Yitzchak’s Meal

  • Harav Yaakov Medan
Translated by Kaeren Fish
 
“Now therefore take up, I pray you, your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the filed, and catch me some venison, and make me savory food (mat’amim), such as I love, and bring it to me, that I may eat, that my soul may bless you before I die…”
 
“Go now to the flock, and fetch me from there two good kids of the goats, and I will make them into savory food for your father, such as he loves, and you shall bring it to your father, that he may eat, and that he may bless you before his death….”
 
And he went and fetched and brought them to his mother, and his mother made savory food (mat’amim), such as his father loved…. And she gave the savory food and the bread, which she had prepared, into the hand of her son Yaakov…
 
And Yaakov said to his father, “I am Esav your firstborn; I have done as you told me. Arise, I pray you; sit and eat of my venison (mi-tzeidi), that your soul may bless me…”
 
And he said, “Bring it near to me, and I will eat of my son’s venison (mi-tzeid beni), that my soul may bless you.” And he brought it near to him, and he ate, and he brought him wine, and he drank. (Bereishit 27:3-25)
 
A review of these verses leaves the reader (justifiably) troubled by their strong gastronomical emphasis and the idea that the eternal blessing to Yitzchak’s descendants, who are destined to rule over Eretz Yisrael, ultimately rests on a plate of food and savory delights. Why does everything here depend on a tasty dinner? Moreover, the Torah portrays Esav in a negative light for having sold his birthright and all that it entails for a bowl of pottage. But is Yitzchak any better? After all, he too, seemingly sells the birthright and the accompanying blessing in return for venison!
 
A number of Chassidic teachings address this question. The crux of the resolution they offer concerns the desire to elevate the physical and material dimension:
 
And the matter of the “savory food” is likewise to bring the elements of this world closer to God – and that which is further removed is easier to elevate towards God. (Sefat Emet, Toldot 5631)
 
In other words, Yitzchak sought to elevate the food and make it part of his Divine service.
 
How does one transform the desire for tasty food into Divine service? Enjoyment of this world can easily be pure decadence, devoid of any inkling of holiness. Indeed, this is the more prevalent situation. However, it may also be experienced as “a taste of the World to Come.” The individual is well aware that the source of his enjoyment is God, and his intention and wish is that God will continue to shower goodness upon him and upon all of humanity. Just as any hostess is pleased when guests enjoy the good food that she serves, so God is pleased when man enjoys the goodness that this world has to offer – so long as he indeed knows and remembers that he is a guest and shows his appreciation to his “Host” – God Himself.
 
The Yerushalmi states:
 
R. Chizkiyahu R. Kohen taught in the name of Rav: A person will have to give an accounting one day for everything that his eyes saw but he did not eat. (Yerushalmi, Kiddushin 4:12 [66b])  
 
Perhaps Yitzchak was showing an example by acting in the manner recommended in Sefer Kohelet:[1]
 
What profit has the worker from his toil? I have seen the task, which God has given to the sons of the men to be exercised in it. He has made everything beautiful in his time; He has also set the mystery of the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work which God has made from the beginning to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in his life; also that it is the gift of God that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor. I know that, whatever God does, it shall be forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it, and God does it so that men should fear before Him. (Kohelet 3:9-14)
 
The argument proposed here is that all of God’s handiwork should be accepted as it is, with no attempt to change it. One should fill his heart with confidence that God made and did everything in the best possible way, and that it is not his job to “amend” or “fix” what God has decreed for the world and the way that the world operates. According to this view, man has no task in the world except to enjoy the good that God gives him in His goodness. A person is in the world like a guest in the home of God, his Host. Enjoyment of the world is negative when a person feels himself to be responsible for the world, or when he allows himself to demand that which he feels he deserves. But when he is filled completely with faith in God and is willing to accept whatever God decides, wholeheartedly and with no second guessing, the enjoyment of God’s goodness in this world is viewed in a positive way.
 
Esav inquired, demanded, and took for himself – this is negative hedonism. Yitzchak, in contrast, accepted whatever God decided, in any situation, with love, as we will explain. Yitzchak represents the attribute of “din” (“justice”) – in other words, accepting God’s decree. A person who lives in a world of acceptance of how God wants things to be may partake of God’s goodness and enjoy it.
 
The fact that Yitzchak is characterized by din would appear to explain his response upon discovering that Yaakov obtained the blessing from him through deception:
 
And Yitzchak trembled very much, and said, “Who then is he who hunted venison and brought it to me, and I have eaten of all before you came, and I blessed him? Moreover, he shall be blessed.” (Bereishit 27:33)
 
Why does Yitzchak not take back his blessing to Yaakov, realizing that it was conveyed without his intention? If Yitzchak indeed “trembled very much,” how is it that he adds the words, “Moreover, he shall be blessed”?
 
Yitzchak feels himself to be a guest in this world. He sees everything that happens as God’s work. It is not proper for a guest to protest his host’s actions or to suggest that his host should have behaved differently.
 
In a number of places, we see that, in certain respects, Yitzchak remains forever bound upon the altar. This idea relates to our discussion. The Zohar, and Kabbala in general, view Avraham as representing the attribute of lovingkindness, which is perceived as positive, while Yitzchak is viewed as representing strict justice, which is perceived as a harsh reality.[2] Avraham, representing lovingkindness, did indeed treat others in accordance with this trait – and for this he is praised. But did Yitzchak, representing strict justice, relate to others in accordance with this trait? Is this his praise?
 
Yitzchak did not treat others in accordance with strict justice. His embodiment of this trait is reflected not in his own active behavior, but rather in his passive acceptance of God’s decrees and his view of all that happens to him as the Divine will that he must accept. He accepts the knife at his neck at the time of the akeida; he accepts the wife that God has brought to him by the hand of Eliezer; and he accepts banishment by the Pelishtim from the wells that he himself had dug.
 
In our parasha, too, Yitzchak accepts the deception that Rivka and Yaakov have perpetrated, offering no protest. He views what has happened as God’s will. Rather than declaring that he was deceived, he declares with acceptance, “Moreover, he shall be blessed.”
 
 

[1]  Sefer Kohelet proposes a number of different approaches; the one discussed here is not ultimately adopted as the book’s conclusion.
[2] See Zohar, Toldot 137a.