Toldot - The Divine Lottery


הרב שבתי סבתו
כז חשון תשעא
לרשימת השיעורים לחץ כאן
This is precisely what happened to Yitzchak Avinu. He was unable to rely on his sense of sight, because the hands were those of Esav. Nor was he able to rely on his sense of hearing, for the
ב"ה
 
כ"ג מרחשון ה'תשע"א
Oct. 31, '10
פרשת תולדות
Parashat Toldot
       הרב שבתי סבתו
         Rabbi Shabtai Sabato
 
 
 
הגורל
The Divine Lottery
 
 
The Blessed Field
The weekly portion of Toldot features the story of the twisty chain of events that lead Yitzchak to give the Divine blessing to Yaakov, and not, as he had planned, to Esav. Yitzchak Avinu asks Esav to prepare him a meal and to receive the blessing; Rivka hears of the plan and tells Yaakov to take his brother's place; Yitzchak appears to be fooled and gives the blessing to Yaakov. When he realizes that it was not Esav, the Torah tells us that he "trembled greatly" – but did not retract the blessing from Yaakov.
 
This story, of course, arouses many difficulties. Let us enumerate some of them:
 
  1. Why did the Patriarch Yitzchak insist on granting the blessing to Esav, who was clearly a negative and difficult character?
  2. Why did Rivka choose a deceptive manner by which to ensure that justice – as she saw it - was served?
  3. How was it that Yitzchak, who was a shepherd all his life, was unable to differentiate between the skin of a goat (which Rivka placed on Yaakov's arms so that Yitzchak would think he was his hairy son Esav), and that of a man?
  4. When Yaakov brought Yitzchak his meal, Yitzchak was hesitant. He said, "The voice is the voice of Yaakov, but the arms are those of Esav" (Breishit 27,22). When faced with such a contradiction, isn't it obvious that the voice is more authentic and trustworthy than the external trappings of hair and the like? External appearance can be disguised; why did Yitzchak not follow the voice?
 
An important clue in understanding the many questions aroused by this story can be found in the following verse:
ויגש וישק לו וירח את ריח בגדיו ויברכהו.
ויאמר, ראה ריח בני כריח שדה אשר ברכו ה'
Yaakov approached and kissed Yitzchak,
and Yitzchak smelled the fragrance of his garments and blessed him.
He said:
"See, my son's fragrance is like that of a field blessed by G-d."
 (27,27)
 
This verse, too, raises several questions:
 
  1. Where did this intoxicating fragranceof a field blessed by G-d come from?
  2. What happened to the bad smell of the skins of the goats? Where did it disappear to?
  3. Why did this special fragrance lead Yitzchak to immediately bless Yaakov?
 
Yitzchak well knows the smell of a real field. Way back when Avraham's servant Eliezer returned from Aram Naharayim with Yitzchak's future wife Rivka, Yitzchak already had bonds with the field:
ויצא יצחק לשוח בשדה לפנות ערב
Yitzchak went out to meditate in the field before evening.
 (24,63)
 
Yitzchak Avinu went to pour out his heart in prayer before Hashem, to take part in the prayer of the swaying song of the golden wheat. It was there, as the brilliant sun flickered into twilight, that Yitzchak instituted the Mincha prayer.
 
Rivka arrived on Eliezer's camels precisely then, and saw this man of G-d raising his arms Heavenward in prayer. She asked:
מי האיש הלזה ההולך בשדה לקראתנו?
Who is that man walking in the field towards us?
 (verse 65)
 
Rivka recognized immediately the sublime and delicate bonds between her future husband and the field.
 
 
Man of the Field
Yitzchak recognized that his older son Esav was blessed with tremendous strengths having to do with the field:
ויהי עשו איש יודע ציד איש שדה
Esav was an expert in hunting, a man of the field.
 (25,27)
 
But this was of course not the same field that Yitzchak was so attached to. Yitzchak's field was replete with prayer and longing for Hashem, while Esav's was exclusively one of hunting - coarse, animalistic and even cruel.
 
Yitzchak did not despair, however. He bided his time, waiting for the day that he would be able to smell in his son the intoxicating fragrance of a genuine field full of G-d's blessing. In this way, Yitzchak hoped, he would merit the true continuation of his own sacred ambitions. After all, he himself had accumulated within his soul a stock of tremendous, not-yet-actualized spiritual powers, when he willingly bared his neck during Akedat Yitzchak [the Binding of Isaac]. Yitzchak now felt these forces bursting forth from his older son – but to his sorrow, the field that he saw Esav connecting with was not the one he had planned. It was missing G-d's Name and presence!
 
