The blessing of Jacob by Isaac
Bereishit Ch. 27
This section I regard as a follow up to the ‘Akeidah’ [Bereishit 22:1-19] – a scenario concerned with establishing the lineage blessing from Hashem to Avraham, and which consecrates Isaac as the next recipient.
– Like the Akeidah, the events of the story serve as a model to demonstrate a particular process, one which relates what G-d expects from humankind in acting in service to the Divine.
– Both this story and the Akeidah, involve a conundrum or paradox. It is exactly the point of the paradox that puts one face to face with the issue at hand and provides its resolution.
– By looking at the very specific details of the story, it is possible to develop an understanding based no allegory rather than a surface level literal reading.
– Like the Akeidah, the characters in the plot have specific roles and identities. By understanding the significance of each character and their function in relation to one another, it is possible to begin deciphering the puzzle.
what we know:
– Isaac is married to Rebecca and is the father of Jacob and Esau; the text states that he has a particular fondness for Esau; he possesses the ‘lineage blessing’ which he is to pass down to one of his sons – this blessing originated from Hashem and is the promise of prosperity, sustenance, and inheritance as the foundation of the Jewish people.
– Rebecca is married to Isaac and is the mother of Jacob and Esau; the text states that she has a particular fondness for Jacob; at the moment of Isaac stating his intention to give the lineage blessing to Esau, Rebecca immediately develops an elaborate plot to put Jacob into Esau’s place.
– Jacob and Esau are twin sons to Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob is the second born; their characters are described as being very opposite from one another. Esau is a hunter, tempestuous, and easily agitated by his emotions. Jacob is domestic, intellectual, and faithful. Esau traded to Jacob his birthright as the firstborn in exchange for a bowl of lentils because he was hungry and cynical. The text, in the verse immediately preceding our narrative focus here, also states that Esau was a source of strife to his parents because he married women that went against their values.
To summarize: Isaac brings Esau to his room and tells him that he is to give him the blessing. He tells Esau to go out and hunt and prepare a meal for him and bring it to him; then he will give the blessing. After he sends Esau out to this task, Rebecca, having overheard the conversation, pulls Jacob aside and tells him that it is crucial for him to get the blessing instead of his brother. She tells him to take two goats from their farm and that she’ll prepare the meal. She’ll also use the skins of the goats to cover parts of Isaac’s body so that it resembles Esau’s hairiness. Rebecca states that if this scheme were to fail then she will be accountable and Jacob will be absolved. Rebecca and Jacob do the preparations, and Jacob goes to Isaac’s room to give him the meal offering. As Jacob approaches his father, Isaac is increasingly inquisitive and perplexed about whether the son entreating him is Esau, whom he is expecting, or Jacob (Isaac is near blind so can’t really see). In Jacob’s approaching Isaac pretending to be Esau, Isaac interrogates Jacob by asking if he is Esau and in the process hears the sound of his voice, feels his hands, eats his food, and smells his garment. Jacob makes it past the questions, Isaac gives the blessing, and Jacob leaves. Esau then enters with the meal offering he hunted and prepared for his father. Isaac tells Esau that he already gave the blessing to Jacob. Esau throws a tantrum and demands another blessing from Isaac who in turn gives a subordinate blessing after saying that the primary blessing has already been given. This provokes Esau to declaring vengeance on his brother for ‘stealing’ his birthright and blessing. Rebecca and Isaac tell Jacob to flee to relatives in another city and to take a wife from there.
The paradox: how can Rebecca willingly deceive Isaac in a matter of such importance? Is the text telling us that deception is an acceptable course of behavior at all costs? And how could Isaac be so blind to his elder son’s unworthiness to receive such a bless? One would think that in such a significant passage as this that the main characters – a patriarch and matriarch nonetheless – would act more honorably. Of course, in actuality it’s not that simple and the text is encouraging us to look at a deeper message to derive understanding.
v.1 And it came to pass, that when Isaac was old, and his eyes were dim, so that he could not see, he called Esau his elder son, and said unto him: ‘My son’; and he said unto him: ‘Here am I.’ v.18 And he came unto his father, and said: ‘My father’; and he said: ‘Here am I; who art thou, my son?’
