A Story Of Becoming
Jacob: Man of Truth?
Rabbi David Fohrman
Founder and Lead Scholar
Jacob is often called a man of truth. Someone who tricks his father, pretending to be his brother...even if we find justification, how could sort of deception be considered truthful? In this course, we will delve into more detail about the story of Yaakov and come away with a better understanding of what integrity is really about.
Jacob: Man of truth? is the fourth of four sets of lecture series that span the entire book of Genesis! Be sure to listen to it all! The proceeding lectures are found in the series titled: A Brief History Of The World: From Adam To Abraham, Abraham's Journey 1, and Abraham's Journey 2.
Yaakov: Man of Truth
[INTRODUCTION TO COURSE AND ALEPHBETA]
Hi folks, it's great to see you here. Welcome and I hope to see you here in future weeks as well. This is the beginning of an experiment, a Saturday night experiment. We'll see how it goes. And the idea is to do a series of weekly classes. If this experiment goes well, please God, then hopefully it will be something which we can continue throughout the winter months until Shabbos gets later…and to actually be able to really accomplish a lot, here on these Saturday nights. The idea basically is that the time will fluctuate with Shabbos, generally about an hour and a quarter or so after the close of Shabbos, we'll do the shiur and every month perhaps it will change by 15 minute increments. You can stay in touch with the website and also with Aleph Beta website…our organization, alephbeta.org. We'll list the time there as well.
If Aleph Beta is confusing to you because you're not sure if it's Alpha Beta or Aleph Bet or whatever, you can just go to letslearnTorah.com, it'll take you to the same place and you can catch us there. Speaking of Aleph Beta, I just want to give you a brief introduction to what it is that we're doing there and to let you know that you are…even though you are sitting here in this room, you are actually experiencing an Aleph Beta course right now. Aleph Beta is a website we've developed along with support here in the five towns and elsewhere and what we're doing is creating shiurim by me and by others of a similar style… And with an adult education audience such as yourself and mine, and also schools, high schools. We now have about sixty different schools using this material in different ways shapes and forms in a very exciting kind of interactive way. It's a way of bringing great material and great teachers kind of into the classroom in an interactive kind of way where there's a teacher, there's the students and then there's a video presenter and there's kind of three sectors of power in the classroom and they're all sort of working together and struggling to work things out. It's exciting for me to see that develop and it's a kind of real experiment in blended education and it's developed into some exciting results.
One of the adult education arms of Aleph Beta, or the adult education piece of it, is…the idea here is a forum for me to get to try out new material. That's where you guys come in. The material we're trying to do…you guys are all guinea pigs as far as I'm concerned…ah, thank you very much. This is a chance for me as I'm struggling with, some with new material, some with old material, synthesizing and putting it together, is a chance to get your feedback and I always find that the process of—for me the process of teaching is not distinct from the process of research. But for me the greatest kind of research I can do, in a certain way, is the chance somehow to dynamically teach and interact with an audience and to get your feedback. And somehow things always change. Where I think I'm going, I never end up going, and it's always a very exciting journey for me and I hope it will be for you.
We have at Aleph Beta a subscription system where some of it you can listen to for free but if you're one of our heavy users, and we hope you will all become heavy users, you actually have to pay the grandiose sum of nine bucks a month. It's really not that much. But this course here is what we call a "premium course" and it's available for you for free if you're here and if you want to listen to it, to review it on the web or share it with friends, we do ask you to subscribe. We actually have coupons, if you want to subscribe, we have a half-off deal for you guys if you're here, you can put in your code.
But the reason why that's important for you is because, in essence, this is a class which we post weekly on the web also so as much as I am speaking to you I am also speaking to an internet audience. The two of you audiences will come together, hopefully. I'm hoping, I'm asking you to come together on our discussion boards. We have discussion boards on our website, AlephBeta.org and we did a premium class like this previously and they are vibrant places for people to get together and exchange ideas and I always ended up responding to the ideas on the discussion board in the coming week. I plan on doing that here too. So if you have thoughts, instead of e-mailing me or just keeping them to yourself, share them with everybody and the chance to do that is to go on to our website, log onto the course, go on to the discussion board and I'll respond to the stuff on the discussion boards in the coming week. And that'll be a way for us to continue to talk to one another even more than the discussion we have right here in this room.
Okay, as for topics: the nominal topic of this series is "Genesis Unveiled" which allows me to do whatever I want within Sefer Bereishit. Basically, what I'm going to do with that is I'm going to use this as an opportunity to talk about some new material I'm working on with you with reference to the Yaakov and Esav stories which we're really struggling with now in last week's Parashah and this week's Parashah and even the Parashah beyond that. The theory that I'm going to suggest to you is that the Yaakov and Esav story which appears in Bereishit 27, the story of the deception of Yitzhak, is a crucial flashpoint within Sefer B'Reshit, indeed within the entire Torah, in that—in a way—it is a prism through which the rest of B'Reshit can be viewed and, to an extent, a prism through which the rest of Torah can be viewed. It's an extremely important narrative with reverberations throughout the rest of B'Reshit that simply cannot be ignored.
