Toldos – Finding Your Bashert
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Published: November 12, 2012
“And Jacob approached Isaac, his father, and Isaac felt him and said, `The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.’” – Genesis 27:22
To “trick” Isaac into giving him the blessing, Jacob donned Esau’s clothing, put the skin of an animal on his arms and neck to simulate the hairiness of Esau, and went in to his father to receive the blessing. As he and Esau were twins, the subterfuge was almost perfect. For all intents and purposes, Jacob appeared as Esau, spoke as Esau, and presented himself as his twin. Yet something made Isaac suspicious, and he said the famous words: “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.”
Rashi explains what tipped Isaac off. Jacob used the equivalent of the word “please,” as in “Please, my father, get up. Please, my father, take this.” These were words that Esau would never utter. Therefore, Isaac suspected that it wasn’t Esau, so he asked to “feel” the person in front of him to determine which of the brothers it was.
This Rashi is very difficult to understand when we take into account Esau’s relationship with his father.
Nobody Honored His Father as Esau Did
Esau had genuine respect and reverence for his father. In fact, he loved him. The Torah commentary Medrash Rabbah states that, “In the course of human history, no man ever treated his father with the respect that Esau showed his father. So how is it possible that he was gruff and rude to a man who he loved and adored?
The answer to this question lies in understanding human nature.
The Force of Habit
We are engaged in thousands of interactions, choices, and decisions each day. Unlike an animal, which is preprogrammed to perform in a particular manner, the human has free will – free will to choose how he will respond, react, and deal with every situation. If every one of his decisions was a conscious choice that had to be thought out, he would spend his entire day just making them.
“A man is approaching. Do I smile and nod or do I look the other way? He’s looking at me; do I turn my head to respond or do I look out at the trees? When he asks me how my day is, does he expect a detailed inventory or does he just mean it casually?”
To allow us to function productively, G-d gave us the power of habit. Habit allows us to respond almost unconsciously to the thousands of choices that we are constantly bombarded with. As a result, we can talk and eat dinner at the same time. We can drive a car, watch the traffic, change lanes, and hold a conversation. Most of the actions we engage in are done on auto-pilot. We don’t have to think about them. We have done them before, created our patterns of action and reaction, so now we can just go about our business without having to use up our conscious minds on rote activities. Habit governs and controls most of the actions and choices of our day.
But habit is a double-edged sword. We can accomplish worlds more because of it, but it costs us in the sense that bad habits and poor reactions can lock us into behaviors and responses that don’t accurately represent our will. We’re just stuck with them because of the ruts that we have created.
This seems to be the answer to Rashi. There is no question that Esau deeply respected his father. But Esau was gruff. His operating mode was curt and rude. Those were the habits that he developed, the manner in which he acted, the patterns that he etched into his soul. Even when he was in a situation of serving a man that he greatly respected, his years of mechanized routine surfaced, and he spoke the way that he usually spoke. When Jacob impersonated Esau and used polite terms, it was out of character. Isaac noticed something out of synch. This wasn’t the Esau that he had known for so many years.
This concept is very applicable in our lives on a number of fronts.
I Love Him, but I Can’t Live with Him
A person may respect his parents, love his siblings, and be deeply attached to his wife, but unless he consciously works on his word choices, reactions, and responses, he may well be putting on a façade – presenting an image to others that doesn’t accurately reflect how he feels. The message he may be giving is very different from his inner condition.
One of the saddest expressions uttered in a troubled marriage is: “I love him, but I can’t live with him.” Often times, it isn’t that the man is a selfish lout or a creep. It is simply that he has remained with the bad habits of being unpolished. “Please,” thank you,” and “excuse me” are lacking from his vocabulary. This can make all the difference in the world between a person who is pleasant to be around – and not. The most amazing part is that these expressions don’t always represent who the person is and how he feels, but the little niceties of life are the grease that smoothes the wheels of social interactions.
While character traits are the essence of a person, social graces often speak louder than feelings to those who actually live with him. By training our tongues in these social conventions, we give off a persona that matches our inner condition, and those we interact with get to experience the considerate, caring person that each of us can be.
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