Did Yaakov Steal the Berachos?
For seventeen years, I had the privilege to study one-on-one with Rav Yaakov Weinberg, zt’l, Rosh Hayeshiva of Yeshivat Ner Yisrael of Baltimore. Rav Weinberg was one of the Torah luminaries of the 20th century, and he had a profound impact on the lives of thousands of his students, not to mention his students’ students and families.
Rav Weinberg had a unique approach to the story of Yaakov and the berachos (Beraishis 17). Yaakov understood Yitzchak's hesitation in bestowing the berachos on him in the first place. Yitzchak felt that the world's next paradigm of evil was Lavan, a wily adversary who would one day pose a serious threat to the Jewish People. To counteract Lavan, Am Yisrael would need an Av who was a paragon of virtue and would have a healthy measure of cunning, to 'beat him at his own game'. Yitzchak didn’t think Yaakov had what it takes, since he was innocent and without artifice. Esav, on the other hand, had confrontational and disingenuous tendencies, but lacked Yiras Shamayim. Yitzchak tried to favor him in the hopes of winning him back. Yaakov understood from his mother Rivka that this was his opportunity to prove to his father that he was indeed the proper recipient of the blessings.
Against this backdrop, several questions present themselves:
- Yaakov took pains to disguise his arms and cover them with lambs’ wool so they'd seem hairy like his brother's. Yet he didn't even make the slightest attempt to disguise his voice. If you were trying to be an impostor, wouldn't you at least try to 'do it right' and dupe your victim completely?
- It's obvious that Yitzchak had some misgivings as to the identity of the son purporting to be Esav. So why didn’t he verify who it was independently? He could have simply called in one of his many servants and said "'Who is this man in front of me?" Imagine you are about to give away a small sum of money to a specific person. The person walks in and there is an inconsistency with his 'story', one that introduces doubt in your mind. Wouldn't you take that small precaution and verify the identity, perhaps using a third party? How much more so should Yitzchak have performed some basic verification when the stakes were infinitely higher.
- What is the meaning of Chazal's interpretation of Yaakov's words upon identifying himself – Anochi (pause) Esav Bechorecha - meaning: "I am (pause). Esav is your firstborn"?
These questions show the weakness of both Yaakov's impersonation and Yitzchak's ‘verification’. Rav Weinberg therefore concluded that Yaakov was playing a charade, and Yitzchak was fully 'in on it'. In keeping with Rivka's instruction, Yaakov was demonstrating to his father that yes, he had what it took to go head-to-head with Lavan. By disguising only his arms and not his voice, he was telling his father, "I could easily have fooled you had I tried. I do have a side of me that is cunning, and I can employ it at will".
Why didn't Yitzchak try to verify his identity? Because Yitzchak caught on right away and realized it was Yaakov. He was astonished by this side of Yaakov that he didn't know existed, and made up his mind that Yaakov was, indeed, the most worthy recipient of the Berachos. He now understood that he had been wrong all along, and this realization contributed to his great trembling when the real Esav came in later.
With this approach we can understand that cryptic statement of Chazal raised in Question 3 - what does the pause mean in Yaakov's statement? The answer is Yaakov said it with the pause, to show his father how easily he could have fooled him. What he meant was, "It would have been easy not to pause had I wished to fool you."