- And in those days, after the death of Abraham, in that year the Lord brought a heavy famine in the land, and whilst the famine was raging in the land of Canaan, Isaac rose up to go down to Egypt on account of the famine, as his father Abraham had done.
- And the Lord appeared that night to Isaac and he said to him, Do not go down to Egypt but rise and go to Gerar, to Abimelech king of the Philistines, and remain there till the famine shall cease.
- And Isaac rose up and went to Gerar, as the Lord commanded him, and he remained there a full year.
- And when Isaac came to Gerar, the people of the land saw that Rebecca his wife was of a beautiful appearance, and the people of Gerar asked Isaac concerning his wife, and he said, She is my sister, for he was afraid to say she was his wife lest the people of the land should slay him on account of her.
- And the princes of Abimelech went and praised the woman to the king, but he answered them not, neither did he attend to their words.
- But he heard them say that Isaac declared her to be his sister, so the king reserved this within himself.
- And when Isaac had remained three months in the land, Abimelech looked out at the window, and he saw, and behold Isaac was sporting with Rebecca his wife, for Isaac dwelt in the outer house belonging to the king, so that the house of Isaac was opposite the house of the king.
- And the king said unto Isaac, What is this thou hast done to us in saying of thy wife, She is my sister? How easily might one of the great men of the people have lain with her, and thou wouldst then have brought guilt upon us.
- And Isaac said unto Abimelech, Because I was afraid lest I die on account of my wife, therefore I said, She is my sister.
- At that time Abimelech gave orders to all his princes and great men, and they took Isaac and Rebecca his wife and brought them before the king.
- And the king commanded that they should dress them in princely garments, and make them ride through the streets of the city, and proclaim before them throughout the land, saying, This is the man and this is his wife; whoever toucheth this man or his wife shall surely die. And Isaac returned with his wife to the king’s house, and the Lord was with Isaac and he continued to wax great and lacked nothing.
- And the Lord caused Isaac to find favor in the sight of Abimelech, and in the sight of all his subjects, and Abimelech acted well with Isaac, for Abimelech remembered the oath and the covenant that existed between his father and Abraham.
- And Abimelech said unto Isaac, Behold the whole earth is before thee; dwell wherever it may seem good in thy sight until thou shalt return to thy land; and Abimelech gave Isaac fields and vineyards and the best part of the land of Gerar, to sow and reap and eat the fruits of the ground until the days of the famine should have passed by.
- And Isaac sowed in that land, and received a hundred-fold in the same year, and the Lord blessed him.
- And the man waxed great, and he had possession of flocks and possession of herds and great store of servants.
- 2126AM – Isaac to Canaan And when the days of the famine had passed away the Lord appeared to Isaac and said unto him, Rise up, go forth from this place and return to thy land, to the land of Canaan; and Isaac rose up and returned to Hebron which is in the land of Canaan, he and all belonging to him as the Lord commanded him.
- 2126AM – Shelach died And after this Shelach the son at Arpachshad died in that year, which is the eighteenth year of the lives of Jacob and Esau; and all the days that Shelach lived were four hundred and thirty-three years and he died.
- At that time Isaac sent his younger son Jacob to the house of Shem and Eber, and he learned the instructions of the Lord, and Jacob remained in the house of Shem and Eber for thirty-two years, and Esau his brother did not go, for he was not willing to go, and he remained in his father’s house in the land of Canaan.
- And Esau was continually hunting in the fields to bring home what he could get, so did Esau all the days.
- And Esau was a designing and deceitful man, one who hunted after the hearts of men and inveigled them, and Esau was a valiant man in the field, and in the course of time went as usual to hunt; and he came as far as the field of Seir, the same is Edom.
- And he remained in the land of Seir hunting in the field a year and four months.
- And Esau there saw in the land of Seir the daughter of a man of Canaan, and her name was Jehudith, the daughter of Beeri, son of Epher, from the families of Heth the son of Canaan.
- And Esau took her for a wife, and he came unto her; forty years old was Esau when he took her, and he brought her to Hebron, the land of his father’s dwelling place, and he dwelt there.
- 2158am – Shem died And it came to pass in those days, in the hundred and tenth year of the life of Isaac, that is in the fiftieth year of the life of Jacob, in that year died Shem the son of Noah; Shem was six hundred years old at his death.
- And when Shem died Jacob returned to his father to Hebron which is in the land of Canaan.
- And in the fifty-sixth year of the life of Jacob, people came from Haran, and Rebecca was told concerning her brother Laban the son of Bethuel.
- For the wife of Laban was barren in those days and bare no children, and also all his handmaids bare none to him.
- And the Lord afterward remembered Adinah the wife of Laban, and she conceived and bare twin daughters, and Laban called the names of his daughters, the name of the elder Leah, and the name of the younger Rachel.
- And those people came and told these things to Rebecca, and Rebecca rejoiced greatly that the Lord had visited her brother and that he had got children.
- And Esau at that time, after the death of Abraham frequently went in the field to hunt.
- And Nimrod king of Babel, the same was Amraphel, also frequently went with his mighty men to hunt in the field, and to walk about with his men in the cool of the day.
- And Nimrod was observing Esau all the days, for a jealousy was formed in the heart of Nimrod against Esau all the days.
- And on a certain day Esau went in the field to hunt, and he found Nimrod walking in the wilderness with his two men.
- And all his mighty men and his people were with him in the wilderness, but they removed at a distance from him, and they went from him in different directions to hunt, and Esau concealed himself for Nimrod, and he lurked for him in the wilderness.
- And Nimrod and his men that were with him did not know him, and Nimrod and his men frequently walked about in the field at the cool of the day, and to know where his men were hunting in the field.
- And Nimrod and two of his men that were with him came to the place where they were, when Esau started suddenly from his lurking place, and drew his sword, and hastened and ran to Nimrod and cut off his head.
- And Esau fought a desperate fight with the two men that were with Nimrod, and when they called out to him, Esau turned to them and smote them to death with his sword.
- And all the mighty men of Nimrod, who had left him to go to the wilderness, heard the cry at a distance, and they knew the voices of those two men, and they ran to know the cause of it, when they found their king and the two men that were with him lying dead in the wilderness.
- And when Esau saw the mighty men of Nimrod coming at a distance, he fled, and thereby escaped; and Esau took the valuable garments of Nimrod, which Nimrod’s father had bequeathed to Nimrod, and with which Nimrod prevailed over the whole land, and he ran and concealed them in his house.
- And Esau took those garments and ran into the city on account of Nimrod’s men, and he came unto his father’s house wearied and exhausted from fight, and he was ready to die through grief when he approached his brother Jacob and sat before him.
- And he said unto his brother Jacob, Behold I shall die this day, and wherefore then do I want the birthright? And Jacob acted wisely with Esau in this matter, and Esau sold his birthright to Jacob, for it was so brought about by the Lord.
- And Esau’s portion in the cave of the field of Machpelah, which Abraham had bought from the children of Heth for the possession a burial ground, Esau also sold to Jacob, and Jacob bought all this from his brother Esau for value given.
- And Jacob wrote the whole of this in a book, and he testified the same with witnesses, and he sealed it, and the book remained in the hands of Jacob.
- 2123AM – Nimrod died And when Nimrod the son of Cush died, his men lifted him up and brought him in consternation, and buried him in his city, and all the days that Nimrod lived were two hundred and fifteen years and he died.
- And the days that Nimrod reigned upon the people of the land were one hundred and eighty-five years; and Nimrod died by the sword of Esau in shame and contempt, and the seed of Abraham caused his death as he had seen in his dream.
- And at the death of Nimrod his kingdom became divided into many divisions, and all those parts that Nimrod reigned over were restored to the respective kings of the land, who recovered them after the death of Nimrod, and all the people of the house of Nimrod were for a long time enslaved to all the other kings of the land.
- And in the fifty-ninth year of the life of Isaac the son of Abraham, Rebecca his wife was still barren in those days.
- And Rebecca said unto Isaac, Truly I have heard, my lord, that thy mother Sarah was barren in her days until my Lord Abraham, thy father, prayed for her and she conceived by him.
- Now therefore stand up, pray thou also to God and he will hear thy prayer and remember us through his mercies.
- And Isaac answered his wife Rebecca, saying, Abraham has already prayed for me to God to multiply his seed, now therefore this barrenness must proceed to us from thee.
- And Rebecca said unto him, But arise thou also and pray, that the Lord may hear thy prayer and grant me children, and Isaac hearkened to the words of his wife, and Isaac and his wife rose up and went to the land of Moriah to pray there and to seek the Lord, and when they had reached that place Isaac stood up and prayed to the Lord on account of his wife because she was barren.
- And Isaac said, O Lord God of heaven and earth, whose goodness and mercies fill the earth, thou who didst take my father from his father’s house and from his birthplace, and didst bring him unto this land, and didst say unto him, To thy seed will I give the land, and thou didst promise him and didst declare unto him, I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven and as the sand of the sea, now may thy words be verified which thou didst speak unto my father.
