Wednesday, February 3, 2010

On the Trail of Blessings: Yitzchok's Wisdom, the Land of Israel & the New Yaakov

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

As we have seen, it was Eisav's job to subjugate all the forces of the physical world - both the inner negative drives and the outer pagan belief systems - to the One God. Surprisingly, the place for this important work is not in Israel. For when Hashem created the world, he placed each land and each nation under the influence of an angel through which he guides and directs their affairs. But not so Israel. Israel - both the land and its people - have no intermediary between them and God. They relate directly to God Himself (cf. Ramban, Vayikra 18:25). "Outside the Land of Israel, although it belongs to God, yet its purity is not perfect, because of "the servants" who hold sway there, and the nations go astray after their princes to worship them as well" (Ramban ad loc., trans. Chavel).

This explains why, when Hashem wants to debunk Paganism - He does it not in Israel, but through the Ten Plagues in Egypt. For in Israel there is nothing other than the One God.

This is also explains why Yitzchok refused to give Eisav the Land of Israel. Eisav's mission to subjugate the "gods" can only be done where the gods hold sway, i.e., outside the Holy Land.

Malbim compares Yitzchok's vision of Yaakov and Eisav to the relationship between Levi and the rest of the tribes, but the Yesachar/Zevulun relationship seems a better match. Zevulun leaves Israel to do business abroad, "Zevulun will settle the seashore, he shall be a harbor for ships..." (49:13), in support of his brother Yesachar (Rashi ad loc). "Rejoice Zevulun in your excursions and Yesachar in your tents" (Devarim 33:18). Like Eisav - the איש שדה - Zevulun is not bound to Israel, and like Yaakov - the יושב אהלים - Yesachar is in his tent.

Although Avraham was never supposed to leave Israel (cf. Ramban to 12:10), Hashem does let him go. This is because Avraham received the first Beracha of Lech Lecha, the blessings of materialism, as an independent Beracha before he came to Israel. Avraham can therefore exist outside of Israel and, interestingly enough, it is there that this Beracha is fulfilled - Pharaoh enriches him. (This explains Avraham's acceptance of Pharaoh's gifts outside of Israel verses his rejection of the gifts of the king of Sodom inside of Israel, as described in this post.) Unlike his father, Yitzchok was born into both Berachos as a unified package; this is why Hashem does not allow him to leave Israel at all (26:2). But when Yitzchok breaks the Berachos in two, he creates a New Jew - an "Eisav" who is not tied to Israel and whose destiny is on the international stage: "יעבדוך עמים וישתחו לך לאמים".

This resolves a difficult point in our story: Why does Yitzchok tell Yaakov to leave Israel? The need to find a wife is no excuse - Avraham sent Eliezer to find a wife for Yitzchok; Yitzchok could have easily done the same for Yaakov. If Avraham's sole departure from Israel to escape a famine was criticized by the Ramban and if  Hashem (and, earlier, Avraham) explicitly forbade Yitzchok from leaving, then how could Yitzchok, unaware of Eisav's murderous intent, instruct Yaakov to leave?

In light of the above, the answer is obvious. Yitzchok designed a Beracha for Eisav which described his vision for his firstborn son: an international Jew whose mission lies outside the Land of Israel. When Yaakov steals these Berachos, he is not merely stealing blessings - he is stealing a mandate. And so, immediately afterwords, Yitzchok commands Yaakov to leave Israel and fulfill Eisav's role abroad, just as Yaakov's son Zevulun will do in the future.

Yitzchok immediately understood the consequences of Yaakov's theft. He tells Eisav, והיה כאשר תריד ופרקת עולו  מעל צוארך - "When he [Yaakov] falls, then you can cast off his yoke" [cf. Rashi] (27:40). Why should Eisav's submission before Yaakov be conditional on Yaakov's success? The answer is that Yitzchok is not referring here to Yaakov's traditional role as the יושב אהלים; Yitzchok is referring to Yaakov's new role as the איש שדה, the role he just usurped from Eisav. Yitzchok is telling Eisav, "Your brother has taken over your role as the גביר and you are therefore now subservient to him, but whenever he fails in that role, if he fails to do your job right, then there will no longer be any reason for you to be under his yoke." (כן העיר ר' צבי יונגר) 

