God operates at the intersection of free will and destiny
In this Parsha there seems to be an elephant in the room. The Torah states that Yitzchak preferred Eisav over Yaakov. So naturally, Yitzchak intended to give the blessing of worldly success to Eisav. However, we have input to the contrary – leading us to believe that Yaakov should dominate and he would need the material blessings. After all, Rivka sought Divine assistance to explain why her twins were warring In Utero. She was told that the older one (Eisav) will be subservient to the younger one (Yaakov).
The Torah described Eisav as a hunter while Yaakov was more spiritual, preferring the study hall. In character with Eisav, the Torah describes how he married Canaanite women which was a source of מֹ֣רַת ר֑וּחַ “bitterness” to his parents. We are also told that Eisav sold his birthright to his brother Yaakov for a bowl of lentils and took an oath to that effect.
Even if you say that Rebecca never shared the destiny of her children with Yitzchak, and Yaakov never shared his acquisition of the birthright with Yitzchak. There is still clear evidence of Eisav’s character flaws. So why would Yitzchak favor Eisav and plan to give him the blessings of material wealth?
It’s true that Yitzchak was blind.
וַיְהִי֙ כִּֽי־זָקֵ֣ן יִצְחָ֔ק וַתִּכְהֶ֥יןָ עֵינָ֖יו מֵרְאֹ֑ת
“When Yitzchak was old and his eyes were too dim to see..” (Bereishis, 27:1).
But his sons were vastly different in character. How could he be so blind as not to know which son was destined to follow in his footsteps and those of his father Abraham – to continue, what Rabbi Soloveitchick called, “the Covenantal Community” that Abraham started.
Yitzchak was fooled
Midrash Tanchuma solves the mystery. Eisav tricked his father into thinking that he was really a spiritual person. However, the Midrash uses a harsh term to describe the deceit:
According to the Torah, when you receive a bribe it has tremendous power to augment your perception of reality. Despite evidence to the contrary, a bribe helps convince you that the
person who bribed you is really a good person. You start to ignore any negative input:
הַשֹּׁ֙חַד֙ יְעַוֵּ֣ר פִּקְחִ֔ים וִֽיסַלֵּ֖ף דִּבְרֵ֥י צַדִּיקִֽים׃
“… bribes blind the wise and distort the pleas of those who are in the right” (Shemot, 23:8).
The bribe took the form of delicacies Eisav prepared for his father. The Torah uses unusual language.
וַיֶּאֱהַב יִצְחָק אֶת עֵשָׂו כִּי צַיִד בְּפִיו.
“And Yitzchak loved Eisav because of the trap in his mouth’ (Bereishis, 25:28).
“Trap” refers to the meat from an animal that Eisav hunted, trapped and prepared as a delicacy for his father to eat.” The Midrash sees a double meaning in the word צַיִד “trapped:”
הָיָה צָד אֶת יִצְחָק הַצַּדִּיק בְּפִיו
“Eisav ensnared his righteous father with the falsehoods that came out of his mouth” (Midrash Tanchuma Toldot, 8:1).
Although the Midrash describes Eisav’s daily exploits which involved murder and adultery, a typical conversation started with Yitzchak asking:
בְּנִי, הֵיכָן הָיִיתָ הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה? וְהוּא אוֹמֵר לוֹ: בְּבֵית הַתַּלְמוּד. לֹא כָךְ הוּא הֲלָכָה מִן כָּךְ וְכָךְ, לֹא כָךְ אִסּוּרוֹ, לֹא כָךְ הֶתֵּרוֹ. וּמִתּוֹךְ דְּבָרִים אֵלּוּ, הָיָה צָדוֹ בְּפִיו, עַל כֵּן אֲהֵבוֹ.
“Where were you today, my son? At the house of study,’ he (Eisav) would reply and he would add: ‘Is this not the law under certain circumstances; are not these things prohibited and these permitted?’ By such remarks, he (fooled and) entrapped his father with his words. That is why he (Yitzchak) loved him”’ (Ibid).
The bribe was so effective that when Yitzchak got old and thought it was time to bless his children before he died, he asked Eisav to prepare another fresh, gourmet meal.
וְעַתָּה֙ שָׂא־נָ֣א כֵלֶ֔יךָ תֶּלְיְךָ֖ וְקַשְׁתֶּ֑ךָ וְצֵא֙ הַשָּׂדֶ֔ה וְצ֥וּדָה לִּ֖י צידה [צָֽיִד׃]
וַעֲשֵׂה־לִ֨י מַטְעַמִּ֜ים כַּאֲשֶׁ֥ר אָהַ֛בְתִּי וְהָבִ֥יאָה לִּ֖י וְאֹכֵ֑לָה בַּעֲב֛וּר תְּבָרֶכְךָ֥ נַפְשִׁ֖י בְּטֶ֥רֶם אָמֽוּת׃
“Take your gear, your quiver and bow, and go out into the field and hunt me some game. Then prepare a dish for me such as I like, and bring it to me to eat, so that I may give you my innermost blessing before I die” (Bereishis, 27: 3-4).
God was a partner in the plot to fool Yitzchak
Midrash Tanchuma offers another reason for Yitzchak’s blindness. God brought it about to insure that Rivka and Yaakov would succeed in their plan to trick Yitzchak into giving Eisav’s blessing to Yaakov.