The difference between Yaakov, who frequently mentions G-d's Name, and Esav, who does not, is very apparent in these decisive conversations with their father.
 
Yitzchak calls his son Esav and offers him the longed-for blessing – but on condition that he hunt him some game from the field and "make it into a tasty dish as I like it" (27,4). We see clearly that Yitzchak did not wish to suffice with food from his home; it must be from the field. For Yitzchak hoped that the blessing that Esav so desired would cause a revolution within his soul, and that his great powers that until then were focused solely on hunting, would now be refined and turned towards the service of G-d.
 
Yitzchak also wished to rectify the terrible sin of Nimrod of the previous generation. Nimrod was another great hunter whose powers were directed away from G-dliness and holiness; he actually made himself into a human god! Yitzchak's dream was therefore to have Esav "taste" G-d's Name at least once upon his lips, and thereby rectify Nimrod's evil.
 
 
The Voice of Yaakov
When his son came to him with a delicious meal, accompanied by words of holiness. magnanimity, and pleasantness, Yitzchak had trouble believing that the change he had so hoped for could have happened so quickly and so deeply. He hears his son saying things like:
קום נא שבה ואכלה
Arise, please; sit and eat
 (27,19)
 
and
כי הקרה ה' אלוקיך לפני
For Hashem your G-d was with me.
 (verse 20)
 
Such politeness, and certainly the mention of Hashem, was a sharp about-face in Esav's behavior. Yitzchak saw that the "speech" of his son appeared to be that of Yaakov.
 
Yitzchak then asks to touch his son, and comes face to face with a sharp and unsettling contradiction:
הקול קול יעקב, והידיים ידי עשו
The voice is the voice of Yaakov, and the hands are those of Esav.
 (verse 22)
 
We asked above why Yitzchak, when faced with this contradiction, did not immediately go with the physical evidence of the voice? The answer is that it was not the physical voice that Yitzchak was referring to. In fact, it is likely that both Yaakov's and Esav's voices were very similar! Rather, it was the contents of the speech; it was what he said – namely, G-d's Name – and not how he said it.
 
Yitzchak was now faced with a dilemma: Could it be that this was Esav standing before him, having made a true spiritual about-face because of his desire to be blessed – or was it Yaakov, who had simply disguised his smooth skin?
 
Over and over again, Yaakov asks his son: Are you really Esav?
 
Faced with this complex situation, Yitzchak tries another approach. He seeks that wondrous fragrance of old, that aroma of Eden, of a field blessed by G-d. And so he asks his son to come near so that he might kiss him:
ויגש וישק לו וירח את ריח בגדיו... ראה ריח בני כריח שדה אשר ברכו ה'. ויתן לך אלוקים...
Yaakov approached and kissed Yitzchak,
and Yitzchak smelled the fragrance of his garments…
"See, my son's fragrance is like that of a field blessed by G-d.
May G-d grant you…"
 (verse 27)
 
Precisely at the moment that he smelled the fragrance of a G-d-blessed field, his blessing to his son burst forth:
ויתן לך האלוקים מטל השמים ומשמני הארץ ורב דגן ותירוש
May G-d grant you from the dew of the heavens and the fat of the earth,
much grain and wine.
 (verse 28)
 
Yes: In Yitzchak's eyes, Esav had made a complete turnabout.
 
 
The Hidden Blessing
But of course it was not Esav. When the real Esav arrived, Yitzchak was shocked to find that everything was the opposite of what he had thought. It was actually Yaakov who had merited the fragrance of the field blessed by G-d and, consequently, the Divine blessings.
 
Yitzchak has no regrets about giving the blessings to Yaakov; on the contrary, he says, גם ברוך יהיה, "He will also be blessed" (verse 33). Rather, his great shock and trembling stem from the fact that he had made a mistake in judgment. He was distressed that he had thought Esav had changed to the point that he was worthy of the blessing.
 
Esav, for his part, did not notice the powerful upheavals taking place in Yitzchak's soul. He did not even notice that Yitzchak had just blessed Yaakov yet again by saying, "He will also be blessed." Instead, Esav lets out a bitter cry:
הברכה אחת היא לך, אבי? ברכני גם אני, אבי.
Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me as well, my father!
 (verse 38)
 
Yitzchak responds that in fact, he has no blessings left, for Yaakov had taken them all.

But it is this true?
 
Let us note that the blessings granted to Yaakov are all of a materialistic nature: Lots of food, water, power and sovereignty. What about the spiritual blessings?
 
