Yitzchak, How Could You?

“And Yitzchak loved Esav …”

How is it possible that Yitzchak had a particular love for Esav, and what could that possibly have to say to us?

Within each of us are two forces, two capacities, that resemble an engine and a steering wheel. Ratzon, our inner “will,” is an unusually powerful force that drives us forward. Seichel, thoughtful intelligence, is what steers and guides our deep, powerful, idealistic desires in a constructive direction. On its own, ratzon, though enormously powerful, is essentially blind.

Deep, Inner, Raw, Power

Ratzon, the force of inner will and drive, is critically important. It’s the source of the breathtaking power and potential within every human being. And so, the more intense the will, the greater the potential for truly great accomplishments. At the same time, the more intense the will, the more difficult it is to direct, and the more necessary it becomes to have a steady hand on the wheel.

To steer ratzon in the right direction requires broad, sophisticated understanding coupled with a strong, inner moral compass. With the coupling of will and wisdom, the most elevated, idealistic, exalted horizons are within our reach. Without that partnership, beware, treacherous roads lay ahead. But there’s a problem. These two capacities, to a degree, are mutually exclusive. To flourish, ratzon requires wide-open spaces; it needs room to expand, to freely express itself and to look to the widest horizons. And then we have the koach haseichel—thoughtful intelligenceand mussar—our understanding of right and wrong. These say, “Wait a minute, we need to think about this before we just run off in pursuit of our desires and dreams. We need to ask if this really makes sense, and whether it will truly result in helpful, meaningful achievements.” This built-in tension has within it the potential to sap the strength from both forces and to undermine our vast potential.

Mystical Maturation

God embedded a two-phased process within creation.

In the kabbalistic sources, phase one is called tohu. This is alluded to in the verse “And the earth was astonishingly chaotic.” This is the youthful period of creation when full throttled will and desire and potential are set loose without any constraints. The second phase is called, tikkun, and is alluded to in the words, “Let there be light.” This light is the light of the Torah, of daas, of wise, balanced understanding capable of shaping and guiding the astonishing power of tohu.

The same template is present within the human being. Early in life we are brimming with the force of nearly limitless ideals and dreams and with a feeling that anything and everything is possible if we just want it badly enough. Later comes more mature thinking and an appreciation of the need for nuanced moral reflection. Clearly, if koach ha’seichel vha’mussar matured first, this would stymie the ability of ratzon to fully express itself, and the last thing God wanted was stymied, stunted people.

It’s Not Easy

It’s very difficult to integrate these competing forces in a balanced, harmonious fashion, in a way that truly unlocks our deepest potential. Indeed, when looking at the world, it seems that often the force of ratzon is most dramatically expressed in people that lack morally and ethically sensitive thinking. Evil, it often seems, is the playground of ratzon. On the other hand, it can seem that righteous people, those who have invested so much energy in the pursuit of wisdom, and in refining their character, lack the dynamism of strong ratzon.

Am Yisrael, the Jewish nation, absolutely needs both of these forces.

The mission of the Jewish people, l’taken haolom b’malchut Shaddai, to repair the world in consonance with the Divine Will, imposes a great challenge. If we are to be a source of enlightenment, and are to steer Mankind to actualizing the shlaimut of its vast potential, then balance and harmony is a must. Our mission demands both expanded consciousness and a finely tuned conscience, together with a powerful, relentless desire and drive to rid the world of darkness and evil, and to elevate everything to a place that reflects Godliness; goodness, spirituality and light into the world.


Yitzchak took a careful, measured look at his sons and saw the shattering divergence of these two critical forces. Esav was the first born—the tohu—a hairy, burly “man of the fields,” a man of great power and strength and drive, yet untethered from the refining influence of ethically anchored seichel. And then there was Yacov; a man of “simple” integrity, a man who spent his days in the private pursuit of wisdom; a man who seemed to be detached from a drive to impact the world around him. Yitzchak concluded that the best approach was to follow the pattern of creation. He would engage the unbridled, fearsome strength of Esav and find a way to guide and direct all that power in a fashion that could be the greatest possible force for tikun, for repairing all the ills of the world.