So my hope and goal over the next number of weeks is to try to flesh that out with you, how that's so, and it's kind of an epic, you know, War and Peace kind of a story and it'll continue form week to week. The nice thing about this, for me, about a kind of class like this is that if I get to leave it open-ended from week to week, so I get to get up to each week and still be able to continue the next week with you so for me it gives me that luxury. For you, I hope it keeps you up at night during the intervening days and I really do look forward to hearing your comments.
Even though I am sitting up here speaking, I'm going to try to work these out as discussion-style so the rule is that if I ask you a question, that's not a rhetorical question, you've got to actually respond, generally speaking. So I do invite your feedback.
Okay. So let me jump in with you. And I suppose the best place to jump in is probably B'Reshit Chaf-Zayin (כז), the story which I just referenced. And again, if you have a Chumash available that's great, if not you'll be able to follow anyway. I'll pretty much quote what I have. Generally, I may often-times refer to a PowerPoint or things like that, it keeps things simple. I'm not going to do it this week, but if we can work on the electronics I'd like to be able to show you some stuff here in future weeks.
Okay. So I've been teaching for a while now, a number of years and…I have to tell you that this story, the story of Yaakov's deception of Yitzhak, his deception of Esav, is a very difficult story to teach. And whether or not it's a very difficult story to teach, it's a very difficult story to learn. It's a very difficult story for us, as Jews, for us as orthodox Jews to deal with in our lives. In all of my experience teaching I've found that there no story that people get more prickly about than this story. People get really prickly about this story.
I began teasing some of the ideas that I was talking about in Shul, which I intend to talk about tonight, in Shul last week, and I faced an enormous roar of response, I've never seen it before. It's just…these are stories, I think, which we feel passionately about and it's a difficult story to teach because, again, it's a difficult story to learn, it's a difficult story to teach your kids. How do you teach your kids this story? How are we supposed to teach our kids this story? And this is a tricky thing, I don't really know the answer to this. I'm struggling with this, I want to struggle with this with you, but how are we supposed to teach our kids the story of Yaakov's deception of his father Yitzhak.
As my five-year-old put it when I was talking about it with him over Shabbos lunch: 'who's the good guy and who's the bad guy?' Right? I mean how do you…who really is the good guy and who's the bad guy. So we're used to seeing Yaakov as the good guy. I referenced earlier these little, my five-year-old had these little cut-out sheets of Yaakov and Esav and Yaakov looks like an old man studying over his Torah in the tent and Esav looks like an energetic guy with an evil grin on his face with a black beard, and I'm thinking 'but they're twins'….like, how did that work? What's he doing with a black beard and what's this guy doing with the white beard. And in our popular mind, though, we associate the white beard with a certain kind of sagacity and we have all of our popular conceptions of this story but, again, who's the good guy and who's the bad guy?
We come from Yaakov, and yet, here's the story where somehow, our birth as a people seems to come down to, you know, an act of deception. When I was first introduced this story. My first real encounter with this story was in 1996, when I was in Baltimore when I was invited by Bibelot, which is the bookstore there. Bibelot no longer exists but it was sort of, in the days before Amazon, when bookstores like this would exist, they were kind of cultural centers and you could go there and there were events.
So basically, in 1996 there was a television show called "Genesis: A Living Conversation," which was just starting, where Bill Moyers had decided to go to various homes and to film a discussion group on the Bible led by a conservative Rabbi, Rabbi Visotsky, I think his name was. In any case, this show basically made learning the Bible kosher again for secular Jews. It was kind of…you were no longer a fundamentalist if you learned the Bible because Bill Moyers was doing it on TV and it was kind of the talk of the town.
So the bookstore decided that they wanted to get in on this and they were going to have their own discussion group just like Bill Moyers, on the day before Bill Moyers was going to talk about his topic, they were going to talk about their topic in the store. So the Lady who ran the Judaic department happened to know me. So she asked me, 'would you be a panelist, you know, we're going to have this discussion group, would you be a panelist on this show?' So I said sure, no problem, I'd be happy to be a panelist.' I promptly forgot about it, but then a few months later, I got a call from the bookstore:
'We're excited to have you, and we just thought we'd let you know what the topic is so you can prepare.'
'No problem, so what's the topic?'
'The topic is Jacob's deception of Esau and Isaac.'
'Really. Okay. And who else did you get?'
'Oh we really had a hard time getting other panelists, but the only other person we could find was the chairman of the department of philosophy at the College of Notre Dame, so it's just you and him.'
