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Brothers in Deception

By: Rav Avigdor Meyerowitz

"`And Ya'akov told Rachel that he was her father's brother` - Related to her father. Its midrashic interpretation is: If he (Lavan) comes to deceive me, I, too, am his brother in deception."[1]

One of the baffling issues in last week's parsha regarding the deception of Yitzchak by Rivka and Ya'akov to have Yitzchak bless Ya'akov is the necessity of the deception. Since Rivka thought that Ya'akov should receive the blessing from Yitzchak, based on the prophecy she received during her pregnancy, why didn't she simply say so to Yitzchak? We saw previously in Sefer Breishit that between Avraham and Sarah there were similar disagreements and discussions regarding the future of their children and their roles in the family, and a mutual decision was made. Why was it not possible between Yitzchak and Rivka?

Rav S. R. Hirsh explains[2] that Rivka's intention was precisely to deceive Yitzchak in order to show him how easily he could be deceived! If Ya'akov, who was an "Ish tam", an innocent-honest man[3], so easily succeeded in pulling the wool over Yitzchak's eyes, how much more so did the cunning Eisav[4] succeed in doing so over the years, and create a false image of himself in the eyes of Yitzchak.[5]

The Ramban addresses this issue[6] and explains that at first Rivka did not tell Yitzchak about the prophecy regarding the two sons, either out of shame for having gone to seek council without Yitzchak's permission or out of respect for the superior prophetic status of Yitzchak. Later on she didn't tell him as she thought he would not be able to heed this prophecy as a result for his love of Eisav and would bless neither of his sons and leave it in the hands of Hashem. She therefore preferred not to tell Yitzchak at all so that he would bless wholeheartedly, although not knowing that he was blessing Ya'akov. The Ramban apparently was sensitive to the difficulties of these speculations and concludes that for reasons known only to Hashem, it had to be that way, "For Hashem is a G-d of thoughts, and to Him are deeds counted".[7]

The Midrash[8] indeed suggests that this whole plot of deceit was "from heaven" and truly the will of G-d:

"Rabbi Chaninah son of Papa explained the verse in Tehilim 40,6, "great and diverse things have You done O my Lord, Your wondrous works and thoughts for us." The wondrous thoughts and deeds have as their purpose only our welfare. Why was Yitzchak's eyesight dimmed? In order that Ya'akov could come and take the blessing."

According to the Midrash it was the will of G-d that Yitchak would not know that he was in fact blessing Ya'akov.

This could also be suggested in the pshat as well. When the Torah describes the love of Yitzchak and Rivka for their children it states: "And Yitzchak loved Eisav because [his] game was in his mouth, but Rivka loved Ya'akov."[9] The reason for Yitchak's love of Eisav is explained however Rivka's love of Ya'akov is without reason. Apparently the only reason is because Hashem had told her to prefer Ya'akov. The pshat also suggests that it was a prophecy intended only for her, and was not to be shared with others.[10]

All this brings us back to our original question. Why was the deception necessary?

The Ramban explains[11] that it was incumbent on Yitzchak, without having prophecy to the contrary, to bless Eisav as he was the firstborn. The Gemara teaches us[12] that even if the younger son is a tzaddik and the firstborn not, it is forbidden to inherit the firstborn's portion to the younger son. The Rashbam explains[13] that the reason is that "perhaps there will eventually come from the firstborn a good child". Rav Kook questions[14] the idea behind this law. Why would the Torah prefer a possibility of a future good reality over the present certain good reality? He explains that in this apparent peculiar law comes to play the deeper knowledge and perception of G-d over humans regarding the knowledge of future generations and how and from where certain people are born. Though it is always our duty to act based on the facts in front of us, the law of the firstborn is a "corner" where man is called upon to realize his limitations. An example brought by Chazal to highlight this idea is the birth of Avraham from Terach, about which Chazal said: "Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean one? Not one. (Not G-d?!)[15] – This is Avraham who was born from Terach."[16]

Though, probing further we wonder why it is that way. What is the benefit of the tzaddik being born to a rasha, an evil person? Rav Kook explains that the reason is that the tzaddik benefits that way from inheriting certain abilities from previous generations that may be of necessity for him in his life. Though obviously the tzaddik is good, the complexities of life often demand the use of less than righteous means to do what is right.

Similarly, Yitzchak was aware of the personality of Eisav. However he thought that the future head of the nation was to be born from Eisav, and it was the will of G-d that this person would glean the necessary, though harsh and cruel attributes of Eisav for the benefit of the future.

It was the will of G-d though, that Ya'akov would be that head of the nation, and he was most perfectly suited for it, being an "ish tam yoshev ohalim – Ya'akov was an innocent man, dwelling in tents - dwelling in tents: the tent of Shem and the tent of Eber."[17] However, it was necessary that Ya'akov would be able, when necessary, to unfortunately adopt the actions and behavior of Eisav if hindered in the fulfillment of the covenant of G-d. Hashem wanted Ya'akov to have that ability, however, in His wisdom, he desired that that blessing of might and strength over others would not be an inherent part of Ya'akov and his descendants; it would be a capability, but not a character trait of theirs. That is why Hashem desired for Ya'akov to receive the blessing of Eisav, but not with the intention that it would be an essential element of his being.

Ya'kov, the complete, innocent man who dwelled in tents, subsequently knows how to deal with the complexities and cruel realities of life, even when it requires extreme measures on his behalf, but never does this behavior become a part of him.

"Ya'akov became very frightened and was distressed - frightened, and…distressed: He was frightened lest he be killed, and he was distressed that he might kill others."[18]

Shabbat Shalom




[1] Breishit 29;12 and Rashi.

[2] Rav S. R. Hirsch, commentary to Breishit 27;1.

[3] "an innocent man: He was not an expert in all these [matters]. Like his heart, so was his mouth. A person who is not astute at deceiving is called, tam - innocent." Rashi, Breishit 25;27.

[4] "who understood hunting: [He knew how] to trap and to deceive his father with his mouth and ask him, “Father, how do we tithe salt and straw?” His father thereby thought that he was scrupulous in his observance of the commandments." Ibid.

[5] Rav Hirsch attributes a number of shortcomings in the personalities of Yitzchak and Rivka regarding their relationships with their children, starting with mistakes in education, followed by parent favoritism, and culminating in the naivety of Yitzchak, something which I find difficult to digest considering the stature of the personalities, Yitchak Avinu and Rivka Imeinu. (See Rav  S. R. Hirsch, commentary to Breishit 25;27,28 and 27;1.)


[6] Ramban, Breishit 27; 4.

[7] Shmuel 1 2;3.

[8] Bereishit Rabbah 65

[9] Bereishit 25;28.

[10] See Rashi  Bereishit 25;21. Rambam, Guide to the Perplexed 1;63.

[11] Ramban, Breishit27; 4.

[12] Bava Batra 133.

[13] Ibid, Rashbam Mi pligi.

[14] Rav Kook, Midbar Shur 29. The rest of this idea is all based on Rav Kook there.

[15] Iyov 14.4.

[16] Bamidbar Rabbah 19.1.

[17] Breishit 25;27 and Rashi.

[18] Breishit 32;8 and Rashi.


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