-Isaac is the one giving the blessing here. As the one possessing the power of this blessing, he is the one in the highest position – honored servant of Hashem and a patriarch of the Jewish People – and is to be regarded as such. In his role int this story there is a particular ‘inert’ quality that he exhibits. From his stationary place, he sets the events in motion, and also has people (Jacob and Esau) come to him; the events emanate from his will and the characters (Jacob and Esau) are then drawn back to him. Throughout all of this, Isaac remains steady in his place, one representing the connection between humankind and Hashem (since Isaac has been consecrated as such from the events of the Akeidah).
v.6-8 And Rebekah spoke unto Jacob her son, saying: ‘Behold, I heard thy father speak unto Esau thy brother, saying: 7 Bring me venison, and make me savoury food, that I may eat, and bless thee before the LORD before my death. 8 Now therefore, my son, hearken to my voice according to that which I command thee.
– Rebecca acts completely independently and intuitively. For her it would be a travesty to have Esau receive the blessing. She feels it is her moral and spiritual responsibility to put Jacob in place of Esau, even at the risk of being found out and bringing a curse upon herself. She knows what she has to do and it is very right to her, an ultimately selfless act in service of Hashem’s ways. Her character represents this intuitive determination that acts irregardless of rules or logic as it is genuinely motivated by its own selfless determination. And, that is the point. She feels it, selflessly, and has to step outside of the ‘rules’ to make this happen. Rebecca also has a deep connection to Hashem as demonstrated earlier in the sidra.
– In these characterizations, Isaac and Rebecca represent two distinct aspects of spiritual observance: Isaac is the unwavering steadiness of eternal connection to Hashem, like the deepest parts of self in the deepest meditation, the undercurrent of universal and eternal connectivity. Rebecca is the active doer, the one that is the expressive side of observance and the manifestation of actualized love.
v.15-17 And Rebekah took the choicest garments of Esau her elder son, which were with her in the house, and put them upon Jacob her younger son. 16 And she put the skins of the kids of the goats upon his hands, and upon the smooth of his neck. 17 And she gave the savoury food and the bread, which she had prepared, into the hand of her son Jacob.
– The imagery of Jacob approaching Isaac dressed as Esau brings to mind the ultimate point of bringing up ‘Jacob’ to be in place of ‘Esau.’ On the surface of this Jacob/Esau figure is Esau but on the inside is Jacob. To go along with the notion of transcending the senses is the idea of getting past the sensory oriented surface level reality to expose the more intellectually and spirituality oriented inner reality. The idea, again, is the bringing up of Jacob in the place of Esau.
v.1 when Isaac was old… so that he could not see… v. 22 And Jacob went near unto Isaac his father; and he felt him, and said: ‘The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.’… v. 25 and I will eat of my son’s venison, that my soul may bless thee.’ And he brought it near to him, and he did eat; and he brought him wine, and he drank… v. 27 And he smelled the smell of his raiment
– The process of Jacob approaching Isaac is described in terms of the five senses, from Isaac’s point of view. The sense of sight is addressed at the beginning of the chapter; hearing is in Isaac recognizing Jacob’s voice, touch is when Isaac feels Jacobs hands, taste is when Isaac eats the meal offering and libation, and smell comes when Isaac smells the garment. It can be said that the five senses and their transcendence are a particular part of this process. The significance of the senses can also be attributed to the difference between Esau and Jacob. Esau can be said to be someone that is affected by the senses and would easily be swayed by their indulgence and gratification. Jacob can be characterized as someone that would have the presence of mind to not be swayed by sensory stimulation and would remain true to his conviction in the face of temptation. The senses deal with the external and material elements of the world and its perception. They are illusory as they are constantly in flux and susceptible to the influence of desire etc. The real ‘reality’ is what is beneath the surface at the more subtle levels of perception and identity. In Jacob approaching Isaac and eventually meeting Isaac on his lofty level is the transcendence of the individual in the face of the temptation of the senses; it represents the unification of the individual with a ‘grander’ sense of self, that which is beyond a solely material perception of the world and is reflective of a deeper spiritual consciousness.
v.24 Art thou my very son Esau?’
