Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Making Your Dreams Come True

How Yosef Redeemed Himself, Revised the Future, and Reunified the House of Israel

Originally published in Nitzachon

[A word of warning: readers of the Trail Series will recognize the ideas presented in the introductory paragraphs. However, this essay develops things further, breaking new ground and containing many new insights. If you liked the Trail Series, you will love this piece, and if you like this piece, then you must read the Trail Series - it provides the backstory.]

Although it is the subject matter of nearly half of Sefer Bereishis, the story of Yosef and his brothers rarely receives the scrutiny it requires. Familiarity breeds neglect. All too often, we rely on the superficial reading we learned in elementary school and fail to relearn the formative events of our nation as adults. This article is a limited foray into the many mysteries of Yosef’s life: his dreams, his dream interpretations, and his complicated relationship with his family. Although some points are speculative, our intention is to stir debate and hopefully play a role in bringing these issues back where they belong: at the forefront of our consciousness.
The saga was born of hatred. “His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers and they hated him” (37:4). Exacerbating the situation was the fact that Yosef spoke lashon hara. “He told his father every negative thing that he saw by his brothers the sons of Leah” (Rashi to 37:2). Under these conditions, it is reasonable for the brothers to be upset. However, the intensity of their feelings, the burning jealousy and the hatred, can only be understood in light of family history.
Avraham received extraordinary divine blessings – wealth, power, fame, a country and a dynasty – but not all of his children inherited it. Yishmael was found unworthy and expelled and Yitzchok took all. In the second generation, the same thing happened again. Yitzchok had two sons, Yaakov and Eisav, but Eisav was left empty handed and Yaakov was the sole inheritor. Now we are in the third generation and Yaakov’s sons can take nothing for granted. The big question is on everyone’s mind. Who will get the blessings?
Another worrisome precedent troubles the third generation. When Yitzchok selected his favorite son Eisav, Yaakov took action to prevent the blessings from falling into the wrong hands. He tricked his father and seized the blessings that were rightfully his. The brothers fear history will repeat itself. They suspect that Yaakov will follow in his father’s footsteps and give all the blessings to his favorite son Yosef. And when Yosef speaks lashon hara about them to Yaakov, they naturally suspect that Yosef is walking in his father’s footsteps, attempting to ensure the blessings don’t end up in the hands of an “evil” son.
Yet another piece of family history weighs on the mind of the brothers: that of Yosef’s mother Rachel. Our most influential matriarch, Rachel was a spiritual supergiant; a woman who exemplified selfless caring for others. However, blinded by rivalry, the sons of the other mothers may have had a skewed perspective. Rachel betrayed her fiancé, giving away the secret signs to her sister Leah. And in a bold act of righteous criminality, she stole her father’s treasured teraphim – and lied about it.[1] In short, both of Yosef’s parents are self-confident and forceful personalities, and when they believe something is right, they will do it, even if it comes at someone else’s expense. With genes like these, it is reasonable for the brothers to expect that Yosef will self-righteously seize their birthright. The brothers know that they are worthy and capable of furthering the family’s destiny, and that they need to protect their spiritual future from being usurped by Yosef. This is why they hate him.
And then Yosef has a dream.
The First Dream
Yosef tells his brothers what he saw in his dream.
“We are bundling bundles of grain in the field and my bundle suddenly stands up straight. Your bundles surround it and bow down to my bundle.” (37:7)  
Obviously, telling his brothers about his dream is not going to improve their relationship, but to understand their reaction we must once again turn to family history.
The brothers are undoubtedly struck by the appearance of grain in the dream. Why are the sons of Yaakov in a field harvesting grain? They are shepherds, not farmers! But then the brothers remembered the blessings. Many years earlier, when the time came for grandfather Yitzchok to bless his children, he began with these words: “Hashem will grant you from the dew of the sky and from the fat of the earth, much grain and wine…”
Grain is the first blessing and Yosef is claiming it for himself! The brothers’ suspicions are heightened, but it isn’t until the second dream that their fears are confirmed.
The Second Dream
Yosef has a second dream. He sees the sun, the moon and eleven stars in the sky bowing to him. He shares this dream with his family and the reaction is fierce.
His father yelled at him and said, “What is this dream that you have dreamt? Will we come – I, and your mother and your brothers – to bow down to you to the ground?!” (37:10)
Rashi explains Yaakov’s skepticism.
