Toldot: Rivka’s Moral Clarity

There is a moral dilemma in Parshat Toldot: Why was it okay for Yacov and Rivka to deceive an older and recently blinded Yitzchak, in order to ensure Yacov received the blessings?! 

When Yitzchak ages and his eyes grow dimmed he decides it is time to give the brachot to his favored son, Esau. The commentaries see deeper meaning in his blindness being mentioned at this point in the narrative. One of Rashi’s explanations is that Yitzchak went blind from the smoke of his daughter-in-laws’ idol worshipping incense. This interpretation is based on the narrative juxtaposition of Yitzchak’s blindness with Esau taking Canaanite wives, bringing bitterness to his parents. The weakness in this interpretation is expressed by the midrash Tanhuma — why then did Rivka not go blind as well?! 

Sforno, takes a different approach and views Yitzchak’s blindness as a result of his turning a blind eye and not protesting Esau’s numerous faults and transgressions over the years. Sforno compares Yitzchak to Eli the kohen in the book of Samuel who refuses to see his sons’ inappropriate behavior. This position supports the idea that Yitzchak’s spiritual blindness did not begin in his old age, but earlier. When the Torah says that Yitzchak loved Esau because ציד בפיו, there was “hunting in his mouth,” the midrash comments – he would entrap and deceive Yitzchak with the words which came out of his mouth. Similarly, Rashi concludes that Yitzchak was made blind to set the stage for Yacov to take the brachot he rightly deserved, initiated by Rivka, who could see clearly regarding Esau and Yacov. 

The commentaries learn from Yitzchak’s blindness: ignoring and rewarding bad character traits has consequences. Rivka had moral clarity and could see who was deserving of the brachot. Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh tov!

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