Parshat Toldot: ‘I was wrong!’

In this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Toldot, we will hear about a famous pair of twins – Ya’acov and Esau.

Torah scrolls around the world 370 (photo credit: Elie Posner/ Israel Museum)
Torah scrolls around the world 370
(photo credit: Elie Posner/ Israel Museum)
In this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Toldot, we will hear about a famous pair of twins – Ya’acov and Esau. At the center of this story stands the relationship between Esau and Ya’acov and their parents – Yitzhak and Rivka.
The strongest expression of this complex relationship is the story of their father Yitzhak’s blessings. The Torah tells us the story like this: “And Isaac loved Esau because [his] game was in his mouth, but Rivka loved Jacob.” (Genesis 25, 28) “And it came to pass, that when Isaac was old... he called Esau his elder son, and said to him: ‘My son’; and he said to him: ‘Here am I.’ And he said: ‘Behold now, I am old, I know not the day of my death. Now therefore... go out to the field, and take me venison; and make me tasty food, such as I love, and bring it to me, that I may eat; that my soul may bless you before I die.’ “And Rivka heard... And Rivka spoke to Jacob her son, saying: ‘... hear my voice according to that which I command you. Go now to the flock, and fetch me from there two good kids of the goats; and I will make them tasty food for your father, such as he loves; and you shall bring it to your father, that he may eat, so that he may bless you before his death.’” (Genesis 27, 1-10) These verses describe a rather unpleasant story. Yitzhak and Rivka had two sons. The father loved the older one and the mother loved the younger one. The father wanted to bless the older son, and the mother makes sure that her younger, beloved son gets the blessings deceitfully instead of his big brother. And indeed, the Torah tells us that Ya’acov put on Esau’s clothes and tricked his father, Yitzhak, thus receiving the blessings instead of Esau.
This story raises many questions. Where is morality, honesty and fairness? Is it right to steal the blessings from a father whose sight is weakened and who is incapable of recognizing his sons? Is it right to steal the blessings meant for Esau? Our sages teach us that Yitzhak’s love of Esau and his preference of him over Ya’acov was a mistake, the result of Esau’s pretense: What is “game was in his mouth”? – (Esau) would hunt the righteous Yitzhak with his mouth! (Midrash Tanchuma) If so, we understand that Rivka’s intentions were good, knowing full well that Esau was not worthy of receiving his father’s blessings. But Rivka’s actions are still unclear.
Where was her wisdom? In another hour, or two, Esau would return from the field and the deceit would be revealed to all. What would Rivka gain and what fate would befall Ya’acov after Yitzhak discovers that he had been set up? And how did Yitzhak react when he discovered Ya’acov’s deceit? He said, “Your brother came with cunning and took your blessing... so for you then, what shall I do, my son?” (Genesis 27, 35-37) We would expect a completely different reaction from Yitzhak; regret for the blessings he gave Ya’acov, maybe a sense of insult over the deceit.
But Yitzhak does not react this way. He accepts the fact that Ya’acov was blessed by him, and even accepts quite calmly the manner in which these blessings were attained.
Apparently Rivka, knowing Yitzhak, her husband and the father of her children, understood that arguing would not change his perception of Esau. Yitzhak had a different outlook regarding Esau. To change it required a more dramatic step, something that would persuade Yitzhak that Esau had been deceiving him for years, and that his attitude toward him was incorrect.
How could Rivka do this? She had to prove to Yitzhak that he was easily deceived. But also that the Holy One, Blessed be He, turns blessings around so that they are bestowed differently than he planned. Only then would Yitzhak understand that she was right and that Ya’acov was the one worthy of receiving his blessings.
Yitzhak’s reaction teaches us that he internalized the moral of Ya’acov’s deceit. Yitzhak understood that Ya’acov would not have succeeded in receiving the blessings from him had it not been a divine message transmitted to him in this way, and that the message he received from the Holy One, Blessed be He, was that Esau “hunted him with his mouth” and pretended to be worthy of continuing the respected dynasty of Avraham and Yitzhak, but this was not the real picture.
Yitzhak understands that Rivka was right, and he courageously accepts the deceit of Esau when he sees the way things developed and how blessings were given throughout the years.
Each and every one of us can learn from Yitzhak Avinu.
Many times we take a stand, if it’s in a family matter, business or any other sphere, and after some time we discover that, unfortunately, we were wrong. Now we face a test. Will we gather the courage, be brave and admit our mistake, change our perspective about the path we had taken and, therefore, ultimately gain the admiration of those around us who appreciate honest people? Or, will we respond with weakness, repression, and try to hide the truth and sweep it under the carpet? Here, in this parsha, we see Yitzhak Avinu acting courageously, teaching us to admit our mistakes and say: I was wrong. The choice I made was incorrect at this time.
The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.