Yitzchak (Isaac) calls for Esav (Esau) to receive the blessings reserved for his firstborn son. Following the instructions of his mother Rivka (Rebecca), Yaakov (Jacob) poses as Esav before his blind father, wearing Esav’s clothing and disguising his arms to resemble the hairier arms of Esav.
As the plan is underway, Yitzchak notices that his son returned too quickly with the food he requested, and begins to question his identity. He feels his skin and exclaims, “the voice is the voice of Yaakov, and the hands are the hands of Esav!” Yitzchak seems to have exposed the ruse and we’d expect him to withhold his blessing until the matter is cleared up. Yet, the narrative continues, “He did not recognize him because his hands were like the hairy hands of his brother Esav, and he blessed him” (Gen. 27:23). If Yitzchak was suspicious, why did he then go ahead and bless Yaakov?
While there are a number of ways to resolve this difficulty, the Medrash takes this homiletic approach: Isaac wasn’t expressing suspicion or confusion. Rather, he was defining the nature of Yaakov’s voice, and the voice of his descendants. “When the voice of Jacob is heard in the synagogues and the houses of study, the hands are not those of Esav.” In the merit of the prayer and Torah study of Yaakov’s descendants, they will be protected from the threats of those like Esav.
What remains troubling though, is that while this is a homiletic approach, it seems to directly contradict the statement of Yitzchak . He said, “the voice is Yaakov’s and the hands are Esav’s.” How could the Medrash say that when the voice is Yaakov’s , the hands are not Esav’s?
When you consider the context of the verse, this too becomes clear. The verse says “the hands are Esav’s,” but when Yitzchak said this he was referring to Yaakov’s hands, not Esav’s. The interpretation of the Medrash can then be understood to be even more profound: When the voice of Yaakov is heard in prayer and Torah study, the hands of Yaakov will be the hands of Esav. That is to say, the hands of Yaakov will then exhibit the physical power normally found with Esav! (based on Sefer Maalos HaTorah)
This week Israel finds itself on the verge of full-scale war after the most recent rocket attacks from Gaza. Operation “Pillar of Defense” seeks to effectively weaken the threat. The original Hebrew name of the campaign is Amud He’Anan, “Pillar of Cloud,” recalling the clouds that led and protected Israel throughout forty years in the Sinai desert.
This more aggressive Israeli response may appear to bring renewed hope, but we find the words of the Medrash ever relevant. The nature of the success of Yaakov’s children is that the merit of our tearful prayers and serious Torah study will determine the success of our physical efforts to defend ourselves. May the Al-mighty accept our efforts on all fronts, and brings us much success and peace soon!
Rabbi Mordechai Dixler
Program Director, Project Genesis – Torah.org