“Will we come – I, and your mother…? But your mother is already dead!”  He did not realize that it referred to Bilha who raised him like a mother.
Yaakov’s question is a good one, but why is he so upset? Once again, the answer is to be found in the blessings of Yitzchok. Thinking he was talking to Eisav, Yitzchok said, “…You will be master over your brothers and the sons of your mother will bow to you.”
Brother bowing to brother is a central feature of the blessings! As far as the brothers are concerned, the game is up: Yosef clearly sees himself as the sole inheritor and future master of the family. His father’s favorite and a son of both Yaakov and Rachel, nothing will stop Yosef from stealing what is rightfully theirs. Yaakov knows what his sons are thinking and he tries to downplay the dream’s significance, but the damage is already done.
To save themselves and to secure the legacy of Avraham, the brothers take preemptive action and sell Yosef into slavery. The tragedy here is that the brothers’ fears drive them to commit the very crimes they are trying to prevent: throwing a brother out of the family, plundering his share of divine blessings, and lying to a parent. All for the sake of Heaven and all in line with family precedents.
(There is one glitch that cannot escape notice. When Yitzchok spoke of bowing brothers, he referred explicitly to “the sons of your mother.” Yosef’s mother was Rachel, and Benyamin is his only full brother. All the other brothers were born of different mothers. Yosef’s vision of all eleven of his brothers bowing to him does not quite match up with the wording of Yitzchok’s blessing. Yosef and the brothers must have wondered about this.)
Yaakov is upset and the brothers are jealous because they understand what the dreams foretell. Yosef will rule. Yosef will inherit the rights and powers vested in the Abrahamic blessings. Right? Wrong.
It never happens. Yosef never does become king; that role is reserved for the tribe of Yehuda. Nor does Yosef become Kohen; that honor goes to Levi. While it is true that Yosef's two sons are elevated to the status of shevatim, it is difficult to see this as a fulfilment of the dreams or the blessings. Historically, the tribes of Ephraim and Menashe have no leadership role and no greater prominence than any other tribe.
So what became of Yosef's dreams? If the Torah records them, they must be significant. What do they mean?
Bowing Etiquette
When the brothers first arrive in Egypt and stand before Yosef, he accuses them of being spies. 
Yosef recognized his brothers and they did not recognize him. Yosef remembered the dreams he dreamt about them and he said, "You are spies! You have come to find the land's weakness." (42:8-9)
With this false accusation Yosef begins his long torment of the family, which includes the imprisonment of Shimon, months of anxiety for Yaakov, and the framing of Benyamin. What exactly is Yosef doing? Even if it were possible to suspect Yosef HaTzaddik of engaging in revenge, that untenable suggestion is refuted by Yosef's repeated emotional breakdowns. Revenge is sweet, not painful.
According to the Ramban, Yosef was busy making his dreams come true.
When Yosef saw his brothers bowing to him, he remembered all of the dreams he dreamt about them and he realized that neither of them was fulfilled with this [bowing] event. For he knew their interpretation. First, all his brothers would bow to him. This comes from the first dream, "we were bundling bundles of grain" (37:7), "we" means all of his eleven brothers. And the second time, in the second dream, the sun, moon and eleven stars bow to him. Since Yosef did not see Benyamin with them, he came up with this strategy of accusing them [of being spies] so that they would also bring his brother Benyamin to him in order to fulfill the first dream first.
This is why he didn't want to tell them [now] "I am Yosef your brother" ... as he does on the second time [they come to Egypt]. For [if he would reveal his identity now], his father would certainly come immediately [and the first dream would not be fulfilled independently]. Only after the first dream is fulfilled does he tell them to fulfill the second dream.
Absent this [explanation], Yosef would be committing a terrible crime to put his father through pain, making him bereft and in mourning for so many days over [the imprisonment of] Shimon and over [the disappearance of Yosef] himself. Even if he wanted to make his brothers suffer a little, how could he not have compassion on his father? But [the truth is that Yosef] did everything at the right time in order to make the dreams come true.   
As brilliant as it is, the Ramban's approach is difficult to accept. Are we to believe that the meaning of Yosef's dreams is the mechanical bowing of his brothers and his father, in a specific order? What is the significance of that? More disturbing is the idea that Yosef is making his father suffer in the pursuit of a personal agenda. Since when did making your dreams come true become a Mitzvah?  
The Dream Interpreter
The Talmud (Berachos 55b) teaches that dreams are flexible. Dreams have multiple valid possibilities and they materialize however they are interpreted.[2] This gives dream interpreters a remarkable degree of power and Yosef was dream interpreter par excellence.
