Guest Posting From Rabbi Dovid Sears - A Biblical Generation Gap
When Yaakov Avinu disguises himself in his brother Esav’s garments to receive his father’s blessings, Yitzchak Avinu exclaims, “Behold, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that Hashem has blessed!” (Bereishis 27:27). Only then does he bestow his blessings. What is the connection between the field and the blessings?
There are several connections with this narrative and the paradigm of the field. First of all, Esav is described as an ish sadeh, “man of the field” (Bereishis 25:27). Yitzchak, too, is associated with the field, because it was his custom to pray in the fields, as the meforshim state in connection with Yitzchak’s first meeting with his future wife, Rivkah (Rashi, Malbim, et al., on Bereishis 24:63: “And Yitzchak went out to supplicate in the field…”). This suggests that there is a special spiritual affinity between Yitzchak and Esav -- despite the fact that the father was a tzaddik and the son an evildoer. Both are connected to the field and the outdoors, whereas Yaakov is described as “a simple man, dwelling in tents” (Bereishis 25:27). This may be why Yitzchak favored Esav: perhaps it was easier for him to understand another “man of the field” and to see him as his successor.
However, as soon as Esav shows up, and Yitzchak realizes that he had been tricked into blessing Yaakov, he utters a second exclamation reaffirming the blessings he gave Yaakov. Why did he suddenly reverse himself in Yaakov’s favor, instead of siding with Esav?
Rabbi Nachman of Breslev discusses the differences between Yaakov and the other Avos HaKedoshim in Likkutei Moharan I, 10 (section 3). Citing the Gemara (Pesachim 88a), he states that Avraham called the future site of the Holy Temple a “mountain,” because this conformed to his mode of divine service; Avraham related to Hashem as the ultimate transcendent One God above all other powers. Yitzchak called the same place a “field,” because he was able to bring down the Divine Light a little closer to the ordinary things of this world. However, Yaakov called it a “house,” because he was able to reveal Godliness even on the most mundane level.
Because of these three distinct types of avodah, each of the Avos seems unlike the others. However, despite this apparent difference, they represent three stages in one process, three parts of one whole. This is borne out by the rest of the biblical narrative, which tells how Yaakov’s children, the Bnei Yisrael, became the sole bearers of the monotheistic legacy of all three Avos, ultimately teaching it to the rest of the world.
Yet when one is in the middle of a process, it is hard to understand what is really going on. Therefore, it was unclear to Yitzchak Avinu that the son who would bear his torch was not Esav, the “man of the field” like himself, but the son who seemed so different than both himself and his iconoclastic father, Avraham: the “dweller in tents,” Yaakov.
Yaakov’s very name alludes to his divine mission. “Yaakov” is related to ‘ekev, the heel of the foot, because it would be the task of Yaakov and his descendants to draw down the divine light to the lowest level symbolized by the heel, thus bringing the world to perfection (see Likkutei Halakhos, Minchah 7:89, et passim). This is why, upon realizing that Yaakov had tricked him in obtaining the precious blessings, his father exclaimed, “And indeed he shall be blessed!” (Bereishis 27:33). At that moment, he understood that his mission would be fulfilled through the son who represented the next stage in the process of revelation: Yaakov, who would soon receive his prophetic vision on the site of the future Temple, and whose descendants would build the “house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 56:7). Yaakov and the Bnei Yisrael would complete the work of Avraham and Yitzchak.
This sudden flash of insight deserved an exclamation. A new light had begun to shine in the world, from the least expected source – a higher light than the world had ever known! In such a state of hislahavus, it was possible for Yitzchak Avinu to reaffirm the blessing that he had given in his blindness, fixing it as the legacy of Yaakov and his descendants forever.