Isaac summoned Esau to give him the blessings of the birthright, blessing of success and prosperity, before his passing. Jacob, who had already purchased the birthright from Esau many years prior, was guided by his mother Rebecca to disguise himself as Esau, and he received the blessings of his father in his stead. When Esau arrived for his blessings, Isaac discovered his mistake, but ultimately endorsed Jacob’s blessing when hearing that Jacob had obtained the birthright. In a sense, G-d Himself endorsed Jacob’s actions many years later when He declared in Malachi’s prophecy, “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother? Yet I loved Jacob and Esau I hated. (Malachi 1:2-3)”
If Jacob was supposed to receive these blessings, why did he have to obtain them in this backhanded manner? Why couldn’t G-d have arranged the circumstances such that Isaac would willingly give them to Jacob in the first place?
The Torah has laws (halachos) for almost all areas of Jewish life. In the laws of prayer, in the Code of Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch O.C. 98:3), it states that one’s posture and attitude during prayer must be “like a pauper begging at the door.” As G-d provides us with everything, from the ability to breathe to success in business, we are completely dependent on Him. Therefore we cannot make requests as if what we wish is an entitlement, an expectation, but rather with complete submission. Indeed, G-d is more responsive to our prayers if we approach Him with this humility.
Isaac’s blessings were a form of prayer on behalf of his son. Jacob could have imagined that he was entitled to receive the blessings, because he owned the birthright, but that would have put their acceptance and effectiveness in jeopardy. When he saw his father intended to give Esau the blessings, and that G-d allowed Isaac to prepare to give the blessings to his older son, Jacob felt rejected by his father, and the Al-mighty Himself. It was clear to him that although he may have been legally entitled to the blessings, he was completely dependent on G-d’s will and His plan in order to receive the blessings. Once Jacob experienced that feeling and achieved that understanding, he was able to approach his father for the blessings with complete humility, and could merit the success and prosperity promised by Isaac’s blessing. (Based on Sefer Eretz Tzvi, cited by HaRav Meilech Biederman)
Please clarify for me something I believe I remember being in a midrash on the subject of the blessings that Isaac gave Yaacov and Esau. The birthright is the first born’s right to be the spiritual leader of the family/tribe. This is why Yaacov wanted it, knowing that Esau was totally unsuited for that duty. The blessing Isaac gave Yaacov when he thought Yaacov was Esau was not regarding that. Instead, Isaac gave a blessing regarding things that were of concern to Esau. Physical wealth (the dew of the heavens and the fatness of the earth, abundant grain and wine). Mastery over other people (people will serve you, regimes will prostrate themselves to you). Protection against being cursed and further blessings.
The midrash says these show that Isaac never intended to give Esau the birthright blessing.
Later, when Isaac knows he is blessing Yaacov, he gives him blessings related to the birthright. Blessings in the name of El Shaddai to be fruitful and numerous, a congregation of people (as was promised to Abraham). Specifically, “May He grant to you and your offspring the blessing of Abraham to possess the land which God gave to Abraham.”
The midrash says these show that Isaac always intended for Yaacov to be the same type of spiritual leader of the Jewish people as were Abraham and himself.
Are these in conflict with what you wrote here?
Thank you for your comments.
I don’t know if I’ve heard the Midrash or not, but the idea sounds familiar.
It sounds like you’re asking why Isaac would give material blessing to the first born if he was to be the spiritual leader. That’s a good question!
The Torah is clear that Isaac intended to give the blessings to Esau and that Yaakov tricked Isaac into giving them to him. So these material blessings must have been intended for Esau. I’m not sure how you avoid that conclusion.
As to why would a spiritual leader need material blessing? Perhaps the material blessing can serve to free the spiritual leader from any material burdens, and focus more on the spiritual. If the spiritual leader is spending too much time putting bread on the table, it will be challenging for him to lead and guide others.