When Rivkah gets wind of Yitzchok’s intention to bless Esav she immediately sets into motion her strategy to preempt Esav by having Yaakov bring the delicacies Yitzchok requested first, so that Yaakov would become the recipient of his blessings.
She seems not to worry about his subterfuge being discovered, seemingly relying on Yitzchok’s blindness to prevent him from distinguishing between him and his brother. It is only when Yaakov points out the physical characteristics that differentiate them, and the fear that Yitzchok may seek to feel him, that Rivkah introduces her plan to disguise him under the hirsute goat’s skins.
Was this obviously very astute and courageous matriarch so naive not to consider that possibility?
Yaakov in expressing his worry first reiterates his smoothed-skinned appearance, then states, “Perhaps my father will feel me and I shall be a mocker in his eyes; I will thus bring upon myself a curse rather than blessing.”
It is not the lying per se he fears, merely his possibly being exposed and suffering the consequential curse. Is that the Yaakov we know? The purveyor of truth would certainly be more concerned with his own personal failure to his own impeccable standards of honesty.
Even if we take it at face value and accept that he was more anxious about his being found a mocker, how would this masquerade save him, eventually his folly would be revealed when Esav returns and he would still have to face the music of his father’s distress and subsequent curse?
After Rivkah clothes Yaakov in Esav’s garments and covers his hands and neck with goat skins, Yaakov continues with the ruse presenting himself as Esav. Yet despite the intensity of the moment and his need to not slip up, Yaakov when asked by his father how he had succeeded in procuring the food so quickly, Yaakov lapses and responds in frumspeak, “Because G-d your Lord arranged it for me.” Using language foreign to Esav, Yitzchok begins to question who is actually before him, exclaiming after feeling his furry hands, “The voice is the voice of Yaakov, but the hands are Esav’s hands.”
Was Yaakov so clueless to so mindlessly make an error that may cost him so dearly?
Putting all these questions aside how are we to understand the validity of a blessing that was received under false pretenses?
The Midrash teaches that Yitzchok had providentially been afflicted with blindness so that in the future Yaakov would be able to dupe him and usurp the blessing from Esav.
The Holy Rebbe of Radomsk reveals that this loss of sight wasn’t a physical blemish but a testament to Yitzchok’s exalted stature. He no longer possessed the flesh and blood eyes of a human that are blinded by illusion and facade, but attained a more accurate and elevated spiritual vision that enabled him to view the true world that surrounded him.
Yitzchok would not rely of his five senses to determine the identity of a person but would sense the person’s spiritual essence and worthiness. Yitzchok knew of the moral failings of Esav, but yet desired that he be blessed with material bounty and success, which he hoped, would instill a sense of responsibility and leadership that would lead the nations of the world to ally with the moral guidance of his more spiritual brother, Yaakov. The ability to master the physical world, its gifts; its temptations; its promise, Yitzchok felt, should be placed in the hands of son who was better equipped to mine its riches, Esav.
Rivkah, however, prophetically knew that Esav would squander that opportunity and transform that blessing of material success into a quest for power, domination and the pursuit of decadent pleasure. The only way the world would be inspired to nobility would be by that blessing being conferred upon the righteous son, Yaakov, who would educate the world in maneuvering through the challenges and dangers of engagement in a very physical world and all its seductions, in discovering G-d in every facet of life and living an inspired and moral existence.
The Holy Kohen of Tzefas, the Sifsei Kohen, interprets Yaakov’s initial reaction and hesitation to his mother’s instruction in a most fascinating way. Yaakov first thought that his mother was claiming the he, Yaakov, the ethereal ‘fair-skinned’ son, one removed from the pull of earthly instincts, deserved the blessings of material success. To that he responds in typical modesty, “Who am I to be deserving of G-d’s bounty, if my ‘Father’, referring to G-d, discerns who I truly am and how deficient I am in His service, I will appear like a mocker, and deserving of a curse rather than blessing”. The blessing of material success, he intimated, rightfully belongs to the carnal brother - hairy Esav.
Rivkah clarifies the matter by quickly correcting his assumption, telling him that he alone must assume a leading role in this physical world, for if it is left to Esav’s devices the world will surely sink in corruption. When seeking to douse his fear of an impending curse were he to be discovered, she assures him, עלי קללתך בני, your curse be upon me. This wasn’t merely an acceptance of his curse upon her shoulders, for who’s to say curses are transferable. What she was expressing was the fact that as the mother of both he and Esav, were the blessings to go to Esav, his eventual failure and the dismal world conditions that would evolve from that fiasco, would be laid squarely and accusingly upon her. She would be forever cursed by humanity.