The truth of this reality is indicated by Yosef's own words to the royal butler:
"For if you remember me, just as I have been good to you, you should please do me a favor and mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this [prison] house!" (40:14).
To ask for the pardon of a man convicted of attempted rape, a foreigner and a slave no less, is no small request, and a newly freed prisoner in no position to ask for favors. Yosef knows he is asking a lot and he tells the butler to do it "just as I have been good to you." What did Yosef do for the butler? All Yosef did was explain his dream and in return for that Yosef asks the butler to request a pardon from the king?! The answer is that dreams follow their interpretation. Yosef didn't just explain a dream; he saved the butler's life, and now he rightly asks the butler to do the same for him.
Cognizant of the power of dream interpreters, my father, Rabbi Noam Gordon, explained our difficult Ramban.  
Of course the plain meaning of Yosef's dreams is that he will be king, but Yosef does not want to be king. He does not want to usurp his brothers’ role and the very idea has torn the family apart. As a dream interpreter, Yosef has the power to grab a dream by the horns and direct it as he wishes. Exercising this ability, Yosef decides to defuse his dreams by interpreting them literally. His brothers will merely bow down to him and that will be the end of it. Once that is accomplished, Yosef can reveal his identity and the brothers will have nothing to worry about. The dreams will be gone.
Now we understand why Yosef put his family through this ordeal. It was the only way to get rid of the dreams. As the Ramban wrote, had Yosef revealed his identity right away, Yaakov would have come straight down to Egypt together with Benyamin and the option of interpreting the dreams literally would have been closed.   
It is a marvelous explanation, but taking things one step further, we end up with a disturbing result. Aside from his own dreams, Yosef also interprets the dreams of Pharaoh’s baker and butler. If dreams follow their interpretation, then Yosef is responsible not only for saving the butler’s life, but also for the death of the baker. Surely Yosef could have come up with an alternative interpretation! Who gave Yosef the right to kill a man?  
Disturbing as it is, this question pales in comparison with the one posed by next episode in Yosef’s career. When the king of Egypt dreams of stalks eating stalks and cows eating cows, Yosef is taken out of the dungeon to explain it. Yosef insists that it is all God’s doing – “It is not me… God is showing Pharaoh what He is about to do” (41:16,28) – but we know that this is only half the story. Hashem empowered Yosef to make the call.  Yosef is brilliant and creative and he has many options at his disposal, yet he decides to create a horrific famine. Why did Yosef do that?!
A Dream and a Nightmare
Yosef had two dreams. In his first dream, his father is ominously absent. Understandably, Yosef never tells his father about this dream. In Yosef’s second dream, his father is present, powerfully represented by the sun. Another basic difference: In dream number one, Yosef's brothers appear to be his slaves, but in dream number two, they are untouchable and he looks up to them as stars.
Hashem is presenting Yosef with two options. Yosef will be given the opportunity to enslave his brothers, but for that to occur, their father cannot be present.  Alternatively, Yosef can bring his father into the picture as the patriarch of the family, but that requires putting his brothers on a pedestal. It will be for Yosef to choose which vision to bring to life. On a deeper level, Hashem is presenting Yosef with two different versions of himself. Yosef can follow in the footsteps of his father Yaakov and be a Tzaddik or he can be a Rasha like Uncle Eisav. The choice is his.
At the very beginning of our story, Yosef was living at home and speaking lashon hara about his brothers. Which brothers, exactly? According to the way the Ramban translates the pasuk, the Torah is clear:
Yosef was seventeen… despite his youth, he led the sons of Bilha and the sons of Zilpa, his father’s wives, and Yosef spoke negatively about them to his father.”
Why did Yosef speak negatively about Dan, Naftali, Gad and Asher? The answer is in the verse. Yosef did not consider them to be his brothers. He did not even consider them to be his father’s sons. They are the “sons of his father's wives." Yosef’s attitude suggests resentment and it undoubtedly has its roots in the early death of his mother Rachel and his strained relationship with her “replacement,” his stepmother Bilha.
When Yaakov reacted to Yosef’s dream, he was correct to focus on the moon, for the moon holds the secret to saving the family. As Rashi explained, the moon tells us that Yosef’s mother is alive and well. Her name is Bilha.
Yosef must make peace with Yaakov’s second marriage to Bilha and he must view himself as Bilha’s son. In so doing, his relationship with Dan and Naftali will be fixed, for he will cease viewing them as “sons of his father’s wife.”