- For thou art the Lord our God, our eyes are toward thee to give us seed of men, as thou didst promise us, for thou art the Lord our God and our eyes are directed toward thee only.
- And the Lord heard the prayer of Isaac the son of Abraham, and the Lord was entreated of him and Rebecca his wife conceived.
- And in about seven months after the children struggled together within her, and it pained her greatly that she was wearied on account of them, and she said to all the women who were then in the land, Did such a thing happen to you as it has to me? And they said unto her, No.
- And she said unto them, Why am I alone in this amongst all the women that were upon earth? And she went to the land of Moriah to seek the Lord on account of this; and she went to Shem and Eber his son to make inquiries of them in this matter, and that they should seek the Lord in this thing respecting her.
- And she also asked Abraham to seek and inquire of the Lord about all that had befallen her.
- And they all inquired of the Lord concerning this matter, and they brought her word from the Lord and told her, Two children are in thy womb, and two nations shall rise from them; and one nation shall be stronger than the other, and the greater shall serve the younger.
- And when her days to be delivered were completed, she knelt down, and behold there were twins in her womb, as the Lord had spoken to her.
- And the first came out red all over like a hairy garment, and all the people of the land called his name Esau, saying, That this one was made complete from the womb.
- And after that came his brother, and his hand took hold of Esau’s heel, therefore they called his name Jacob.
- 2108 AM – Jacob and Esau born And Issac, the son of Abraham, was sixty years old when he begat them.
- And the boys grew up to their fifteenth year, and they came amongst the society of men. Esau was a designing and deceitful man, and an expert hunter in the field, and Jacob was a man perfect and wise, dwelling in tents, feeding flocks and learning the instructions of the Lord and the commands of his father and mother.
- And Isaac and the children of his household dwelt with his father Abraham in the land of Canaan, as God had commanded them.
- And Ishmael the son of Abraham went with his children and all belonging to them, and they returned there to the land of Havilah, and they dwelt there.
- And all the children of Abraham’s concubines went to dwell in the land of the east, for Abraham had sent them away from his son, and had given them presents, and they went away.
- And Abraham gave all that he had to his son Isaac, and he also gave him all his treasures.
- And he commanded him saying, Dost thou not know and understand the Lord is God in heaven and in earth, and there is no other beside him?
- And it was he who took me from my father’s house, and from my birth place, and gave me all the delights upon earth; who delivered me from the counsel of the wicked, for in him did I trust.
- And he brought me to this place, and he delivered me from Ur Casdim; and he said unto me, To thy seed will I give all these lands, and they shall inherit them when they keep my commandments, my statues, and my judgments that I have commanded thee, and which I shall command them.
- Now therefore my son, hearken to my voice, and keep the commandments of the Lord thy God, which I commanded thee, do not turn from the right way either to the right or to the left, in order that it may be well with thee and thy children after thee forever.
- And remember the wonderful works of the Lord, and his kindness that he has shown toward us, in having delivered us from the lands of our enemies, and the Lord our God caused them to fall into our hands; and now therefore keep all that I have commanded thee, and turn not away from the commandments of thy God, and serve none beside him, in order that it may be well with thee and thy seed after thee.
- And teach thou thy children and thy seed the instructions of the Lord and his commandments, and teach them the upright way in which they should go, in order that it may be well with them forever.
- And Isaac answered his father and said unto him, That which my Lord has commanded that will I do, and I will not depart from the commands of the Lord my God, I will keep all that he commanded me; and Abraham blessed his son Isaac, and also his children; and taught Jacob the instruction of the Lord and his ways.
- 2123AM Abraham died And it was at that time that Abraham died, in the fifteenth year of the life of Jacob and Esau, the sons of Isaac, and all the days of Abraham were one hundred and seventy-five years, and he died and was gathered to his people in good old age, old and satisfied with days, and Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him.
- And when the inhabitants of Canaan heard that Abraham was dead, they all came with their kings and princes and all their men to bury Abraham.
- And all the inhabitants of the land of Haran, and all the families of the house of Abraham, and all the princes and grandees, and the sons of Abraham by the concubines, all came when they heard of Abraham’s death, and they requited Abraham’s kindness, and comforted Isaac his son, and they buried Abraham in the cave which he bought from Ephron the Hittite and his children, for the possession of a burial place.
- And all the inhabitants of Canaan, and all those who had known Abraham, wept for Abraham a whole year, and men and women mourned over him.
- And all the little children, and all the inhabitants of the land wept on account of Abraham, for Abraham had been good to them all, and because he had been upright with God and men.
- And there arose not a man who feared God like unto Abraham, for he had feared his God from his youth, and had served the Lord, and had gone in all his ways during his life, from his childhood to the day of his death.
- And the Lord was with him and delivered him from the counsel of Nimrod and his people, and when he made war with the four kings of Elam he conquered them.
- And he brought all the children of the earth to the service of God, and he taught them the ways of the Lord, and caused them to know the Lord.
- And he formed a grove and he planted a vineyard therein, and he had always prepared in his tent meat and drink to those that passed through the land, that they might satisfy themselves in his house.
- And the Lord God delivered the whole earth on account of Abraham.
- And it was after the death of Abraham that God blessed his son Isaac and his children, and the Lord was with Isaac as he had been with his father Abraham, for Isaac kept all the commandments of the Lord as Abraham his father had commanded him; he did not turn to the right or to the left from the right path which his father had commanded him.
- And it was at that time that Abraham again took a wife in his old age, and her name was Keturah, from the land of Canaan.
- And she bare unto him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak and Shuach, being six sons. And the children of Zimran were Abihen, Molich and Narim.
- And the sons of Jokshan were Sheba and Dedan, and the sons of Medan were Amida, Joab, Gochi, Elisha, and Nothach; and the sons of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Chanoch, Abida, and Eldaah.
- And the sons of Ishbak were Makiro, Beyodua, and Tattor.
- And the sons of Shuach were Bildad, Mamdad, Munan and Meban; all these are the families of the children of Keturah the Canaanitish woman which she bare unto Abraham the Hebrew.
- And Abraham sent all these away, and he gave them gifts, and they went away from his son Isaac to dwell wherever they should find a place.
- And all these went to the mountain at the east, and they built themselves six cities in which they dwelt unto this day.
- But the children of Sheba and Dedan, children of Jokshan, with their children, did not dwell with their brethren in their cities, and they journeyed and encamped in the countries and wildernesses unto this day.
- And the children of Midian, son of Abraham, went to the east of the land of Cush, and they there found a large valley in the eastern country, and they remained there and built a city, and they dwelt therein, that is the land of Midian unto this day.
- And Midian dwelt in the city which he built, he and his five sons and all belonging to him.
- And these are the names of the sons of Midian according to their names in their cities, Ephah, Epher, Chanoch, Abida, and Eldaah.
- And the sons of Ephah were Methach, Meshar, Avi and Tzanua, and the sons of Epher were Ephron, Zur, Alirum and Medin, and the sons of Chantoch were Reuel, Rekem, Azi, Alyoshub, and Alad.
- And the sons of Abida were Chur, Melud, Keruy, Molchi; and the sons of Eldaah were Miker, and Reba, and Malchiyah and Gabol; these are the names of the Midianites according to their families; and afterward the families of Midian spread throughout the land of Midian.
- And these are the generations of Ishmael the son Abraham, whom Hagar, Sarai’s handmaid, bare unto Abraham.
- And Ishmael took a wife from the land of Egypt, and her name was Ribah, the same is Meribah.
- And Ribah bare unto Ishmael Nebayoth, Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam and their sister Bosmath.
- And Ishmael cast away his wife Ribah, and she went from him and returned to Egypt to the house of her father, and she dwelt there, for she had been very bad in the sight of Ishmael, and in the sight of his father Abraham.
- And Ishmael afterward took a wife from the land of Canaan, and her name was Malchuth, and she bare unto him Nishma, Dumah, Masa, Chadad, Tema, Yetur, Naphish and Kedma.
- These are the sons of Ishmael, and these are their names, being twelve princes according to their nations; and the families of Ishmael afterward spread forth, and Ishmael took his children and all the property that he had gained, together with the souls of his household and all belonging to him, and they went to dwell where they should find a place.
- And they went and dwelt near the wilderness of Paran, and their dwelling was from Havilah unto Shur, that is before Egypt as thou comest toward Assyria.
- And Ishmael and his sons dwelt in the land, and they had children born to them, and they were fruitful and increased abundantly.
- And these are the names of the sons of Nebayoth the first born of Ishmael; Mend, Send, Mayon; and the sons of Kedar were Alyon, Kezem, Chamad and Eli.
- And the sons of Adbeel were Chamad and Jabin; and the sons of Mibsam were Obadiah, Ebedmelech and Yeush; these are the families of the children of Ribah the wife of Ishmael.
- And the sons of Mishma the sons of Ishmael were Shamua, Zecaryon, and Obed; and the sons of Dumah were Kezed, Eli, Machmad, and Amed.