And that's when I realized that nothing in my Yeshiva training had prepared me for what was going to happen here. It was very clear that I was going to be the sacrificial orthodox Rabbi, right? And what do you do now? Here is the story that probably inspired the greatest amount of anti-Semitism over the ages and, what do you do? So that story really propelled me, in a way, into the kind of learning that I do now. Because basically you can't say that Rashi says that Esav was a bad guy. These are secular Jews. These are non-Jews. They don't share these presumptions. All they've got is the text. If you're going to make an argument to them that's going to be able to withstand your chairman of the department of philosophy sitting right next to you, the only thing you can do is argue from the text. And basically, you have to say that if God wrote this, he's God, whatever it is, it's got to be there in the text.
So there began that experiment, really, in my life: looking back in the text and figuring something out and I eventually developed a theory, a theory which I'll share with you today. And what I did is I figured I'd change the dynamic a little bit, so I called up this Chairman of the department of philosophy of the college of Notre Dame—a guy who I actually knew, 'cause I took a course with him at John Hopkins University and I invited him out to dinner at the local kosher restaurant. And when I was there with him I figured, what the heck, I would just share my theory with him. So I shared my theory with him and I went through it for like forty-five minutes, I went through the text with him.
'So what do you think?'
He said 'I like it, I think it's great.'
I say 'so what do you think we should do tomorrow night?'
He said 'well let's co-present it!'
So I said 'great, that's a great idea.'
And that's what we did. And the bookstore loved it, the guys loved it, so the bookstore invited us back the next week and we did this with another topic and we did it with another topic and that actually became the impetus for me to start working on topics like this and we kind of became a two-man show and we did that.
In the time since then, my thinking has kind of progressed a little bit. At the time, I think the theory that I came up with was a theory that I thought was sort of the be all and end all, it sort of worked. I think it still sort-of-kind-of works but I think it's the beginning of a theory not the end of a theory. And I want to kind of share it with you tonight.
Basically, here's the problem. Again…I want to really put the problem in terms of two ways of encapsulating it. Way of encapsulating it number one is: we see Yaakov as a man of truth. In Chazal, Yaakov is referred to as a man of truth. We say it in "Titen emet l'Yaakov." We associate Yaakov with truth. The question is, how does that work really? Of all things to say about Yaakov, to say that he's a man of truth in light of the deception story, like, how does that work? It's just very difficult to see how it works.
In other words, even if we were to come up with some way of justifying Yaakov's actions in light of the deception story…and saying, for whatever reason, Yaakov's act of deception is justified, it's still very hard to call that act an act of truth, right? Justified deception would not equal truth, would it? It seems…to argue that it would, it almost reminds you of a George Orwellian 1984 kind of newspeak, you know what I mean? Where deception is truth. How does that even work? It just doesn't seem to work.
I know that there is a strain of thought, and here this gets to the second problem, the second problem is…A) how do we see Yaakov as a man of truth? B) how do we teach the story to our kids? and C) how do those two things go together?
So, for example, how do I teach my kids that Yaakov is a man of truth? So, if I say: well, you know, when you have to deceive, then that's the true thing to do…I mean, let me ask you this, do you want your kids to think that? You know what I mean? Is that how you want to educate your kids. And it's a very scary story because, again, we do need to teach it to our children, and we need to teach it to ourselves, and what do we want our kids to understand from this story. Do you want your kid to believe that, when push comes to shove, and you can't get what you need in any other kind of way, that you can resort to deception to achieve it. If you say that Yaakov was right and that he did this, in effect, is that what you're saying to your kids?
This is a real problem, I mean, I'm just putting it out there. If you read the artscroll, if you read the Stone Chumash, the Stone Chumash is struggling with this too. Then ask yourself, the lessons that I'm getting from the Stone Chumash, would I want my kids to adopt those lessons in their daily life. It's like, well Rivka had to do this because there was no other way, okay so…do you know what I mean? If you practice law, if you do—whatever you do in your life, would you give this advice to your clients? If Ben Brafman were standing up here today, would he tell you that this is what you should be doing? This is what we need to struggle with in this story. How do we deal with this story?
A. How is Yaakov a man of truth? How do we teach this story to our kids?
Let me start, if I can, from Rivka's perspective. Maybe it was all her fault. I mean, she told Yaakov to do it, after all. She said, look I'm commanding you to do this. Listen to me, I'm telling you to do this. So may it's like it's all her fault. Maybe we shouldn't…that's possible.
Or, even better, maybe she was justified. Let me try this on with you: was Rivka justified? Why? Because we might say, well, look, if this were a regular story of having to achieve what you wanted to achieve, it would be one thing, by deception…but Rivka was a prophetess and she had received a prophecy and maybe that makes it all okay. She was told when she had two children in her womb, she felt them struggling, she got this prophecy, Genesis 25:23, "Shnei goyim b'tivnech u'shnei le'umim mime'ayich yiparedu u'l'om mil'om ye'ematz v'rav ya'avod tsa'ir."