– Isaac questioning Jacob: are you my son Esau? There are two approaches to this: 1) thinking in terms of the senses, reality is not often what we make it out to be. We think reality is one thing but often we are influenced by our own ego which skews perception based on ignorance, desires, fears, etc. It is only after the questioning and investigation of our sensory response that we arrive at proper conclusion. In every indulgence or inquiry of our senses we identify with Esau yet it is when we dive past them we find the Jacob that is beneath them. It is only after their thorough investigation that the blessing is given. This blessing is to go to Jacob if Rebecca’s sense of love is to prevail. If Jacob were to reveal himself at any point along the way then it would be the yielding of his ego to not willfully follow the word of his mother in respect to his father. 2) The second approach goes along with the characterization of Isaac in his lofty place of steady spiritual connection. From this position he is to see the good in Esau. This is how his relationship with Esau is different than Rebecca’s. Just as Hashem can see the way for all of His people turn back to His ways, so too can Isaac see redemption in Esau as is relayed ‘…and his eyes were dim’ which could be regarded as Isaac looking past Esau’s faults to his essential nature. To Isaac, he is not giving the blessing to an undeserving son but rather his first born as is custom. He sets the process in motion yet it is Rebecca that takes the action to make the circumstances ‘right’ – to make sure it is the Jacob character that emerges in place of the Esau one – without concern for outcome of herself. She thus performs a form of ‘Akeidah’ on herself by not withholding her own feelings and being willing to offer up/sacrifice herself for what she feels/knows is in service to Hisham. Here, Isaac and Rebecca are a team representing two essential components of this process.
– Isaac questioning Jacob about whether or not he is Esau is in many ways very funny. Isaac may very well know the answer to the question that it is indeed Jacob in Esau’s clothing, yet has to play the game anyway. To us the idea of Esau is only a false identity, as it is to Jacob, one that is temporary and impermanent, yet to Isaac the idea of Esau is an ideal. We must go through the trials, the tests of our sensory perception and how we handle them – almost as a joke because they are impermanent – to ultimately transcend their trials and bring Jacob to the place of Isaac. This is a true and humble achievement because Isaac exists at such a high place of pure spiritual awareness existing beyond any blemish of the five senses; in this way, Isaac is connected to the qualities which are of eternity and divinity.
v.28 So God give thee of the dew of heaven…
– The blessing of Jacob represents the unity of Isaac and Rebecca. With each of Isaac’s inquiries to Jacob, Jacob ascends and ascends until he receives the blessing. This is the expression of the will of Rebecca through Jacob. The loftiness of Isaac is met with the expressiveness of Rebecca. The two forces unite to express Hashem: the ideal held by Isaac and the intuition and motivation held by Rebecca. These two culminate in the glory of Jacob receiving the blessing. In one way of thinking, as Rebecca’s her will/presence is expressed through Jacob, she imbues the form of Isaac with its substance.
– In moments of being tested I often think of myself as Jacob bringing the meal offering. Life is asking me if I am Esau, and if I stay true to myself and connect inward then I get through it. This connects me to a deeper sense of self that is ultimately connected to heritage of the lineage blessing – that of prosperity, sustenance, and eternal inheritance.
The main point is the bringing up of Jacob to be in place of Esau. This comes about through the transcendence of the five sense to reveal the inner core within (Jacob) as it merges with the grander connection to the qualities of purity and spiritual consciousness (Isaac). This process of transcendence begins with the selfless love and determination stemming from one’s intuition and heart (Rebecca), which serves as the motivation in Jacob’s ascent to Isaac and their ultimate union.