- And the sons of Masa were Melon, Mula, and Ebidadon; and the sons of Chadad were Azur, Minzar, and Ebedmelech; and the sons of Tema were Seir, Sadon and Yakol.
- And the sons of Yetur were Merith, Yaish, Alyo, and Pachoth; and the sons of Naphish were Ebed-Tamed, Abiyasaph and Mir; and the sons of Kedma were Calip, Tachti, and Omir; these were the children of Malchuth the wife of Ishmael according to their families.
- All these are the families of Ishmael according to their generations, and they dwelt in those lands wherein they had built themselves cities unto this day.
- 2096 AM – Arpachshad died And Rebecca the daughter of Bethuel, the wife of Abraham’s son Isaac, was barren in those days, she had no offspring; and Isaac dwelt with his father in the land of Canaan; and the Lord was with Isaac and Arpachshad the son of Shem the son of Noah died in those days, in the forty-eighth year of the life of Isaac, and all the days that Arpachshad lived were four hundred and thirty-eight years, and he died.
I. Nature of Blessing
The Tzaddik’s Role
Blessing and prayer are similar. The tzaddik who blesses or who prays is aware of his own to influence events. He wishes to save someone from tragedy or to bring unanticipated prosperity upon him, but he cannot. Only God can control events. So another’s need has brought him to recognize more keenly, the omnipotence of God. If his prayer is answered or his blessing fulfilled, his recognition of God’s majesty will grow even further, all because of the person who moved him to bless or to pray. Perhaps the needy person was unworthy of the benefit sought for him, but the tzaddik is one whose deeds have earned him heavenly consideration. His goal is to serve God better and, since he now desires help for another, the success of that person will enhance the service of the tzaddik. To be the cause of such enhancement is in itself a source of great merit for the needful person, and it may well be enough to earn him the assistance he desires.
Prayer or blessing cannot directly change the state of a person’s religious belief. One cannot expect a positive response to prayer ‘Give me greater faith in God’. All we can ask for is the conditions of life be made more conducive to the achievement of such faith. In short, no prayer can make someone more pious but it can bring about conditions that will help him along the road to greater piety.
There are two general causes for God to provide a person with material benefits in return for his deeds. The first is His desire to bestow blessings upon the great tzaddik. It’s purpose is to enable him to better serve his Maker. Since his sole desire is to serve God, it is fitting that he be provided with the means to do so. The second general cause is because God decides to reward someone in This World, rather than in the World To Come, for superficial deeds. For example, one goes to church every week but does so out of habit and does it mindlessly. Even though the weekly visit is lacking in meaning, it is still done in a effort to please God. But because the deed is rather shallow the reward will come in the form of benefits in this material world. Nevertheless, this person could have a spark of goodness in him, a meaning to future deeds as a result of that reward. In that case, the reward may be designed to help him improve the quality of his weekly visits.
To one of Isaac’s inner strength, outside assistance was detrimental to his service of God. To the extent that his task was eased, he was denied the opportunity to perfect himself in the face of adversity. True ~ wealth, good health, and friendly surroundings make it easier to serve God; but the person who is strong enough to serve Him just as well amid poverty, illness and hostility reaches a far higher level of spiritual perfection. The Sages teach that Isaac requested suffering, so that he could exercise inner-strength to serve God despite the pain. Jacob, too, asked for strict judgment. To people of such caliber, material blessing is not a gift but a hindrance. In their world-view, blessing is helpful only to the spiritual weakling whose aspirations are good, but who lacks the strength to follow through on them.
II. Isaac Chooses
His Love for Esau
Isaac knew full well there was a huge difference between Jacob and Esau. He was not at all mistaken in his assessment of Jacob’s greatness. Isaac knew that Jacob was a tzaddik of such rare caliber that blessing held no benefits in terms of his personal striving. Jacob sought no blessing, needed no blessing for himself. And Isaac knew that Esau was far from a tzaddik in those lofty terms.
Did he realize that Esau was wicked? No! And there lies Isaac’s error. He thought that Esau was engaged in a constant, difficult struggle to perfect assistance. Since, in Isaac’s assessment, Esau wished to utilize material success to help him reach his spiritual goal, Isaac constantly sought to help him. That was the reason Isaac loved Esau: it is human nature for a person to love someone whom he helped. Isaac gave of himself to Esau because he saw him as one who fought mightily to better himself. And because he gave, he loved.
Doubt and Decision
Isaac felt reassured when he sensed that wicked people descend from the person who stood before him. Those wicked people whom Isaac thought to be the progeny of Esau were in reality the descendants of Jacob. Isaac recognized that the ancestor of such people should be blessed in order that his sinful offspring could be kept from falling into the abyss. The voice of Jacob troubled him because it was the voice of Torah and prayer, the voice of one who resisted external help which would prevent him from realizing greatness on his own. The realization that this tzaddik, whoever he was, bore within him the seeds of wickedness was what swayed Isaac, for he had long since made peace with the idea that help should be given to an unworthy person in order to help make him worthy.
As Isaac wondered who stood awaiting the blessing, he perceived that traitors would descend from this person. The forefather of such people needed his blessing.
The Inner Self
Whom was he blessing, Esau or Jacob? Truthfully it did not matter. Spiritually exalted Isaac did not think in terms of personalities. He did not consider whether he was blessing the man called Esau or the man called Jacob ~ that was immaterial. In his role as Patriarch, it was now his responsibility to bestow blessings upon the person who possessed the set of spiritual conditions that required those blessings. Isaac loved and respected both his sons, each in a different way. If he wanted Esau to come to him, it was because he was convinced that Esau was the one who needed, deserved, and could utilize the blessings. If, however, he perceived the proper set of conditions in a person whose name happened to be Jacob ~ so be it. Indeed, he now found those conditions ~ he would bless evil-doers whose good was external, but who could become better if they were given help.
Then came the test. He felt the presence of the Shechinah. He savored the scent of the Garden of Eden, of righteous people who were worthy to be bearers of God’s Presence, not merely its half-hearted or frantic pursuers. It was a signal to him that blessings of heavenly assistance should be given to the righteous, even the very great.
That was Isaac’s great test. Like all tests, the message was not so clear that he could not rationalize it away if he preferred to do so. After all, all the experience of his lifetime of uncompromising, powerful effort at perfection cried out against this vague message. How could Isaac, the embodiment of Gevurah-Strength make peace with the idea that he should bless those who could fight on their own? Had the message been absolutely clear, it would not have been a test. Of course, compliance would have been unpleasant, but the man who laid himself on the altar of the Akeidah could easily do God’s bidding even if he found it incomprehensible. But this test did leave room for doubt if Isaac chose to doubt. Which aspect of his son would he bless ~ only the sinful one or even the righteous one?
God allowed Isaac to be deceived by Esau for over sixty years in order to set the stage for this test. Had he known the truth about Esau, the conditions for this painful test would never have existed.
Now he was tested and he responded. He blessed Jacob, righteous Jacob, the Jacob who brought with him the scent of the Garden of Eden, of God’s Presence, of people so righteous that they could become chariots bearing the Shechinah.
The blessing of Isaac. Isaac, Patriarch of strength and refusal to compromise, bestows his blessing upon all who can benefit from God’s help and because he surmounted his personal challenge, every Jew, whatever his ordeal, can more easily raise himself to heights he thought beyond him!
I. The Intended Division
Verse 21:12 tells us only that not all of Isaac’s sons would be of equal status as their heirs of Abraham. But that verse leaves open the question of whether the heir would be Jacob or Esau. Had Esau been awarded the right to succeed Isaac, then Jacob would have been excluded despite his moral excellence. The final decision that Jacob would be the chosen part of Isaac was not proclaimed until Isaac summoned Jacob to instruct him to go to Padden Aram to find his mate from among Abraham’s kindred. At that time Isaac specifically told him that the blessing of Abraham, was his ~ and therefore he was obligated to not marry a Canaanite woman.
Therefore, too, Malachi began his prophecy with God’s word that Esau was Jacob’s equal in every way ~ except that he was unworthy and, because he was, God hated him. Jacob earned Divine love and it was that ~ not his purchase of the birthright or the deception that brought him the first set of blessings ~ which earned him and his offspring the title ‘the offspring of Abraham.’
Isaac’s original decision to bless Esau now assumes awesome proportions. Although there are widely different opinions among the commentators concerning exactly what it was that Isaac wanted to bestow upon Esau and what blessings, if any, he would have left for Jacob, the simplest understanding of the Torah’s narrative makes unmistakably clear that Isaac’s choice was crucial to the future development of the Abrahamitic nation.
This section of the Overview will deal with the following questions:
- How had Isaac intended to divide the blessings between Esau and Jacob?
- If the birthright was Esau’s, how did Jacob justify his right to take it away?
As you will see from the study of the commentary, many opinions have been expressed by the commentators. The following is not meant to be definitive; it is an attempt to offer insights that follow generally accepted basic trends.