V'rav ya'avod tza'ir! She was told that the older was going to serve the younger. It's a prophecy. She knows that prophecy. For whatever reason she doesn't share it with Yitzhak. Now when push comes to shove, the prophecy's not going to be realized, Dad—Yitzhak—is going to bless the wrong guy. So maybe it's up to her, yeah, maybe it's up to her to make it right. Maybe she…what is she supposed to do? But she has God on her side, 'cause she has the prophecy.
So I ask you: would you believe that this alone is enough to explain away the story? Does this story work, just on the grounds that Rivka received a prophecy? Does that work? All right, so we're going to take a quick poll. All in favor of, right, it works, she had a prophecy, no problem, raise your hand.
Okay, all in favor of "no, a prophecy does not work."
Okay, so most of you think it doesn't work. Why doesn't it work? So let me give you the—I agree with you, I think it probably doesn't work on its own, 'ah you had a prophecy'—so…sometimes when you think your back is to the wall, your back isn't quite to the wall. Sometimes the right thing to do, so to speak, is to punt the ball back to God. Let me give you an example of what I'm talking about.
Even Mordechai, Mordechai and Esther, right? So here Esther is the ace in the hole, right? There's a Jewess in the palace. The Jews are threatened with holocaust, but she doesn't want to go to the King. It's too dangerous. Hadn't been called for thirty days. Now what should Mordechai do at that point? You know, one possibility is, you know, 'you're our only hope.' But that's not what he says, Esther 4:14: "Ki im-hacharesh tacharishi b'et ha'zot, revach v'hatzala ya'amod l'yehudim mimakom acher" right? If you don't help us, God has other ways of making it work out.
Now if you would have interviewed Mordechai and said, 'how do you think it's going to work out if Esther doesn't step up to the plate?' What would he tell you? He wouldn't tell you this whole long, complicated thing on how it would work out. He would tell you 'I have no idea! But just because I can't figure out how it will work out doesn't mean there's no way for God to work it out. God it's up to you. You make it work out.'
You can say the same kind of thing with Rivka. I'll give you an example. I mean the example I like to give is, imagine that you uh… imagine you had a dream and God appeared to you in a dream. And in that dream, God said, you're going to be the next senator from the state of New York, right? And, you weren't sure if it was a dream or not, but as part of the dream it said that there's going to be a check for a certain amount of money, an exact amount of money, underneath your pillow and that will be the proof that in fact this dream is real. And in fact, you look underneath your pillow, you wake up, there's a check made out in that exact amount of money signed "God," you know, "Love, God. Enjoy the campaign." You know, a little sticky note. And you think, oh my, this is really real. It's actually true.
So you say, what should I do? Should I just stay home and trust that I'm going to be the next senator? No, you should start a campaign. So you start a campaign. So imagine your relatively unknown, but things start going well. Miraculously, you start catching up in the polls, people like your arguments, you're articulating a vision for New York State which really makes sense and you're running neck and neck with your opponent. And then election day comes, the debates go really well, election day comes and it looks like it's going to be a really close election but then you look and you're eleven points down in the polls, your private exit polling. Your chief-of-staff comes to you and says 'I have bad news, it looks like you're going to lose, you're eleven points down in the polls.'
But then your friend comes over to you and says, 'can I have a word with you, Mr. Foreman?' And you talk to your friend and he says 'I know that your down by eleven points in the polls but I have this guy, Rico, and he works at the election commission and with a little digital wizardry—I mean he's really good—he could really make this eleven point margin just go away. I mean it really could.' Right? 'And he's not even that expensive."
Now, how do you respond to that? Do you know what I mean? Do you say, 'I had a prophecy.' Do you know what I mean? 'God appeared to me! And it's hashgacha. Here this guy comes to me, he says he knows Rico so obviously, I'm supposed to call Rico.' Right? Do you say that? Most of us would say, no. You don't say that. Right? Why?
The answer is there's something called Bitachon, you know what I mean? And Bitachon says, I can do whatever I have to do that's legitimate, right, but when you ask me to do something that would otherwise be illegitimate and you're going to justify it because of a prophecy, most of us would say, you aren't supposed to cross that line. God does not expect that of you. At that point it's like, to borrow a football analogy, you just got to punt the ball back to God and you say 'God, your ball, you figure out how to make this, I did what I could do, and now it's your turn. You try to figure this out."
Seemingly saying that merely that Rivka had a prophecy makes it all okay, seems tough. It doesn't seem to make it all okay. Okay. So then how do we understand the story? While we're talking about Rivka, let me point out a couple other issues which I thing we need to struggle with in order to understand Rivka's role.
