Being Sensitive to the Truth by David Gertler


Parshat Toldot contains perhaps the most difficult section in all of Chumash.  The passage tells the story of Yaakov deceiving his father Yitzchak, thereby receiving the Berachot intended for Esav.  We will highlight different aspects of the story and understand why Yaakov would deceive his father.


The four senses

It would be too difficult to list every reference to the senses (hearing, seeing, smelling, touching and tasting) presented within our section.  The first Pasuk begins with the dimming of one sense and the rest of the Pesukim are filled with references to them.  There are a number of possibilities, according to the Midrashim, of how and why Yitzchak’s eyesight was taken away.  

One opinion in the Midrash (65:4) explains that the smoke from the Korbanot of Esav’s wives, which were for Avoda Zara, entered Yitzchak’s eyes.  Rivka was somewhat immune to this smoke, because she had been exposed to it in her childhood.  But for Yitzchak, who was never exposed to Avoda Zara, it had a devastating effect.  This idea of the Midrash seems to indicate that Yitzchak was blinded from the fact that Esav was the cause of the Avoda Zara, by marrying wives that did Avoda Zara.  Similar hints to a mental blindness are expressed in other Midrashim.  Bereishit Rabbah (65:10) says that the blindness indicates an inability to determine that Esav was the evil son.  Suggesting that Esav’s ability to hunt bribed Yitzchak into thinking that he was the more righteous son, and the Midrash (65:7) quotes (Shemot 23:8) “Don’t take a bribe because a bribe blinds those that can see.”

The other two opinions in the Midrash are not as simple to explain.  One, that the angels cried into Yitzchak eyes at the Akeida, and this weakened his eyes, ultimately blinding him.  The second opinion is that Yitzchak saw the Shechina during the Akeida, which should result in death.  However, due to the pain that killing Yitzchak would have done to Avraham, Hashem made his eyesight decrees gradually.  Perhaps this suggests that Yitzchak was divinely blinded, to allow the deception to take place.  The Midrash (65:8) proves this idea by saying that the reason for Yitzchak’s blindness was to allow for Yaakov to come and take the Berachot.  There is one further opinion, which is mentioned in the Gemara (Megila 28a, quoted by the Torah Temima), which states that anyone who looks at a wicked person loses his eyesight, and the Gemara says that this is shown here, where Yitzchak looked at Esav, and therefore went blind.

In his Sefer, Oznaim Latorah, Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin states that in order to bless or curse, one must be able to see the recipient.  Bilaam, for example, went to a mountain overlooking Bnai Yisrael, instead of cursing Bnai Yisrael from his home.  Similarly, when Yaakov gave his sons Berachot, he was able to see somewhat, as it says (Bereishit 48:8), “And Yisrael saw the sons of Yosef.”  However, there as well as here, other senses are also used.  In 48:10, where it tells us that Yaakov’s eyes were heavy, we are also told that he hugged and kissed Ephraim and Menashe, similar to 27:26 in our Parsha.  Ramban (27:12) states that Yitzchak was not touching Yaakov to recognize him; rather it was a sign of affection.  Shadal (Samuel David Luzzatto) in his commentary on the Torah (English translation by Daniel A. Klein), cites two opinions as to why Yitzchak wished to kiss Yaakov; one that it was for affection in order to bless Yaakov with his whole heart.  The second that he wished to smell the garments because he began to doubt it truly being Esav.  The idea that he wanted to kiss him in order to be able to smell him brings us to another point. 

As mentioned above, in order to properly give a Beracha one must see the recipient.  What if one is blind?  The Oznaim Latorah suggests that in such a case one must utilize all of the other four senses.  We have already mentioned touch.  Taste is quite apparent from the story, as Yitzchak requests from Esav to make food.  Shadal on 27:4 takes Yitzchak’s request as saying that he will bless Esav through the pleasure he will get from the food.  This idea is obvious from the Pesukim, as it says (27:4) “I will eat so that I can bless.”  Both Yaakov and Esav formulate their statements to Yitzchak in the same manner: Yitzchak eats in order to bless them.

