In this week’s Parashah, the Torah presents the struggle between Yaakov and Eisav to become the recipient of Yitzchak’s Berachah. A very obvious question arises regarding this episode: why does Yitzchak want to bless Eisav? What does Yitzchak see in his elder son? The assumption in the above question is that Yitzchak intends to bless only Eisav. However, it is possible that Yitzchak intends to bless both Eisav and Yaakov.
We know that Hashem gives Avraham a very specific Berachah that applies only to Yitzchak and his descendents. Hashem tells Avraham, “LeZaracha Natati Et HaAretz HaZot,” “To your offspring I have given this land” (BeReishit 18:15). This Berachah is transferred from Avraham to Yitzchak, as Hashem commands in the Pasuk, “Ki VeYitzchak Yikarei Lecha Zara,” “Through Yitzchak your offspring will be called” (21:12), but not through Yishmaeil. Therefore, Avraham’s passes his Berachah on to only one of his children. We know through hindsight that Yaakov is the sole recipient of the Berachah, since it is through Yaakov that the twelve tribes come, and from that point the nation is able branch out. Eisav’s offspring, though, are not part of the nation.
However, why would Yitzchak think that only one of his children would receive the Berachah that his father had given him? After all, Avraham is told through Nevuah, prophecy, that only Yitzchak should receive the Berachah, but Yitzchak is never told which son he should bless! Therefore, Yitzchak should have no reason to choose only one of his sons to bless.
Perhaps Yitzchak intends to bless both children, but in different ways. He thinks that both sons will be recipients of the full Berachah that Hashem gave to Avraham and Yitzchak, but each has a different role. Yitzchak realizes that he must choose one of his sons to be the leader. Yitzchak sees the success that Eisav has already exhibited in the first sixty years of his life. He has mastered the art of hunting (a job), and he is married with children. Yaakov is simple, single, and has no job. Therefore, it would be quite logical that if both children were supposed to be part of the nation, Eisav would take the role of material leadership and Yaakov would essentially become the spiritual leader. Yitzchak does not choose one of his offspring but instead gives each of his children a different role within the same nation.
In light of this, it makes sense that in Yitzchak’s blessing to Eisav – the Berachah that Yaakov stole from Eisav – Yitzchak does not promise the land. The Berachah that Yitzchak gives is not similar to the Berachah that Hashem gives to Avraham and that Avraham gives to Yitzchak. Instead, Yitzchak gives the Berachah of prosperity and of physical domination over his brother. Yitzchak does not mention the special Berachah of “LeZaracha Natati Et HaAretz HaZot” because he does not believe that Eisav is the sole recipient of the Berachah.
But what goes wrong? Why is Yitzchak’s interpretation of the situation not correct? The answer is simply that Rivkah had a Nevuah that Yaakov was supposed to be the sole recipient of the Berachah and that he would inherit the land. Hashem tells Rivkah that there are two separate nations in her womb. Therefore, Yitzchak’s assumption that Yaakov and Eisav would be part of the same nation is simply incorrect. Yitzchak eventually learns the truth of the Nevuah, which is why, immediately before Yaakov leaves for Padan Aram, Yitzchak tells Yaakov, “VeYiten Lecha Et Birkat Avraham Lecha ULeZaracha Itach,” “May [Hashem] grant you the blessing of Avraham, to you and to your offspring with you” (28:4). He finally acknowledges that Yaakov is the sole recipient of the Berachah of Eretz Yisrael and of the continuation of the lineage from Avraham.
Yitzchak’s mistake can teach us two extremely important lessons. Rav Chaim Jachter often points out that a major problem with the people of the prophet Yirmiyahu’s time is that they choose to follow their own logic over Nevuah. For example, Yirmiyahu prophesies that Bavel will rule for seventy years and then the Jews will take over again. However, this prophecy meets opposition when the Babylonians appoint Gedalyah to govern the Jews. Gedalyah is certainly not the ideal leader, so it would make sense that the Jews would want to overpower him. However, Yirmiyahu has already told the people to accept Babylonian rule, so while it makes sense for the people to rid themselves of Gedalyah, such action would be directly opposed to the Nevuah. Nonetheless, Yishmaeil Ben Netanyah kills Gedalyah, using his own wits and logic against the Nevuah of Yirmiyahu. This is a major theme in the failure of the Jewish people during the later part of the era of the first Beit HaMikdash. The Torah teaches us through Yitzchak’s minor mistake that we should consult Hashem before using our own intellect. Nowadays, we don’t have Nevuah, but the lesson still applies. If we have a question regarding something within Judaism, we cannot use our own intuition to decide the Halachah. Instead, we need to look for what the Halachah mandates in a specific situation by going to a rabbi and asking him questions. We cannot make the same mistake that Yitzchak does by deciding certain Halachot based on what we think makes sense.
The second and equally important lesson is in the mistake that Yitzchak makes with his instinct as to who should be the leader of the future nation. He believes that Eisav should be the leader because he has the physical characteristics that qualify him as a leader. He has a job and a successful physical life. Yitzchak mistakenly thinks that these characteristics make Eisav more suitable to be the leader of the nation. However, he is wrong, since the true characteristic of a good leader is not in his physical strength but in his spiritual strength. It is true that a leader needs to be physically dominating in order to ensure that his people will respect and listen to him. But that does not mean that physical strength should be the chief factor of distinguishing a good leader from a bad one. Spiritual excellence is the essence of a good leader, and if one lacks spirituality, he is by definition a bad leader. Physical strength can be only a secondary factor in choosing the leader. Nowadays, we too must choose leaders not based on charismatic charm but based on commitment to Hashem and to Mitzvot. In doing so, we can better assure that our leaders lead us in the right direction instead of leading us astray.
- Adapted from the analysis of Rav Menachem Liebtag