Those blessings - a precious treasure - Yitzchak guarded carefully. These are the Blessings of Avraham – the link, oath and covenant between G-d and Avraham's descendants. This is the Covenant of the Inheritance of the Land of Israel, the everlasting pact:
...להיות לך לאלוקים ולזרעך אחריך
…to be your G-d and to your descendants after you
 (17,7)
 
Esav was right in guessing that a hidden blessing still remained, but Yaakov refused to grant it to him. He chose to give it to Yaakov, the one who merited the "field blessed by Hashem." This decision became final when Yitzchak heard what Esav said about Yaakov:
את בכורתי לקח והנה עתה לקחברכתי
First he took my birthright, and now he has taken my blessing.
 (27,36)
 
Yitzchak heard that Yaakov had in fact purchased the birthright from Esav, and with Esav's full consent. If so, there was nothing wrong with transferring the inheritance and the blessings from the older son to the younger son, since the older son was no longer the bechor, the legal first-born. Yitzchak then calls in Yaakov and officially gives him the Blessing of Avraham:
ויקרא יצחק אל יעקב ויברך אותו ויצוהו ויאמר לו:
Yitzchak called Yaakov, blessed him, charged him, and said to him:

לא תקח אשה מבנות כנען... וא-ל ש-די יברך אותך... ויתן לך את ברכת אברהם לך ולזרעך אתך לרשתך את ארץ מגוריך אשר נתן אלוקים לאברהם
Do not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan… May G-d bless you…
and give you the Blessing of Avraham, to you and your descendants with you,
to inherit the land of your residence that G-d gave Avraham.
 (28,1-5)
 
We have thus answered all the questions we asked above – except for why Rivka chose an underhanded way to obtain the blessing for Yaakov.
 
 
 
The Yom Kippur Goats
When Rivka sends Yaakov to bring two kid goats for a meal for his father, she says to him:
ועתה בני שמע בקולי לאשר אני מצוה אותך
Now my son, hearken to my voice, to that which I command you.
(27,8)
She is clearly not "asking" or "requesting." She is commanding Yaakov to follow her orders; he has no choice in the matter. We should well ask: On what basis is Rivka so sure about her position that she is willing to send her son on such a dangerous mission - and is even willing to take full responsibility (27,13) for the consequences?
 
The answer to this question brings us back to the original prophecy that Rivka heard when she was pregnant with her twin sons. She felt a struggle taking place within her womb, and "she went to seek a message from G-d" (25,22). The message she received was clear:
ויאמר לה ה', שני גויים בבטנך ושני לאומים ממעיך יפרדו
ולאום מלאום יאמץ ורב יעבוד צעיר
Hashem said to her:
There are two nations in your womb, and two nations will separate from within you. They will struggle, and the greater will serve the younger.
(25,23)
Rivka hears clearly that this is not just a regular case of sibling rivalry. Rather, there will be a historic clash between nations, and the greater one will serve the younger.
 
A careful reading of the verse shows that this prophecy was directed directly and exclusively to her. The Torah does not say ויאמר לה ה', to her G-d said,but rather ויאמר ה' לה, G-d said to her, emphasizing that this prophecy is specifically for Rivka - and that she therefore has a crucial role to play in bringing it to fruition. She understands that it will be up to her to ensure that the prophecy is fulfilled and that the younger son truly becomes a "lord over [his] brother" (27,29), despite the resistance of the older brother. Of course, she did not yet know the nature of the differences between them.
 
It is fascinating to note that Rivka is here instructed to play a decisive role in the process leading to Yakov's inheritance of the Land of Israel – just as the Matriarch Sarah played a similar role (by having Hagar and Yishmael banished) in ensuring that Yitzchak, and not Yishmael, would inherit the land.
 
The critical moment for Rivka came when she heard Yitzchak speaking to Esav and preparing him for the blessing. She realized that Yitzchak had no doubts; he was convinced that Esav, not Yaakov, was worthy of the blessing. As of that moment, it became incumbent upon her to bring about a situation in which doubts would arise in his mind – and then he would have no choice but to allow the final decision to be made by G-d.
 
How should she go about raising doubts in Yitzchak's mind? By removing the differences between the two brothers, leaving Yitzchak to wonder who is who, and who is really deserving of the blessing.
 
The first thing she does, therefore, is to blur the physical differences, as much as she is able. How is she to go about this, given the fact that one is hairy and the other one is smooth-skinned? Esav's "best garments, which she had in her keeping" (verse 15) provided the means, and she dressed Yaakov in them, as well as with "the young goats' skins on his arms" (verse 16).
 
How can she take such a great responsibility upon herself? Because she knew that what was at stake here was not just a personal blessing for her beloved son Yaakov. She knew that Yaakov was actually the representative of Hashem's nation – and that this was a historic situation in which she had no choice but to act on behalf of history.
 