Regarding smell we have a similar language to that which we have by taste.  “He smelled the fragrance of his garments and he blessed him (27:27).”  The commonly heard idea is that the garments of Esav originally belonged to Adam Harishon (Rashi 27:15) and when Yaakov wore them, their proper smell of Gan Eden spread.  The Netziv quotes the Gemara (Berachot 43b) that indicates that the soul gets the most pleasure from smell, more so than any of the other senses.  Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsh (Vayikra 1:9) mentions an interesting aspect of the nature of smell.  It is similar to seeing and hearing in that one is able to smell something from a distance.  However, it is similar to touching and tasting on a microscopic level; tiny particles of the item are touching you.  In our next section we will discover which character is making use of which sense.


Passive Activity

Before our section of Chumash began, we are told (25:28) that Rivka loved Yaakov and Yitzchak loved Esav.  This is preceded by the information that Esav hunts and Yaakov learns.  The Midrash (63:10) learns that Yitzchak’s love for Esav was enhanced from eating his meat, and Rivka’s love for Yaakov was enhanced by hearing his voice.  Oznaim Latorah (27:6) also observes that in most instances Yaakov is referred to as “her son,” and Esav “his son.” 

There is an interesting distinction between the senses used for one pair and those used for the other pair.  At first we are told that Yitzchak is blind (27:1), this right away leads sight to be a characteristic of Rivka.  Yitzchak asks for food (27:4), giving the sense of taste to Yitzchak and Esav.  Rivka hears what happens and tells Yaakov to listen (27:5-8), giving them hearing.  Yaakov associates the sense of touch with Yitzchak (27:12).  In the Sefer, Emet Leyakov Iyonim Bemikra, Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetsky says that use of the word Ulie is a belief that Yitzchak would touch Yaakov, showing how close touch was associated with Yitzchak.  Climactically, we have the Pasuk of “Hakol Kol Yaakov, Vehayedayim Yedai Esav” (27:22) whose implications in touch are clear.

Yitzchak and Esav have been connected to the direct senses, while Rivka and Yaakov are associated with long distance senses.  In last year’s issue of Kol Torah this author offered a separation between Rivka and Esav.  In last week’s Parsha there is a missing letter that glares at us.  This is the “Hey,” the feminine particle from the word Naara, when talking about Rivka.  The Hey is missing from all uses of the word Naara in Chumash except for one.  There are three stories containing the word Naara.  The well-known case is that of Dinah.  Rashi quotes Bereishit Rabbah (80) as stating that Dinah acted immodestly.  The one case where the word is spelled with a Hey is when a betrothed woman is falsely accused of acting inappropriate (Devarim 22:19).  This author suggested that in those times women acted obsequious to men.  So even though Rivka was modest, the Hey from Naara is not present to show her active role.  There is an extra Hey in our Parsha, this is the Hey from the word Tzayid (27:3).  This author suggested that this shows that Yitzchak takes on a passive role in the story, while Rivka assumes an active role.  We will return to this point later in the Dvar Torah.  For now a question that needs to be addressed is what did Yitzchak see in Esav?  Can it be that Yitzchak based his love for Esav solely on his ability to hunt?  Maybe our view of Esav is worse than it should be.


The worst, but better than you

The Midrash (63:10) teaches that both Yaakov and Esav studied in Bait Sefer until age 13.  After Age 13 Yaakov studied in Yeshivat Shem Vaever, and Esav became a hunter.  We would assume that Yitzchak felt study was positive, so why did he choose Esav?  The Oznaim Latorah questions the Midrash (65:19), which states that Yaakov’s use of Hashem’s name caused Yitzchak to question which son was before him.  His question is grounded in Yitzchak having believed Esav to be a Tzaddik.  He points to the Ramban, who states that Yitzchak believed that Esav’s not using Hashem’s name was a sign of Yirat Hashem.  Yitzchak believed that Esav did not want to say Hashem’s name in a place that might be Tameh.  The Oznaim Latorah emphasizes that Esav imitated Yitzchak’s behavior.  When Esav asked how to tithe salt (Rashi 25:27), it was because Esav noticed all other items are tithed, and presumably poor people need salt as well.  The Oznaim Latorah alternatively suggests that Yitzchak was aware that Esav was not interested in Godly pursuits, but felt that Esav would be a case of “Mah Shelo Leshma Ba Leshma.”  The Midrash (65:1) also brings up this point of Esav imitating Yitzchak.  We are told that Esav chose to get married specifically at the age of 40 (26:34).  Similarly, Yitzchak got married at age 40 (25:20).  Midrash Rabbah (65:16) quotes a startling statement from Rabban Shimon Ben Gamliel.  He states that his entire life when he was Mechabed his father, he was not Mechabed him even one hundredth of the Kibud that Esav had for Yitzchak. 