A: Does Rivka consider herself culpable for what happened? In the end things go badly—well, things go well. She got the blessing for her son. On the other hand, her other son is very mad and he is so angry he's going to kill Yaakov, he swears he's going to kill Yaakov, so it didn't really work out that well. Does Rivka regret what she did? Does she see herself as culpable for what she did?
The evidence from the text is very interesting at this point. There's this moment in the text where she tells Yaakov, after the deceit, to go run away to her uncle in Haran, to Lavan until—he says—until Esav's wrath blows over: "shachach asher asita lo"…listen to those words carefully 'and he will forget what it is that you did you him.' Now what's strange about those words? What do you mean what it is that you did to him? Like, couldn't she take a little bit of responsibility? She said, 'I am commanding you to do this.' What do you mean he's going to forget what you did to him, is she just shirking responsibility for this? She could have at least said, he'll forget what we did. If not, he'll forget what I told you to do. What do you mean, what you did to him?
Is she evading responsibility? Do we understand Rivka as having done this and not wanting any responsibility for this? How do we understand what she's doing? It's a very…I think it's a serious question with Rivka.
Let me give you another question to struggle with, with Rivka. So—and here you get to the issue—which I think is a really important thing that you've got to do in the Torah, which is what I call 'don't read with the end in mind.' One of the problems we have a lot with reading Chumash is that you know the stories too well. And because you know the stories too well, you know how they end. Because you know how they end, you think it's inevitable that they had to end that way. But it's not inevitable that it had to end that way, that's just how they happened to end. If people acted differently it would have ended differently.
But the problem with reading with the end in mind, which is because—just knowing the end of the story—is that it actually gets in the way of your ability to apprehend the P'shat of what's going on. Why? Because sometimes the Torah wants you to actually be surprised by a twist and a turn in the story. But the problem is, you don't get surprised. Why? Because you know the ending. So there's no surprising you. It's like hearing the joke told seven times, the joke gets old.
So it's very hard to actually read the stories accurately. In order to really read a story accurately, you actually have to erase your knowledge of the story before you read it and then read it again as if you never read it before and allow yourself to be surprised by it. One helpful tool is often to play the game "what happens next?" Right? Play that game. Stop at a certain point in the story. Pretend there's no rest of the story and make up what you would expect to happen next, given what has happened so far. Then read what happens next and ask yourself: "do the two things accord with one another?"
If you do this with Rivka and this story, you really come up with some remarkable results. There's this moment in the beginning, where Rivka's trying to convince Yaakov to go to his father and get the blessing. Yaakov is recalcitrant, he doesn't want to do it, he thinks it's all going to go badly. He says 'my father's going to think that I'm tricking him' 'v'heveyti alai klala v'lo vracha"…he's going to bring this curse upon me instead of a blessing. At that point Rivka says, 'don't worry about a thing. You go, right, you follow what I'm telling you "alai kil'latcha bni," right? "If you're cursed, the curse will go on me."
Now put yourself in Rivka's shoes. Let me ask you a question. Without knowing the end of the story. Just taking Rivka's gambit, without knowing what happens next, so you just know the beginning of the story, what would you say the odds are of this ruse actually succeeding? Think about this for a moment. Here's the deal:
There's two sons, right, there's Esav and there's Yaakov. Yitzhak has lived with them now for a good many decades, right? He tells Esav to go out in the fields and hunt some game. Now it is true that he's blind, right? Now you are telling your son Yaakov to come back in and do his best Esav imitation, put on the clothes if necessary. But he's got to come in, and present this food and talk to his father and get his father to believe that he is actually Esav.
Now you are a cold, calculating Las Vegas odds-maker, right? You do not know the end of the story, but there's a lot of money riding on you because people are going to start betting one way or the other and you have to fix the odds of what you think the chances of Yaakov being able to pull this off successfully…so you know what the chances are that Rivka actually gets the k'lala or not. Give me odds. Somebody give me odds. What do you think the chances are that Yaakov actually walks away with a bracha.
What, I mean they're 98 to 2 maybe. I mean, they're something like that, right? So now you have to ask yourself, so if I'm Rivka, like what's the deal with that? If I am Rivka, can you imagine…I don't know what's going to happen…can you imagine me telling my kid to go do something and the chances of success are 2%? I mean, that's what it is. And then you say, if you get cursed the curse will go on me, so that means you have a 98% chance of being cursed and you're willing to take that for a 2% chance of success? It just seems extraordinary that she would have done that.
