As you have done to others, so others will do to you
Is it OK to be deceitful? Is it OK to take what is not yours? Does the outcome justify the means? These are the obvious questions that come to mind when we read the story in Parashat Toldot of how Rebecca convinced Jacob to steal Esau’s blessing.
From Rebecca’s point of view the ends did justify the means. It is safe to say that Rebecca assumed that the blessing that Isaac would give Esau, as the first born, was the same blessing that both Abraham and Isaac had been given by God - the covenantal blessing of children and land. In other words, it would be Esau and not Jacob who would continue the covenant and carry the mission of Abraham into the future.
In Rebecca’s mind Esau was not eligible for this mission. First and foremost she had received an Oracle before the twins were born:
Two nations are in your womb, and two people from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other and the elder will serve the younger. (Genesis 25:23)
According to this, Rebecca’s understanding was that Esau being the elder would serve Jacob. Jacob would therefore emerge with greater strength and be chosen by God. In assuming this, Rebecca failed to understand the meaning of the covenantal blessing, substituting power and strength for God’s promise and blessings.
Rebecca knew that Esau was a hunter, a man of violence. She had witnessed his disdain for tradition, for compassion. She had seen how he so quickly and willingly gave up his birthright. How he had taken wives from the Hittities even though he knew that this would break his parents hearts and cause them much grief.
In Rebecca’s mind, there was no way that Esau was worthy of the covenantal blessing. The future of a nation could not be left in the hands of a person such as Esau. If Isaac was too blind both physically and emotionally to understand the personalities of his children, then deceiving Isaac was the only way to guarantee that Jacob got the blessing he so rightly deserved.
The consequences of this deceit were far ranging and lasted for more than one generation. As a result of deceiving Isaac and angering Esau, Jacob had to run for his life to Padan Aran, to Laban, Rebecca’s brother where he was forced to stay for over 20 years. He experienced the exact same deceit from Laban as he had imposed on Isaac, when he came to marry Rachel, Laban substituted Leah instead.
When Jacob cried out, “why did you deceive me?”Laban responded, “It is not done in our place to put the younger before the elder”. Laban’s reply sounds like an exact response to the deceit that Jacob performed on Isaac and Esau, as if to say, what you have done to Esau is not done here, you have been deceitful and I in return have also deceived you.
The results of this episode are far reaching. There was animosity between Leah and Rachel, the children of these women hated each other. The episode of Joseph being sold into slavery was a direct result of this deceit. The fact that Joseph was missing from Jacob’s life for 22 years is no accident, this was the same time that Jacob was missing from Isaac's life.
As it turns out, Isaac had every intention of giving Jacob the covenantal blessing. He was not blind to the personalities of his two children, he knew of Esau's nature and had prepared for him a blessing that suited him. As for Jacob, Isaac blessed him with the following blessing prior to his leaving for Padan Aram:
“May God almighty bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers until you become a community of peoples. May He give you and your descendants the blessings given to Abraham so that you may take possession of the land where you now reside as a stranger; the land God gave to Abraham”.
The deceit practiced by Rebecca was understandable, however it was not required and in the end, had she trusted and had faith in her husband, Jacob’s life and that of his children would have been spared much hardship, heartbreak and agony.