Bereishit Rabbah (63:12) interestingly points out that Esav had only committed a few Aveirot.  This author infers from Derush, that Esav had violated the entire Torah.  The Midrash proves that Esav was in violation of Arayot.  Additionally, we mentioned earlier that Esav had done Shefichat Damim by killing Nimrod.  Lastly, we are aware that Esav committed Avoda Zara.  These three Aveirot are the three which one is cautioned to refrain from, even at the expense of one’s own life.  Once we have established a violation of these three we can interpret this as a violation of the entire Torah. 

Yitzchak was blinded from accepting the knowledge that Esav’s ability to be Mechabed Av was not mirrored in other areas of Morals and Mitzvot.  Therefore Yitzchak is a Matzdik Rasha, one who believes a Rasha to be a Tzaddik and treats him likewise.  The Pasuk in Yeshayahu (5:23) says “Matzidikei Rasha Ekev Shochad,” “Woe unto he... who makes righteous the wicked for a bribe.”  The Midrash (65:5) uses this Pasuk to prove our point.  It is very easy to understand why Rivka did not tell Yitzchak her Nevuah that Yaakov would be the master of Esav (Ramban 27:4).  She did not want to put him in a situation where he might contradict the Nevua to choose his preferred son.  This complements the idea of the Ramban (27:33) that, Yitzchak trembled was because he had made his loved son subservient.

We have seen both sides of Esav, let us clarify Yaakov.


True beyond his words?

“Vayomer Yaakov El Aviv Anochi Esav Bechorecha”(27:19).  The Midrash (65:18) presents a seemingly peculiar explanation: “I am the one who will receive the Ten Commandments, and Esav is your firstborn.”  Rashi quotes the Midrash Tanchuma as having the same idea.  Many commentaries have difficulty saying that Yaakov was truthful in this statement.  The Oznaim Latorah (27:19) asks regarding the logic of Rashi’s answer quoting the Pasuk, “Midvar Sheker Tirchak”(Shemot 23:7).  If one intends to be and is misunderstood, a possible interpretation is irrelevant.  Variations of how Yaakov did not lie are given.  The Alshich, for example, states that when the Pasuk says Vayomer Yaakov, Yaakov began to say his own name.  Alshich’s interpretation makes it, “I am Yaakov; Esav is your first born.”  Nonetheless it is still very troubling.  How could Yaakov, who is described as someone who was brought all the way to Yitzchak’s door (Bereishit Rabbah 65:17), be so cunning on his own?

Emet Leyaakov (27:12) says that the use of the word “Ulie [Yemusheni Avi],” connotes a desire for the outcome to take place.  He adds that the only reason he even told his mother about her flaw was to proceed with her plan for her sake.  He would have preferred not tell her and not be successful.  Bereishit Rabbah 65:15 says that Yaakov was crying while preparing this deception.  Shadal (27:18) states that Yaakov first said “Avi” and then waited for a response, so that if Yitzchak would indicate knowledge of it being Yaakov, Yaakov would talk about other matters.

Yaakov did not want to do evil, but what was his purpose?  The Netziv (27:19) offers another opinion as to what was behind “Anochi Esav Bechorecha.”  He says that Yaakov was telling the best possible truth.  He was the Bechor, but it would take too long to explain it to Yitzchak.  In order to first act and then explain the action, what happened was necessary.  The Oznaim Latorah (27:19) uses the idea that Yitzchak was a Matzdik Rasha to say that Yaakov was trying to prevent Sheker from happening.  The Netziv (27:1) similarly states that Yaakov was trying to use an Aveirah for its proper purpose. 