The distinction of being the son who was to carry on the Abrahamitic tradition would in all likelihood have gone to Jacob in recognition of his infinitely superior righteousness. This is indicated by the very text of the Torah for the blessings (27:28-29) granted by Isaac upon the disguised Jacob ~ the son who Isaac took to be Esau ~ makes no mention of ‘the blessing of Abraham’. Only later when Isaac knew he was addressing Jacob (28:3-4) did he specifically bestow the Abrahamitic blessings.
Isaac had planned to bestow upon Esau blessings which were essential to Jacob and which Providence decreed were indeed to go to Jacob, but those blessings were entirely apart from the right to carry on the Patriarchal tradition. Instead, Isaac planned to give Abraham’s blessings to Jacob, but to give Esau a significant degree of superiority over Jacob, for as he said in 27:29 when he thought he was addressing Esau, ‘be a lord to your brother and the children of your mother will prostrate themselves to you.’
Isaac intended to divide the material and spiritual worlds. Esau was to have material wealth, power, and dominance. Jacob was to have spiritual authority. This is implied by the Torah’s description of the youthful Jacob and Esau: one was a man of the tent of Torah study and the other was a man of the field.
Had Esau been worthy, he, too, would have been master of a material world and made it a sounding board for the voice of Jacob’s Torah and prayer. Though not sharing the title of Abraham’s offspring, Esau would have been an essential and exalted complement to the fulfillment of Jacob’s mission.
Voice and Hands
The concept of material dominance is described by the word ‘hands’ for sustenance must be wrung from the material world by the labor of hands. Spirituality is expressed by ‘voice’ for the voice is man’s means of articulating the wisdom of the Torah and the words of prayer. Thus, Isaac described the attributes of his sons as ‘the voice is Jacob’s voice but the hands are Esau’s hands’ (27:23).
The two ~ hands and voice, hard labor, and sacred words ~ would seem to be far apart, but they are not. How does one gain material results with spiritual tools?
Psalms 149:6 ~ Exaltation of God is in their throats and a double-edged sword is in their hands.
When one has in his mouth the praises of God ~ when his throat vibrates with the voice of Torah and prayer ~ then, his hands are armed with a double-edged sword that can overcome the powerful hands that hold the world in their authority. When the voice is Jacob’s voice, the hands of Esau become impotent. There is no other way for Jacob to control the course of material events. The normal way is Esau’s, but Jacob can overpower him by going to the source. So as long as Jacob neglects the exaltation of God which is the ultimate level of power, he is subservient to his might brother, but if he recognizes that his strength is at the source of earth’s existence, he truly becomes invincible.
Isaac’s intention was to forge a harmony between his sons that would place Esau’s world at the service of Jacob’s world. Had Esau been worthy of his calling, such would have happened without cause for alarm or deception. But it could not be because Esau would not allow it to be. Therefore, Rebecca had to find a way for Jacob to gain the blessing that would permit him to turn the material world to the service of his mission.
II. Unending Struggle
Opposites from Conception
A human being lives in two worlds. He lives first in the material world but his ultimate reward will come in the second one – The World To Come. Jacob begged Esau that he sell him his status of first-born, his birthright. (25:31) Esau made it clear by his request of Jacob which world mattered to him. Jacob spoke of going on to a meaningful life and Esau saw only death. If Esau gave up eternity for a stomach full of lentils, he received more than full value, because to him the birthright had no worth at all. The Torah testifies that Esau was not defrauded of his other world while his life hung in the balance, for when he turned and left with his stomach full, there was not a murmur of protest. “Esau despised his birthright” (25:34)
It would seem that Jacob held an independent claim to the birthright, entirely apart from his agreement with Esau. As Rashi comments based on the Midrash, the newborn Jacob held on to Esau’s heel (25:26) as if to insist that the right to be born first belonged to him. As Rashi explains, Jacob was conceived first even though Esau was born first and therefore, he considered himself entitled to the status of first-born. The difficulty of this claim is obvious. The Torah states clearly that the birthright belongs not to the one who is conceived first but to the one who is born first (Exodus 13:2)
In the existence of the Patriarchs, however, there was a further element. Each of them had a particular mission. Abraham represented Chessed-Kindness. Isaac’s mission flowed from Abraham’s; he was to refine and perfect Abraham’s Chessed through his own Gevurah-Strength. His was a continuation of his father’s mission as we have seen. The successor to Isaac, whether it would be Jacob or Esau, would also continue his father’s mission. He would complete the work of Abraham and Isaac by fusing their unique contributions into Tiferes-Splendor, Emes-Truth. Again, he had to be an outgrowth of their missions, not a contradiction or an unrelated one.
Embodiment of Potential
There is a further concept of first-born. Perhaps we may find in this concept the reason for Jacob’s great importance in having been conceived first ~ the capacity or potential of the father. At the instant of conception, when the father’s seed merges with the mother’s egg, he has completed his role in the birth process. The further development of the embryo and its ultimate birth will take place within and from the mother’s body, but conception represents the fulfillment of the father’s role for it is then that he contributes his own potential to the future human being. In the case of the Patriarchs, however, conception had a special meaning. Isaac’s mission grew out of Abraham’s and Jacob’s grew out of Isaac’s. They become Patriarchs of Israel precisely because they embodied the potential of their fathers, a potential which each in turn nurtured and brought to full realization according to his own particular mission.
The conflict between Jacob and Esau was over which would be the successor to Abraham and Isaac. Everything else was secondary. How significant therefore, that Jacob could say that he was conceived first. He was the first of Isaac’s potential, the best representation of his father’s seed, the embodiment of the concluding stage in the growth of the Patriarchal mission.
In this regard, it is instructive that we look at Esau’s progression. As we have seen, Esau had the strength of Isaac, but he was the corruption of Gevurah: instead of using his inherited attribute to purge himself of his lack of moral principals, he used it to subdue the world for the gratification of his lust, to acquire, and dominate for selfish ends. Ishmael, too, was heir to Abraham’s attribute of Chessed-Kindness, but he corrupted the gift ~ instead of using it to benefit others, he became the epitome of self-indulgence. When Esau realized that he had forfeited his birthright and blessings to Jacob, he tried to impress his parents with a new resolve to live up to their standards of behavior. He had failed them by marrying Canaanite women, now he would please them by marrying someone from the family of Abraham. He took Ishmael’s daughter in marriage (28:9).
How striking the contrast between the two brothers! Jacob combined the attributes of kindness and strength ~ of Abraham and Isaac at their best ~ into the splendor of truth. But Esau? He combined his own perversion of Isaac with Ishmael’s perversion of Abraham to produce a lineage that continues to represent unforgiving opposition to good until the End of Days when God will judge the Mountain of Esau and take unto Himself the universally acknowledged reign over a world that will bow to the offspring of Jacob.
- Rigorous Evaluation
How could Isaac be deceived by Esau? Surely the Isaac who could uncover spiritual wellsprings beneath the land of the Philistines could perceive the emptiness beneath Esau’s pious exterior. Concerning Isaac’s sympathy toward Esau, the Zohar says “Every type loves the same type.” These are truly astounding words, and they force us to delve into the parallels between Isaac and Esau.
Isaac’s attribute was the inner strength to refine and perfect. Such a quality is particularly relevant when one is faced by the common sort of situation which is a mixture of good and evil depending on how, why, and with what intentions it is done. A slap in the face can be violent and cruel ~ unless it is done to revive a fainting person or prevent someone from an evil deed.
In this sense, we can understand why Jacob was punished for denying Esau the opportunity to marry Dinah. Jacob was justified ~ even obligated ~ to protect his daughter from Esau, but when he hid her, it should have been with a feeling of compassion for a brother who might thereby be losing a final opportunity to repent under the influence of a righteous wife. Instead, Jacob may have felt too much animosity toward Esau who had defiled the sanctity of the Abrahamitic household, deceived his father, sworn to kill his brother, and come after more than thirty-four years with an army of more than four hundred men to murder Jacob and his family. Where was Jacob’s sin? At most it lay in the most delicate assessment of feelings. Such purging of emotions and motives is the function of Gevurah-Strength, the attribute of Isaac.
Isaac and Shechitah
For this reason, Isaac in particular was commanded to be zealous in observing the commandment of shechitah ~ the ritual slaughtering of animals while minimizing pain for the animal and doing it with respect and compassion. When he dispatched Esau to prepare game for him as a prerequisite to receiving the blessing, Isaac cautioned him to sharpen his implements carefully in order to prevent any possibility of improper slaughter. (Bereishis Rabbah 65:8)
Shechitah also gives meaning and holiness to the animal which becomes the vehicle for performance of the commandment. Thus, shechitah is a prime manifestation of the inner strength represented by Isaac. It is the means by which holiness can be extracted from an activity that would otherwise be simply a form of the law of the jungle: The big animal kills the smaller animal and man, the most cunning and powerful animal of all, slaughters whatever it pleases him to serve on his table or make into clothing for his body. In the hands of an ordinary killer of animals, that is all slaughter would be, but shechitah is different ~ it is symbolic of Isaac.
