In the episode of Yitzchak blessing his two sons, Yaakov and Esav (Gen. 27), one detects faint echoes of a much earlier Biblical account: that of Adam and Chava in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3). Perhaps most instructive in this respect is Yitzchak’s comment regarding Yaakov, while the latter is disguised as Esav: “See, the fragrance of my son is like the fragrance of a field which Hashem has blessed” (Gen. 27:27). The image of a “field blessed by Hashem” certainly seems to recall the Garden of Eden—and indeed, Rashi makes this connection explicitly (שם ד”ה וירח ועי’ ש”ח שם). But this is not the only detail in our Parshah that is redolent of Eden. Consider:
- Motif of blindness / discovery. Adam and Chava are figuratively “blind” until they eat from the fruit of Eden, at which point their “eyes are opened [ותפחקה עיני שניהם]” and they discover that they are “naked” (Gen. 3:7).
- Yitzchak’s eyes are “dimmed from seeing [ותכהין עיניו]” at the beginning of the episode (Gen. 27:1)—but his eyes will be “opened,” figuratively, when he discovers that he has been duped.
- Characters deceived by “charm.” The fruit in Eden is described as “charming [נחמד],” and Chava is tempted to eat it for this reason (Gen. 3:6). Rivkah dresses Yaakov in Esav’s garments, which are “charming [חמדת],” allowing him to conceal his identity (Gen. 27:15).
- Wife serving food to husband. Chava serves Adam fruit that is “good to eat” (Gen. 3:6). Rivkah prepares “delicacies” for Yitzchak to eat (Gen. 27:14).
- Garments of “skin.” Hashem “dresses [וילבשם]” Adam and Chava in a cloak made of “skin [עור]” (Gen. 3:21). Rivkah “dresses [הלבישה]” Yaakov in goat “skin [ערת]” (Gen. 27:16).
- Motif of deception and the “heel.” In consequence for deceiving Adam and Chava, the snake receives this curse from Hashem: “And I shall place hatred between you and between the woman, and between your seed and between her seed. He will crush your head, and you will bite his heel [עקב]” (Gen. 3:15). After Esav is deceived by Yaakov, he cries: “It is for this reason that he was named Yaakov [יעקב]! For he has deceived me [ויעקבני] twice: he took my birthright, and behold, now he has taken my blessing” (Gen. 27:36).
- Motif of “curse.” After Adam and Chava eat from the fruit of Eden, Hashem proclaims curses [א.ר.ר] upon Adam, Chava and the snake (Gen. 3:14-19). When Yitzchak blesses Yaakov he declares: “those who curse you shall be cursed [ארריך ארור]” (Gen. 27:29).
- More specifically: motif of a curse that comes on account of “heeding the voice” of a woman. Hashem informs Adam that the curse addressed to him has come “because you listened to the voice of your wife [כי שמעת לקול אשתך]” (Gen. 3:17). Rivkah introduces her plan to Yaakov with the words “listen to my voice[שמע בקלי]” (Gen. 27:8)—and when Yaakov protests that should he be caught, “I will bring upon myself a curse and not a blessing” (Gen. 27:12), Rivkah replies: “Your curse is upon me, my son; just heed my voice [שמע בקלי]” (Gen. 27:13).
- Relationships of hostility, dominance. As a result of the sin of Eden, “enmity” festers between the Chava and the snake (Gen. 3:15) and her Adam seeks to “dominate” her (Gen. 3:16) As a result of Yaakov’s actions, Esav “loathes” him (Gen. 27:41) and agitates to “break [Yaakov’s] yoke off of his neck” (Gen. 27:40).
- Banishment to the east. As a result of the sin of Eden, Adam and Eve are sent to the “east [קדם]” of Eden (Gen. 3:24). As a result of Yaakov’s actions, he is forced to flee away from home (Gen. 27:42-28:5) and towards the land of the “east [קדם]” (Gen. 29:1).
- Return home prevented by “sword.” Adam and Chava’s return to Eden is prevented by a rotating “sword [חרב]” of fire that blocks the path to Eden (Gen. 3:24). Yaakov’s return home is prevented by Esav, who “lives by the sword [חרב]” and plots to “break [Yaakov’s] yoke off of his neck” (Gen. 27:40).