Oznaim Latorah (27:12) states that Yaakov felt that any Beracha he would receive would be meaningless.  When Esav would arrive, Yitzchak would realize what took place, and revoke the Beracha.  Yitzchak figures everything out, but instead of cursing Yaakov he says (27:34) “Gam Baruch Yihyeh.”  Shadal (27:34) says that Yitzchak acknowledged this as a sign that the Berachot were meant for Yaakov.  Additionally, the Midrash (67:2) suggests that Yitzchak’s tremble was out of fear that he had given the Berachot out of order (the younger son before the older).  Once informed that Yaakov had bought the Bechura, Yitzchak was relaxed.

Perhaps we can view the trickery not as an attempt to steal the Berachot but as a stalling method to allow Yitzchak to see the truth about Esav.  If this is correct, Yaakov’s actions at the time that he did them were not meant to change the present situation, rather the desire was to change the end result.  Let us look once more at the sense of hearing.


Look who’s talking now

“Hakol Kol Yaakov, Vehayedayim Yedai Esav,” associates the voice, a distance sense, with Yaakov.  And it associates the hands, a sense for nearness, with Esav.  Many Meforshim see the true Beracha given to Yaakov within this statement. 

The Midrash presents a famous thought.  When one can hear the voice of Yaakov engaged in study, the hands of Esav will be powerless (Bereishit Rabbah 65:20).  The Vilna Gaon suggests the same answer differently.  He points out that the word Hakol is spelled without a Vav, lending itself to be read Hakal, light.  His reading of the phrase would be, “If the voice of Yaakov is light, then the hands of Esav will be successful.”  This author offers a different answer.  Perhaps Yitzchak was telling Yaakov that although the future outcome of this event is positive, it’s current state is not.  Last year this author suggested the following as a reason for the small Kuf in the word Kazti (27:46, for another possibility, pointed out to me by Mitchell First, author of Jewish History in Conflict, see Shadal and Torah Temima ad. loc.).  “The letter Tzadi is associated with righteousness, the letter Taf is the final letter in the word Emet, truth, and the letter Yud represents Hashem.  Kuf, on the other hand, is the middle letter of the word Sheker.  The Gemara explains that the letters of the word Sheker all come to a single point because falsehood cannot stand.  However, it was necessary for Yaakov to tell a small lie in the beginning to lead to righteousness (Tzadi), truth (Taf), and knowledge of Hashem (Yud).” 

There are textual explanations as well.  Ramban asks why Yaakov was afraid of being touched and not of being heard, after all the Gemara in Chullin (96a) says that people are recognized by voice, if not for this a blind person would not be permitted to his wife.  The Ramban states that Yaakov was able to alter his voice to sound like Esav.  The Bait Halevi quotes an idea that before Esav left (assuming that Yaakov would pretend to be Esav) he said that he would pretend to be Yaakov.  In Yitzchak’s mind, the sign to know it was Esav was if Kol Yaakov and Yedai Esav were both true.  But the Bait Halevi says that in fact Yaakov’s trickery was by not changing his voice.

The idea is suggested that Yitzchak wished for both of his sons to work together to become part of the Am Lahashem.  The Oznaim Latorah sees a similar idea in this Pasuk (27:22).  First and foremost one must have a Kol Yaakov, but what is additionally important is Yedai Esav, to know a trade and other mundane things.  This idea is continued on in next week’s Parsha, where Yaakov gets tricked by Lavan’s use of the Bechora.  Yaakov then learns to work around Lavan in order to make his way back to his family in Eretz Yisrael.



At the end of our section we see some interesting changes as to how we should view things.  Rivka is called “Em Yaakov Veesav” (28:5).  About Esav we are told “Vayisah Esav Kolo Veyevk”(27:38) and “Vayare Esav” (28:6,8).  This author suggests that the last Pasuk in Malachi, “Titen Emet Leyaakov,” need not represent the Yaakov in our story.  Just as the word Titen is in future tense, voice is a future sense.  The essence of our section of Chumash cannot be what was taking place in the story’s immediate grasp, rather a future.  Something one cannot touch right now, but one can see it coming.

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