They will be full-fledged brothers, sons of his own father and mother, and he will appreciate their strengths, not publicize their weaknesses. From there Yosef can move on to recognizing all of Yaakov’s wives as matriarchs and accepting all of Yaakov’s sons as brothers. If Yosef does that, the family will be whole. Otherwise, we are left with the nightmare scenario of the first dream.
Years later, Yosef is masquerading as an Egyptian viceroy and his brothers are all assembled before him, helpless and at his mercy. Yaakov is far away in Israel, low on food and anxiously awaiting his sons’ return. The time has come for Yosef to make a choice.
Bursting into tears, he cries out, "I am Yosef!  Is my father still alive?" He then kisses each of his brothers and cries with them (45:3,15).
Yosef is telling his brothers that he rejects the first dream and its dark temptations of revenge and power. What he wants is family. Yosef has chosen dream number two and for that Yaakov must be present, and so Yosef asks, “Is my father still alive?”
Yosef has passed the test and the mystery of Yitzchok’s prophecy is resolved. “Your mother’s sons will bow to you.” By embracing his brothers, Yosef has indeed transformed the sons of his father’s wives into the sons of his own mother. 
Yosef and Avraham
Secrets are buried beneath the surface of dreams and extracting them requires the right tool. Diamonds are mined with explosives. Dreams are mined with questions.
In Yosef’s second dream, he sees the sun, the moon and eleven stars. There is a very obvious problem with this picture. Stars are invisible when the sun is in the sky!
Yosef was not the first man to see stars during the day. Great-grandfather Avraham saw them too, in the midst of the bris bein habesarim.
The words of Hashem came to Avraham in a vision… He brought him outside and He said, “Look now at the sky and count the stars, if you can count them.” And He said, “So will be your descendants.” …The sun began to set… (15:1,5,17)
If the sun first sets at the end of the prophecy, then it must have been in the sky when Avraham was stargazing. How is this possible?[3] After acknowledging that the plain meaning of the text is that Hashem literally brought Avraham outside of his tent to view the stars, Rashi quotes a Midrash that reads the verse allegorically. Hashem said to Avraham, “Breakout from your destiny! You saw in the stars that you would not have a son. Avram has no son, but Avraham does have a son.” Rashi then cites another Midrash. “[Hashem] took him outside of the universe and lifted him up above the stars…” From that perspective, the sun can certainly be seen together with all the other stars.
Stars represent the forces of nature. Divine providence flows through the zodiacal constellations (mazalos),[4] particularly through the constellation in which the sun is currently located (cf. Rosh Hashanah 11b). When Hashem told Avraham to look at the stars during the day, He was directing Avraham’s attention to that month’s mazal. Hashem then said, “So will be your descendants!” In other words, divine providence and blessings will flow into the world through the Jewish People just as they flow through the mazalos. Hashem essentially said the same thing to Avraham years earlier. “Through you will be blessed all the families of the earth” (Bereishis 12:3). This is why the Jewish People have no mazal; they are themselves a mazal.[5] 
Seeing stars by day also represents the extrasensory ability to recognize invisible forces at play in our daily lives. “So will be your descendants.” This is the quality of the Jew. He knows there is a God who runs the world. He knows there is more to life than what meets the eye.
Yosef’s dream matches Avraham’s vision. Like Avraham, Yosef was given the gift of seeing stars by day. It follows that Yosef is the spiritual successor of Avraham, heir to the bris bein habesarim. This may mean that Yosef exists outside of the laws of nature and is not bound by destiny. It may mean that Yosef will be a conduit of blessing and provide sustenance for the entire world. Or it may mean that Yosef will always be cognizant of Hashem’s presence and providence. We cannot be certain of the meaning of the dream, but we do know that all of these things turn out to be true in the life of Yosef.[6]
In the ancient world, pagan man worshiped the heavenly bodies. In Yosef’s dream the scene is reversed; the sun, the moon and the stars bow before man.  This is a fundamental teaching of the Torah: The center of creation is Man. The message of the mazalos bowing to Yosef is that he has the power and the mandate to transcend natural law and bend the world – and his dreams – to his will.[7]
The Seed of Yosef
The divine promise Avraham received under the stars is being channeled now through Yosef. That promise was encapsulated by the words, ko yihiyeh zarecha, “so will be your descendants.” Yosef’s zera will be as uncountable as the stars.
What if Yosef does not want this blessing? What if he wants to share it with his eleven brothers? Is there any way out?
Yosef has a plan. Usually translated as descendants, zaracha literally means “your seeds.” Aside from the zera of Avraham, there is one other thing in Sefer Bereishis which is described as uncountable: the surplus of seeds produced by Yosef. “Yosef amassed produce as numerous as the sand of the sea, until they ceased counting, for it was without number” (41:49).[8]  Yosef the Dream Interpreter has manipulated the meaning of zera!  Redirecting the blessing from children to food, Yosef simultaneously saves mankind from starvation and secures the legacy of Avraham for all of Yaakov’s sons.