In light of these parallels, the events of Parshat Toledot might best be understood as a regression back to those of Parshat Bereishit, as follows:
- In both episodes, Hashem reveals to one spouse information that is relevant to both. In Bereshit, Hashem commands Adam: “Of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil you must not eat” (2:17). In Toledot, Hashem divulges to Rivkah: “Two nations are in your womb; two regimes from your insides shall be separated. The might shall pass from one regime to another, and the elder shall serve the younger” (Gen. 27:23).
- Neither Adam nor Rivkah accurately transmits to his or her spouse the information that he or she has received. Adam tells Chava that Hashem prohibited even touching the Tree of Knowledge (Gen. 3:3), whereas Hashem had merely prohibited eating from it. Rivkah does not tell Yitzchak anything at all about the prophecy she has received.
- This breakdown in communication either reflects, or results in, Adam/Rivkah’s lack of confidence in the judgment of Chava/Yitzchak: Adam presents to Chava a stricter form of the prohibition than that which he had heard from Hashem because he wants to provide his wife with a “safeguard” against sinning (see Rashi to 3:3). Rivkah hears that Yitzchak is preparing to bless Esav and fears that he is about to bestow the covenantal destiny upon the wrong son—after all, he is not privy to the prophecy that she is. (In fact, the blessing that Yitzchak bestows upon Yaakov—whom he believes is Esav—is a blessing for material wealth and political power (Gen. 27:28-28). The spiritual blessing is bestowed upon Yaakov—when he is not pretending that he is Esav—at the start of the next chapter (28:1-4). Apparently, Yitzchak had intended all along to bequeath the covenantal destiny to Yaakov, not Esav. (For more on this topic see R. Ezra Bick’s article on the Virtual Beit Midrash).
- Ironically: The measures taken by Adam/Rivkah to protect Chava/Yitzchak from their own judgment wind up causing more harm than good. When Chava touches the tree she finds that, contrary to Adam’s warning, no harm befalls her; so she decides to eat from the fruit as well, assuming (incorrectly) that this, too, will bring no harm (Gen. 3:4-6 and Rashi to 3:4). As a result of Rivkah’s efforts to prevent her husband’s “mistake,” Esav ends up vowing to murder Yaakov, and Yaakov is forced to flee from home, spending decades away from his mother and father (see Gen. 31:38-42; 35:27-29).
At the heart of these episodes, then—and, more broadly, of our Sefer as a whole—lies the issue of trust. In the Torah’s first book, Hashem creates man and entrusts him with the care of His universe. To succeed in this task, man must mimic his Maker: just as Hashem trusts him, he in turn must trust in his fellow men and women, and must be willing to partner with them in the mission of לעבדה ולשמרה.
This can be supremely difficult, especially when we possess—or think that we possess—truth, knowledge, insight or perspective of which those around us are apparently ignorant. With the purest of intentions, we may in such moments find ourselves intervening in the affairs of others, as a way of “protecting” them from their folly.
Yet inasmuch as Hashem does not deprive us of the freedom to make our own decisions, though He often recognizes those decisions to be contrary to our best interests, we too must resist the urge to usurp the free will of spouses, siblings, friends, and even of grown children, or of aging parents. To do otherwise is to undermine the independence of our loved ones—and as the episodes of Adam, Chava, Yitzchak and Rivkah highlight for us, heavy-handedness of this sort rarely produces its intended outcome, anyways. More often than not, all it results in is confusion, resentment and estrangement.
Instead of control, then, we must opt for communication. The goals we set for our relationships are not matters to be delivered unilaterally; they are matters that we discuss together, patiently, in an atmosphere of cooperation and mutual respect. Only thus can we shape our collective destiny in a manner that is truly covenantal.
More “unfinished business:” In last week’s article, “Unfinished Business,” we highlighted the cases of three patriarchs—Avraham, Yaakov and David—who extract formal commitments from their sons before their deaths. In each of these cases, we suggested, the function of the patriarch’s request is to task his son with upholding an ideal that he himself was unable to abide by during his lifetime, due to extenuating circumstances. Yet fulfilling these “last requests” is not the only way in these sons tend to their fathers’ “unfinished business;” in fact, each of these sons spends a significant portion of his life perfecting the work of his father. Yitzchak, whose biography is recounted in this week’s Parshah, offers perhaps the best case in point. For more on this, please click here.