So really, Rivka's role…it's just the fact that it actually worked, it's astounding that it worked. I mean, it's just astounding. So how do we understand Rivka's role. Let me try and point out to you how astounding it was. Let's actually go through the deception story for a moment. So here's how the story goes:
So here Yaacov is, right? And he's going in to his father and he's going to do his level best to make this work. Let's just read it together. Alright, so she gives the stuff to the father, now remember…I'm going to give you a little analogy here. I don't know if you guys ever see movies in this crowd or if maybe it's not your thing but if you ever once in the day saw movies. So, many years ago, maybe you saw a movie back in 1973 called "The Sting," right? Won Best Picture and it introduced 'the art of the con' into the American vocabulary.
How does a con work? The con works when there's this elaborate set-up and there's this victim, right, Robert Redford and whoever it was and Paul Newman setting up the head of the Irish Mafia and there's this horse-betting casino and everything's got to look absolutely perfect and the con's success depends upon the mark, the intended victim, never realizing that anything is askew whatsoever, right? It's got to be perfect. The second that the mark looks at one of the guys in the fake horse-betting parlor and says 'say is that a fake mustache?' you know, it's all over at that moment. It's just all over.
So with that in mind, this is really a con, right, I mean, he is dressing up as Esav. So, with that in mind, let's just read what happens here. Okay, so here's how it goes. He takes the food: "v'yavo el-aviv" he comes to his father. I'm reading now from verse 18 in chapter 27, page 136 about halfway down the page, a little bit before that:
"V'yavo el-aviv" so he comes to his father, "v'yomer, 'Avi'", he says "my father." "V'yomer, 'hineini'"…and Yitzhak says "hineini" here I am. Now, listen to the next words and tell me if the next words are good news or bad news. The next thing that Yitzhak says is: "Mi atah, bni?"…listen to the words, let's just translate them: "who are you, my son?"
Okay, good news or bad news? Very bad news. Why is this such bad news? First of all "Mi atah?" alone would have been really bad news, 'cause you want him to just assume that obviously if I'm back I'm Esav, right? So, for him to even question who I am is bad news. But when he says, "Mi atah, bni?" "Who are you my son?" It's really bad news, 'cause what does that mean? It means 'I already know you're one of my sons, but I don't know who you are.' So this is bad, right, he wants him to assume that I am Esav in front of you.
If I was Yaakov, if you were Yaakov, what would you do now. Run! It's all over. Right? You know, I really forgot, I had this tennis match on the other side of town, with Haran, with Lavan, I just gotta go…I mean something, you're outta there. No: "vayomer Yaakov el-aviv"—so Yaakov stays—he says to his father—I mean I'm just trying to show you how improbable it is. In his best Esav voice "Anochi Esav bchorecha" "I truly am Esav your first-born" "Asiti c'asher dibarta elai" "I did just as you've asked of me" "Kum-na shva v'achla mi'tzeidi" "Get up now, sit down"—you see how nervous he is, 'get up now, sit down' you really don't know, which is he supposed to do—"v'achla mi'tzeidi" "and eat from my food" "b'avur tvarachani nafshecha" "that your soul should bless me."
All right? So he did it, he was very brave, he just bit the bullet and he just said it. So, what's Yitzhak's response? "Vayomer Yitzhak el-bno: 'Ma ze miharta limtzo, bni'"—"Gee that was fast that you came back from the field, it wasn't five minutes ago that I sent you out there to get that game. How'd you get back so fast, that was lightning fast. "Vayomer ki hikrah HaShem Eloheicha l'fanai", "Oh, God your God helped me get the meat, I came here very fast." And he stays there. "Vayomer Yitzhak el-Yaacov"—"Yitzhak says to Yaacov"—"Gsha-na v'amushcha"—"come here so that I can feel you"—and then listen to these words: "Ha'atah ze bni Esav im lo?"
I mean listen to those words: "Are you my son Esav, or not?" Like, there it is, he said it, he actually, I mean how could you even continue? But he continues: "vayigash Yaacov el-Yitzhak aviv vay'mushehu"—so he feels him—and now, listen to these words: "vayomer"—he says—"ha-kol, kol Yaakov v'ha-yadayim yadei Esav." I mean he just said it. The voice sure sounds like Yaakov, the voice is the voice of Yaakov, but the hands are the hands of Esav. Again, at that moment, if I'm Yaakov, I'm out of there, I've been found out.
But listen to the next pasok: "va-lo hikiro"—but he didn't recognize him—"ki-hayu Yadav kiyadei Esav achiv sa'irot vay'varachehu"—'cause his hands were just like the hands of Esav. Hairy. So he blessed him. Hello? How did you…? Do you understand? There's like a disconnect between those two verses. How could it be that the text tells us that Yitzhak did not understand who the person was—'va-lo hikiro'—that he did not recognize him because his hands were the hands of Esav. You just told me in the last pasok, he says I don't know who it is, the hands are the hands of Esav and the voice is the voice of Yaakov. So that means…if you could take Yitzhak aside, help him work it through, you know what I mean? What would you say to him? You would put your arm around Yitzhak and you would say, look, I mean I'm not telling what's happening here, but you just told me that you didn't know who it was and you knew that the hands felt like Esav, but you still didn't know who it was, because there was a voice there and the voice didn't sound like Yaakov. So your position in the last verse was: I know the hands of Esav, but the voice is Yaakov and I don't know who this is.
