Why Isaac Refused to Choose Between His Sons



In Torah, Isaac blesses Jacob, the second of his twins, only after his wife Rebecca arranges what appears to be an elaborate ruse to disguise Jacob like his older brother Esau. Was Isaac fooled or was something deeper at play? In this Midrashic Monologue, we discover how Isaac and Rebecca’s partnership allowed to creatively blend God’s oracle with Isaac’s fatherly love for his sons. 

I heard that some tribespeople have been whispering behind my back - saying that my wife Rebecca intervened because of my weakness. They said that I was weak of eyesight, maybe physically and morally weak as well, and that these weaknesses led me to “mistakenly” offer the firstborn blessing to my secondborn Jacob. 


In the gossip-mongers’ eyes, I was a desperate, foolish old man who let my hunger overwhelm my mind. To them, I was so rudderless that I easily abrogated my responsibility to both my family and my tribe by failing to clearly articulate who would lead our family when I eventually went to sleep with my ancestors.


But the whisperers were meanspirited and wrong. It wasn’t weakness that held me back. It was the heart of a father. 


Imagine trying to decide which one of your children - which half of your soul - should triumph. You might try to predict which child would grow into a better leader, but you also have to recognize, as I did, that neither child alone has everything it takes to navigate the dangers of doing God’s work. 


For a while, I tried to wait, pushing off the decision and hoping that clarity would eventually come. I hoped that time would be enough.


But, it was only when I listened to my heart, not the voices of anyone else, that the fog of uncertainty lifted and clarity arrived.


I chose not to choose. 


In the future, the whisperers will opine that on the day of blessing, Rebecca boldly forced my hand, creating an elaborate deception and pushing our son Jacob to deceive me. They will say she had to trick me because I was unwilling to heed the prophesy she received while she was pregnant, when God told Rebecca that the older child (Esau) would serve the younger one (Jacob). But like the whisperers of my own age, those in the future will be wrong as well.


Can they really think I was so feeble that I couldn’t distinguish one of my boys from the other? 


My life - from the moment I met Rebecca, to the moment I blessed my boys - had but one purpose: raising children who - different than my experience - knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that they had their father’s love and attention. 


And so, more times than I could count, I found myself…


Eating the meat Esau had hunted, as I praised his strength and listened as he recounted each happening of the hunt. With Esau, I focused on lifting up his cunning and skill. 


And eating the porridge that Jacob had cooked, as I praised his thoughtfulness and discussed the larger issues of life. With Jacob, I dedicated myself to lifting up his wisdom and words. 

I wanted each of them to know unconditional love from their father. I wanted them to understand that my love for them was not contingent upon their usefulness in fulfilling God’s plan. I wanted them to be loved in ways that I had never been.


And the decision about who would hold responsibility for our tribe’s future? It was never mine to make. I had released that choice to Rebecca years ago, when our babies had just been born. I learned then that the Source of All had already chosen her as the one to receive the details about our people’s future. 


What the whispers cannot comprehend is that the first time I held my boys, I knew that I would never sacrifice the love of either of my sons. I knew that I could never decide who would be the future of our people. So my wife, my Rebekah, took on this responsibility of a tribal leader.  

She has led. And I have loved. Where others see deception, we see our agreed upon plan. Where others see weakness, we see strength. And because of our partnership, we - my tribe, my wife, my two boys, and most importantly, my love for them both - have survived. 

And every night, as I prepare for sleep, my open-hearted prayer has been the same, 


Baruch Ata Adonai, Eloheinu veilohei avoteinu vimoteinu, 

Elohei Avraham, Elohei Rivka, 

Elohei Yaakov v’Eilohei Esav,

Elohei ahavateinu. 


Blessed are You, our God and God of our ancestors, 

God of (my father) Abraham, God of (my wife) Rebecca, 

God of (my son) Jacob and God of (my son) Esau,

God of our overflowing love. 


I am comfortable with what my legacy will be. I am glad to know that when I am gathered to my ancestors, the love of my sons will accompany me on my final journey. 


I have lived for love. What greater legacy could there be?


#Toldot #Vayeitzei #Isaac #Rebekah #Jacob #Esau #Abraham