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!