 
The Yom Kippur Parallel
Can we find a parallel situation in which Hashem is presented with two identical objects so that He can decide between them? The answer, of course, is the two goats of the Holy Temple atonement service on Yom Kippur. On the verse that tells us that Rivka told Yaakov to "take two choice young goats" (27,9), the Zohar tells us:
 
Rabbi Yehuda said: "This is an allusion to the fact that the sons of Yaakov will, in the future, sacrifice two goats on Yom Kippur – one for Hashem, and one for Azazel."

The Mishna
(Tractate Yoma, chapter 6) says about these two goats that they must be "equal in appearance, height, and monetary worth, and they must be acquired together."  Why? The answer is that Torah commands the High Priest to conduct a small lottery in order to know which of the two goats will be a sacrifice for Hashem and which will be thrown to his death at Mount Azazel. Since we do not know the outcome of the lottery, both of them must be equally worthy of being offered to Hashem. This is why they must be the same.
 
Let us study this more carefully. At first glance, the two goats are destined for fates that are diametrically opposed. One of them will be offered on the altar in the Holy Temple in holiness and purity, and its blood will be sprinkled in the Holy of Holies – while the other one will be banished to the cliffs of the Judean Mountains, where it will be dashed to pieces in the gorge below.
 
Despite this great difference, we have no way of knowing which is to be which. Our mortal eyes can see no difference between them. Only the Divine lottery will determine each of their fates; we leave this decision in the hands of G-d, Who will make determine as He sees fit – via what appears to us to be a random lottery.
 
The parallel between Yaakov and Esav, on the one hand, and these two goats, on the other hand, is astonishing.  Rivka remembered, from the past, the prophetic message that told her that the greater one will serve the younger.It was determined before they were born, and certain before their personalities and traits were known, which son was to serve whom.  Hashem had made the decision long before, but Yitzchak does not know the results – and now Hashem is to reveal His decision. Rivka's plan has worked.
 
 
The Good and the Bad
The two totally identical goats are symbolic of good and evil in the world. Very often, good and evil are as indistinguishable as Siamese twins; only those with the sharpest of ethical eyes can see the differences. The first example of this occurred back in the Garden of Eden, namely, the Tree of Knowledge. Chava, the first woman, studies the tree from all angles and cannot understand why it should be forbidden:
טוב העץ למאכל וכי תאוה הוא לעיניים ונחמד העץ להשכיל
She saw that the tree was good to eat, and attractive to the eyes, and
favorable by which to gain intelligence.
(Breishit 3,6)
The forbidden tree appeared to be good, so why was it forbidden?  Only because of the Divine decree; G-d, not man, made the final determination. This is similar to a Divine lottery, which guides us when we cannot trust our own powers of discrimination.
 
A second example wherein good and bad appear to be intermixed and hard to differentiate is found in the beastly phenomenon of the Nazis. Though their evil was unprecedented in history, it was accompanied by a very high level of philosophy, poetry, and other talents that presented to the world a totally different – and misleading - face of Germany
 
 
The Lottery and the Sense of Smell
The Prophet Isaiah (Yeshayahu) paints a picture of the greatness of the Mashiach by describing some of his unique qualities. The Messiah will be able to discern who is a righteous person and who is not. How will he do this? Surprisingly, it will be via his sense of smell:
והריחו ביראת ה' ולא למראה עיניו ישפוט ולא למשמע אזניו יוכיח
He will smell fear of G-d;
not by what he sees will he judge, nor will he rebuke by what he hears.
(Yeshayahu 11,3)
The Mashiach will specifically not use the customary tools – sight and hearing – to judge. Instead, the chosen sense will be that of smell, which is many times more precise than the other senses. Clearly, one who can "smell out" what is right and wrong is on a very high spiritual level.
 
This is precisely what happened to Yitzchak Avinu. He was unable to rely on his sense of sight, because the hands were those of Esav. Nor was he able to rely on his sense of hearing, for the voice was that of Yaakov. At that moment, it was as if his two sons were standing before him just like two identical kid goats who cannot be told apart.
 
The two thus symbolize the classic struggle between good and bad, which can be determined only a supernatural "lottery." Hashem will have to decide who is worthy of the Divine blessing and of being the next link in the chain of Avraham Avinu.
 
This is the moment at which Yitzchak asks the son standing before him to come near so that he can kiss him – and smell him. At this point, Yitzchak learns of the Divine choice. He smells the wondrous fragrance of the Garden of Eden, and realizes: This is the son – the one whom he thinks is Esav, but is really Yaakov!
 
And thus, at the end of a winding road, the destination is reached, and the worthy son receives the Divine blessing.
 
Shabbat Shalom.
 



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