The Blessings of Isaac

Rabbi Israel Chait

Transcribed by students


Upon analyzing the events surrounding the blessings of Isaac to his children it seems that certain inferences can be made. When Isaac discovered that Jacob fooled him, his response is recorded at Genesis Chapter 27 verse 33 “And Isaac trembled very exceedingly...” It would appear that Isaac was truly amazed upon discovering Esau’s true personality. However this reaction raises a very poignant question. When Jacob brought Isaac the venison he requested of Esau, Isaac remarked that his quest for the venison was successful rather quickly. Jacob answered that God facilitated the promptness of the mission. Rashi on this verse 21 states, “Isaac thought in his heart, it is not the custom of Esau that the name of God should be fluent in his mouth...” It would thus seem that Isaac was aware of Esau’s true nature. 

We must also understand the significance of the blessings. Chazal, the Rabbis, teach us that the blessings although couched in physical terms are blessings of the spiritual. In this regard, Maimonides in the ninth chapter of the Laws of Repentance states that the reason for blessings and curses is merely to reflect God’s providence in this world. Therefore, they are written in terms of worldly good and evil, although the true benefit is the world to come. 

Why was Esau so interested in spiritual blessings? Furthermore, after Isaac discovered he blessed Jacob, Esau pleads with his father three times, “don’t you have a blessing for me?” At first Isaac responded that the blessings were already given to Jacob, but finally he seems to relent and blesses Esau as well. What was this blessing if in fact Jacob had usurped the blessings beforehand? Furthermore, an analysis of the blessing of Jacob and Esau seems strikingly similar. Both seem to contain the blessing that each shall be fortunate to attain the dew of the heavens and the fat of the earth. 

Isaac essentially had two blessings. One blessing was for the physical goodness of this world. This was a blessing for the material benefits of this world, which is not the ultimate good. However, Isaac also bestowed the essential blessing of the truly spiritual, which he obtained from his father Abraham. This was the blessing, which he gave Jacob and is recited at the commencement of Chapter 28. Chapter 28 verses 3 and 4 state, “And God almighty shall bless thee and make thee fruitful and multiply thee, and thou may become a congregation of people. And I give thee the blessing of Abraham, to thee and to thy seed with you, so thou may inherit the land of thou sojournings which God gave unto Abraham.” 

These blessings were inherently spiritual. This was the blessing of Abraham that the nation of Israel, a nation based upon the laws of the Torah, will come forth from Jacob. 

Isaac was not fully ignorant of Esau’s character. He was aware of Esau’s instinctual needs and desires. In the same fashion, he appreciated that Jacob was a simple man, whose nature was more in line with perfection derived from the learning of Torah. Accordingly, the blessings in Chapter 28, which were inherently spiritual, Isaac had always intended to bestow upon Jacob. As the man of Torah, he had to be recognized as the one who would bring forth the will of God. However, because of Esau’s nature, Isaac felt that Esau needed the blessing of the physical as a means for Esau to reach his perfection. He didn’t perceive Esau as a wicked person but rather as an instinctual being who required the physical in order to assist him to elevate himself to a higher level of perfection. He felt that Esau would utilize the blessing of the physical to help Jacob perpetuate the teachings of the Torah. Isaac’s miscalculation of Esau’s true character resulted because of Isaac’s nature. Isaac was the consummate tzaddik. He was unable to leave Israel because of said status. Abraham was compelled to send Eliezer to choose Isaac a wife because Isaac was incapable of judging an individuals true character. As the purely righteous individual, Isaac was naive and incapable of perceiving evil. He was unable to appreciate the nuances of the average man’s actions. Thus he wrongly perceived Esau’s character. However, it wasn’t a total misconception. He intended to bless Esau with the blessings of the physical as a means for his perfection. He was oblivious to the fact that Esau sought the physical as an end, in and of itself. Thereafter, upon realizing that Jacob had received the blessings of the physical, which he intended to bestow upon Esau, a fear gripped him. He suddenly became aware that God’s providence had determined that Jacob receive these blessings. He thus realized that he misjudged Esau and that Esau was truly an instinctual being whose only value was the life of the physical. He thus realized and feared that he had raised a wicked person in his house. Rebecca was aware of her son Esau’s true personality and realized that if Esau obtained the blessing of the physical he would utilize it to destroy Jacob. Rebecca was raised in the house of wicked people and was a capable judge of human character.

 Thereafter, Isaac informed Esau, that he had no remaining blessings for him. The blessing of the physical, which were originally intended for him, were already bestowed upon Jacob. The truly spiritual blessings, Isaac had always intended to give Jacob, and would still do so. However, Esau persisted and Isaac relented and blessed Esau. The blessing of Esau was not a true blessing. It was a conditional blessing. In verse 40 Isaac states, “And it shall come to pass, when you (Esau) shall break loose and you shall shake his (Jacob) yoke from off thy neck.” Rashi comments that when Israel will violate the precepts of the Torah then Esau will achieve the blessings of the physical. Thus Isaac did not bestow upon Esau any new blessings but rather he limited the blessing of the physical, which he had previously given to Jacob. If Jacob uses the physical as a means to achieve intellectual perfection then he will truly merit the blessings of the physical. However, if he violates the Torah and seeks the physical as an end, in and of itself, then Esau will have the upper hand and merit the blessings of the physical. 

Upon reflection of the history of our people we can appreciate the authenticity and veracity of the blessings of Isaac as their ramifications have been manifested throughout the experiences of our nation.