When Rebecca asked her son Jacob to appropriate the first-born blessings that his father Isaac intended for Esau, Jacob was concerned that his father would discover the impersonation and curse him.
To allay his fear, Rebecca dressed Jacob in Esau’s furry garments; when Isaac, whose vision was impaired, felt Jacob’s arms they would feel like Esau’s.
Yet when Jacob approached his father, pretending to be Esau, Isaac immediately detected that something was amiss; he heard Jacob’s voice. Rashi explains that it was not the physical sound of Jacob’s voice but rather the nature of his speech. It was refined, reverent and respectful of G-d, which Isaac never heard from Esau.
Isaac therefore asks Jacob to draw near so he could feel Jacob’s arms. And indeed, those arms felt just like the arms of Esau. Isaac then uttered his celebrated words: “The voice is the voice of Jacob and the hands are the hands of Esau.” Isaac’s initial suspicion was allayed and he blessed Jacob, whom he thought was Esau.
What Allayed Isaac’s Fears?
Commentators ask, considering the fact that Isaac recognized Jacob’s voice, why did he proceed to give the blessing when he already suspected the ruse? The Torah also cites Isaac’s surprise that Esau had returned home from the field so quickly. How did Jacob’s hairy hands so satisfy Isaac’s bewilderment that he was convinced that it was definitely Esau standing before him even though the voice was unmistakably that of Jacob? At the very least, shouldn’t Isaac have investigated the matter more thoroughly?
One way of answering this question is to delve more deeply into Isaac’s motives for blessing Esau in the first place. Why would he choose the ruffian Esau over the gentle and pious Jacob?
Chassidus explains that Isaac wanted to give the blessings to Esau precisely because he was the uncouth and crude hunter, prone to violence and married to idolatrous women. Yet Isaac favored Esau because “trapping was in his mouth.” Rashi explains that Esau duped his father with words such as “How do we tithe salt and straw?” In other words, Esau would make an effort, despite his uncouthness, to sound pious. In Isaac’s mind, Esau was rough around the edges but, deep down, he had a truly sensitive soul that would occasionally surface and be reflected in his speech.
Isaac was convinced that if he gave Esau the extraordinary blessings it would help his wayward son to actualize this potential. Esau’s latent sweetness, warmth and piety would eventually emerge, or so Isaac believed. Isaac did not feel the same way about Jacob, who was already a refined person and did not need an extra boost of blessings to actualize his potential.
Removing the Obstacle
However, an obstacle stood in the way of Isaac’s ability to bless Esau. Isaac was not naïve, G-d forbid! While Rebecca was the superior judge of the potentials of her two sons, Isaac knew that Esau’s exterior was very powerful and would resist any efforts at fundamentally changing his character. Isaac therefore asked Esau to perform a Mitzvah. That effort for the sake of a Mitzvah, Isaac was convinced, would make Esau receptive to the blessing and accelerate his refinement.
Moreover, the fact that this Mitzvah involved honoring his father by providing tasty food, Esau would forge a deeper connection to his father, which would, in turn, serve as a channel for Isaac’s blessing to reach Esau. The fact that this Mitzvah involved considerable effort, and even some risk, would serve as a “drill” to bore through Esau’s dense exterior and open a pathway for the positive energy of his father’s blessing.
So, when Jacob entered his father’s tent and spoke in a refined and pious manner, Isaac was initially confounded. He could not imagine that Esau had changed so dramatically, even before he received the blessing, to the point that his speech was uncharacteristically refined and pious. Isaac was, therefore, suspicious that Jacob might be trying to appropriate his brother’s blessing.
When he felt Jacob’s hands and they matched the feel of the hands and arms of Esau, it assuaged his fears. The hands, i.e., Esau’s external persona, had not changed. He was still the coarse actor. What had changed, Isaac thought, was that Esau’s inner voice had undergone a measure of refinement as a result of his willingness to fulfill the Mitzvah of honoring his father.
In truth, Esau had not changed one iota, notwithstanding his effort to bring and serve his father delectable food from the field.
Isaac’s Successful Blessings to Esau
But, the work of a tzadik never goes to waste. Isaac’s intention of refining Esau would eventually materialize in the Messianic Age. Indeed, Esau’s willingness to honor Isaac stood him in good stead and allowed for his eventual refinement.
Moreover, as Chassidus explains, Esau’s eventual interaction with Jacob’s progeny during exile, has had a salutary effect on certain segments of Esau’s progeny. With the coming of Moshiach, Esau will become fully rehabilitated.
The Three Elements
In our own quest for G-d’s ultimate blessings for Redemption, we too need to meet three preconditions. As discussed above, in order for a blessing to reach us we need to create a channel for the Divine source to reach us. Once the flow of blessing reaches us, we need another power boost to help us internalize it.
Our Sages tell us that on Rosh Hashanah G-d decrees what blessings we will get throughout the year. Yet we must pray daily for those things to create channels for the reservoir of blessings to reach us. That channel is forged through both individual prayer and the blessings we recite.
However, just creating the channel is not sufficient. When there is a flow of positive energy toward us, we must have a suitable receptacle to receive it, and an instrument that enables us to internalize it. The necessary receptacle, our Sages teach, is Shalom-peace and unity. Our performance of practical Mitzvos serves as the drill to facilitate our internalization of those Heavenly blessings.
Similarly, when we ask G-d to bring us Moshiach and Redemption, we still need those three conditioning elements. To channel Moshiach’s light into us we need to express our heartfelt yearnings to G-d to bring on the Redemption. To be receptive to Moshiach, we need Jewish unity. To fully internalize the redemptive energies, we must act in redemptive ways by performing Mitzvos in general and giving Tzedakah in particular. The greater effort and self-sacrifice we devote to the above, the better prepared we are for Redemption.