Where did Yosef get the right to intervene in Hashem’s plans? Why didn’t Yosef submit to the plain meaning of the blessings and the dreams? Who gave Yosef a license to kill the royal baker and create a world-wide famine? The answer is his own dreams! Yosef’s dreams taught him that he has been vested with the responsibility and the power to unify the family of Yaakov and nothing in the universe is more important. Killing the baker and saving the butler cemented Yosef’s reputation as an effective dream interpreter and ultimately got him out of prison, and the famine is what put Yosef in power and brought his brothers down to Egypt. Man and Nature must bow and collude with Yosef to make his dreams come true, collateral damage notwithstanding.
The Eisav that Wasn’t
Sefer Bereishis ends with a heart-wrenching episode.
The brothers saw that their father died and they said, "Maybe Yosef hates us and will repay us for all the evil we did to him!" They sent a message to Yosef. “Before his death, your father instructed as follows, ‘Tell Yosef to please forgive now the crime of your brothers…’” Yosef cried as they spoke to him. His brothers then went and prostrated themselves before him and said, "We are your slaves."
Yosef said, "Do not be afraid. Am I in place of God? You thought evil of me; Hashem arranged it for the good in order to bring about what we have today: the sustenance of a great nation. Now, do not be afraid! I will support you and your children." He consoled them and spoke to their hearts. (50:15-22)
Yosef's response is strange. They "thought evil” of him?! They did evil to him! And why is Yosef committing to support his brothers? They came pleading for their lives, not asking for a handout. 
The answer is that the brothers are not afraid of revenge; they are afraid of Yosef’s dream. Their offer to become Yosef's slaves was not driven by guilt for enslaving him – Yosef forgave them for that already (cf. 45:5). Rather, unaware that the dreams had already been neutralized, the brothers are acting in accordance with their understanding of Yosef's first dream. As long as Yaakov was alive, the second dream was in play and the brothers were as safe as the stars in the sky. But now Yaakov is gone. The brothers "saw that their father had died.” The second dream had run its course and now the time has come for the first dream to materialize. And so the brothers prostrate themselves before Yosef and declare, "We are your slaves!"
What is Yosef's response? 
"You thought evil of me." You think I wish to strip you of your blessings? You accuse me of fantasizing of a dystopia where I am dictator and you are my slaves? You suspect me of being Eisav reincarnate? You think I am evil?
"Yes, I had that option and I rejected it. You forget that I do not only dream; I also interpret dreams. My first dream, the vision of your bundles bowing to mine – it is not what you think! I do not see enslavement, I see food distribution, and you are bowing in gratitude. Due to my intervention, Hashem turned my dream into an engine for good, to sustain a great nation. My dream does not mean that I shall enslave you; it means I will support you!"
In the end, the brothers were justified in their fears that Yosef would be a “thief” like his mother and a “trickster” like his father. Rachel had the right and the ability to claim the blessing of Yaakov all for herself, but she gave it up for her sister. Yosef also had the right and the ability to claim the family blessings for himself, but like his mother, he gave it up for his brothers. Yaakov had to pose as his evil twin and deceive his father in order to prevent the blessings from falling into the hands of his brother. Yosef also had to pose as his evil alter ego, in the form of a vicious viceroy, and deceive his father in order to prevent the blessings from falling into the hands of his twin, the other Yosef. Like his mother and like his father, Yosef is a holy thief. Yosef the Tzaddik stole the blessings from Yosef the Rasha.
This gives us a new understanding of Yosef’s emotional outburst. “I am Yosef! Is my father still alive?” After all the years separated from family and living in the fleshpot of Egypt, Yosef is grappling with his own identity. Like Yaakov and Eisav in the womb of Rivka, the two Yosefs are engaged in a struggle for supremacy and the future of the Jewish People hangs in the balance. Yosef cries out in amazement, “I am Yosef! Does the Yaakov within me still live?!” With that question, Yosef provided the answer.       
As we read Sefer Bereishis, we watch Yosef grow from a self-centered child damaged by his mother’s death to a man who courageously exercises supernatural powers and lovingly embraces the brothers who tried to destroy him. Emasculating his dreams, Yosef sacrificed the promise of eternal royalty on the altar of family unity. Millennia later, will still bow before the man whose leadership, wisdom and selflessness healed the family and set the stage for the birth of the Chosen Nation.

