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The words of the prophecy rang in Rebecca’s head. Since before the birth of the twins she held those mysterious words in her heart. They had done nothing to console her pain, only fueling her confusion and apprehension. She looked towards the entrance to blind Isaac’s tent anxiously, the words reverberating in her mind:
“Two peoples are in your womb;
two nations from your insides shall be separated;
one nation shall strengthen over the other nation,
and the Elder shall serve the Younger.”
Rebecca could not bear the tension much longer. Esau, her eldest, was approaching blind Isaac’s tent, but after what seemed like an eternity, Jacob, young, sweet Jacob, had not yet exited.
She sat discretely and quietly outside Isaac’s tent. Esau brusquely opened the flap of the tent and strode in, but still there was no Jacob. Rebecca held her breath for the imminent explosion. She knew Esau’s temper. Esau would immediately understand Jacob’s impersonating him, and the charade would be over. The blessings might indeed turn to a curse as Jacob feared, perhaps even violently so.
Then from within the fold of the tent Jacob silently stepped out unnoticed and left the area.
Thank You, God. Rebecca thought to herself with great relief. Jacob received the blessing that Isaac intended for Esau, undiscovered.
Esau’s growing agitation was heard clearly from outside. The confusion emanating from the tent was palpable. And then she heard a blood-curling scream.
“Nooooooo!!!” Esau moaned.
What have I done? Rebecca asked herself.
She could not believe her ears. Her strong, forceful son, Esau, started crying. A bitter, deep cry that cut her to the bone. “Have you but one blessing, Father?” Esau pleaded, “Bless me too. Father!”
I am sorry my son. Rebecca told herself. I had no choice. The prophecy must be fulfilled. You are truly not worthy to succeed Isaac. “The Elder shall serve the Younger.”
Isaac bestowed some makeshift blessing on Esau. Esau left his father’s tent in a furry, with murder on his mind. The blood drained from Rebecca’s face when she caught a glimpse of his eyes.
He will kill my Jacob. I must warn him. I must get Jacob away from here.
There were a few minutes of silence in the tent, as Isaac composed himself.
“Rebecca, my wife.” Isaac called out. “I know you can hear me. Please come in.”
Rebecca gracefully entered the tent and knelt on one knee beside her sightless husband.
“Yes, my husband.”
“Please sit, my dearest.”
“Thank you, Isaac.”
“Rebecca, I know you orchestrated this deception. Why did you not discuss with me?” Isaac asked in a pained voice.
Rebecca was prepared for this moment. I must break the news to him gently. Isaac loves Esau so. He is blind to Esau’s evil, to his anger and fury. I myself do not know where it comes from.
“Would you have listened to my words?”
“You are wise and kind-hearted. Your words are always of great value.”
That is his polite way of saying no. I was right to deceive him. I must tread carefully. I must protect Jacob so he will fulfill the birthright. “The Elder shall serve the Younger.”
“Esau is not the innocent that you imagine. He is not worthy of continuing your traditions.”
“He is the Elder. He is a man of the world. It requires a certain roughness. A capacity for leadership. Esau possesses these attributes. Even more than I do. And more than Jacob.”
He does not see. He does not understand. He is justifying his blind love for Esau. He should understand by now.
“Nonetheless, my darling. He can be cruel, even wicked.” Rebecca retorted. “This is not our way. It is not your way. It is not what your father Abraham would have wanted.”
“So now my love, you are the interpreter of my father’s traditions?” Isaac asked with some incredulity.
I must try a different angle. I must bring some proof and move him to action. He will not be persuaded with unverified accusations.
“Look at Esau’s wives. They are idol worshipers! I am disgusted with my life on account of these daughters of Heth.” Rebecca stated vehemently. “If Jacob takes a wife of the daughters of Heth like these, of the daughters of the land, why should I live?”
Isaac was taken aback by Rebecca’s ferocity. For the third time in one day, he found himself confused and disoriented, surprised by each encounter, yet feeling greater revelation at each. He did not respond, but leaned forward, looking at nothing, pensively.
Isaac could perceive God’s hand heavily involved in the day’s events. Isaac had always presumed that Esau was the correct choice, yet God had clearly intervened. Jacob had shown great courage and skill in impersonating Esau.
And the blessing held. Isaac had felt the Divine Presence endorse the blessing. Jacob is truly blessed now. There must be some validity to the claimed sale of Esau’s birthright to Jacob. The more Isaac thought about it, the more he realized that Rebecca was right. As much as it pained him, he realized Esau was not the one – it would be Jacob. The Elder shall serve the Younger.
Rebecca looked at Isaac’s flowing features. His face seemed to contort with the emotions of his thoughts. Have I pushed him too hard? How do we get past this?
Esau was too rough, Isaac thought. Esau however showed such tremendous respect to Isaac that it was a pleasure to have him around. The strong, confident, fearless son had been Isaac’s hope for the future. But it was not to be. God had indicated as much.
Isaac held out his right hand to Rebecca. Instinctively Rebecca placed her hand in his. Isaac covered her hand with his left hand and gently caressed it.
“Love of my life,” Isaac said softly, “why has it come to this? Why must you manipulate and scheme behind my back? Is there no trust between us? Is there no trust left in this family? In the descendents of Abraham?”
Small tears started to roll down Rebecca’s face.
Oh Isaac. I love you so much! How do I explain my deception? How do I tell you about the secret prophecy I have carried for so long? How do I show you what you refuse to see?
“Despite our instructions and efforts, Esau has taken an evil path.” Rebecca said softly. “It breaks my heart to see it. But we must remember our mission. We cannot forsake the God of your father and the kindness and goodness that he directs. Jacob is the one that will follow your path. The blessings you have now bestowed confirm that. Now we need to ensure he marries properly to have the next generation to transmit to.”