Shedder of Blood
The Talmud teaches (Shabbos 156a) that one who is destined to shed blood has alternatives. He can become a mohel ~ one who performs the Jewish rite of circumcision, bringing infants into the covenant of Abraham or making the flesh of animals permissible as food for the servants of God. Otherwise he would shed blood some other way ~ as a murderer.
Esau was this sort of person and Isaac knew it. Even at birth and before, he had all the symptoms of a violent, sinful person. As an embryo he fought to approach the temple of idols, he was born with the redness that is symbolic of bloodshed. As a youngster he was drawn to the excitement of the hunt. But this was not to say that he was destined to be evil and that there was no way for him to avoid becoming the epitome of violence. King David too had the redness of bloodshed, but he surmounted all obstacles to become the Sweet Singer of Israel. Esau could have become a righteous person. It would have demanded great strength on his part. It would have demanded the Gevurah personality of an Isaac. Indeed, Esau had such strength. The test was whether he would utilize it to direct his impulses toward the good or whether he would use his strength to satisfy his cruel, bloodthirsty nature.
Eating is one of the acts that can be controlled only by inner strength. Of all man’s animal impulses, probably none must be indulged in so often, so publicly, and so lends itself to abuse. An Ordinary meal can be a means of serving God no less than an offering brought to the Temple in Jerusalem. But the elevation of eating to the status of an offering requires a person to assault his own nature no less than the hunt requires a huntsman to trap and attack his game.
Had Esau attempted to achieve such ends, even a partial success would have mattered greatly because he would have been fighting against his nature. He had physical strength and courage to unusual degrees. He fought mighty kings and fierce animals and conquered them all. If that could have been directed inwardly ~ O what he could have become and even if he were not perfect, if he were merely making the struggle ~ then, in his way, he would have been like Isaac in the fields of Philistia, removing the earth from wells of spiritual water. This concept is symbolized by Esau’s occupation ~ the hunter of game. In spiritual terms, a hunter’ is one who seeks to extract holiness from the ‘jungle’ of evil. Isaac perceived in Esau a man who was fighting against his imperfections and who chose to do it by turning his violent nature to refining the bloody instinct of the huntsman through shechitah and self-control.
II. Isaac’s Altar
Because Isaac dedicated himself to the enormously difficult task of analyzing and perfecting personal behavior, shechitah and the preparation of food takes up a large part of the few chapters devoted to his life.
As Isaac prepared to draw his son into the covenant of Abraham, how could he better bring him nearer to the service of God than by having him bring an offering to God with all the holy connotations contained in such a deed? That is precisely what Isaac did. He asked Esau to bring an offering, prepare it well and slaughter it properly, to place it upon an altar and pour libations (the pouring of a drink as an offering) before God. For Isaac’s food was an offering and his drink was a libation.
Further, Isaac was signaling to him that his work of sanctifying his cruel instinct ~ the task Isaac thought was his ~ should be carried further by bringing nobility, control, purpose and holiness into his life and upon his table.
Sixty-seven years after the blessings were given, Jacob prepared to descend to Egypt with his family. He was afraid of what the future would bring, and before he departed from Ertez Yisrael, he went to Beer Sheba, the place that had been important in the lives of his father and grandfather. There, ‘he slaughtered offerings to be God of his father, Isaac’ (46:1). Commentators find it noteworthy that only Isaac, and not Abraham, is mentioned in connection with Jacob’s offerings. Jacob was embarking on a task that was uniquely suited to his legacy from Isaac. The uniqueness of Isaac was his strength in taking the grain of good from its shell of evil. He had done it in Philistia and had symbolized it by his particular responsibility for the sanctity of shechitah and of eating. Jacob was about to descend to Egypt, the most corrupt, perverted country then on earth. His task and that of the succeeding generations of his children would be to remain pure even in Egypt and to draw out of that accursed place the scattered sparks of holiness that were there. Jacob was about to begin an Isaac-like mission ~ and he brought his offerings to God Who gave Isaac the strength to succeed. Jacob would need the qualities of his father more than of his grandfather to succeed in Egypt.
Sforno there adds the thought that Jacob thought of Isaac at that juncture because Isaac had been forbidden by God from going to Egypt. Jacob sought mercy as what he was about to do was what his father was commanded not to do. Why, indeed, was Jacob able to go? Not because Isaac was inferior to him, but because Isaac had preceded him. Isaac had come upon the stage of history with the mission of perfecting Abraham’s legacy. Abraham’s expansive goodness required Isaac’s introspective strength to perfect and purge it. Isaac had succeeded in uncovering holiness that was buried after Abraham’s death, in bringing sanctity to potential bloodshed and holiness to potential gluttony. By responding to God’s awesome challenge, he had even purged Esau from the seed of Abraham. His mission done, Jacob had within him the combined attributes of Abraham and Isaac. He was suited to descend to Egypt and conquer the evil and impurity of that shameful land because Isaac had prepared the way for him.
Isaac planned to descent to Egypt (when the famine struck Canaan) (26:2). God said to him, ‘Do not descent to Egypt, for you are a perfect burnt offering, and a country outside of Eretz Yisrael is not worthy of you.’ (Bereishis Rabbah 64:3)
I. Isaac’s Uniqueness
Of the three Patriarchs, Isaac seems to be the least prominent. Several chapters of the Torah deal with Abraham, even more describe Jacob and the development of his family. Virtually throughout, Abraham and Jacob are the prime movers of their respective stories. But to Isaac, few chapters of the Torah are devoted, and even there, he seems generally more passive than active. Eliezer was sent to choose his wife. Jacob and Rebecca matched wits with Esau to secure Isaac’s blessings.’
The obvious conclusion was that Isaac was less majestic than either his father or his son, that he was merely a bridge between the two major pillars of Israel’s genesis. Like many superficially ‘obvious’ assessments of the events and people chronicled in the Torah, this one doesn’t even come close. The three Patriarchs are described by the Sages as equal to one another (Bereishis Rabbah 1:15), as the ‘strong steeds’ who galloped before God (Sanhedrin 96a), as the ‘chariots’ upon whom God rested His Presence on earth. The time will come when the salvation of his descendants will rest with Isaac:
“In time to come, the Holy One, Blessed Be He, will say to Abraham, ‘Your children have sinned.’ Abraham will say before Him, ‘Master of the Universe, let them be wiped out in sanctification of Your Name.’
God will say, ‘Let me tell this to Jacob who endured the suffering of raising children. Perhaps he will pray for mercy upon them.
Jacob will say..’Let them be wiped out in sanctification of Your Name.’
However, Isaac will say, ‘Master of the Universe, are they my children and not Your children? When they said, “We will do” before they said, “We will hear”, You called them “My Firstborn” – now You call them my children and not Yours?…’ Isaac concluded ‘If You endure all the sins, good. If not, let half be upon You and half be upon me ~ I have already offered myself before You at the time of the Akeidah.’ (Shabbors 89b)
Isaac will prevail where neither his father nor his son will make the attempt. Let us look at Isaac’s ways a little more ~ at least to the minuscule extent to which we can comprehend the way of a Patriarch.
A New Path
Abraham and Isaac represented two very different approaches to the service of God. Abraham’s was that of Chessed-Kindness. Isaac’s was that of Gevurah-Strength. Isaac could have adapted Abraham’s philosophy. It would have been logical for him to have followed in the footsteps of his illustrious father. Abraham had found the spark of Godliness in the spiritual debris of the ten failed generations from Noah’s time to his own. He had recognized his Creator and had been rewarded with manifestations of the Shechinah that made even his idolatrous contemporaries regard him as ‘a prince of God.’
Isaac chose to beat a new path. Isaac’s greatness showed through his refusal to choose the easy way of imitation. He had no inner compulsion to rebel against the teachings of Abraham and Sarah. To the contrary, Isaac developed a new way to serve God, the path of Gevurah-Strength. He played an essential role in creating the tripod upon which Judaism eternally rests, because his mode of service was fused with Abraham’s to form the ‘Tiferes-Truth’ ~ the way of Jacob.
Isaac had to become ‘an original tzaddik despite the fact that he was the son of a tzaddik. To seek independently to find the meaning and significance of thought and deed is a spiritual triumph of majestic proportions.
In summarizing the rise of Abraham and his descendants until Moses received the Torah, Rambam shows the sharp contract between Abraham and Isaac:
On this path (of progressively more serious idolatry) the world went and developed until the birth of the pillar of the universe – our father Abraham….He arose and called out in a great voice to the entire world to inform them that there is a single God … from city to city and from kingdom to kingdom he went … until he gathered to himself thousands and tens of thousands. They are the people of Abraham’s household … He set up Isaac to teach and to exhort. Isaac made this known to Jacob and appointed him to teach … (Hilchos Avodah Zorah 1:2-3)
Abraham was the inspirer and teacher of tens of thousands. Isaac taught Jacob. Why did Isaac not create an army of followers to God and His Torah?
