Rabbi Dr. Darrell Ginsberg
The story of the blessings given by Yitzchak to his sons is the primary focus in Parshas Toldos, as story we are all acutely familiar with. After learning of the deception, Eisav predictably reacts with an intense desire for vengeance. Yet immediately prior to expressing this, he beseeches Yitzchak for a bracha, and his father seemingly obliges him (Bereishis 27:38-41 ):
“Eisav said to his father, "Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me too, my father," and Eisav raised his voice and wept. Yitzchak, his father replied and said to him, "Behold the fatness [richness] of the earth shall be your dwell-ing, and of the dew of heaven from above. You shall live by your sword, and you shall serve your brother. When you have cause to be grieved [tzaar], you will throw off his yoke from your neck. Eisav hated Yaakov because of the blessing with which his father blessed him, and Eisav said in his heart, "The mourning days for my father are approaching. I will then kill my brother, Yaakov."”
Yitzchak’s response is very intriguing. At first glance, one could deduce that this was some type of pacification, trying to calm his son down. And if indeed this was an attempt at pacification, it failed, as Esav’s thoughts, as depicted by the Torah, are focused on retribution. Yet when taking a closer look at the words of Yitzchak, it would be a mistake to see these words as mere consolation. This was a bracha, and as such, must something more than words of comfort.
Rashi offers us the following (ibid 40:
“’tzaar’ denotes grief or pain as in ---"I lament in my prayer." He meant to say: "When the Israelites will transgress the Torah and you will have reason to grieve over the blessings which he took [then] 'You will throw off his yoke, etc.'”
This insight is based on the Midrash Rabba (Bereishis 67:7), which explains that when Bnai Yisrael stop following the Torah, Eisav will rule over them.
What do we make of all this? This seems to go beyond mere consolation to Eisav. Is this some sort of reward for Eisav, where if Bnai Yisrael fall, Eisav finally gets his shot to take over?
Before understanding the bracha itself, let’s first try and establish, to a limited extent, Yitzchak’s . Yitzchak’s intent was to give the bracha of Avraham to Eisav, based on the hope that If Eisav was supplied with the bounties of the physical world, he might naturally shift his mindset away from their pursuits and follow the path of Hashem. Furthermore, with both Yaakov and Eisav on the same page, a powerful union would be created, with the strengths of each complementing the other. Yet, with the revelation of Yaakov as the recipient instead of Eisav, it seems an entirely different outlook emerged, as we will see in the bracha Yitzchak begins with a similar opening as with the first bracha. He refers to the benefits Eisav could receive from the physical world (albeit, according to the Ramban, with small differences), offering him the same chance to use this reward in the service of God. He continues, isolating specifics of Eisav’s personality and its impact on the future. Yitzchak saw Eisav as someone who wanted to be a leader, driven by a desire for power. As such, his life would be one of the “sword”. This does not mean Eisav would be scampering around, complete with bloodcurdling screams and charges against whole armies. Instead, it would seem to be refer-ring to the mindset of the general. Sforno explains that it is through this approach to life, versus a farmer or laborer, that someone pre-pares himself for the position of king. Eisav was to be a conqueror, being the path to power, and this feature would be evident in his progeny. He would always be guided by this thirst for supremacy; the question was, would it have a means of expressing itself vis a vie Yaakov?
Yitzchak realized that Yaakov and Eisav, and the ideologies each rep-resented and would perpetuate, were incompatible – but this did not mean mutual annihilation. Instead, one system of thought and way of life would be subordinate to an-other. This seems to be the idea of Eisav’s “subservience” to Yaakov. Rather than viewing this relation-ship as one where Eisav would be carrying Yaakov’s luggage, it would seem more likely that there would be a general recognition by Eisav of the ascendancy of the approach of Yaakov. In other words, Eisav and his progeny would tolerate this relationship, understanding that as long as Bnai Yisrael were on the side of God, there would be no way to defeat them, and therefore no reason to try and become the dominant force. However, if and when Bnai Yisrael would turn from the Torah, Eisav would be the one to step in and fill the void. This relationship, as seen in Rashi and the Midrash, reveals two important points. We see that Yitzchak was explaining to Eisav that his ascension would never be based on his own merits. Instead, his rise to power would only be the result of the failure of Bnai Yisrael. Once Bnai Yisrael would reject Torah, Eisav would be able to become the “leader”. We also see from this idea Eisav’s view of the bracha given to Yaakov. It is not the fact that Yaakov stole the bracha that causes Eisav pain. It is the fact that the bracha he “stole” is now being abused, a clear indication he was not the right choice for the bracha. That realization emerges with Bnai Yisrael’s outright rejection of the path of Hashem.
We now have a greater insight into both the bracha of Yitzchak to Eisav, as well as important features of Eisav’s personality. Yitzchak was not trying to console Eisav. Instead, he was providing Eisav (whether it was through prophecy or intuition is a matter taken up by various commentaries) with crucial insights into his personality, as well as his relationship with Yaakov and the ideology of God. We also see in Eisav a more dynamic personality that sim-ply the angry brother seeking revenge. Eisav, and his descendants, would not be blinded by rage and vitriolic anti-Semitism. They would understand how Bnai Yisrael would occupy a position in the world that could not be challenged. However, its status would be dependent on its adherence to Torah. The stumbling of Bnai Yisrael creates the opportunity for Eisav.