In the beginning of Parashat Toledot, we see that Yitzchak Avinu, the second of the three forefathers, favors his son Eisav, the rough and physical son, over Ya’akov, his passive and spiritual son. We are told “VaYe’ehav Yitzchak Et Eisav,” “And Yitzchak loved Eisav” (BeReishit 25:28). Knowing that Ya’akov was the son who continued the Jewish lineage, why would Yitzchak prefer Eisav over Ya’akov Avinu?
All three forefathers experienced intense trials. Avraham Avinu had to abandon his home (12:1) and deal with troubles caused by Par’oh in Mitzrayim (12:14-20), and Yitzchak had to overcome the trauma of almost being sacrificed as a Korban to Hashem (22:9-10) and the struggle of prospering in Gerar, the land of the Pelishtim (26:5-15). When times were tough and life was not easy among their neighbors, the Avot had to be strong and stand up for themselves.
Eisav always stood up for himself and fought for what he believed. When his Berachah was stolen by Ya’akov, Eisav chased after Ya’akov. One might think that Eisav was not always strong, for we read that “VaYavo Eisav Min HaSadeh VeHu Ayeif,” “And Eisav came from the field and he was tired” (25:29). However, Rashi (ad. loc s.v VeHu Ayeif) tells us that Eisav was tired only because he had just committed murder, an act of strength and power. Ya’akov, on the other hand, was a timid man who dwelt in tents; he did not go hunting like his brother, but rather stayed inside.
Ya’akov’s timidity is a trait that doesn’t usually appear in someone meant to continue a lineage, and it is certainly not a quality that can serve as the backbone of a nation which wishes to build a strong kingdom. But we read that Hashem tells Rivka “ULeOm Mil’om Ye’ematz VeRav Ya’avod Tza’ir,” “And one kingdom will become mightier than the other kingdom, and the elder will serve the younger” (25:23). How is it that the descendants of the timid Ya’akov would one day rule the descendants of the powerful Eisav.
Now we can understand why Yitzchak Avinu favored Eisav over Ya’akov. Yitzchak knew that Ya’akov, due to his timidity, might not be the best person to lead Bnei Yisrael to become a strong nation, while Eisav was a prime candidate for such a task. In order for the Jewish people to prosper in the future, they would need a strong leader to guide them through the myriad of tough times that would await them. Eisav, just like Yitzchak, was the eldest son of his family, so Yitzchak thought that Eisav would receive the privilege of continuing this great legacy. If Eisav was seemingly so qualified to lead the Jewish people, why did Ya’akov end up as the son through which the lineage was continued?
While Ya’akov appeared timorous early in his life, he showed his strength later. We see this when Ya’akov fearlessly outsmarts Eisav in order to receive the Bechorah (25:33). Ya’akov Avinu experienced intense moments, just like Yitzchak and Avraham did. When it was appropriate to be tough, Ya’akov came through to the fullest extent. This strength allowed him to continue the proud lineage of the Jewish people. We must learn from Ya’akov that when the time comes, we must courageously overcome any challenge that may come our way, just like our forefathers did many years ago.