Parashat Toldot: Wearing Two Hats

[Tal Chermon]

Esav the Wicked
Yitzchak believed in Esav's ability to manage the material world morally and thus wanted to give him his blessing. Rivkah, however, knew the stark truth. Esav in his present state was not capable of advancing the world, since he himself for the moment was incorrigibly depraved. Hopefully after several thousand years of improvement when the End of Days arrives, he would eventually be fit for the task. He possessed strength but it was the strength of wickedness which would be used for the destruction of the world. Yitzchak saw the overall picture of the ideal and absolute truth in which Esav's strength must and will be employed at the End of Days for the world's benefit. Rivkah, however, saw the world in its realistic, present state where Esav was a source of evil. At present he is a murderer as he said, "May the days of the mourning of my father come soon so that then I will be able to kill my brother" (Bereshit 27:41). It is true that he was upset because his blessing was taken from him, but there are limits even to an angry response. He even wanted to hasten the death of his father. It was a bit too much for him to do that personally, so he requested it of his dear uncle Yishmael, who certainly would willingly comply (Midrash Ha-Gadol, Bereshit 28:9). These murderous inclinations were not created overnight because of a one-time event but are indications of his deep-rooted corrupt nature (Rav Charlop in Ma'ayanei Ha-Yeshu'a). Rivkah knew Esav's present state better and thus decided that in the meantime Yaakov would have to fulfill both his and Esav's tasks.
[Sarah had acted similarly a generation earlier when she decided to banish Yishmael from the home because of the negative influence of his corrupt behavior. Avraham was shocked. This went against the grain, which was the ideal of absolute kindness. It is true but it was essential for practical considerations. Hashem confirmed Sarah's approach: "Do everything that Sarah tells you" (Bereshit 21:12). They should ideally live together, but it was not possible at the present time. "The events that occurred to our forefathers are indications of what will befall their descendants!" (This concept first appears in the Midrash Tanchuma, Parashat Lech Lecha, section 9. This exact expression of the idea first appears in the Shela Ha-Kadosh in Torah She-Bichtav, end of Parashat Vayishlach).]

The Transfer of Esav's Blessing to Yaakov
Rivkah instructed Yaakov, "Now, my son, listen to me and do what I command you. Go…take…and bring it to your father so that he will bless you before he dies" (Bereshit 27:8)." Yaakov tried to get out of it by saying: "Maybe my father will feel me…and I will bring a curse upon myself and not a blessing" (ibid. 27:12). Rivkah responded: "Let any curse be upon me, my son. But listen to me and go and bring what I asked" (ibid. 27:13). In other words, "Do what you're told! I know better than you and that's an order!" Yitzchak sensed that something was wrong when Yaakov came: “The voice is the voice of Yaakov but the hands are the hands of Esav" (ibid. 27:22). The voice expresses thought and the spiritual world, while the hands represent the realm of action" (ibid. 27:27)."

Question: Since Yaakov was disguised as Esav, doesn't this show that this task was not compatible with his character.
Answer: When there is no choice, we even have to do things that do not suit us. If Esav cannot fulfill his task then Yaakov is forced to take over, despite the fact that Yaakov's natural expertise is not for worldly matters but for spiritual ones. There are nations who in their own fields are more adept than Israel. It is true that Israel contains all human talents in the same way that human beings possess all talents that animals have, but individual nations may surpass us in a particular characteristic that is its specialty. We share the materialistic aspects of life with the non-Jews, but that is their area of specialization, not ours. Attempts to take over other people's tasks lead to disaster. The non-Jew's meddling in spirituality led to the birth of Christianity and Islam, while our degeneration into pre-occupation with material matters led to the neglect of the spirit. At this juncture, Israel also had to perform Esav's worldly mission. Yaakov was therefore given a blessing for material success using honest and upright tactics. "May Hashem give you of the dew of the heaven and the fatness of the earth…Nations will serve you…be a lord to your kinsmen…may they that bless you be blessed" (ibid. 27:28). The physical world was now in the righteous hands of Yaakov Avinu who would manage it in holiness, according to Hashem's will.

Yaakov's Spiritual Blessing
At the end of this Torah portion, Yaakov was given his original blessing as the firstborn who was to manage the world's spirituality. He received this blessing comfortably since this was originally designed for him. "May Hashem make you an assembly of peoples. May He give you and your descendants the blessing of Avraham so that you take possession of the Land that G-d gave to Avraham, where you lived previously only as a foreigner" (Bereshit 28:3). Yaakov was the spiritual successor of Avraham and was thus in charge of building up the inner essence of the world. After the original change of tasks, there was a further modification when Yaakov adopted both functions. Yaakov now wore two hats simultaneously: the supervision of the world's material advancement and the guide for the world's spiritual improvement.