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Take My Blessing, Please

  • Harav Yehuda Amital

The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Sicha for Shabbat from the Roshei Yeshiva
Yeshivat Har Etzion





Take My Blessing, Please

Adapted by Dov Karoll


The beginning of this week's parasha deals with the meeting of Ya'akov and Esav. The parasha opens with Ya'akov sending messengers to inform Esav of his return. "Tell my master Esav: So says your servant Ya'akov…" (32:5). The Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 75:11) strongly criticizes Ya'akov for taking a submissive approach to Esav:

"When Ya'akov called Esav 'my master,' God told him: You lowered yourself, and called Esav 'my master' eight times; I will establish eight kings from his descendants before there are any kings from your descendants."

Ya'akov had his father's blessings in addition to God's promise, and as such he should have taken a stronger stand.

Why is it so common for Chazal to criticize the great figures of the Torah, such as the patriarchs and Moshe, among others? The rabbis found this to be critical, for it emphasizes the human element of these great people. It teaches that even our patriarch Ya'akov had weaknesses, and that sometimes he made mistakes. Not everything he did was dictated by divine inspiration. It is precisely in this light that we can learn so much more from the patriarchs as people, given that they were human and not angels.

But even if this criticism is in place, what was Ya'akov thinking? He must have thought that his submissiveness was justified and warranted. As the Midrash points out, Ya'akov refers to Esav as "my master" eight times. This could not have been an oversight on Ya'akov's part. Clearly, Ya'akov himself must have seen some importance in taking this approach. What led Ya'akov to defer to Esav in this way?

In order to answer this question, we need to relate to the background of this story in the relationship between Ya'akov and Esav. Why did Ya'akov need to run away in the first place? Why was he so scared in approaching Esav? What did he do that led to Esav's hatred toward him?

Esav's hatred, which led to Ya'akov's flight, and correspondingly to Ya'akov's fear in returning, stemmed from Ya'akov's taking the blessings (chapter 27). While Ya'akov was acting out of maternal deference, and may well have been justified, he seems to have suffered feelings of guilt over this act. What was the blessing that Ya'akov "stole" from Esav? It was not the blessing of spiritual continuity, the appointment of the successor to Avraham and Yitzchak. Ya'akov received that blessing from Yitzchak at the end of that story (28:3-4).

Seforno (27:29 s.v. hevei) offers an explanation that sheds light on our issue. He presents a theory as to Yitzchak's intentions in blessing Esav. Yitzchak understood that the land of Israel was meant for Ya'akov, and he assumed that Ya'akov would be a subject rather than a ruler, so that he would not be as preoccupied with matters of power and other worldly pursuits, enabling him to devote his time to spiritual matters. Yitzchak further assumed that it would be better for Ya'akov to be subservient to his brother Esav than it would be for him to serve other nations. However, given that he knew that the land of Israel was meant exclusively for Ya'akov, he made no mention in this blessing of succession to Avraham's heritage, nor of the land of Israel. Instead, he mentioned those to Ya'akov later when he blessed him.

What then was the blessing that Ya'akov "stole"? It was a blessing for physical success. In a sense, Yitzchak was right that this blessing really should have gone to Esav. Ya'akov has no interest in "may you rule over your brothers" (27:29). He is interested in the blessing of the succession of Avraham. Therefore, when he comes to Esav in this week's parasha, Ya'akov goes out of his way to make clear that he is interested only in the spiritual blessing he received, and that he does not insist on the physical blessing that was given to him. He communicates this message implicitly by using the terms "my master" and "your servant" repeatedly, emphasizing that he does not see himself as "ruling over his brothers." Ya'akov then makes this notion explicit by his statement, "Please take my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough…" (33:11).

[Originally delivered on leil Shabbat, parashat Vayishlach, 5762 (2001).]


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