לְפִי שֶׁהָיָה צָפוּי לִפְנֵי הַקָּבָּ”ה, שֶׁיִּצְחָק יְבָרֵךְ לְעֵשָׂו. אָמַר הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא, יִכְהוּ עֵינָיו וְיָבֹא יַעֲקֹב וְיִטֹּל אֶת הַבְּרָכוֹת
“Because it was known before God that Yitzchak intended to bless Eisav. God therefore said ‘let his (Yitzchak’s) eyes become weakened so Yaakov can take the blessings”’ (Midrash Tanchuma Toldot, 8:5).
So because Eisav tricked Yitzchak into (almost) getting the blessing, God had to trick Yitzchak into giving it to Yaakov instead.
Yitzchak was simply following his prophecy
The plot thickens. Midrash Tanchuma offers yet another answer to our question of why Yitzchak intended to give the blessing of material wealth to Eisav. This answer implies that Yitzchak knew exactly what he was doing:
וַיִּקְרָא אֶת עֵשָׂו בְּנוֹ הַגָּדוֹל. וְלָמָּה קוֹרֵא לוֹ בְּנוֹ הַגָּדוֹל? אֶלָּא לָמַדְנוּ שֶׁמַּחֲנִיפִין לָרְשָׁעִים בְּשַׁעְתָּן.
לְפִי שֶׁרָאָה שֶׁהָעוֹלָם הַזֶּה בְּיָדוֹ, קָרָא לוֹ בְּנוֹ הַגָּדוֹל
“He called Eisav his ‘oldest son’ (Bereishis, 27:1) … Yitzchak foresaw that Eisav’s descendants would dominate the world” (Ibid, 8:6).
Midrash Tanchuma seems to be saying that Yitzchak was not tricked into giving the blessing to Eisav. It was based on a prophetic vision of the world as it will be. Eisav’s descendants were destined to become the great empire of Rome. So Yitzchak deliberately gave the material blessing to the son who would rule the world.
This, of course, seems to directly contradict the previous statement in the Midrash – that Yitzchak intended to give Eisav the blessing because Eisav fooled him. Furthermore it presents a theological question. Yaakov and Rivka tricked Yitzchak so Yaakov’s descendants could get the material blessing. But the Jewish People were still subjugated by Rome. In 70 CE the Romans ransacked and destroyed the Second Temple of Jerusalem. So how did all this trickery benefit the Jewish People?
The pivotal, destiny-shaping, fine print in Eisav’s blessing
God is in the details. When Eisav screamed his bitter cry over losing his blessing, Yitzchak gave Eisav what Eisav thought was an inferior blessing. But actually he got a clause in small print that is one of the most determining factors in Jewish history. Namely, when the Jewish People have a spiritual downfall, Eisav’s descendants will dominate the Jews.
וְעַל־חַרְבְּךָ֣ תִֽחְיֶ֔ה וְאֶת־אָחִ֖יךָ תַּעֲבֹ֑ד וְהָיָה֙ כַּאֲשֶׁ֣ר תָּרִ֔יד וּפָרַקְתָּ֥ עֻלּ֖וֹ מֵעַ֥ל צַוָּארֶֽךָ׃
“By your sword shall you (Eisav) live, And you shall serve your brother (Yaakov). But when he (Yaakov) shall fall (spiritually) You shall break his yoke from your neck” (Bereishis, 27:40).
As the famous commentator, Rashi, explains:
כְּשֶׁיַּעַבְרוּ יִשְׂרָאֵל עַל הַתּוֹרָה וְיִהְיֶה לְךָ פִּתְחוֹן פֶּה לְהִצְטַעֵר עַל הַבְּרָכוֹת שֶׁנָּטַל, ופרקת עלו:
“..when Israel transgresses the Torah then you (Eisav) will have a legitimate complaint (to God) with respect to the Blessings (that Yaakov took from you) and you will no longer be subjugated (by the Jews)” (Rashi on Bereishis 27:40, from Bereishis Rabbah 67:7).
Why didn’t we live up to our potential
Could it be that the Jewish People are lured by lies and luxuries, just as Yitzchak was when Eisav brought him fine delicacies and tall tales. Throughout Jewish history, whenever Jews were blessed with prosperity and acceptance into society, assimilation and intermarriage were soon to follow. Could this wealth and prestige have influenced Jewish communities in the same way Eisav’s bribe influenced Yitzchak – by allowing ourselves to embrace the questionable values and morality of the societies we lived in?
Moshe predicted this exact pattern of the Jewish People amassing wealth and forsaking the Torah in this famous statement near the end of the Deuteronomy:
וַיִּשְׁמַ֤ן יְשֻׁרוּן֙ וַיִּבְעָ֔ט
“And the Jewish People grew fat and kicked..” (Devarim, 32:19).
All the pieces fit together
The prophesy told to Rivka was correct – the younger one (the Jewish People) potentially could have ruled over the oldest (Eisav) and will again at the end of days. Yitzchak prophesied correctly that Eisav would be a world power. God dimmed Yitzchak’s eyesight so that Eisav wasn’t
guaranteed domination over Yaakov. Rather, Eisav would have to acquire it through the misdeeds of the Jewish People.
Ultimately, the Jewish People are the authors of Jewish history. Despite God’s efforts to insure our ascendancy over Eisav, we still have free choice. The Jewish People ended up being oppressed and dominated by he descendants of Eisav because of the collective, faulty, moral (free) choices that they made.
Another aspect of this theme was covered was covered in an earlier blog by the same title: https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/midrash-tanchuma-toldot-god-operates-at-the-intersection-of-free-will-destiny/