Parshas Toldos.




In this week’s Parsha we learn how Yitzchak wanted to give his blessings to the wicked Eisav. Rivka advises Yaakov how to trick Yitzchak in order that he (Yaakov) should receive the blessings. Yaakov successfully pretends to be his brother and Yitzchak blesses him, but later discovers the trick. In the end Yitzchak gives a different blessing to Eisav as well. There are a few obvious questions usually asked regarding this entire episode. Why was it necessary for Yaakov to pretend to be his brother? If Eisav was so wicked, why did Yitzchak want to bless him in the first place? Why was Yaakov permitted to lie? How did the blessing take effect if it was given to the wrong person? Why did not Yitzchak curse the “usurper” as soon as he found out about the trick? Last but not least: what’s the difference between the two blessing anyway? Was not the beginning of Eisav’s blessing actually quite similar to Yaakov’s[1]? So why then did he then hate his brother so much for tricking him?




To better understand this obscure passage in the Torah we have to go back and remember two important pieces of information: the prediction Rivka received when she was still pregnant with the two brothers, and the selling of the birthright, described in this week’s Parsha. Our sages tell us that in many ways our matriachs had a greater understanding and even deeper prophetic vision than their husbands (see Midrash Tanchuma, Shemos 1:1, Rashi on Bereishis 21:12). For instance, Sarah discerned the danger of leaving Yishmael in the household, while Avraham was biased and did not want to send away his son. In the case of our Parsha, Rivka understood the nature of Eisav better than Yitzchak did. Moreover, since she was already prophetically told, that her two children will be the different from one another, with the older serving the younger, she realized that Eisav is a wicked son[2]. Rivka received this prophesy when she went to the academy of Shem, son of Noach – the great sage of the time (see Rashi on Bereishis 25:22, Zohar 1:137b), whose prophetic vision was not to be doubted. Yitzchak however was not aware of this prophesy (see Ramban Bereishis 27:4), and therefore wanted to give over the blessing to his firstborn son.


It is known in the writings of Kabala (and we discussed this in our commentary to Parshas Noach and Parshas Vayera) that Yitzchak’s soul had to do with the Sefirah of “Gevurah” (strength and judgment). Eisav inherited this characteristic from his father, and this is one of the reasons why Yitzchak always felt a special closeness to his firstborn son. In general, from Yitzchak’s point of view, Eisav’s qualities could have been used for good, there would a division of responsibility: Yaakov – learning the Torah, while Eisav (and his descendants) – protecting them from the nations as well as serving in the future Temple[3]. By giving Eisav the special brocha, he would be even further strengthened to fulfill his mission. However, Eisav used his talents for evil. He used his strength to rob people, while pretending to be a righteous son of his father (see Talmud Bava Basra 16b). Meanwhile he was serving Yitzchak with great awe and respect, and Yitzchak really thought his son to be a tzadik.


In general, Hashem tells His prophets about what He is planning to do (see Amos 3:7), but at times, when the need arises, some information is hidden from them. Normally, a person of Yitzchak’s caliber, deserving of having the Divine Presence constantly in his home, should have known that Eisav was wicked. However, for the time being even Yitzchak did not perceive the true nature of his firstborn son[4]. In this case the whole rectification was prepared in the manner that Yaakov should get his blessings in a roundabout way[5]. One of the reasons for this was that Yaakov was rectifying the sin of Adam (see or commentary to Parshas Vayera). Eisav, however, got attached to the spiritual root of the original serpent (and Satan himself – Eisav’s guardian angel). To reverse the effects of Adam’s sin, the tikun had to be that just as the serpent deceived Adam, now “Adam” had to deceive the “serpent”. Yaakov had to act in this awkward manner, posing as Eisav[6]. Another reason for this is the famous concept “Maasey Avos Siman Lebonim[7]” – the deeds of the forefathers are a harbinger of what will happen to their descendants. (Ramban, in his Torah commentary brings many examples of the events that happened to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yakov and how they correspond to the future history of the Jewish people.) In the future our nation would frequently have to resort to all sorts of tricks in order to survive in the hostile environment among the nations of the world, the descendants of Eisav.


Even though we can now understand the underlying factors behind Yaakov’s trickery, we still have to comprehend why it was permitted? For one thing, Rivka received a prophecy, that Yaakov should get this blessing even using such tricky methods (see Targum Onkelus Bereishis 27:13); so the permission to lie was based on a general principle, that a prophet can temporarily permit any prohibition except idol worship (see Talmud, Yevamos 90b; Sanhedrin 89b).


We can understand Yaakov’s behavior even better if we will remind ourselves of the second piece of information: Eisav had already sold the birthright to Yaakov. According to Rashi, this birthright primarily consisted of the right to serve in the future Temple and in general, to be a spiritual leader of the Chosen People. Yakov knew the true nature of Eisav and tried to get this privilege away from him at the earliest possible time. As we know he was successful, in truth Eisav did not value his birthright even as much as a meal. Now, many years later, Yaakov was coming in place of Eisav to receive the blessings that he had bought. It was not technically incorrect for him to say “I am Eisav”, meaning I am his representative, since he sold his privileges to me[8] (see Rashbam, Chizkuni, Ohr Hachaim Hakodesh and Haksvav Vehakabal on Bereishis  27:19).


