The Jewish Hall of Fame
By Rabbi Label Lam
And HASHEM said to her, “Two nations are in your womb; two regimes from
your insides will be separated; the might shall pass from one regime to
the other, and the elder shall serve the younger.” (Breishis 25:23)
How do we make sense of this story? Why was the negative prophecy about
Essau revealed to only one parent? Why did Rivka not inform her husband
about the future difficulty? How could Rivka allow her husband to be
continually tricked by Essau? Why did she wait for the very last moment
before intercepting the blessing aimed at Essau? How could Isaac be so
deceived? Who was it that Isaac thought was in the room when he felt the
hands of Essau and yet heard the voice of Jacob?
The Rambam states a principle that a negative prophecy need not be
realized. The classic example was with Yona and his mission to Ninveh.
Once they got the message and responded appropriately then the threat of
imminent doom was eased. If a doctor warns his patient not to eat a
certain food because it may have hazardous consequences then as long as
doctor’s orders are followed tragedy need not occur.
Similarly, if Essau would have adopted a healthier and more submissive
attitude toward Jacob; if he would have internalized the Torah he learned;
if he could have transcended his ego, then both Jacob and Essau would have
been co-equal founders of the Jewish Nation. Jacob would have been as the
roots of the tree mining deep water of council and Essau would have been
as the branches that bear the message to the world.
How did Isaac remain blind towards Essau’s faults and why he was kept in
the dark until the very- end? The story is told about a school teacher who
received an apology from the principal in the middle of the school
year, “I’m sorry for sticking you with the slow class.” The teacher was
shocked. “Slow class?” he wondered aloud. Taking out the original roster,
he pointed to the numbers next to each name, “134, 125, 142, 151…This is
the brightest academic group I have ever had the privilege to teach! Look
at these IQ scores!” The principal took a long look at the page and
declared, “These are not the IQ scores. These are the locker numbers!”
Sometimes it’s important that only the administrator know what’s in a
student’s file while the teacher remains blissfully unaware, if a child is
to grow beyond limiting expectations. However the administrator is
watching carefully to see that by the time diplomas and licenses are
handed out the credentials are there.
Isaac was bribed by a parental desire to see that his child makes it. Any
slight display of progress and effort is already a foreboding of success.
There’s a part of every parent that never gives up on his child, and
rightfully so! Even at the last moment he had a hope that Essau would
adjust himself to be more compatible with Jacob. So when he felt “the
hands are the hands of Essau” while “the voice is the voice of Jacob” he
naturally assumed that Essau had finally softened and “got it”.
Rivka understood that by that time it was too late and dramatic
intervention was necessary. Rivka did her job as the administrator waiting
patiently, while Isaac worked with his son Essau hoping continuously and
bribed daily by the desire not to lose his child. Rivka was anxious too
for Essau to display more than a manipulative pandering to Isaac, getting
the grades to please the system but never getting the real message.
In the end only Essau caused Essau to fail. By feeding lies to his father
he tricked himself, playing into the illusion of success without ever
having honestly changed. While he toyed with his father’s hope he actually
betrayed his trust. Even though Essau continually faults Jacob for his
own failures, there is really only one person to blame why he remains a
character of infamy and why his uniform was not enshrined in The Jewish
Hall of Fame!
Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Label Lam and Torah.org.