai Makor
Parshat hashavua toldot in a nutshell: Jacob and Esau are born. Rebecca and Jacob successfully deceive Isaac, tricking him into giving Jacob the birthright intended for Esau - the blessings.
Parshat HaShavua Toldot: Each of the Patriarchs maintained a yeshiva in which he taught about the existence of Hashem and His will. Abraham’s academy had hundreds if not thousands of students and Yitzchak had one. His lone student was Yaakov whom he trained and appointed to teach others. This provides a clue to the way in which Yitzchak’s role contrasted from that of Abraham. Abraham could accept everyone into his circle, Yitzchak could not.
The Torah devotes much less space to Yitzchak’s life than to the lives of Abraham and Yaakov. On the one hand, Yitzchak seems to be but a bridge between his father and his son; on the other hand, he had the task of drawing the line between good and evil as represented by Yaakov and Esau, because the emerging nation of Israel could not be a mixture of good and evil. In contrast to Abraham whose primary characteristic was chesed, kindness, Yitzchak’s was gevurah, [strength].
One requires strength to differentiate between good and evil and then to purge the bad and nurture the good. Yitzchak and Rivka produced two sons, one became the personification of righteousness and the other the personification of wickedness, and it was the lot of the parents to make the distinction so that the nation of Israel would be pure.
One might think that Yitzchak discarded Abraham’s way in favor of his own. However, the Torah stresses at the very beginning of this week’s Torah portion that Yitzchak was the son of Abraham, Abraham was the father of Yitzchak. In the Jewish scheme of life, kindness and strength must go together. Kindness not tempered by strength can lead to self-indulgence and pleasure-seeking, strength without kindness can lead to selfishness and cruelty.
The Lakutei Halacha explains the verse 27:12:
Perhaps my father will feel me and I will bring upon myself a curse rather than a blessing. “My father” is Yitzchak, the attribute of judgment. Jacob was worthy of receiving the blessings, but because he had to obtain them in a stealthy manner, he was afraid that the attribute of judgment might “feel” him and detect a minor flaw that would make him unworthy. Rifka, who represents prayer, assured Yaakov that with prayer, one overcomes even the strictest judgment. Thus, she was willing to accept upon herself any curse that Yitzchak might pronounce.
Rashi explains verse 27:19 telling us that when Yaakov entered Yitzchak’s presence an aroma from the
Garden of Eden accompanied him. When Esau entered a whiff of Gehinnom accompanied him. The Likutei Halachot tells us that this happened specifically when they brought food to Yitzchak. Yaakov’s intention in serving the food highlighted the spirituality of the food; therefore the Garden of Eden was present in his work. Esau’s preparation highlighted the material properties of the food; therefore Gehinnom could be sensed in it.
Later, it is written, “The voice is the voice of Yaakov, but the hands are the hands of Esau”. The “voice” represents the spiritual; the hands the material. This explains why kosher wine is rendered non-kosher when a non-Jew touches it. “Esau’s hands” lower the wine from a spiritual realm to a material one and bring with it the sufferings of the alcoholic.
Of the greatest questions that is asked is about when Yaakov came to his father Yitzchak and was asked “who are you, my son?” Yaakov then replied, “It is I, Esau, your first born.” The Me’am Loez masterfully explains that when Yaakov said, “it is I who am bringing you this good food. Your other son Esau, however is your firstborn.” The following paragraphs will explain that the actions of Yaakov were correct in saying what he said and doing what he did in receiving the blessings of Yitzchak.
Although Yitzchak misunderstood him and assumed that Esau was speaking, this is not a case of malicious deception, since Yaakov planned eventually to reveal the truth. Meanwhile, Yaakov was careful to word his reply so that it was not actually an untruth. Furthermore, since Esau had sold Yaakov the birthright, it was proper for Yaakov to say, “it is I [in place of Esau] your first born.” This if Yaakov had said, “It is I Esau,” it would have been a lie. But in wording his reply, “It is I Esau your firstborn,” Yaakov was actually speaking the truth.
The Ohr Chayaim HaKodesh quotes the verse “I am Esau your firstborn.” Yaakov meant that seeing he had purchased the birthright from Esau, he was now the legal Esau. He added “I have done in accordance with what you have said to me.” meaning that the reason you told Esau to hunt game, was because you assumed that he was your firstborn.
In explaining verse 27:23 where [Yitzchak] did not recognize him since his hands were like those of Esau.
Yitzchak rejected the doubt created by Yaakov’s voice since a person can change his voice or the listener may mistake a voice for that of someone else, whereas he cannot change the hairs on his hands, a very distinctive mark of identification.
Yitzchak blessed him – Before Yitzchak touched Yaakov and established that he was Esau, nothing had contradicted his first impression that it was Yaakov’s voice he heard and that therefore he was faced by a swindler. Yitzchak had begun to think along the lines Yaakov had been afraid of, i.e. that the swindler deserved to be cursed. Even though Yitzchak had not yet thought that far, he did begin to hate the person whom he thought was trying to swindle him. The Gemara in Baba Metzia 84 tells us that when the righteous are looking at someone with displeasure this brings a curse in its wake. The Torah reports Yitzchak as blessing Yaakov as a result of feeling his hands to teach us that he reversed his erstwhile intentions.
Yitzchak said in 27:24 that “You are indeed my son Esau” Yitzchak justified his bestowing the blessing. This verse is not a question. Yaakov’s reaction was a confirmation that Yitzchak was correct, of course. Inasmuch as Yitzchak had thought up to that moment that the voice indicated that Yaakov stood before him, he now pointed at the body of the person before him saying: “you are Esau.” When Yitzchak articulated the blessings, he concentrated on the person opposite him without regard to that person’s name. This actually made Yaakov the true recipient of the blessings, even though Yitzchak had made mention of Esau. At the time of the actual blessing Yitzchak concentrated exclusively on the person in front of Him and that was Yaakov.
Yeshiva Pirchei Shoshanim