Chessed and Gevurah
The answer lies in a clearer understanding of the ways of Chessed and Gevurah. Though they seem to be widely different, they are truly complimentary. Neither can thrive ~ nor even continue to exist ~ without the other.
The urge to give and grow is a function of Chessed. It is sometimes generous and sometimes self-indulgent, sometimes compassionate and sometimes selfish. The teacher of the Torah may not always be motivated solely by the desire to serve God and Israel. This does not change the essential nature of their activity. Because the activities are directed towards others, they are manifestations of the Chessed impulse to give. Every person faces a challenge: he can turn his motives, attitudes and deed in the direction of Abraham whose kindness had the purpose of perfecting man and drawing him close to God ~ or he can turn his Chessed activities in the path of laziness, gratification of senses, and a deadening of the will to strive for greatness. For Chessed-Kindness can have both effects. Indulgence without discipline, Chessed without Gevurah, will lead to a state of corruption, immortality and sin.
Complement – a thing that completes or brings to perfection
Verse 25:19: “And these are the offspring of Isaac, son of Abraham.” This verse follows the Talmudic dictum of the word (and these) indicates a continuation of what was said earlier. So the story of Isaac’s life is a continuation ~ but a continuation of what?
We see Isaac’s life from a new perspective. Abraham begot Isaac (25:19). In it’s many layers of meaning, the Torah is giving us more than the fact of genealogy. The philosophy of Abraham begot the philosophy of Isaac. Strength and kindness do not contradict one another; they complement and perfect one another. Not only must the expansiveness of Chessed-Kindness be followed by the consolidation of Gevurah-Strength but also fear and awe of God must flow from love of God. Abraham gave birth to Isaac; love of God brought in its wake an awareness of God’s power and majesty, and awakened an awe and a fear that made God’s servants tremble, lest they overstep the bounds of His Will in their zeal to serve Him better and spread His Name more widely. From such a complementary tension between love and fear, between kindness and strength, is born ~ Tiferes-Splendor and truth ~ the final level of perfection represented by Jacob. Isaac, therefore, is the logical and necessary step in the spiritual process begun by Abraham.
Isaac’s contribution to the unfolding development of God’s mission on earth brought an achievement that had not yet been possible in Abraham’s day. The principal struggle between good and evil is represented by the unforgiving hostility between slicing away the contamination of Esau from the emerging Abrahamitic nation. Chessed was inadequate to cope with Esau; the task required the rigorous application of inner strength and refinement that were Isaac’s contribution to the Patriarchal force. Abraham had his Ishmael who had to be removed from Israel, but there was an essential difference between Ishmael and Esau: Ishmael was not the son of Sarah and he was never considered to be an offspring of Abraham (21:12). Esau, however, was born to a Matriarch as well as to a Patriarch. He was entitled to continue to lineage of Abraham and Isaac. That made the challenge so awesome: Jacob or Esau, which will it be? A choice of that magnitude had to await the coming of Isaac.
Clearly, the life of Isaac could not have the narrative prominence of the life of his father. Abraham was the doer. Isaac’s role was just as important and just as difficult. His stage was not the world but his inner heart. This voice was not the one that carried to tens of thousands of converts but the inner voice that demanded rigorous appraisal and merciless refinement. Abraham’s academy was open to all who would listen; Isaac had one student ~ Jacob. We do know that the single product of Isaac’s academy became the father of a nation, the culmination of God’s purpose in creating heaven and earth.
25:1 Abraham remarries – That Abraham married again is not surprising when we remember that he survived Sarah by thirty-eight years. Apart from that, our Sages teach that man is not ‘whole’ without a wife, a human being’s mission is too great to be fully accomplished by one person alone. (Hirsch)
The Midrash and Rashi interpret the verse to include the word ‘again’. The Zohar specifically states that the term ‘and he again added’ here indicates not that Abraham took another wife, but that he took again his former spouse whom he had driven out with Ishmael.
Keturah is Hagar, who received this name because her deeds were as beautiful as incense (ketores); also because she remained chaste from the time she had separated from Abraham.
In 21:14 Rashi comments that Hagar reverted to idolatry of her father’s house. How then does he now call her action ‘beautiful as incense’? Rather, when she was expelled from Abraham’s household, she felt forsaken even by his God and she intended to revert to her idolatrous ways. But when the miracle occurred at the well, she repented.
The Zohar similarly comments that although she had relapsed into her ancestral idolatry, she later repented and changed her name, after which Abraham sent for and married her. From this we see that a change of name makes atonement for guilt, for she made this change of name symbolic of her change of behavior.
Although Hagar/Keturah was a first generation Egyptian (16:1) and therefore forbidden in marriage (Deuteronomy 23:9), nevertheless, since his first marriage to her was God’s sanction, she remained permissible to him for remarriage as well. Furthermore, the Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 60:4) specificially states that Abraham remarried Keturah/Hagar by Divine Command.
25:2 “..Midian, Ishbak and Shuah.” – Midian is a tribal name that frequently appears in the Bible. Further, (Exodus 3:1) we find Hethro (later Moses’ father-in-law), as the prist of Midian, while in Number 22 and 31 the Midianites appear as enemies of Israel. In Judges 6 we are told that they ruled Israel for a period of seven years until Gideon prevailed over them. Ishbak is unknown, and Shuah, ~the tribe of Job’s friend, Bildad~ is mentioned in Job 2:11 as a tribe of the land of Utz. (Hoffmann)
25:4 “All these were the descendants of Keturah.” – This expression means that all these were the sons of Keturah along with the grandchildren who lived during her lifetime. They are referred to as the descendants of Keturah since in fact, they are not reckoned in the Abrahamitic genealogy. (Malbim)
25:5 Since Abraham’s primary progeny was Isaac, Abraham distinguished him from his other children by giving him his physical and spiritual possessions. (Malbim)
In 24:6 Eliezer specifically states that Abraham bequeathed all his possessions to Isaac.
Abraham also gave Isaac ‘the blessing’ as a legacy God had told Abraham (12:2) ‘and you shall be a blessing’ which means ~ having the privilege of blessing whomever you wish. It was this that Abraham now bestowed upon Isaac.
25:7 The death of Abraham – Chronologically, Abraham lived until his grandson Jacob was fifteen years old and accordingly, his death took place after the events of the upcoming chapters. But in accordance with the Torah’s usual method of narration, it bids farewell, so to speak, to Abraham when there is nothing further of his life that needed to be narrated. Similarly, the Torah gives us whatever information it deems necessary about Ishmael’s family. Then it can go on uninterrupted to the central figure of the succeeding narrative, Isaac.
In the same way, Noah’s death is recorded in 9:29 before the history of his sons is mentioned although Noah was still alive well into the days of Abraham, and his son Shem lived to see Jacob. The passing of Terach (11:32) is recorded before the story of Abraham, although he lived another sixty years and the death of Isaac (35:28-29) before the narrations of Esau and Jacob, although Isaac was still alive when Joseph was sold into slavery.
25:8 Abraham died in the year of 2123 from Creation. (Seder Olam)
In the commentary to 15:15, Abraham was destined to live 180 years like his son but God caused him to die five years earlier so that he would not witness Esau’s evil conduct. For, as it is written in the Midrash Aggadah, the five years corresponds to the five sins Esau committed on the very day Abraham died for had Abraham lived he would have witnessed them. Esau stole, raped a betrothed maiden, murdered, denied the fundamental Principle (the existence of God), and despised the birthright. God therefore said, ‘I promised Abraham, ‘you shall be buried in a good old age. Is it good old age when he sees his grandson commit adultery, and murder? Better to let him die in peace.’
“..he was gathered to his people.’ – Most connect this expression specifically to the soul, for while it is in the body it is in isolation (from the Upper worlds); when the soul leaves the body, it rejoins the Source and is gathered back to its glory.
In the manner of a soul returning to its source, we find many similar expressions in Scripture: ‘You will come to your forefathers’ (15:15); ‘gathered in to his forefathers’ (Judges 2:10). Such expressions prove that belief in the Hereafter is an integral part of the Jewish faith. Death, therefore, is viewed as a reunification with earlier generations.
25:9 “His sons Isaac and Ishmael..” – Normally the oldest son is mentioned first. From this it can be concluded that Ishmael had repented and gave precedence to Isaac.
Perhaps the Torah mentions Isaac first because he is the son of Abraham’s wife Sarah and as such clearly merited precedence over Ishmael, the son of a maidservant. But the traditional hatred of the wicked for the righteous is so intense, and so defied the norm of dignified conduct, that if Ishmael were still wicked, he would never ~ under any circumstances ~ have allowed the righteous Isaac, to precede him. Therefore, the Sages derive from this verse that Ishmael had repented.
