"To Give You the Blessing of Avraham, To Inherit the Land"

  • Harav Aharon Lichtenstein

Adapted by Dov Karoll

When Ya'akov comes to Yitzchak at the end of parashat Toledot, Yitzchak tells him to go to Padan Aram. Before Ya'akov leaves, Yitzchak gives him an additional blessing:

Set out and go to Padan Aram, to the house of your mother's father Betu'el, and marry a daughter of your uncle Lavan. God will bless you, make you fruitful and increase your numbers, and you will become an assembly of nations. And He will give you the blessing of Avraham, to you and to your descendants, so that you will take over the land of your dwelling, which God promised to Avraham. (28:2-4)

The Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 27:12) explains that this affirms that Yitzchak really gave the blessings to Ya'akov willingly, and that Ya'akov did not attain them through trickery.

But is this simply a restatement of the same blessing he had "stolen"? Is this even a similar circumstance? In the episode of the original blessings, Yitzchak is in a state of total dependence. In old age generally there is often a reversal of roles, with the parent, who had previously been the provider, becoming the receiver, and the child correspondingly becoming the provider. This dependence is made complete in the case of Yitzchak by his blindness, rendering him totally dependent.

This dependence serves as the backdrop of the entire episode: "When Yitzchak had grown old and his eyesight had faded, he summoned his elder son Esav" (27:1). Yitzchak turns to Esav with a request to bring him food, "Please take up your equipment…" (27:3); he needs to plead with Esav. How painful that "Please" must have been, for the elderly father to beg his son to bring him food!

Against this background, Yitzchak, thinking he is blessing Esav, gives Yaakov a blessing of physical strength and dominance. He blesses him that God provide his needs: "May God grant you the dew of the heaven and the fat of the earth, much grain and wine" (27:28). Along with that, Yitzchak blesses him with political, international success: "Nations will serve you, governments will bow down to you; you shall be master over your brother…" (27:29).

In this blessing, there is no mention of the land of Israel or of the transmission of any high ideals. It is a blessing of worldly success, given by the father in a state of physical weakness.

The blessing that Yitzchak gives to Yaakov at the end of the parasha is entirely different. The Torah does not speak of weakness in this case, and Yitzchak does not plead with Ya'akov. Yitzchak's words are introduced in an entirely different light: "Yitzchak called Ya'akov and blessed him, and he [Yitzchak] COMMANDED him [Ya'akov]…" (28:1). Obviously, Yitzchak is still old, but now he is showing vigor and strength. He does not simply request of Ya'akov not to marry a local girl, he commands him not to do so.

Rivka had previously advised Ya'akov to run away to Lavan in order to avoid Esav and his wrath. Her words could be categorized as good advice. In contrast to that, Yitzchak charges Ya'akov to go to Charan, taking the control that we would expect of him as one of the Patriarchs. This is not the same Yitzchak we saw at the beginning of the episode of the blessings.

And what is the content of this blessing that Yitzchak knowingly bestows upon Ya'akov before the latter's departure?

God will bless you, make you fruitful and increase your numbers, and you will become an assembly of nations. And He will give you the blessing of Avraham, to you and to your descendants, so that you will take over the land of your dwelling, which God promised to Avraham. (28:3-4)

This is a blessing with spiritual content. There is no mention of "the dew of the heaven" or "the fat of the earth." This blessing involves transmission of the "birkat Avraham," the special blessing of Avraham, meaning the continuity of the spiritual legacy of Avraham Avinu.

Where is this blessing focused? "The land of your dwelling" - not simply the place where you lived, but the land "which God promised to Avraham."

Yitzchak was especially sensitive to the importance of Eretz Yisrael. He was the "unblemished offering" who was told that he could not leave the Land. He was to remain in the Land, helping along the process of the inheritance of the land of Israel, and not only in a monetary sense.

This blessing is full of spiritual content and ideals, ensuring the continuity of the legacy of Avraham. When Yitzchak emerges in a position of strength, he is able to provide the true spiritual blessing to Ya'akov.

As descendants of Ya'akov, we need to recognize that our success is not measured exclusively in the terms of the first blessing. It is true that there is significance to physical success and to political success. But these can never constitute the entirety of our goals, God forbid. These goals could have been achieved even by setting up a Jewish state in Uganda. But as the descendants of Yitzchak and Ya'akov, we need to strive for the goals of birkat Avraham, of setting up a just and God-fearing society in the land promised to Avraham.

[This sicha was delivered at se'uda shelishit, Shabbat Parashat Toledot 5762 (2001).]