The subsequent donning of the scary Esav costume wasn’t simply a tactic to fool Yitzchok into showering blessing upon Yaakov. In order for Yaakov to assume this vital role he would have to change out of his sterile cloak of purity, simplicity and stoicism and clothe himself in the persona of Esav with all his drives and ambitions, and convincingly portray how only within a foundation of the seed of Yaakov can these forces and drives be overcome and conquered.
It took the spiritual excellence of Yaakov to shed his pristine garments and don the sullied clothes of those who engage in the material world.
The Torah depicts Yaakov’s undertaking of this herculean task by painstakingly describing how, וילך, ויקח, ויבא, he went, fetched and brought, each step emphasized to portray his struggle. Each word begins with the two letters וַי, woe, alluding to his painful transformation.(רד"ל)
Evening had fallen, and Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch, the MahaRash, was receiving those who came to seek his counsel in yechidus, the private meeting of souls between rebbe and chassid. Scarcely an hour had passed, and already the Rebbe was exhausted; he called a break and asked for a fresh change of clothes.
The Rebbe's secretary emerged from the room carrying the clothes which the Rebbe had removed. They were drenched in sweat. “Master of the universe,” muttered the secretary, “why does he exert himself so?! Every hour he needs a new change of clothes. Why does the Rebbe sweat so much?”
The Rebbe's door opened, and Rabbi Shmuel stood in the doorway. “Go home,” he said to his secretary. “You have not the slightest understanding of my work. I will continue to pay your salary, but I no longer desire your services.
“Don't you understand? In the past hour twenty people came to see me. Each of them poured out his soul to me and asked for my assistance in curing it of its spiritual ills. To relate to each one's dilemma, I have to see it through their eyes. So I must divest myself of my own personality and circumstances and clothe myself in theirs. Then, in order to answer them, I must re-assume my own persona - otherwise, why would they come to consult with me?”
“Did you ever attempt to change your clothes forty times an hour? If such physical dressing and undressing would exhaust you and bathe you in sweat, can you imagine what it involves to do so in the mental, emotional and spiritual sense?” (A Change of Clothes - By Yanki Tauber, Published and copyrighted by Kehot Publication Society)
The Midrash reports how Yaakov during this time was, אנוס, כפוף ובוכה, forced, bent over and in tears. This tortuous process Yaakov undertook in identifying with the challenges of all future generations who at times would be compelled to forsake their beliefs, be beaten and downtrodden, facing tragedy and tears time and again, would hold the promise of recovery. For only this nation possesses the honesty to see the truth with a renewed faith and commitment pulling themselves out of the deepest of pits. Evidently this talent of the saintly MahaRash was one inherited from the ‘choicest’ of the patriarchs.
Immediately before giving the blessing to Yaakov, the Torah notes how Yitzchok smelled ריח בגדיו, the fragrance of his garments. The Midrash notes how this word בְּגָדָיו, garments, if vowelized differently, can express, בֹּגְדָיו, betrayers. The Midrash explains that this refers to a vision of famed future Jewish criminals, who in a flash moment of inspiration gave up their lives for the Name of G-d.
What is the secret of this Jewish rejuvenation?
When Yaakov appears as ‘Esav’ it wasn’t a gimmick, it was the real deal. He virtually became Esav, displaying before his father the unique ability to rehabilitate an Esav, but must stem from the legacy of Yaakov. Unabashedly, Yaakov emits the secret to Jewish recovery. When he exclaims, כי הקרה ד' אלקיך לפני, “Because G-d your Lord arranged it for me”, Yaakov was proudly claiming that only those who would be attuned and open-minded to the subtleties of hashgacha, Divine Providence, at any given moment in life, could rise to the greatness inherent within them.
Yitzchok, the Zohar teaches, sensed the Shechinah accompanying Yaakov’s version of Esav. There was never any deception, merely an accurate portrayal of the Esav that contained hope for the future of mankind.
The Sifsei Kohen teaches that the prophecy Shem revealed to Rivkah during her troubled pregnancy that ושני לאומים ממעיך יפרדו, two regimes from your insides shall be separated, alludes to the fact that even from Esav, good will come in the form of the righteous from his seed who would convert. The words of the prophecy are numerically equivalent to צדיקים מתגיירים, the righteous converts.
There is hope for humankind but it all begins in the legacy of Yaakov. Even those mired in the mud of earthly gravity, if they open their eyes to the ever present providence carefully guided by the hand of G-d, will merit to see through one’s spiritual eyes His loving presence.