This week’s parasha has Yaakov’s theft of Esav’s blessing. I want to look at an insight of Rabbi Fohrman about Rivka’s role:
But afterwards, it looks like Rivka throws him under the bus:
How can we understand Rivka’s behavior?
We’ve talked before about the nature of the ברכה that Yitzchak intended to give to Esav:
As opposed to the ברכה that he intended to give to Yaakov:
Yitzchak sees Esav and Yaakov working together to create the ממלכת כהנים וגוי קדוש, with Yaakov being the spiritual side and Esav the material supporter. Rivka doesn’t see Esav in that role, and wants Yaakov to get both ברכות.
We also pointed out that the נבואה that Rivka got about her twins could in fact be read both ways.
Rivka understood it like Artscroll:
But the מ־ of לאם מלאם יאמץ might not mean “more than”, it might mean “from”: “each nation will draw strength from the other”. We see this later in our parasha:
And רב יעבד צעיר is ambiguous:
I would assume (though many read the story differently) that Rivka and Yitzchak discussed this נבואה and their children many times over the years. But now, Rivka is going behind Yitzchak’s back to fool him into giving the טל השמים ברכה. Or is she? Rabbi Fohrman (citing a teacher of his from Ner Israel, Rabbi Simcha Cook) says we may be reading too much into her instructions.
She never says that he should pretend to be Esav. She is telling him that Yitzchak expects Esav to get things done:
Rivka is proposing that Yaakov can present himself as a “doer” as well, that he is therefore capable of managing the material side of the incipient nation. The irony is that Yaakov isn’t going to do anything at all; Rivka is proposing doing all the work. And that is the extent of the planned deceit of Yitzchak. And Yaakov realizes this:
That’s why Yaakov is afraid he will be seen “כמתעתע”, ”like a deceiver“; not really a trickster but seeming inauthentic. He can’t pull it off, to act like an Esav.
And Rivka gives him Esav’s clothes and the hairy goatskin, not to fool Yitzchak, but to give Yaakov the confidence to act:
But things go terribly wrong.
This seems to be an outright lie, from Yaakov, the exemplar of אמת! We know how Rashi reads it:
That seems completely unreasonable, and doesn’t change the dishonesty problem. But Rabbi Fohrman says that it reflects, not an intention to deceive, but Yaakov’s own internal struggle. Can he really be Esav? Who is he, really?
And once he’s said it, his father takes him at his word, and Yaakov is trapped and the entire ugly story unfolds inexorably. That’s why Rivka can say, את אשר עשית לו; this really was Yaakov’s fault.
And this seems to address the moral problem with the story. Rivka is innocent, and Yaakov makes a mistake. The Torah doesn’t shy from describing the things that the אבות, at their level, did wrong. The consequences, the מידה כנגד מידה of this mistake will continue through the rest of the ספר, with Lavan deceiving Yaakov ((בראשית כט:כו) לא יעשה כן במקומנו, לתת הצעירה לפני הבכירה) and the conflicts between בני רחל and בני לאה.
But there is a problem: ה׳ seems to approve of Yaakov’s ultimate deception! There’s no way a freshly-skinned goatskin would feel like actual human hands. There must have been Divine intervention for it to work. And the text hints at that:
The שדה אשר ברכו ה׳ has a special meaning for Yitzchak:
When Yaakov approached, Yitzchak had the experience of his own divine blessing. And the מטעמים are blessed as well (we quote this in ברכת המזון, as בכל מכל כל):
Clearly, ה׳ is telling Yitzchak that this ברכה is to be given to this person, and Yitzchak acknowledges it: גם ברוך יהיה. But how can Yaakov be rewarded for lying—especially when we see that Yaakov seems to be punished later?
I don’t have an answer (and Rabbi Fohrman doesn’t touch on this question). But I have a suggestion. The gemara says that each of the אבות were tested:
(There’s a lot here, about why נסיון is connected to our prayers, and what David was really asking for, ואכמ״ל. See the Tanach shiur, This Will Be on the Final). Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky says that the tests of the אבות were challenges to their inherent nature, whether they could overcome the מידות that defined them to express their loyalty to הקב״ה.
Similarly, Yaakov’s נסיון would be in the area of אמת; he would be faced with a conflict between his fealty to ה׳ and his dedication to the truth. Rav Kaminetsky says that this incident was that test, that he was commanded to deceive his father and did so.
I would say the opposite (though I hate to disagree with Rav Kaminetsky). Yaakov failed this test; there was no divine command to deceive. I would say that his incident was a test for Yitzchak. Yitzchak is the exemplar of דין, judgment, distinguishing right from wrong. As Yaakov said, והבאתי עלי קללה ולא ברכה. In his father’s eyes, there is either ברכה or קללה. There is no middle ground. And when he finds out what Yaakov has done, the דין demands קללה.
But ה׳ gave him a clear message that Rivka was right; Esav would not be a partner to Yaakov in continuing the legacy of Avraham (we see Esav reject the ברכה and reject the land in פרשת וישלח). I would argue that ה׳ would have preferred Yaakov to get the ברכה of טל השמים ומשמני הארץ in some other way, but he was going to get it, and Yaakov had the free will to make the choices that he did. Yitzchak’s נסיון was whether he could acknowledge that his judgment, his commitment to דין, was by definition imperfect. ה׳ said to give the ברכה to Yaakov, and Yitzchak said, גם ברוך יהיה.
And that established Yitzchak’s relationship to הקב״ה, and we now say אלקי יצחק.