The strangest story in the Bible
In this week’s Torah portion Toldot we read an interesting yet strange story. Isaac is getting on with his years, and his eyes are dim. He wishes to bless Esau his son, and he tells him “bring me some food, and then I will bless you”. His wife Rebecca overhears the conversation, and in an effort to ensure that Jacob gets the blessing and not Esau she comes up with a plan. “And Rebecca took the costly garments of Esau, her elder son, which were with her in the house, and she dressed Jacob, her younger son. And the hides of the goats she put on his hands and on the smoothness of his neck.” By doing this Jacob would trick his father into blessing him and not Esau.
The story continues, “And he came closer, and he kissed him, and he smelled the fragrance of his garments, and he blessed him, and he said, “Behold, the fragrance of my son is like the fragrance of a field, which the Lord has blessed!”
The trick worked and Jacob gets the blessing from his father which was really intended for Esau.
Commentators have been perplexed with this story and have been asking questions about this story for thousands of years. Imagine if a man decided to gift something significant to only One of his children and not the other child without consulting his wife, don’t you think she should have spoken up and said, “I think you are making a mistake” or “I think this should be something we decide together”. If Rebecca knew something about Esau that Isaac did not, then why would she not tell her husband how she felt. After all, we find that Sarah spoke up when she needed to, and G-D tells Abraham, “listen to the voice of Sarah”. Was Rebecca afraid to speak up? Why not discuss this openly, why use tricks and charades.
The answer is quite fascinating.
The Talmud in Sanhedrin explains the verse “And he came closer, and he kissed him, and he
smelled the fragrance of his garments, and he blessed him.” Don’t read it to mean, his “garment” בְּגָדָ֖יו but read it instead as his “traitors” אל תיקרי בְגָדָיו אלא בוגדָיו. Meaning, the Hebrew word for garment and the Hebrew word for traitor have the same Hebrew letters. The garments (clothing) one wears can be a traitor to the essence of who the person really is. For example, a poor person can wear an expensive suit, or a rich person can wear old rags, it does not mean that the person wearing the expensive suit is really rich nor does the old rags mean the person wearing it is poor.
The reason why the blessing was given to Jacob while he was clothed in the hairy goatskin and to appear as if he is Esau, was because Rebecca knew that a day would come when Jacob will appear as Esau on the outside. A day would come when he or she would not look like Jacob, rather he or she will look and behave like Esau. The blessing was given in this manner so that a Jew will always know that the blessing given to him is not because of how he or she looks or dresses, but because of who he or she is on the inside. It’s your Neshama your Soul the spark of G-d that is in each and every one of us that counts.
If ever there is a great explanation to the strangest bible story, know this; The blessing Isaac gave Jacob (while wearing the clothing of Esau) is meant to teach us that we are blessed for who we are on the inside, and not on how we look or the clothing we wear. Each and every one of us are special because we each have a spark of G-d inside of us, a Neshama and therefore we inherit the blessings given to Jacob and it is passed down to us. May the blessings of Jacob strengthen and inspire us to achieve our potential in making the world a better place.
Meir Chesky Holtzberg a member of Wexner Heritage Program, New Haven 14 and can be reached for additional comments at email@example.com.