The Torah relates how Rebecca overheard how Isaac asked Esau to bring him some venison so that he could bless him before his death. Rebecca then ordered Jacob to dress himself in Esau’s hairy clothing and present himself as his brother in order to get these blessings. When Isaac, whose vision was impaired, heard Jacob’s voice and then felt his hands, he exclaimed: “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.”
These immortal words have been understood by our Sages as a description of the power of the Jewish nation versus its adversaries. While our adversaries rely on their hands, i.e., brute force, the Jewish nation has, historically, resorted to using their voices in prayer and Torah study.
After Jacob left with the blessings, Esau arrived and demanded that he too be given a blessing. Isaac’s response was that “You will live by the sword.” Here, Isaac does not use the metaphor, ”the hands are the hands of Esau,” but states quite explicitly that he will live by the sword.
We should understand why prior to Jacob’s receiving of the blessings, Isaac used the metaphor of “the hands of Esau,” but subsequently, upon discovering Jacob’s ruse, he referred to Esau’s sword explicitly? Why didn’t Isaac use the metaphor then as well?
To answer this question we ought to reflect on the entire story of how Esau was so loved by Isaac. How could it be that Isaac preferred Esau, the gruff and uncouth outdoorsman, to the soft-spoken, reverent student, Jacob? How could Isaac have been so misled by Esau? To simply suggest that a man, the caliber of Isaac, could be duped by his own son, is incredulous.
One answer is that Isaac foresaw a utopian world that would involve a holy partnership between Jacob and Esau. While Jacob would be better suited for Torah scholarship, meditation and in general, the more spiritual pursuits, it was Esau that would eventually provide the support system—the “hands”—for Jacob’s endeavors.
Indeed, Kabbalah teaches us that one can discover even greater treasures of G-dly energy in the more mundane aspects of life. These treasures, however, can only be accessed when one uses the material matters to facilitate Torah study and other spiritual pursuits.
This partnership—which will become a reality in the future Messianic Age, as has been prophesied in the Torah—was the ideal that Isaac hoped would have become reality millennia before the Messianic Age.
By showing love and affection for Esau, and by preferring to give him his special blessings, Isaac hoped to actualize Esau’s role as a faithful partner to Jacob.
We can now appreciate the deeper meaning of the metaphor of the “Hands of Esau,” that Isaac originally employed. When he heard Jacob’s gentle and refined voice combined with his hairy and rough hands, he felt vindicated. This synthesis was a confirmation of Isaac’s dream that the two could and would live together and complement one another.
However, that utopian vision did not materialize the way Isaac envisioned it. Isaac subsequently realized that Esau was not suitable for the role of supporter and partner; Esau did not appreciate his own spiritual potential. He was then compelled to recast his prophecy concerning Esau, that his hands would not be supportive but antagonistic and violent. Tragically, Jews would be forced to express their own spirituality not with the help of the nations of the world but through adversity.
In the present day and age, Esau’s legacy was taken over by Western Civilization. At first, the Greeks and Romans—who bequeathed to us Western culture—served as adversaries. They employed every tactic available to them to crush us and to deter us from our Torah mission. The “hands of Esau” were brutal and destructive.
But in the end, Isaac’s original vision will certainly come true. Indeed, we are already witnessing the beginning of that process. We are currently living in an age where most countries in the world do not stand in our way and certainly do not impose other religions on us. Moreover, they are supportive to one degree or another of Jewish life and observance. Even the former Soviet Empire that sought to extinguish every trace of the light of Judaism has been transformed into a society that warmly supports Jewish life in all of its manifestations.
This radical transformation of “Esau” was what our patriarch Isaac had in mind when he sought to bless Esau. It is also a taste of what is to come with the imminent arrival of Moshiach and the future Redemption that we have been praying for close to 2,000 years. Now is surely the time to accentuate the other side of the equation, the “Voice of Jacob” with greater emphasis on Torah study, specifically the teachings of Torah that deal with the future Redemption.