So how could you then tell me in the next verse, "va-lo hikiro"—he didn't recognize him—he blessed him because the hands were the hands of Esav…the obvious question is, what about the voice of Yaakov? How come you decided to ignore the voice? So the whole story is strange and the end is strange too. Something seems to be going on, right, at the end and I think that's a very important clue.
So point number one is this question: was he deceived, was he not deceived, what happened at the end? Here's piece of evidence number two: If you were Yitzhak and you were deceived in such a way, what would be your immediate response to the deception. You've been deceived. The second Esav comes in, what are your feelings towards the deceiver, towards Yaakov. Are you happy, or not so happy? Esav is your child that you love. You wanted to bless him, and all of a sudden you realize, oh my gosh, the person who comes in from the field, it's Esav, I've been deceived. All right, you see he stammers, I mean you see what he says. Here let's read that moment: lamed-gimmel (לג) "vayecherad Yitzhak charada g'dola ad-me'od"—so Yitzhak trembles a great trembling—"vayomer mi-eifo hu ha-tzad tzayid"—who was it, who brought this meat before—"vayavo li va'ochal mi-kol baterem tavo"—that gave this meat before you came. You see he's stammering he's upset. He has a hard time collecting himself. How does he feel toward Yaakov at the moment. You would say he feels very angry towards him. But listen to the next words:
"Va'avrachehu."—and I blessed him—"gam baruch yihyeh"—so too, indeed, he shall be blessed. Very strange. I mean, what's he doing? You tell me he recovered that fast? Like in a second? And so too he shall be blessed? Where's your rage? Where are you upset? He now consciously confirms this blessing. Very, very strange. So what's happening here? What does he realize at that moment? Maybe he does realize something that changes his mind. What does he realize?
And finally, this question: Don't you think it's a little strange that Esav…that Yitzhak, a man who we revere for his spirituality, couldn't get a blessing out of him until he had a really good Del Monaco steak, right? I mean, you know it's got to be just right, spiced exactly the way I like it, so bring me the steak, so that I can…I mean, what's the deal with that? How do you understand a man of such spirituality, he says you have to go out and hunt me food and bring me food before I can give you this blessing. What's the deal with that?
And finally, one last question. When the verse describes why it was that Yitzhak loves Esav, right, what does it say? The language is "ki-tzayid ba'fiv." Let's just talk about the peshat. What is the peshat, the simple meaning of the words "ki-tzayid ba'fiv." Tzayid is what? Hunted game. "Ba-fiv"? 'In his mouth.' Okay, so I just want you to create a mental image of this picture. Hunted game in your mouth? That's not where hunted game goes. I mean hunted game is the first stage of preparation, your mouth is the very end of the preparation process. But that's why Yitzhak loved Esav.
So why did Yitzhak love Esav? So here's the theory. This is really, I believe this is Hirsch's theory, more or less. But here's the theory. Why did Yitzhak love Esav? It was because "ki-tzayid ba-fiv." Esav was the first vertically integrated company, right? He could do it all. He controlled all the means of production from the very first—from 'tzayid'—all the way through 'piv.' He could hunt the animal, he could skin the animal, he could prepare the animal, he could cook the animal, he was a good chef and he could bring it to you and it was delicious, he could do everything and that's why he loved him. He was as his name suggests, Esav. What does Esav mean? Esav means he was a doer, right, he was a doer.
And therefore, the signal trait, the signal part of his body, which is really significant at the last moment when he blesses him, why does Yitzhak bless him? He blesses him because of the hands. Isn't that interesting. What do hands do? Literally, hands do. That's what hands are. Hands are that part of us that does. Esav is all about hands. Right, the man with the hairy hands.
What is Yaakov? What is Yaakov's signal trait. He is the voice guy. Right? He's very good at voice, the conceptual part of things. He's not so in to hands. These two children represented, in a way, by voice and hands. Voice and hand are not just accidental traits, they're central traits, in terms of qualities. Why does Yitzhak love Esav? Yitzhak loves Esav because of his ability to do. Put yourself in Yitzhak's shoes and it makes a lot of sense. Here you are, it's your job to find someone to carry the mantle of the Jewish people forward into centuries, millennia, anti-Semitism, all sorts of thing. Now you might have hoped that you would have a child that has voice and hands together but unfortunately you don't. So you're going to have to choose between Mr. voice or you're going to have to choose between Mr. Hands. Who are you going to choose?
