by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
Back to This Week's Parsha | Previous Issues
Parashas Toldos(66)The sedra tells of the competition between the twin brothers Jacob and Esau. Jacob is born second grasping his older brother's heel. Later on as youngsters, the famished Esau returning from his hunting escapades, pleads for some food from his homebody brother, Jacob. Jacob then sells him the portion of potage in exchange for Esau's birthright. Even later on, as older men, Jacob the founder of the Jewish People deceives his father Isaac, at his mother's insistence, in order to receive the blessing of the first born before his father, Isaac, passes away. In both these stories Jacob does not come off looking too good.
Let us look at a verse from the second story, receiving the blessings, and a Rashi-comment on it.
Genesis 27: 18, 19
18: And he came to his father and said "My Father." And he said "Here I am., who are you, my son?"
19: Jacob said to his father: "It is I, Esau your firstborn, I have done as you have told me. Please rise up, sit and eat from my game so that your soul may bless me."
It is I, Esau your firstborn: Rashi:I am the one who is bringing you ; and Esau is your first born.
WHAT HAS RASHI DONE?
With this comment Rashi has spliced Jacob's statement into two separate parts and thereby switched Jacob's apparently dishonest answer to his father into an innocent comment. He has taken the dishonesty out of it. But has he really?
WHAT IS BOTHERING US?
Certainly a P'shat reading of the verse clearly implies that Jacob has been dishonest with his father. This should be disturbing to us. And even if what Rashi says is actually what Jacob meant to convey - this is still dishonest in the message it sent to Isaac. Isaac was convinced that this was Esau.
WHY HAS RASHI STRAYED FROM P'shat?
Rashi has the custom of making the righteous look better than a superficial reading of the text does, as well as making the evil look worse than the text does. (See Rashi above on verse 25:28 regarding Esau's kindness to his father).
Why does he distort the Torah's Simple meaning in this way?
Rashi is a Torah commentator but he is also an educator. Rashi takes the long view of the Torah's personalities. In the long view we can see from a careful reading of the Torah's words that Esau was a self centered individual with evil intentions, while Jacob was not.
( See my book Studying the Torah , Jason Aronson Publishers) pgs 28-33 to see that Jacob acted quite kindly toward Esau and did not force a sale on him when he gave the bowl of porridge.)
HOW DOES THE TORAH LOOK AT JACOB'S ACTIONS?
Rashi is a teacher he tries to teach us to respect our Forefathers and judge them on the scales of merit. But what about the Torah itself? How does the Torah look at Jacob's act?
We have only to look at next week's sedra to find the answer. In chapter 29:26, Lavan explains to Jacob why he deceived him and gave him Leah instead of Rachel on his wedding night when he had explicitly agreed to Rachel. He says: "Such is not done in our place - to give the younger before the first born." Lavan's sly remark is a sharp criticism of what Jacob had done in his place - the younger went before the first born. So the upshot of Lavan's deed was to have Jacob marry both Leah and Rachel. And this was a consequence of Jacob going before the firstborn - Esau - when Isaac blessed his sons. Had Lavan not deceived Jacob he would only have married Rachel. See all the sibling rivalry that resulted from the jealousy and revenge that went on between Rachel's son - Joseph - and Leah's sons. This rivalry lasted for hundreds of years resulting in much damage to AM Yisrael - to Yisrael's nation! So Jacob's act of dishonesty did not go unrequited by Hashem.
As a final note we should point out that in spite of his blindness,. Isaac was fully aware of his sons' characters and not fooled by Esau's behavior. Note that the most important blessing - the blessing of Abraham - he saved for Jacob. So he was aware of much more than Rebecca had feared.
"What's Bothering Rashi?" is produced by the Institute for the Study of Rashi and Early Commentaries. The five volume set of "What's Bothering Rashi?" is available at Judaica bookstores.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
For information on subscriptions, archives, and