Once Yitzchak blessed Yaakov, he prophetically felt that the blessing took effect and was successful for the one for whom it was intended. This is why, even after Yitzchak’s beloved son came back, he did not curse Yaakov “the usurper” but on the contrary said: “let him be blessed” (Ramban 27:33). Moreover, our sages teach us (Bereishis Raba 65:22) that Yitzchak felt the Gehinom open before him as soon as Eisav entered. From now on, there was no longer any reason for Hashem to continue hiding the true nature of Eisav from his father. The prophet could now tell the wickedness of his son right away. He did not even want to give him any blessings at all. In the end he did give him a brocha.


At fist glance, the blessings of Eisav seem to be so similar to Yaakov’s brochos. However, there are major distinctions between them (see Zohar 1:143b, and the GR”A’s commentary there). The blessing of Yaakov starts with the name of Hashem, while Eisav’s blessings plainly states what he will get without any Divine Name mentioned. The blessings of Yaakov start with the dew of Heaven, and then the fatness of the earth is mentioned, for Yaakov receives everything from Above. However, Eisav’s blessing first mentions the fatness of the earth and then the dew of HeavenHeavenHeaven. After all, Eisav is “attached” just below, and it is only through his guardian angel’s “accusations” (of our nation not keeping the commandments) that Eisav can rise higher and receive any dominion (see below).


The blessings of Yaakov are ten in number, they correspond to ten Sefiros, and they rectify the ten curses of Adam (Zohar ibid). Eisav, however, got a total of three blessings. The GR”A (on the Zohar ibid) explains that they correspond to the three types of Satan: Yetzer Hara (evil inclination), angel of death and the Satan himself (see Talmud, Bava Basra 16a). These three correspond in our bodies to the liver, spleen and the gallbladder[9].


Eisav is supposed to be subordinate to Yaakov. However, Eisav is promised that if the descendants of Yaakov misbehave, he will have a possibility to break off Yaakov’s yoke and have his own dominion. For the time our nation was righteous, Edom (Eisav’s descendants) were vassals to Judea. However, already during the times of the First Temple, under King Yehoram, Edom broke off the Jewish dominion (Melachim 2:8:20). Similarly, during the times of the Second Temple, Edomites were controlled by the Jewish kings (Chashmonaim). However, as the later kings allied themselves with the Sadducees and persecuted the Torah sages, an Edomite descendant Herod killed all the Chashmonaim and took over the power himself. Interestingly, the rule of Herod and his descendants lasted exactly as long as that of the Chashmonaim – 103 years (here also the principle of mida keneged mida[10] operated). Later on, as the Roman Empire accepted Catholicism, they became the biggest enemy of Judea[11]. Our sages knew, that the first to accept Christianity and spread it over the Roman Empire were the Edomites, hence the well known connection between Edom and the massive Christian world (see Ramban, Sefer Hageula, part 3). Even though most of Christians do not directly come from Eisav, their founders and their spiritual root are associated with Edom (see the end of our commentary to Parshas Noach).


And so we have been in the Roman exile for almost 2000 years, and because of our sins Edom still has power over us. The Torah (Devarim, chapter 30) predicts that in the end of days, we will repent and return fully to Mitzvah observance, (see our article 10centuriesenglish.htm). This Teshuvah movement has already started and we are waiting every day for the promised redemption.



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[1] Both were promised the fatness of the land and the dew of Heaven.


[2] A famous question is then asked regarding the freedom of choice of Eisav. As we mentioned in Parshas Lech Lecha, in many cases the prophecies are revealed in an obscure way, so as not to interfere with the freedom of choice. Here too, if Eisav would choose to be good, he could actually “serve” Yaakov by helping him learn the Torah, providing for him and protecting him. In fact, Eisav would then stay as part of the chosen nation (Ramchal in the second part of Kinas Hashem Tzeva-os explains this in depth starting with Maamar: Inyan Eisav, in the standard edition of Ginzey Ramchal it’s on page 111). Eisav would marry Leah, Yaakov would marry Rochel, and each one would do his rectification. The prophecy of Rivka would be fulfilled with “the sons going in different directions” – i.e. one working on the material world, protecting the other, who learns Torah (like the later partnership of Yissachar and Zevulun, see Talmud Sotah 21a; Bereishis Raba 99:8). However, once Eisav did not fulfill  his potential, Yaakov had to work on both fronts, he married both Leah and Rochel and also got an additional name – Yisroel.

[3] The service in the Temple also had to do with the left side of Hanhaga,; this is why the holiest offerings were brought on the northern (left) side of the Mizbeach.


[4] We similarly find that Yaakov did not know that his sons sold Yosef, as we will discuss when we get to Parshas Vayeishev.


[5] See Zohar 1:139a.


[6] At a later time Yaakov will get more experience in deceit when he will have to deal with Lavan the swindler, (see also Talmud, Megillah 13b).


[7] We will discuss this concept at length in the next parsha.


[8]  Shlucho Shel Adam Kamoso – a messenger of a person is like himself (Talmud Chagiga 10b and in many other places). According to Rashi (27:36), as soon as Yitzchak found out that Yaakov bought the birthright from Eisav, he was no longer worried and understood that the blessing came to the one that was supposed to receive it.


[9] In the body of a tzadik, even these organs are holy and purified, for the righteous serve Hashem even with their Yetzer Hara. However, by average people, some internal organs are projections from the worlds of holiness, while these three are projections of the Sitra Achara – the impure worlds given to Satan’s domain and there is a constant “battle” between the different organs of the body (see for instance Midrash Haneelam in Zohar 1:138b).


[10] Measure for Measure – the Divine standard of reward and retribution.


[11] Rome under paganism was not a great “friend” of ours either. However, after turning Christian, the prosecutions increased manifold.