Controversial and powerful idea

Check out this controversial and powerful idea sent to me by Russ W:

My 8-year old daughter shared an insight she had learned in school about Parsha Vayeira. When Sarah learns she will have a child, she laughs at the prospect of she and her husband, given their respective old ages, having children. But when Hashem speaks with Avraham, mention of Avraham being too old is omitted. My daughter explained to me that this was, in essence, a white lie (of omission) by Hashem to spare Avraham’s feelings, omitting the reference to Avraham’s advancing years that would have been hurtful to Avraham. She took away from this story the supreme importance of taking care to avoid hurting somebody’s feelings, if at all possible.

I was wondering if this principle might apply to this week’s parsha, Toldos. Can we explain the events that transpire when Isaac is tricked into blessing Jacob instead of Esav as an effort to spare Esav’s feelings?

As both a son with two siblings, and a father of three children, I have learned that there is nothing more hurtful than the disappointment and disapproval of a parent. We want approval from our parents. And nothing is more hurtful than to be judged unworthy by a parent, especially as compared to another sibling, particularly a sibling with whom there is a bitter rivalry.

We learn in Genesis 25:28, “and Isaac Loved Eisav, and Rivka Loved Jacob” and in Genesis 27:33 “when Isaac realized that he didn’t bless Eisav, he got frightened a very big fear…” These words make clear that Isaac and Rivka each preferred different children, and that in order to elevate Jacob over Esav, Rivka engineers the deception of Yitzchak, seemingly without regard for the fact that it will fuel Esav’s hatred of Yakov.

As we review the story of the deception of Yitzchak by his wife and youngest son, we are told that Rebecca (the paragon of kindness, whose very selection as Isaac’s wife came about through her welcoming acts on behalf of Isaac’s servant Eliezer) has formed a plot to deceive her husband. She cooks two kids which Yitzchak is tricked to think is a wild animal caught by his son Esav and dresses Yakov in skins to further deceive Yitzchak. The narrative describes how Yitzchak hears Yakov’s voice and is wary, but Yitzchak’s suspicions are allayed by the hairy arms and neck and he proceeds to give blessings to Yakov which he intended to give to his firstborn Esav.

Does any of this make sense?

The beauty of these biblical stories is that they show the patriarchs and matriarchs at their best and at their worst. But this is pretty severe stuff. If true, it means that Rivka simultaneously has deceived her husband on a matter of utmost importance, undermined her eldest son and set her youngest son, Yakov, to be hated by his powerful, scary brother.

Does this seem in character for Rivka? Perhaps my incredulity is driven by the fact that I simply cannot conceive of my wife ever orchestrating such an elaborate con against me and my family. But Rivka could certainly rationalize this by viewing herself as an instrument of Hashem’s will. In fact, Hashem had told her in Genesis 25: 23 that “Two nations are in your womb;two regiems from your insides shall be seapratedl the might shall pass from one rigime to th oher, and the elder shall serve the younger.” And in 25: 33 “thus, Esav spurned his birthright.”

But what about Yitzchak? Maybe we can understand why Rivka would want to elevate Yakov over Esav, but why would Yitzchak do this to his favorite son who he loves? Should we assume that his physical blindness he was also blind to Esav’s deficiencies?

Yitzchak is a thoughtful man likely desperate to avoid scarring his son Esav the way he was affected by the near-death trauma of the Akeidah. Would this man of quiet contemplation, who we credit for creating the mincha prayer, be unaware that Yakov has greater merit than Esav? Has he been so swayed by his love of delicious game that he is blind to his children’s very different nature? Has he never spoken with his beloved Rivka about his children?

If the simple narrative is implausible what could explain the story and the events which follow? Could the entire back and forth between Yitzchak, Rivka and Yakov be part of a sham to deceive Esav? If so, why would Yitzchak and Rebecca hatch such a plan? Didn’t the parents understand the enmity that they would create between their sons?

Is it possible that this charade was orchestrated by both of the parents for the sole purpose of minimizing pain to Esav? Surely Yitzchak and Rivka must have agreed that Yakov was better suited to be the honored son who would lead the family forward, that Esav was unsuited. Eisav may be Yakov’s favorite son, but that does not mean he was blind to Esav’s deficiencies.

The text makes clear that Yakov was a thoughtful, sensitive and deferential young man. Esav was the opposite, an impulsive brute who reveled in the outdoors and who sold his birthright for a bowl of porridge; the opposite not only of tent-dwelling Yakov but also the opposite of his kind and thoughtful parents Yitzchak and Rivka.

Clearly Yakov and Rivka were faced with a dilemma. Esav was their firstborn. I can imagine them sitting over the dinner table speaking in hushed tones about Esav not being suited to lead the people forward, but as parents they must have wanted desperately to spare him the dual pain of rejection by his parents and the humiliation he would experience in their community if they elevated Yakov over Esav. What to do?

There were no neat solutions available, but I put forward that the best they came up with was an elaborate hoax to pin the blame for Yakov’s ascension on Yakov’s act of trickery. So they hatched this scheme, with the words of Rivka’s conversation with Yakov and Yakov’s conversation with Yitzchak precisely recounted, all for the purpose of easing Esav’s pain. While Esav would certainly be outraged, at least in this way Esav would not feel the pain of rejection from his parents and the community would not think less of Esav for being swindled.

Were the parents successful? If this interpretation of what actually took place is correct, then the outcome was successful from the parents’ point of view. Esav was outraged at his brother, but there is no mention of anger toward his parents. Esav does not view the chain of events as rejection by his parents. He bides his time, waiting for the day when he can get revenge on his brother. He is furious, but his spirit is unbowed. In short, he has been spared the pain and humiliation of rejection.

Thank you for considering this alternative interpretation.

Posted on December 7, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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