“You have not answered my question.” Isaac said as he tenderly wiped the tears he could not see from Rebecca’s cheek. “Do you think I am so blind that I do not know my own children?”
Stubborn. Stubborn. He is focusing on the charade and not on what we need to do next. He has been deeply offended by the deception.
“I am sorry.” Rebecca answered. “I did not see another way. Esau has always been your favorite. I did not believe you would change your mind just on my saying so. I could not take a chance that the wrong child would receive your blessing.”
“What about trust? How can there be love, how can there be marriage or a relationship without trust?” And now it was Isaac who shed tears.
He is in so much pain. Please God, help me! I do not know what to say anymore.
Isaac and Rebecca sat quietly, holding each other’s hands.
“It is God’s will.” Isaac announced. “Perhaps my blindness is not only physical. This issue of the children has divided us for some time. We should never have chosen favorites.”
Yes. Now you begin to understand.
“I showed too much affection and understanding towards Esau.” Isaac continued. “The acts of the fathers are a sign for the sons. It seems I have repeated the mistake of another.”
Just as Abraham accepted and justified Yishmael’s behavior, you have turned a blind eye to Esau’s.
“Isaac, we have both made mistakes,” Rebecca explained her hand still in his, “let us learn from them but not harp on them. Please do not doubt my commitment and dedication and love of you. I will do whatever is necessary to fulfill your life’s work. Even if it means deceiving you or hiding things from you.”
Isaac faced her with his sightless eyes. “It must have been very difficult for you. You were very strong and brave to engineer and accomplish the ruse.”
Thank You, God. He understands!
Isaac and Rebecca embraced and held each on to each other silently. A chasm of many years had finally been bridged.
“Let us call for Jacob.” Isaac stated. “I will reconfirm blessings to him knowing his full identity. I will direct him to find wives from your family and not from the daughters of the land.”
Thank You, God! Thank You, Thank You. Thank You. My mission is set and my love has returned to me.
* * * * * *
“His eyesight dimmed” Genesis 27:1. By justifying the behavior of the wicked Esau, he caused his eyes to become dim, for ‘a bribe blinds the yes of the wise’ Exodus 23:8 (and Isaac is viewed as having taken a bribe from Esau). Bereshit Rabbah 65:5
Rebecca escorted Jacob as far as Isaac’s door and said, “I have done all that I can for you. Henceforth your Creator will stand by you.” Bereshit Rabbah 65:17
Isaac’s initial blessing (to disguised Jacob):
“And may God give you of the dew of the heavens and of the fatness of the earth, and abundant grain and wine. Peoples will serve you, and regimes will prostrate themselves to you; be a lord to your kinsmen, and your mother’s sons will prostrate themselves to you; cursed be they who curse you, and blessed be they who bless you.”
“Jacob had scarcely left.” Genesis 27:30. The doors folded back. Jacob stood behind the door until Esau entered; then he left. Bereshit Rabbah 66:5
Rebecca tells Jacob: “It will be incumbent upon me to enter and tell your father, ‘Jacob is righteous and Esau is wicked’ “ Bereshit Rabbah 65:14; Eitz Yosef
Isaac’s reaction to Esau’s entry:
“Then Isaac trembled in very great perplexity, and said, “Who – where – is the one who hunted game, brought it to me, and I partook of all when you had not yet come, and I blessed him? Indeed, he shall remain blessed!”
When Esau heard his father’s words, he cried out an exceedingly great and bitter cry, and said to his father, “Bless me too, Father!”
But he said, “Your brother came with cleverness and took your blessing.”
When Isaac sought to bless Esau, he did not know that Esau had embarked on a career of wickedness. When Esau’s deeds were revealed to him, Isaac trembled in fear of the Day of Judgment. Pesikta d’Rav Kahana 32:68
“Isaac was seized with terror” Genesis 27:33. Greater than his terror on the altar. He said, “Who is it that became a middleman between the Holy One, Blessed is He, and me so that Jacob would take the blessings?” He said this about Rebecca. Bereshit Rabbah 67:2
God revealed to Isaac after the fact that the blessing was meant for Jacob. Bereshit Rabbah 67:2
“Now Esau harbored hatred toward Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him; and Esau thought, “The days of mourning for my father draw near, then I will kill my brother Jacob.” Genesis 27:41
“Rebecca was told of the words of Esau.” Genesis 27:42. Who told her? Divine Inspiration. Shocher Tov 105:4
Rebecca did not wish to tell Isaac that Jacob’s life was in danger, so she used the unsuitability of the Hittite women as a pretext for sending him away. Rashbam Genesis 27:46
“I am disgusted with my life on account of the daughters of Heth” Genesis 27:46. She expressed herself with violent gestures of abhorrence. Bereshit Rabbah 65:17
Isaac’s second blessing (to undisguised Jacob) (interesting to note differences):
“So Isaac summoned Jacob and blessed him; he instructed him, and said to him, “Do not take a wife from the Canaanite women. Arise, go to Paddan-aram, to the house of Bethuel your mother’s father, and take a wife from there from the daughters of Laban your mother’s borther. And may Almighty God bless you, make you fruitful and make you numerous, and may you be a congregation of peoples. May He grant you the blessing of Abraham to you and to your offspring with you, that you may possess the land of your sojourns which God gave to Abraham.” Genesis 28:1-4
* * * * * *
Though the text has Rebecca warning Jacob of Esau’s murderous intent before she speaks with Isaac, I’ve excluded it from the story. She just as easily could have warned Jacob between the summons and his second blessing by Isaac. There’s a principle that there isn’t necessarily order in the narrative, especially when we are dealing with multiple and compressed scenes, characters and points-of-view.