How could Rivkah (Rebecca) have done such a thing? Her husband, Yitzchak, had an extraordinary gift to bestow upon one of his two sons: the blessing. The same blessing that had been given to his father, Avraham (Abraham), by G-d Himself. The powerful words would change the course of one of his sons’ destinies, paint the trajectory of the future of all of his descendants. According to tradition, the blessing would rightfully go to the eldest son. Yitzchak and Rivkah’s eldest son was Esav (Esau).
But then Rivkah did the unthinkable. She fooled Yitzchak into giving the blessing to their younger son Yaacov (Jacob) instead. It was she who convinced the smooth-skinned Yaacov to don animal skins to mimic the hairy arms and hands of his twin brother Esav. It was she who pushed Yaacov to enter their father’s room and receive the blessing while Esav was still outside hunting. Her husband Yitzchak was blind and could not see the difference – in more ways than one.
Why did Rivkah do it? How could one of the matriarchs of the Jewish People have committed such an act of deception? Did she really think that betraying her righteous husband’s goodwill and trust would result in blessing?
Last Chance Love
One thing is certain. Rivkah didn’t do it on impulse. Her decision to deceive her husband stemmed from a conflict between the couple that went all the way back:
“The boys grew up and Esav became one who knows hunting…but Yaacov was a wholesome man. Yitzchak loved Esav…but Rivkah loved Yaacov.” (Beraishis-Genesis 25:27-28)
The Torah, tersely written as it is, can contain multitudes in a single sentence. The above verse is an excellent example of this principle. Yitzchak and Rivkah were not on the same page about their two children, a conflict that began at the boys’ birth and finally came to a head in the giving of the blessings decades later.
The couple’s differences ranged from how to raise the two boys and what to expect from each of them to the future status of the nations that would eventually be fathered by each one. That their sons both possessed extremely powerful and very different personalities was a fact that anyone could see, but what to do about it? How to raise them? The verse, short as it is, describes years of conflict on the topic.
For example, Rivkah saw clearly and prophetically that the destiny of the house of Avraham (Abraham) could be actualized through Yaacov alone. Why not Esav? Esav, the hunter, was a personality entrenched in worldly pleasures. The monotheistic ideals that his father and grandfather had fought so long and hard for meant nothing to him. The special love that Rivkah had for Yaacov stemmed from the choices that he made. The person that he chose to become was someone who inspired a unique and powerful love that arced way above the natural maternal love every woman has for her child. “Rivkah loved Yaacov.” Esav did not earn that type of love from his mother.
Yitzchak, on the other hand, saw things differently. He lacked no clarity about the devastating life choices of his swarthy older son Esav. Murder, rape, and idolatry were an everyday part of Esav’s life. Yet Yitzchak loved Esav despite it all. He was committed to loving Esav despite it all. His love was an investment, the last and best effort a father could make to retain connection with a son who had completely rejected any and all of his values. In his heart of hearts, Yitzchak hoped and believed that one day his love would save his son and bring Esav back to the greatness and destiny he had spurned.
These yearnings did not allow Yitzchak to hear Rivkah’s warnings. Although it was she who saw the situation clearly, Yaacov’s love blinded him. If the blessing had gone to Esav, monotheism and everything that comes with it would have gone down the drain. Sometimes you just have to call a spade a spade – but all Yitzchak could see were his high hopes.
What did Rivkah have left to do under such circumstances? How could she make her husband see the misjudgment that he was making, the lie that he had been living in for so many years? The future of the Jewish People was at stake. If Esav received the blessing needed to perpetuate the Jewish People instead of Yaacov, the holy nation would cease to exist. Monotheism would never get off the ground. Torah would never be given. The future of the human race would have been in the hands of a murderer and rapist, son or no son.
Only one card was left in Rivkah’s pocket. The move was extreme, but loving. She couldn’t convince him any other way. If only she could make Yitzchak see the truth, he would thank her.
The only way to make Yitzchak see the truth would be by demonstrating it to him, by proving to Yitzchak how easily he could be fooled. Once he understood his own vulnerability, Esav’s lies would reveal themselves for what they really were. Painful as it might be, Rivkah knew that she was doing the right thing.
When the fateful moment came, Yaacov fulfilled his mother’s directives faithfully. His father, as expected, was utterly fooled. When Esav walked in to his father’s room with the food he had prepared for him a short while later, Yitzchak’s world flipped upside down. Hadn’t he already given the blessings to Esav? Hadn’t that been Esav before? No?!
The real Esav, so different than the upstanding son he had just blessed, stood before him stinking of cheap women, meaningless violence, and a ruthlessness only possessed by those with blood on their hands. This was the real Esav. This was the truth, the person that Yitzchak had not been able to face for all these years. And this was the person to whom he had almost given control of the spiritual destiny of the human race.
On the Precipice of Hell
The next verse says it all:
“Then Yitzchak trembled…” (ibid 27:33)
Rashi in the name of the Midrash details:
“He saw gehinnom (hell) open beneath him.”
The hell of his mistake stood open before him like a chasm, a vast precipice he had been just about to fall into. Have you ever had one of those dreams where you feel like you are about to fall and suddenly catch yourself, wide awake? In regards to Esav and Yaacov, suddenly Yaacov was more awake than he had ever been. Rivkah had been right all along and Yitzchak was relieved beyond words that she had finally made him see it. He hadn’t fallen. He hadn’t made the fatal mistake of giving the blessings to the wrong son.
Even as Esav complained bitterly over missing the powerful blessings he wanted, Yitzchak’s response belayed his new position:
“He (Yaacov) shall remain blessed.” (ibid 33)
Despite Esav’s cries, Yitzchak remained firm in his blessing of Yaacov. He knew the truth now. Yaacov was the one who deserved the blessings, not Esav the murderer. By giving the blessings to Yaacov, the future of the Jewish People – and all of the values that Yitzchak and Rivkah stood for together – was insured.
Based on Parasha U’Pishra by Rabbi Moshe Grylak
By Braha Bender