[If you liked this piece, I recommend reading the Trail Series from the beginning for the full backstory. For a strikingly parallel interpretation of Pharaoh's dreams, read this post.]

[1] What the brothers thought of Rachel can be seen by their reaction when Benyamin is caught red-handed with Yosef’s goblet in his pack. The brothers jeer at him, “Thief, son of a thief! You are an embarrassment! You are truly the son of your mother. Your mother embarrassed our father in just the same way.” (Midrash Tanchuma, Miketz 10)
[2] The Gemara learns this from none other than Yosef himself, as the Royal Butler told Pharaoh, “Just as he interpreted [our dreams] for us, so it was” (41:13). Of course, it is not a free-for-all. Dreams will only materialize as interpreted if the interpreter is qualified and the interpretation is valid. According to Tosefos (ad loc. s.v. posrei chalomos) the mazal of a person at the time of his birth determines his ability to interpret dreams.
[3] Due to the force of this question, the Rashbam posits that despite the clear flow of the text, these events did not all occur at the same time (cf. Berachos 7b, Tosafos s.v. lo haya).
[4] “Every single blade of grass has a mazal in the firmament which hits it and says, ‘grow!’” (Bereishis Rabba 10). For more on mazalos, see Derech Hashem 2:7 and Nefesh HaChaim 3:10.
[5]Ein mazal l’yisroel” (Shabbos 156a). See, however, Rashi and Tosfos (ad loc.) who qualify this statement.
[6] Seeing stars by day is also a sign of tragedy (cf. Moed Koton 25b), another thing Yosef’s life did not lack.
[7] Every individual is obligated to say, “The world was created for me” (Mishnah, Sanhedrin 4:5). “I rule over man. Who rules over Me? The Tzaddik, for I pass a decree and he annuls it” (Moed Koton 16b). “This is one of the conditions that Hashem set upon all the acts of creation: they are subjugated to the Torah and to those who labor [in Torah]. [The creation] must perform whatever they decree on it and their rule over it is akin to the rule of the Creator, may He be blessed. This is why you will find individual Tzaddikim who control the heavens, the earth, the stars, the sun and the moon” (Ohr HaChaim, Shemos 14:27, s.v. l’eisano). For a description of how the human neshama was designed to influence and control all the forces of the created universe, see Nefesh HaChaim 1:5-7. For the idea that a person immersed in Torah transcends the mazalos, see Nefesh HaChaim 4:18.
[8] The produce amassed by Yosef is called zera in 47:19, 47:23 and 47:24. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

