Letter and Spirit

For the week ending 21 November 2020 / 5 Kislev 5781

Qualifying for a Blessing

by Rabbi Yosef Hershman
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Among the many questions that the story of the blessings of Yaakov and Eisav evoke is the question of why Yitzchak saw fit to request of his son to prepare him a tasty meal before he would bless him. It would be strange indeed if the implication were that a tasty roast would send his soul into a rapture from which the blessing would flow! What could have been Yitzchak’s motive in making this request as a prerequisite for blessing?

The text provides a clue. Yitzchak asks not for a meal in order that I should bless you. Rather, he requests of Eisav to prepare this meal so that my soul may bless you. Such an expression is not to be found in any comparable blessing. Blessings are bestowed by the entire person, not by a specially emphasized part of the person, such as the soul.

Eisav is described as one who “understood hunting, a man of the field.” His character was one who understood the art of hunting. His vocation was a hunter in the field. The Hebrew word for hunt — tzud — is phonetically related to sod, secret. The common meaning is one’s keeping a plan to oneself until the time comes to carry it out — a secret is kept until the opportune time to reveal it. A hunter lays his trap and waits patiently for the opportune moment. Eisav was an expert hunter — an expert in this self-control. Used in a different sphere, this could have enabled him to be a great warrior for G-d.

Yitzchak wanted to bless Eisav in the spirit of his future calling. Just as he hoped that Eisav’s natural tendencies would someday be a source of blessing and be used for exalted purposes, he also wished to see him in this light when he blessed him. So, the savage craft of hunting — Eisav’s livelihood and hobby — must be elevated and used for human purposes. Eisav did not usually hunt to provide a nourishing meal for his aged feeble father. He enjoyed hunting for its own sake, for the sight of steaming blood of his prey. It was not his way to hunt game for the purpose of providing for someone weak and ill.

What Yitzchak instructs is this: Please take your gear, hunt some game for me and prepare a tasty dish for me. This time, Eisav is to take his implements and his skill and use them in an act of kindness for someone, to restore the strength of an old man. Yitzchak wanted Eisav to experience how good it feels to use one’s strength and skill in the service of another. This display would qualify him for a blessing — to use his nature, his talent and his skill for exalted purposes.

  • Sources: Commentary, Ber. 27:2-4;25:27

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