It might be nice to choose voice, but what happens if he gets squashed two generations out, do you know what I mean? Who do you need? You need hands. If you have hands you could at least survive over the generations, you could develop voice. Esav's got hands he's got that ability, let me go with him. It's his view, it's not Rivka's view, but it's his view.
What happens? In the end of the story when he changes things around, right, when he in the end blesses Yaakov, blesses Yaakov consciously, what does he realize? When he realizes he was tricked, what does he realize? As much as he may view the trick as reprehensible, Yaakov has hands too. He just saw it. The kid, when push comes to shove, managed to get the blessing. He showed him that he was a man of hands too. Genesis 46:33, "Gam baruch yihyeh." Indeed so too he'll be blessed. 'I really did have a child…in a certain way it was a deception but in a certain way it wasn't because the child standing before me really did have the hands of Esav and the voice of Yaakov. I didn't know that I had a child that had both qualities, but I guess this kid also has hands.' "Gam baruch yihyeh."
This was the theory that I suggested that cold night in 1996 with the philosophy professor at Bibelot bookstore. However, even that night, I acknowledged that it doesn't work fully. At least I don't think it works fully, to allow us to rest easy at night. And the reason is, because it didn't allow Yaakov to rest easy at night. If you think about Yaakov's life, Yaakov didn't live such a happy life. He lived a pretty unhappy life. What are the two main disappointments you think Yaakov faced in his life?
Disappointment number one: the loss of Yosef, a terrible thing that wrecked decades of his life.
Disappointment number two: Rachel died and the deception involving Rachel. So really, the loss of Rachel.
In a certain way you might even view this as one large problem. We might call it the loss of Rachel. The loss of Rachel is not just the loss of Rachel but also the loss of her child. But if you think about these two events…Lavan, to Yaakov, protesting the deception—ah, excuse me, defending his deception, tells Yaakov, well "lo ya'aseh chen b'mikomeinu latet ha-tza'irah lifnei ha-bachira." We don't do it that way where we come from, to give the younger before the older. We give the older before the younger. What is the 'we don't do it that way where we come from, to give the younger before the older'? What was that about? Maybe where you come from you give the younger before the older, not where we come from. We don't give the younger before the older. So father deceived the younger, right?
So look what happens. So Yaakov deceived his father, because his father loved one of two siblings. Loved the older more than the younger, loved Esav. But that wasn't good enough for Yaakov, so Yaakov deceived his father about that and his father couldn't see. His father was blind. Now what happens to Yaakov? Yaakov loves one of two siblings, one more than the other, except he loves the younger more than the older and this time his father—his father-in-law—takes advantage of him where he can't see because there's a veil over the girl, and substitutes older for younger and then says "lo ya'aseh chen b'mikomeinu latet ha-tza'irah…." That's not the way we do it around here where we come from.
So that's loss number one, disappointment number one for Yaakov. Then we get to disappointment number two. Disappointment number two takes place when brothers conspire together to get rid of Yosef and in order to conspire to get rid of Yosef they slaughter a goat and they put the blood of a goat on a coat and they bring it to their father and it's a story of goats and coats and we all know where stories of goats and coats began, right? The stories of goats and coats begin…it's eerily reminiscent of what Yaakov himself did to his own father. He took a goat and slaughtered it and, wearing the coats of Esav, presented himself to his father and saying 'I am Esav.'
And here are the brothers, a generation later saying 'you don't need to worry about him, worry about us'…with the goats and the coats.
So these two great disappointments that Yaakov suffers in his life all hark back to the story, to the deception narrative, which kind of leads you to believe that as much as you can justify what happened, there was still an issue there. I mean there was so much disappointment that came to Yaakov. How do you understand that disappointment? How do you understand where that gets to? It doesn't even seem fair.
I mean, if Yaakov was right, he was just showing he had hands, I mean…then everything's fine. The key to this puzzle, I believe, lies with the questions we began to ask earlier regarding Rivka. What was her role in all this? How could she have put him up to something which had a 2% chance of success? How could she have shirked off responsibility for this, by saying 'this is what you did and I had nothing to do with it.' If we begin to understand Rivka's role, there's a method behind the madness in Rivka's role. She was actually planning something and I think you will see it, if you again play—right—don't read the beginning with the end in mind.
If we can read this story again, focusing on Rivka's role without the end in mind, I think we will come to an astounding understanding of what Rivka was trying to achieve. I think it was something good and it was something noble, but it was left unachieved. If we can understand what Rivka was trying to achieve, I think we may be able to understand more clearly how this story, the story of the deception, filters down into history…how it created some of the great difficulties for Yaakov and for the nation of Israel and the possibilities of redeeming that story, but it all begins with Rivka's role.
We will come back to that next week when we come, so please join me. What can I tell you it's only an hour, guys! There's movies to go to and things.