On the Trail of Blessings: Yitzchok's Wisdom, Eisav's Appetite & Yaakov's Mission

Occasionally old posts get refined and sometimes a post develops and grows to the point that warrants a reposting. Rare indeed is when it happens at just the right time. This week's parsha, in fact. (The new paragraphs follow the quote from Rav Hirsch.)

[This is the second installment in the series. It can be read independently or, for maximum reading pleasure, begin the Trail here.]

Yitzchok was no fool. His desire to bless Eisav was not driven by blind love for his son but by a compelling vision for Israel: Yaakov would be master of spirituality and Eisav would be master of physicality.

Do not misunderstand - Yitzchok has only the highest regard for Eisav. In Yitzchok's plan, Eisav has the awesome responsibility of sanctifying this world by harnessing it for the Creator's purposes. This is why Yitzchok tells Eisav to serve him a meal before he blesses him; it is Eisav's job to dedicate the physical in support of the Tzaddik - and it is only in this merit that he gets the Beracha.
Yitzchok wanted to bless Eisav in the spirit of his future calling...
The savage craft of hunting must be elevated and used for exalted humane purposes. For it seems that Eisav did not usually hunt in order to provide a nourishing meal for his aged, feeble father. He enjoyed hunting for its own sake, for the sight of the steaming blood of his prey...
Yitzchok therefore tells Eisav: "Please take your gear, hunt some game for me, and prepare a tasty dish for me" (27:4). You yourself, this time, use the tools of your trade to perform an act of kindness...
Rabbi S.R. Hirsch
Expanding on Rav Hirsch's insight, we can say that before granting Eisav his mandate, Yitzchok wants to see him perform. Yitzchok understands Eisav and he is training him in the appropriate use of his God-given gifts. 

Avraham and Yitzchok were not hunters; they were shepherds. For this family descended from Noah, the love and care of animals was a central tenet, as evidenced by Eliezer's test of Rivka. Coming from this tradition, we would expect Yitzchok to abhor Eisav's sport of choice, but Yitzchok is bigger than that. He does not attempt to quash Eisav's native talent; on the contrary, he embraces it and encourages his son to pursue it. On one condition: it must be elevated.     

Eisav was born to hunt and this defines his mission: to conquer the animal - both the external prey and the internal drive - and dedicate it for a higher purpose. In this way, unbridled physicality is tamed, sanctified and elevated. Eisav is thus privileged to play the central role in the ultimate purpose of creation: bringing down the divine presence and its accompanying blessings into our physical world. 

Yitzchok's directive to Eisav carries a deeper meaning. It is the birthright of the firstborn to serve as Kohen and offer sacrifices (cf. Rashi to 25:31,32). On its most basic level, animal sacrifice is the elevation of the animal soul before God, כי הדם הוא הנפש. In order for this to be accomplished, it is critical that the Kohen has the right intentions. If the Kohen has his own personal agenda in mind - for example, if he plans to eat the meat at the time and place of his own choosing - the offering is rendered invalid, פיגול הוא לא ירצה. 

The fundamental principle of sacrifice is thus the total subjugation and dedication of life itself to God - קודש להשם. The physical act is the easy part; the real challenge occurs within the human mind. This is what Yitzchok was telling Eisav: "In order for you to succeed in the offering of sacrifices, you must first learn to transcend your self. Let's try a practice run. Use your hunting talent selflessly. Do it for me and follow my instructions precisely. If you pass this test, you will qualify to be a Kohen."

Eisav failed. He does deliver game to his father, but he can't get his mind under control. Yitzchok instructed Eisav, "Capture for me" (27:3), i.e., be sure to find an ownerless animal and don't steal one (Rashi). However, Eisav heads out "to bring it" (27:5) - he said to himself, "If I don't find an animal on the hunt, I will steal one" (Rashi). Eisav will not submit to his father's instructions. Success must be achieved, by hook or by crook. Eisav's mind is warped and wrapped into itself and instead of sacrifice he is only willing to serve his own interests. Eisav will never be Kohen. (See Kli Yakar 27:3.)  


