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Parashat Toledot: Understanding the Story of Yishak’s Blessing

***L’iluy nishmat Natan ben Shoshana Levy***

The story told in Parashat Toledot of the blessing which Yishak wished to give to Esav undoubtedly ranks among the most difficult stories in the entire Torah. Many questions arise when studying this story. First and foremost, how is it possible that Yishak decided to grant his blessing to Esav, instead of Yaakob? Could we possibly imagine that Yishak, one of our nation’s three patriarchs, was blind to Esav’s wicked nature? Yaakob was a "dweller of tents," a diligent student of Torah. Why would Yishak prefer to bless Esav?

Ribka’s involvement also requires explanation. If we look at the content of the blessing which Yishak gave Yaakob – thinking he was Esav – we see that he blessed him with material prosperity. He blessed him that G-d should grant him "from the dew of the heavens and from the fat of the earth, and an abundance of grain and wine." Why was Ribka so insistent that Yaakob receive this blessing? Yaakob, as mentioned, was devoted to Torah study, to a life of spirituality. Did he really need a blessing of wealth? Can we imagine anybody trying to encourage Hacham Ovadia Yosef ZT"L to receive a blessing that he should own a luxury car and a large private swimming pool? At first glance, this is precisely what happens in our Parasha – Ribka urges Yaakob, who devoted himself exclusively to Torah learning, to disguise as Esav so he could receive a blessing of wealth.

The Imreh Noam (Rav Meir Horowitz of Dzikov (1819-1877) answers these questions by postulating that Yishak envisioned Yaakob and Esav, and their descendants, following the arrangement that would later be followed by the tribes of Yissachar and Zevulun. In Yaakob’s blessings to his sons, he foresaw that the tribe of Yissachar would diligently devote itself to Torah study, and would be supported by Zebulun, who would work as merchants and earn money. Yishak figured that this system would be followed not within Am Yisrael, but by Yaakob and Esav. Meaning, all of Yaakob’s descendants would immerse themselves in Torah, and would be supported by Esav. Yishak made this assumption because already in his time, he was supported by Esav. Esav would hunt animals and feed Yishak. Naturally, then, Yishak assumed that this would continue in the future, with Esav working and supporting Yaakob, who would immerse himself in full-time Torah learning.

This was Yishak’s intent in granting Esav a special blessing of material prosperity. He wanted to bless Esav that he would enjoy financial success so he could support both himself and his brother. Yishak’s saw Esav and his descendants as the supporters of Yaakob and his descendants, and he therefore blessed Esav with wealth.

Ribka, however, knew that this would not work. She understood Esav’s true nature, that he had no intention of supporting his brother. There was no question in her mind – and she was correct – that if Esav would be blessed with wealth, he would keep it to himself, and not support Yaakob. Therefore, Ribka needed to do everything possible to ensure that Yaakob would receive this blessing. If the blessing of material prosperity would go to Esav, Yaakob and his offspring would be left impoverished, without a source of sustenance, because Esav and his descendants would not support them. Ribka thus knew that Yaakob needed to receive both blessings – spiritual greatness and material success – which would be divided among his descendants, some of whom would earn money and lend support to the others who immersed themselves in Torah. Esav, she realized, could not be relied upon to support Yaakob.

It turns out, then, that Ribka acted as she did for the vital purpose of saving Torah learning. If Esav had received the blessing of wealth, and Yaakob hadn’t, then Yaakob’s descendants would be left with only spirituality, without the material means they needed to support themselves.

The message of this explanation of the story is that any wealth Am Yisrael enjoys has been given to us for the purpose of supporting Torah study. We have always had a scholarly class immersing itself in learning and being supported by the rest of the nation, and this arrangement must always be continued. Those who have been blessed with material wealth owe their success to Yishak’s blessing – which was granted to Yaakob solely for the purpose of supporting Torah and ensuring that it will be preserved among our nation for all eternity.

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851 Parashot found