25:11 What does it mean ‘God blessed Isaac’? By ‘bless’ is meant that God comforted him in his mourning. Rashi also had another possible explanation. Although God had empowered Abraham to bless whomever he wished, he feared to bless Isaac because he foresaw that Esau would descend from him and he was apprehensive that Isaac would in turn prefer to pass on these blessings upon his favorite son, Esau, rather than Jacob. According to this interpretation we must assume that although Abraham was spared the ordeal of witnessing Esau’s public sinfulness, he nevertheless foresaw that Esau would be wicked. Abraham had therefore said, ‘Let the Master of the Blessings come Himself and bless Whomever He sees fit.’ God now came and blessed him since God knew that Jacob, and not Esau, would be the recipient of the Blessings.
According to Radak, the verse simply means that God prospered Isaac’s endeavors.
25:12-16 Ishmael’s Genealogy Verse 16 is the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham in 17:20 ~ ’He shall begat twelve chieftains (princes), and I will make him a great nation.’ Each of the twelve was a prince and the ancestor of a large family which carried his name as we see the names do appear later in Scripture ~ representing distinct family clans.
25:17 Ishmael’s age is given because it assists in calculations with respect to dating the various events which occurred in the life of Jacob.
Rashi explains that we calculate from Ishmael’s age at his death that Jacob attended the Academy of Eber for fourteen years from the time he left his father’s house ~ which coincides with Ishmael’s death (28:9) to the time he arrived at Laban’s house. (Megillah 17a)
According to the data cited in Megillah 17a, when Jacob stood before Pharaoh, he should have been a hundred and sixteen years old, yet Jacob himself gave his age at one hundred and thirty (47:9) The discrepancy is explained by the fact that he spent fourteen years at the Academy of Eber after leaving his father’s house.
According to the parallel explanation in the Midrash, Ishmael’s lifespan is given in order to assist in calculating Jacob’s age when he was blessed. Jacob received the blessings from Isaac at the time Ishmael died (28:9). Ishmael was 137 years old when he died. Isaac was Ishmael’s junior by fourteen years, since Abraham was 86 when Ishmael was born and 100 years old when Isaac was born (21:5)
Therefore, since Isaac was 123 years old at Ishmael’s death, Jacob who was 60 years younger than Isaac (25:26) was 63 years old when he received the blessings.
Next: The Overview of Isaac
24:31 “..O blessed of Hashem..” The Torah now records a prophetic expression placed – unbeknown to him – on Laban’s lips. For his exemplary kindness to Abraham, Eliezer passed from the category of accursed Canaanite, into that of blessed. Laban, however, had thought he was addressing Abraham, because their features were similar. (Midrash).
“..when I have cleared the house..” According to Rashi (citing the Midrash) the phrase implies: I have cleared the house from the defilement of idols. The verb used here, ‘clear’, is generally used in reference to clearing away an obstruction or something which people would find objectionable. Therefore, since Eliezer was the servant of Abraham who had been persecuted for his denunciation of idolatry, the commentators related this word to the idols, since nothing could be more objectionable to a member of Abraham’s household than to lodge in the presence of idols.
“..place for the camels?” – For it is known that not even Abraham’s camels would enter a place containing idolatry.
Why did Laban go to all of this trouble on behalf of a stranger? Because he conjectured to himself: If that man was so generous to my sister only because she drew water for him and his camels, imagine how generous he will be to me if I offer him and his camels lodging and even go through the trouble of cleaning the room for him.
24:32 “..he gave straw and feed..” – Laban provided feed for the animals and water for Eliezer. It would be unlikely that Eliezer himself would fetch water for his own feet and that of his men. (Ramban) First, he gave feed to the animals and only afterwards was food set before the guests (v 33), for one must not partake of food until he has fed his animals, for it is written (Deuteronomy 11:13): ‘I will give grass in your fields for your cattle’, and after that: ‘you shall eat and be satisfied.’ (Midrash HaGadol)
‘…of the men who were with him.” – This is the first time that the Torah explicitly mentions that Eliezer was accompanied by others, although it is alluded to several times.
24:33 “Food was set before him,..” – The Midrashim record a tradition ~ a doctrine believed to have divine authority though not written in scriptures ~ that they placed a deadly poison before Eliezer. In Abraham’s merit, however, the dish was changed: Bethuel ate of it and died later that evening.
“..until I have spoken my words.” – The mission has thus far been successful. Divine Providence led Eliezer on the right path to the home of Abraham’s relatives, and to the girl who, by the test of her character, proved to be worthy of marriage to Isaac. However, there was one obstacle still left ~ the doubt Eliezer had expressed earlier to Abraham: Perhaps the girl would not consent to follow him to Canaan. He, therefore, was resolved to complete his task; he would not eat until the matter was settled beyond doubt.
Verses 34-39 The Recapitulation Radak emphasizes that Eliezer repeated the whole story in order to convince them that God willed this marriage, thus delicately hinting that their refusal would not hinder it.
However, the Torah ~ which contains not a single letter without purpose ~ now proceeds to record at length Eliezer’s recapitulation of the events which led him to Bethuel’s house, when in reality, the Torah could merely have stated, “And Eliezer related to them these things’, etc.
Hoffman notes that it is common for the Torah to repeat a halachic, a law, or a narrative passage because of a meaningful detail which is added in the second version. As we note, Eliezer’s repetition contains several such instruction additions and variations.
24:34 “A servant of Abraham..” – He immediately introduces himself as Abraham’s servant and thereby indicates that that is why he must carry out his master’s mission, even before breaking bread.
The Zohar applies to Eliezer the verse ‘a slave honors his master” (Malachi 1:6), for in spite of all the precious valuables he brought along with him by virtue of which he could have pretended to be whatever he desired, he made no pretentious claims but informed him he was merely Abraham’s slave ~ his purpose being to enhance Abraham’s stature, so they could judge the greatness of his stature.
24:35 When a man wishes to marry a girl, he tells her of his lineage and the lineage of his family, in order to endear himself and his family to her. Eliezer acted accordingly: First he spoke in praise of Abraham and then in the praise of Isaac.
24:36 In mentioning that Sarah gave birth to Isaac after she had grown old, Eliezer was anticipating a possible objection on their part: ‘How can you expect to pair a son of Abraham with a granddaughter of Abraham’s brother Nachor? This son must be an old man!’ Therefore, Eliezer, informed them that Isaac was born only after Sarah was old, and he was still relatively young. Isaac was forty years old at the time.
And, since God performed a miracle, allowing Sarah to give birth to him at the age of ninety, you can be certain that he is a perfect young man, for God would not perform such a miracle for the sake of an ordinary son.
24:37 “..in whose land I dwell.” – Abraham in verse 3 had actually said “in whose midst I dwell.” Eliezer, with great delicacy, changed ‘in whose midst’ to ‘in whose land’. They would have found Abraham’s choice of words offensive. It would have suggested that he had a tendency to be critical of those around him.
24:39 “Perhaps the woman will not follow me?” – When Eliezer discussed with Abraham the possibility that the appropriate woman would not return to Canaan with him, he said ‘perhaps the woman would not ‘wish’ ~ implying that her ‘willingness’ would be a crucial factor. Here, however, he omitted any such reference, saying merely that she will – in fact – not follow. Originally, Eliezer envisioned only that the woman ~ of her own volition ~ might refuse to go to Canaan. Now, however, that he saw Rebecca had no objections, Eliezer realized that her family might hinder her. He therefore makes it clear to them that even if the woman will, in fact, not follow me through no ill-will of her own, but because of family hindrance, Abraham’s oath would be nullified and Isaac would be forced to seek a wife from among the Canaanites. Eliezer alludes to this in verse 41 when he states: “an if they will not give her to you”, making the mission dependent on their consent, rather than, as Abraham had said (v8) on the girl’s consent.
24:41 Eliezer immediately added that although Abraham had complete faith that God would make the mission successful, he was nevertheless prepared for the possibility that his wish would not materialize and the family would not cooperate. Eliezer emphasized this so that they would not miscalculate and believe that his promise to Abraham compelled him to bring back a bride at any price, with the result that he was completely dependent upon them.
24:42 “I came today..” – Today I left and today I arrived. The road contracted for him. In only three hours, he found that he had miraculously completed what would ordinarily be a seventeen day journey. (Rashi)
24:45 “I had not yet finished..” – He mentioned this to further emphasize that the Godly origin of the matter was demonstrated by the immediacy of the response to his prayers ~ coming as it did before he had finished meditating.
24:48 “..and I blessed Hashem..” – Eliezer related this to proclaim his absolute conviction that she was indeed the woman whom Hashem had designated and he is merely seeking their consent to conclude the matter. He further wished to impress upon them that because of his conviction he blessed Hashem, had there been any doubt, such a blessing would have been premature.
24:49 ‘to deal kindly and truly..” – Kindness denotes an action which one is not obligated to do while truth means to fulfill the promise of kindness.
The truth is that it is obviously God’s Will, the kindness is that you comply with His will by consenting to her accompanying me ~ a slave ~ and not insisting that Isaac himself come and fetch her. (Malbim)
“..to the right or to the left..” – To the right refers to the daughters of Ishmael, who lived in the Wilderness of Paran in the south. To the left refers to the daughters of Lot who lived to the left, or north, of Abraham.
