Tol’dot, all you need is bitachon & how it is needed for blessings
I am going to use the example of the most power couple in the Torah: Rebecca and Isaac, to illustrate why blessings matter and part of how they work.
At first, Isaac and Rebecca are childless and for many years, but at the beginning of the parshah, pray with a newfound bitachon and their blessing comes through. Rashi added that they were now praying face to face, blessing each other. All the time gone by, has given them a newfound belief in themselves and Gd. Therefore, they also trust in Gd that without other extra spouses or concubines, they can have children. The Baal Shem Tov says that bitachon is having trust and certainty. This belief they feel, is expressed in their behaviors and is what lets the blessing come through.
Their praying, face to face, is a visual effect that accentuates the blessing: seeing each other connected them most to the source love which is Gd. Rebecca and Isaac, showing that they are praying to themselves and to Gd, is a symbolic or literal act of harmony with the world and act of bitachon. The Hebrew root meaning of bitachon is to lean or rest on someone. More practically, the word means to have behaviors that show that they are grateful of what they have, they rest on Gd and that they will indeed have children.
Rebecca and Isaac are, of course, going to remember this story, and things are about to get even more beautiful in the power of their prayers, and we will learn more about bitachon.
In the parsha what follows, is the story of Isaac wanting to give Esau the special blessing he thinks he only has one of. At first, it looks like a not-so-pretty story of the deception of a fragile, almost blind man, who thinks he might die soon and who is being deceived by people he loves and thinking of food; but in fact, I believe that this is all part of a master plan with his soulmate, his wife. They fooled us all because they are powerful together.
They were able to devise a scheme perfectly. Humbly, I had to come up with a different interpretation of this story from the classic ones because I could not help but feel like the other interpretations I read all have pitfalls.
I believe that Rebecca and Isaac wanted to give Jacob a specific type of blessing, which he needed, and they planned this in the best way possible. They decided that because Jacob would be the next patriarch and rule over Esau, (as Gd told Rebecca when she was pregnant), he needed to have more empathy and take on more of Esau’s good characteristics. Also, he needed to have a more multidimensional/balanced personality to be the father of 12 different tribes with different dominant characteristics. At first, both Jacob and Esau sound one-dimensional as characters. The Torah says: one is for the fields and one is for the indoors. Jacob needed to build himself up to be able to emulate the most praiseworthy middot (traits) of his brother Esau.
They couldn’t tell Jacob what they were doing since that would embarrass him. A Midrash says that Abraham preferred to be thrown in an oven instead of embarrassing someone. But the transformation and blessing had to be done for the role Jacob had to take. In Kabbalah, to put it simply: Jacob represents Tiferet, the attribute of the type of beauty that comes from multidimensionality and balance and that’s why the 12 tribes would be born from him. The Torah suggests from Jacob’s consequent blessing of his sons, that each tribe has different specialities, one inclined for justice, another more for manual labor, another certain temple activities, another for sailing, etc… Jacob feels a desire for this patriarchal blessing because it is his destiny. So Jacob takes on the part he needs to play. Also, his mother whom he trusts and in better health told him to do this. Why else would she say “the curse is on me” so he does not feel guilty? But there are no obvious curses on her later in the story (unlike with Rachel and the teraphim, where Jacob makes an open ended curse and she does indeed die) because there wasn’t a need for one! I believe that if Jacob later seems to be punished by first marrying Leah instead of Rachel, it is a manifestion of his guilt for deceiving, because in his mind he deceived his father.
His mother has him go out to get game and also dress like Esau, and impersonate him. This is the “walking around in his shoes” as the English expression suggests, a process of developing empathy for his brother, something which he previously lacked.
The Torah explicitly says that Jacob does all these steps to be like Esau, such as “So he went, and he took, and he brought.” Bereshit 27.14
He put on Esau’s best clothes, the best attributes! Why? His father with his bad eyesight is going to be inspecting his “clothes”?
When Isaac gives the blessing, if you pay close attention to everything he says, the goal is to make Jacob question himself, bring out the good attributes of Esau in Jacob, and have empathy. This seems to hint at the fact that Rebecca and Isaac are both privy to this so-called “deception”, and that it is a pedagogical device intended to teach Jacob.
Isaac says, “How is it that you have found [it] so quickly, my son?”
This is the first thing his father says because he is trying to bring out bitachon in him. To be in a state of bitachon is basic for any blessing. He wants him to see how capable he is; because Gd is helping him now, and in fact, he responds correctly that it was thanks to Gd.
To bless someone, you need to see them as a new person.
Even if he says he did not recognize him, it is just to say that he is already transforming from the person he originally was to the personification of the kabbalistic meaning of Jacob.
He goes on to say: “Please come closer, so that I may feel you, my son, whether you are really my son Esau or not.” So Jacob drew near to Isaac his father, and he felt him, and he said, “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” And he did not recognize him because his hands were hairy like the hands of his brother Esau, and he blessed him.” Bereshit 27.21-23 His father sees the newfound multidimensionality of his son and encourages him to embrace it as well.
Then he says, “Are you [indeed] my son Esau?” And he said, “I am.” Bereshit 27.18 This is just part of the act to not upset his other son, like other things he eventually says. Also, to have Jacob ask himself if he has reached the level of compassion he needs, which we only have when we can imagine ourselves as someone else.
“Behold, the fragrance of my son is like the fragrance of a field, which the Lord has blessed!” He doesn’t say the fragrance of Esau but of the field, a general characteristic that was missing in Jacob.
When Isaac continues to speak, it sounds a lot like what Gd told Rebecca, that there will be two kingdoms, the younger would serve the older, which will be mightier. It is difficult to believe that this one time Rebecca talk with Gd, she would not tell her husband about the experience and what Gd said?
Isaac then continues to act in a way that doesn’t upset his other son and he was able to bless Jacob because he didn’t recognize him anymore as being “one-dimensional”. Jacob now has multidimensionality and complexity that will later give him the strength to wrestle with an angel and overcome his other future challenges.
Jacob will go on to also be a man who works seven years in the fields for Rachel which is very romantic but isn’t very harmonious with her and scolds her when she complains that she is barren. Blessing someone, and blessing with someone, means understanding the person’s needs, seeing them not only as what they are but as they can be, if only they fulfill their true potential and reveal their deep selves. This starts with expressing bitachon – not just having faith but expressing it with the choices and actions taken, and all actions matter, what we wear, where we go, what we do etc… And the person that gives the blessing needs to see them as receiving the blessing or and a transformed person.
Also, bitachon gave Isaac and Rebecca the potential to be not just a romantic couple, but to become loving parents. Jacob had it in him to be not only the man of the tents, but the father of all the Tribes of Israel, a man who not only dwells, but also goes out there (Vayeitzei) to find himself and fulfill his destiny.
May anyone who reads this see their blessings come through!
Thank you To R. Myriam Ackermann Sommer and R. Aarom Marsh for reviewing my interpretation and opportunity to do D’ var Torah. Also, Mendel Karalou and other Rabbis for Hassidic explanations.
Biblical quotes are from Chabad.org