Wisdom and morality can be taught, but ratzon, that’s far more inborn than instilled. And so Yacov loved Esav and hoped that he could mold all that potential into a man that could carry forward the great mission that had been bequeathed to him by Avraham.

In Truth. Yacov

In truth, beneath the surface, Yacov possessed the same forceful qualities as Esav. This is rooted in Yacovs act of grabbing hold of Esavs heel at birth. In that seminal moment, Yacov drew on Esavs power of ratzon. This emboldened Yacov to later purchase the bechora, the rights of the firstborn. Yacov knew that he had all the requisite tohu to do what had to be done, no matter what. Indeed, it was the very brazenness of Yacovs acquisition of the firstborn rights that showed that he had what it took to be who he needed to be, regardless of the obstacles in his path.

“The voice is the voice of Yacov, and the hands are the hands of Esav.”

Voice is from within; it’s the inner spring of Torah, kindness, kedusha and light. Hands are the mighty forces necessary to pursue, implement and drive forward the high mission of the Jewish nation.

And later in our parsha …


Ultimately, Yitzchak blessed not just Yacov, but “also Esav.” In his blessing, Yitzchak said that there would be times when the forces of Esav would have the upper hand. Indeed, this phenomenon was also eluded to early on when the Torah said, that “dominance would pass between one regime and the other.” And in this statement our sages saw that when one—Esav-ratzon would rise to power—that the other—Yacov-seichel—would fall from power, and the opposite as well.

The truth, however, is that the historical condition of Yacov and Esav are not exact mirror images of one another. You see the voice, the inner spirit nurtured by the Torah is eternal. The hands of Yacov, the ability to be fully engaged and impactful on the stage of history, may be tied so to speak, but the deep spirituality is ever present, always there waiting to be active, and to make a difference, a grand difference. And so, even with the destruction of the first Beit Hamikdash—with the advent of galut—though the reach of our hands was dramatically curtailed, the voice of Yacov, the kol Torah, never ceased from the lips, and the study halls, of the Jewish people.

As We Return

As we return to our land, as we move closer and closer to the heights of geula, we need to reclaim the full force and vitality of our blended capabilities: Both the voice of Yacov and the hands of Esav. Is it not our Torah that commands to take our land, if necessary, by force? Is the unfolding geula not demanding of us, step-by-step, to reacquire the mighty, determined, wise, creative spirit that once animated the life of Am Yisrael? Are our own eyes not witness to a remarkable spiritual and physical flourishing in the land of Israel today? Are we not more and more engaging with a long dormant integrated sense of full, fruitful self?

King David

Think of one of King Davids great warriors, Adino Ha’etzni. Was he not the very embodiment of this harmonious fusion of Yacov and Esav. Our sages say that when he was in the beit medrash, he was adin, as gentle as could be, and when he went to war, he was as strong as an etz, a mighty tree. And David himself. Was he not both a warrior and the one who studied alone throughout the night, and who wove tehillim from the wisdom of his gentle soul? This is ideal synthesis: The soft, pure, gentle heart—exalted and lustrous—like the voice of Yacov, together with the hands. The strong, fearless, dynamic hands that stand ready to do all that is required to build the nation and draw out the latent potential of Am Yisrael.

This Era of Ours

Our era, the era of the Am reborn, of our people again coming to magnificent life. Today we stride again on our progressive path: Our path that is, and must be, a fusion of the most powerful and exalted ratzon, a ratzon that is not only fearless, but fearlessly loyal and dedicated to the integrity of our timeless Torah wisdom and values, our light. To compromise on either is out of the question. Just the opposite: We need to understand that ultimately both flow from the same holy source, both compliment and complete one another, and the fusion of the two within the corpus of Am Yisrael is what will unleash our ability to reach, successfully, for our highest self; our self that is a light and blessing for the entire world, our self that greets the geula shleima. Soon, soon in our days.

Translated by Shimon Apisdorf