24:50 “The matter stems from Hashem.” – The Midrash asks: From when did it stem… i.e. when did God decree this and how did these heathens come to acknowledge it? Rav Chaninah ben Yitchak comments: It stemmed from Mount Moriah ~ in other words it was preordained at Mount Moriah when, as he was descending with Isaac after the Akeidah, Abraham was informed of Rebecca’s birth (22:20-23). The Rabbis stated that Rebecca’s family became convinced as a result of this incident that the marriage was Divinely ordained, as in their statement (v51) ‘let her be a wife to your master’s son as Hashem has spoken’ – the entire narrative of how Eliezer was led to Rebecca, which was a continuous story illustrating God’s Providence, convinced them that it was divinely decreed.
24:52 “When Abraham’s servant..” – This is the only time in the entire chapter when he was given the title ‘Abraham’s servant’. Having accomplished his mission in total obedience to Abraham’s wishes, he feels entitled to such an honored designation. (Hirsch)
24:53 For the purpose of betrothal to Isaac, Eliezer acted as Isaac’s agent and gave Rebecca gifts.
24:55 “Her brother and mother said..” – Where was her father Bethuel? According to an account in the Midrash Aggadah, Bethuel died because the angel who accompanied Eliezer took the poisoned dish which had been set before Eliezer and exchanged it with Bethuel’s. He ate from it and died.
24:56 “Do not delay me now..” – Since everything has gone so smoothly and God so speedily guided my mission, it is obvious that He wishes me to return to my master without delay.
24:57 “Let us call the maiden..” – From this we learn that a woman may be given in marriage only by her consent.
24:58 Radak also points out that they may have been asking her only about when she would accompany the man. Presumably, however, she had already consented to the marriage, even before they expressed their approval to Eliezer (v51). Although this is not specifically mentioned in the text, one would certainly not give his daughter in marriage without first consulting her.
24:59 Whether, as Rashi would interpret, they gave permission reluctantly to avoid her threatened defiance; or as Radak and Ramban would interpret, that they graciously acquiesced to her wishes, it must be noted that once Rebecca expressed her intention, they no longer hindered her. As Abarbanel observes, however, no member of her immediate family accompanied her. Possibly they were angered by her.
“..and her nurse, ..” – According to Seder Olam, the most common Rabbinic chronology, Rebecca was but three years old at the time.
Ibn Ezra, who believes that Rebecca was older and in no need of a nurse, explains that this was the nurse of her infancy. It was usual for a nurse to remain with a girl even after she had grown.
Apparently, they had also sent her maidens with her as well, but they are not specified here as receiving the honor of a family escort. The nurse alone is mentioned as she was the most prominent among them. They are, however, mentioned matter-of-factly in verse 61. (Radak)
The nurse’s name was Deborah, as she is identified in 35:8.
24:60 “..may you come to be mother of thousands..” May you and your offspring be the recipients of the blessings given to Abraham on Mount Moriah. (22:17) May it be His will that these offspring descend from you, as Isaac’s wife, and not from another woman.
However, as the Midrash notes, their blessing was futile since God caused her to remain barren for twenty years, lest the heathens say ~ It was our prayer that bore fruit! For, in fact, Rebecca did not conceive until Isaac prayed for her as it says (25:21): “Isaac entreated Hashem opposite his wife because she was barren, and Hashem allowed Himself to be entreated by him and his wife Rebecca conceived.”
“..and may your descendants inherit the gates of your enemies.” – This blessing appears almost verbatim in God’s blessing to Abraham after the Akeidah in 22:17. As explained there, the capture of the gate, the stronghold of a city, is symbolic of its downfall. Therefore, gate is used in this connotation, the blessing being that her offspring should possess cities by inheriting or seizing their gates.
According to Ha’amek Davar the blessing refers to wise judges and counselors who sit at the gate of a city (19:1). Thus, the blessing was that Rebecca’s descendants should achieve such a reputation for integrity and wisdom that even their enemies would seek their advice.
24:61 According to Sforno, the phrase: ‘the servant took Rebecca’ means that in his capacity as Isaac’s agent, he formally received her as the bride of his master Isaac. Thereby, he became her servant as well and from this point forward, Scripture once again refers to him as the servant rather than ‘the man’, as previously mentioned in this verse.
Note: They left at noon and to prevent Eliezer from being alone with Rebecca at night, the road miraculously contracted for him on his return journey as well, and in three hours, at the time of Minchah, the Afternoon Prayer, they returned home.
24:62 Isaac meets his bride – The Torah narrates that Isaac ‘happened’ to meet them on the road before they entered the city, just as Eliezer’s encounter with Rebecca at the well, etc., occurred by what seemed to be ‘chance’. In reality, it was a result of God’s Providential Will, for ‘God deals righteously with the righteous’. (Radak)
Isaac was returning from Lachai Ro’i which was a place of prayer for him since it was there that an angel revealed himself to Hagar (16:14). He went there to pray at this favorable site where Hagar’s prayers had once been answered. Even before his wife was already approaching ~ as in the same manner of Isaiah 65:24.
“..in the south country.” – According to Midrash, HaGadol, the designation ‘south country’ refers in itself to Hebron since Hebron is specifically described in 35:27 as the place where Abraham and Isaac had lived.
Midrash Sechel Tov elaborates that when Isaac returned from the Academy of Shem and Eber where he studied for three years following the Akeidah, he rejoined his father in Hebron which, as in 12:9, is referred to as the South ~ facing Jerusalem and Mount Moriah ~ in what would become the territory of Judah. Accordingly, it was towards Hebron, to his father, that Isaac was now returning after having gone to Be’er Lachai Ro’i.
24:63 “Joseph went out to supplicate..” – The translation supplicate follows Rashi who explains that it means to pray, as in Psalms 102:1: A prayer of the afflicted when he pours forth his supplication before Hashem.
The follows the Talmud, Berachos 26b, and Midrash, which derive from this verse the tradition that Isaac instituted the Minchah, the Afternoon Prayer. That Abraham instituted the Shacharis, the Morning Prayer, is derived from 19:27; and that Jacob instituted the Aravis, the Evening Prayer, is derived from 28:11.
“Camels were coming!” – The Providential Hand of God was evident when Isaac saw them on his way home. Isaac could not have expected to meet them because it was only yesterday that Eliezer had embarked on what should have been a seventeen day journey in each direction, but which was miraculously shortened to three hours each way.
24:65 “Who is that man walking..” – When Rebecca saw a man walking in the field and turning towards them, she realized that he was approaching them either to greet them or to offer lodging. As was proper for a woman, she reacted by discounting from the camel and stood modestly. Then, as he was still approaching them, she inquired exactly who he was, and upon hearing that he was Isaac, she veiled herself.
Rebecca veiled her face out of awe of Isaac, and shame to be in his presence, as though to indicate that she considered herself unworthy of him. This set the pattern for their subsequent relationship which was unique among the Patriarchs and Matriarchs.
Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah were often assertive in their relationships with their husbands. Rebecca, on the other hand, never confronted Isaac directly. Thus we find that she tolerated Isaac’s favor toward Esau although she knew that Esau had been deceiving his father. When the time came for the blessings to be given, she employed deception to secure them for Jacob.
This sort of relationship was preordained by God in that the transmission of the blessings would take place in a seemingly underhanded manner. The purpose of His plan will be discussed in the succeeding chapters.
24:66 Eliezer reported to Isaac the miracles that had happened ~ how the earth had contracted for him, and how Rebecca had been ready for him in speedy response to his prayers.
24:67 “..brought her into Sarah’s tent..” – and behold, she was as Sarah, his mother. That is, she became like Sarah in every respect. For as long as Sarah was alive, a lamp burned in her tent from one Sabbath eve to another, her dough was blessed, and a cloud, signifying the Divine Presence, hung over her tent. When Sarah died, these ceased, but when Rebecca entered the tent they returned. (Rashi)
“He married Rebecca, she became his wife, and he loved her.” – Hirsch notes that marriage preceded love; the longer they were married, the more Isaac loved her. In this, the first Jewish marriage, the Torah illustrates the principal that has generally been followed by Jews: Jewish marriages are contracted not as a result of passion and romance, but as a result of good judgment and sound reason. If the couple is well suited, the marriage will result in love and happiness. Marriages based on pre-marital infatuation, however, all too often fail the test of married life.
Hirsch continues that the chapter ends with words that exalt and honor that status of a Jewish wife. Isaac was a mature man when his mother died, but he could not be consoled as long as the sweetness and goodness of the Matriarch were gone from the home. In his wife, he found consolation ~ she embodied worth, nobility and greatness.
Ramban says Isaac was deeply grieved for his mother and found no consolation until he was consoled by his wife through his love for her. This love was inspired by her righteousness and aptness of deeds, the only criteria on which the Torah bases the love between a man and his wife.
Thus is the way of the world: a man is attached to his mother during her lifetime. When she dies, he finds comfort in his wife. (Rashi)