This explanation enables us to understand the prophecy Rivka received when she was pregnant with her two sons: ולאם מלאם יאמץ - "Each nation will get its strength from the other." Rashi  explains, "when one rises the other falls... Tyre was not filled but from the ruin of Jerusalem" (cf. Megillah 6a). Another example of this phenomenon appears at the end of Parshas Vayishlach where the Torah lists eight Edomite kings which descended from Eisav. Rashi cites a Midrash, "Correspondingly, [eight kings] also came from Yaakov and the kingdom of Edom ceased to exist during that period..." (Rashi to 36:31).

History shows that Yaakov and Eisav cannot succeed simultaneously, but there is more here than a mere seesaw.

If "when one rises the other falls" is the sole point, then the original prophecy would have limited itself to those words. Instead, the prophecy states, "Each nation will get its strength from the other." This foretells Yaakov's "theft" of Eisav's destiny and explains their symbiotic relationship. When Yaakov successfully blends his new-found worldly power and Kingship with his original destiny of sitting in the tents of Torah then Eisav loses his raison d'être and his very existence as a nation begins to fade. But if and when Yaakov fails, then Eisav shall rise again.

This idea was foreshadowed by the very birth of the the two twin brothers. Eisav came out first, immediately followed by Yaakov "his hand grasping the heal of Eisav" (25:26). As the Alshich asks, why is Yaakov named for this seemingly meaningless event? (See Abarbanel, cited by Malbim.) In light of the above, the meaning is clear. Yaakov's grasping Eisav's heal illustrates not only the fact that Eisav will fall when Yaakov rises, but also tells us why: Yaakov is destined (doomed?) to seize his elder brother's very mission of power and destiny as the firstborn. Just as the prophecy foretold: ולאם מלאם יאמץ - Yaakov will get his strength from Eisav.

Eisav failed to live up to his destiny and Yaakov takes all. With both blessings securely in his pocket, Yaakov heads out of Israel for Charan - leaving his brother behind. But in this, their third generation, the Berachos of Avraham have evolved. En route, Yaakov receives this prophecy:
וְהִנֵּה יְהוָה נִצָּב עָלָיו וַיֹּאמַר אֲנִי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי אַבְרָהָם אָבִיךָ, וֵאלֹהֵי יִצְחָק הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה שֹׁכֵב עָלֶיהָ לְךָ אֶתְּנֶנָּה וּלְזַרְעֶךָ. וְהָיָה זַרְעֲךָ כַּעֲפַר הָאָרֶץ וּפָרַצְתָּ יָמָּה וָקֵדְמָה וְצָפֹנָה וָנֶגְבָּה וְנִבְרְכוּ בְךָ כָּל מִשְׁפְּחֹת הָאֲדָמָה וּבְזַרְעֶךָ. וְהִנֵּה אָנֹכִי עִמָּךְ וּשְׁמַרְתִּיךָ בְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר תֵּלֵךְ וַהֲשִׁבֹתִיךָ אֶל הָאֲדָמָה הַזֹּאת. כִּי לֹא אֶעֱזָבְךָ עַד אֲשֶׁר אִם עָשִׂיתִי אֵת אֲשֶׁר דִּבַּרְתִּי לָךְ
There is a new element here, a blessing that we have not seen before: ופרצת... Hashem is confirming what Yitzchok already understood: The Berachos fiasco was the only way compensate for Eisav's failure to live up to his destiny. A new Yaakov has been created - a hybrid of the יושב אהלים and the איש שדה. Spiritual Man is now vested with the mission of bringing the Beracha of Israel to the rest of the world! The ונברכו בך כל משפחות האדמה of Avraham - part of the physical blessing at the beginning of Lech Lecha - must now be realized by way of ופרצת - direct interaction with the nations, on their turf. This is what you get when you patch together the Avraham that Yitzchok divided in two. Yaakov leaves Israel, and in Charan he is fruitful and he multiplies - both physically and spiritually.

[Continue the Trail here.]

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