Jacob Steals the Blessings

I have a coworker who can’t accept how Jacob could have stolen Esau’s blessings from his father Isaac. How could he have been so dishonest as to trick his father? And further, since the blessings were given under false premises, were they even binding? Since Isaac never intended to give Jacob the blessings, was Jacob truly “blessed” at all? What did his trick help?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Thank you for sharing your coworker’s very fundamental question. The episode of Jacob’s “stealing” the blessings is actually much deeper than people realize. What Rebecca and Jacob arranged it that Jacob receive the blessings, they were not simply tricking Isaac. They were trying to gently convey to him that Jacob was the one truly deserving of the blessings all along – at last laying to rest a long-standing debate between Isaac and Rebecca.

When Jacob impersonated Esau in front of Isaac, he appeared to make one fatal error. He spoke gently and respectfully to his father. Unlike the uncouth Esau, who later says to his father “My father should get up and eat” (27:31), Jacob said “Please get up” (v. 19). Likewise, when Isaac asked him how he caught an animal so quickly, he responded “For the Lord your God chanced it before me” (v. 20). As the Sages point out, Isaac immediately detected that he did not sound like Esau – who neither spoke gently nor would have made reference to God in his ordinary speech (Rashi to vv. 21-22). And as a result, Isaac cried out, “The voice is the voice of Jacob” (v. 22). It wasn’t the sound of his voice – which Jacob no doubt altered to imitate his brother. It was his manner of speaking.

Now, after making such an effort to disguise himself, why would Jacob be so stupid as to nearly give himself away by not speaking a little more gruffly? Why did he not impersonate this aspect of Esau’s personality too to make the subterfuge perfect?

The answer is that Jacob did not simply want to trick his father. What he really wanted to do was show Isaac that the person who stood before him now – whoever he was – had the qualities of the person Isaac wanted to bless. He had the physical abilities of Esau, yet he had the gentle personality of Jacob. This was the man Isaac truly wanted grant the dew of heaven, the produce of the land, and the leadership of the family. He had the good qualities of Esau and Jacob combined. And this was the risky path Rebecca and Jacob took to see to it that Isaac would at last recognize that Jacob rather than Esau deserved the blessings.

In fact, as the Sages point out, at the end of the story, after Jacob's trick is revealed, Isaac says to Esau, "I blessed him and so too will he be blessed" (27:33; see Rashi there). The implication is that Isaac at last admitted that Jacob was the one deserving of the blessings – and they would stay. Likewise, Isaac seems to harbor no ill-will against Jacob afterwards when he sends him away to find a wife in Haran (28:1-4). At last Isaac had made peace with reality.

We have a three-part series which gives a much fuller treatment of this important topic. See this link for part one.

The above is based on an approach presented by Rabbi Yochanan Zweig.

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