Wednesday, November 25, 2009

On the Trail of Blessings: Mother Knows Best?

[This is the fifth installment in the series. Begin the Trail here.]

When Rivkah hears that her husband intends to give the berachos to Eisav, she orders Yaakov to pull off the greatest heist of history. Yaakov does as he is told, but he's not very happy about it. In fact, it can be argued that Yaakov doesn't want the blessing at all.

Beyond the obvious ethical problems that this scheme raises for the man of truth, there is another issue here of no less import. For, as we have seen, Eisav's mission is bound up with his blessing. It follows that to steal the blessing of the man of the field is to take on the responsibilities of the man of the field - responsibilities that Yaakov, the יושב אהלים, would understandably prefer to avoid. We present here several pieces of evidence:

·  Told of Rivkah's plan that he dress up as Eisav, Yaakov is nervous:
אולי ימשני אבי והייתי בעיניו כמתעתע, "Maybe father will feel me and he'll think I'm an impostor!" 

Yaakov's use of אולי for "maybe" is significant. According to the Vilna Gaon, אולי is used when the speaker hopes that the issue in doubt will come true [if you hope it won't, פן is used](Gaon on Bereishis 24:39, see Kol Eliyahu for examples). Based on this Gaon, Rabbi Yitzchok Dov Bamberger (Wurzburger Rov, 1807-1878) explains that despite his mother's orders, Yaakov secretly hoped the ruse would be foiled by his father (cited in Peninim MiShulchan HaGra).

·  Direct evidence of Yaakov's reluctance can be seen here:

ותקח רבקה את בגדי עשו בנה הגדל החמדת... ותלבש את יעקב בנה הקטן
"And Rivka took Eisav's clothes... and dressed Yaakov...

Rivkah has to dress Yaakov herself to get him to participate! Indeed, the Midrash tells us that Yaakov cried as his fulfilled his mother's orders (B.R. 65:15). 

·  At the beginning of Parshas Vayeitzei, Yaakov takes an oath:

וידר יעקב נדר לאמר אם יהיה אלהים עמדי ושמרני בדרך הזה אשר אנכי הולך ונתן לי לחם לאכול ובגד ללבש, “If God will be with me... and give me bread to eat and clothes to wear...” 

This is the man who just received the blessing of wealth! "God shall give you the dew of heaven and the fat of the earth, much grain and wine..." And he asks for bread?! This can be nothing other than a repudiation of the blessing his mother forced him to steal. Yaakov is interested in God, not wealth.

·  As we have learned, Eisav's blessings including the blessing of Leah, who was destined to marry Yitzchok's firstborn son. Yaakov presumably knew this; nonetheless, he wanted to marry Rachel, not Leah. 
·  When Yaakov needs to make some money in order to move back to Israel, he cuts a deal with Lavan (cf. 30:31-33). According to the laws of nature, Yaakov is not going to make very much money and Lavan knows it (31:34). The fact that Yaakov struck it big was due less to his genetic engineering (30:37-41) than to divine intervention (31:9-12). Again, it appears that Yaakov is only trying to provide for his family's needs, no more. The Rashba brings further evidence to Yaakov’s preference for the tent of Torah over financial success: ובכל מאדך – למאוס כל ממונו אם יצטרך לכך לקיים עבודתו ית', כיעקב אבינו ע"ה שמאס בעושר בית אביו ובחר לו להיות יושב אהלים. ואמר כל אשר תתן לי עשר אעשרנו לך (Teshuvos HaRashba 5:55).

·  On Yaakov's return to Israel he attempts to appease Eisav's wrath by returning to him the blessing of wealth which he stole, sending Eisav jewels (Rashi 32:14), goats, sheep, cattle, camels and donkeys (see, however, Rashi to 32:5). When they finally meet, Yaakov says it explicitly:

קח נא את ברכתי, "Take my blessing!"

Admittedly, Yaakov's statements to Eisav prove little - Yaakov would obviously say anything to save his life - nor is it within Yaakov abilities to transfer the blessing back to his brother - nonetheless, I believe it is unlikely that Yaakov would attempt this tactic if he wasn't sincere.

We must note that Yaakov forces the angel of Eisav to recognize his right to the berachos 
(Rashi to 32:27) and demands that he do so immediately (Rashi to 32:29). In the end, Eisav himself explicitly cedes the berachos to his brother! (Rashi 33:9) 

[Continue the Trail here.]


  1. thank you for framing the brochos as a theme that runs through the lives of the "ovos", reflecting the tensions between what Hashem has ordained and one's owns needs

  2. Thank you, dear anonymous commentator! I had to read your words three times before I fully appreciated the depth of your insight.