Understanding Eisav's mandate to transcend himself and do for others allows us to reconcile Yitzchok's blessing with the prophecy that Rivkah received before the boys were born:
ויתרצצו הבנים בקרבה ותאמר אם כן למה זה אנכי ותלך לדרש את יקוק
ויאמר יקוק לה שני גיים גוים בבטנך ושני לאמים ממעיך יפרדו ולאם מלאם יאמץ ורב יעבד צעיר
...and the elder will serve the younger.
Assuming Yitzchok knew this, how could he attempt to bless Eisav (27:29) הֱוֵה גְבִיר לְאַחֶיךָ וְיִשְׁתַּחֲווּ לְךָ בְּנֵי אִמֶּךָ? The Ramban (27:4) concludes that Rivka never told him, but in light of the above, there is no contradiction here. Yes, Yitzchok foretells that Eisav will be more powerful than his brother; he even says that Yaakov will bow to him. But the elder will still serve the younger, for this is Eisav's role - to support his younger brother, the Tzaddik. Yaakov bows before Eisav not in servitude but in recognition of Eisav as the גביר - the source of his support!

Since selfless giving is Eisav's mandate, he is uniquely challenged in this regard - "blessed" with  impulsiveness, self-centeredness and the need for instant gratification (cf. Vilna Gaon on Rus; Reb Tzadok, cited in Ali Shor). He trades his birthright for a bowl of soup and is prepared to kill his brother in an act of vengeance. He was a rapist and a murderer (Baba Basra 16b). Most tellingly, Eisav strove towards paganism from the womb (Rashi to 25:22). Paganism is equated with hedonism - "the Jews knew that paganism had no substance; they only worshiped it in order to permit for themselves sexual immorality in public!" (Sanhedrin 63b) - but in Eisav's case it ran deeper than that. He pursued paganism before he was born!

A prenatal interest in sin would seem to contradict the Talmudic teaching that the evil inclination enters man only after birth (Sanhedrin 91a), but Eisav is different. For Eisav, paganism and its accompanying hedonism was no ordinary "Yetzer HaRa." Eisav's paganism was not ideological, nor was it "sinful" in the usual sense of the word, for man has no evil inclination before he is born. Rather, Eisav had a natural affinity for paganism (Gur Aryeh to 25:22). Eisav was predispositioned to be attracted to the forces of nature and obsessed with power because Eisav's life-mission is to subdue, transcend and channel his physicality, sanctifying it to the One God. If subjugating nature is your mission, God isn't going to make it easy.

Eisav failed. Instead of controlling himself, he indulges in all things physical. In the end, his head is buried in the Machpela Cave, but his body is not (Sotah 13a). His head was in the right place; the problem was his body, the negative drives he could never get under control.

In contrast, Yaakov's primary mission addresses not his body, but his mind and heart. Yaakov must elevate himself in the tents of Torah, and God therefore challenges him not with an appetite for hedonism, but with ethical dilemmas, crises and tragedy: 
  • Can he "steal" the birthright and blessings from his older brother? 
  • Should he honor his mother and delude his father? 
  • May he outwit his father-in-law Lavan? 
  • How will he deal with Dina's rape, Rachel's death and Yosef's disappearance? 
  • According to the Rambam, Yaakov's struggle with the angel was fought on the battlefield of the mind, in a prophetic state. 
  • Even Yaakov's assertion that he took Shechem with his "sword and bow" is an allegory for his prayers and supplications (cf. Targum and Rashi to 48:22). 
For Yaakov the issue is not battling a Yetzer HaRa but exercising his Yetzer Tov. Is his faith strong enough to weather a life of aggravation? This is why Yaakov placed stones around his head when he slept (28:11). He is not worried about his body; if a problem were to arise it would be a challenge to his head.

It is as Yitzchok said: "The voice is the voice of Yaakov, but the hands are the hands of Eisav" (27:22). Yaakov perfects the universe of thought and Eisav perfects the physical universe. If Eisav cooperates, that is.

[Continue the Trail with part-three here.]