Parashat Toldot

As my wedding approaches, my thoughts often turn to the relationships of my fore-bearers and what can be learned from their examples. In many ways, out of all the all the Patriarchs and Matriarchs,

Yitzhak and Rivka have the closest relationship. They stick together for twenty childless years, during which Isaac specifically prays for children only with Rivka. Unlike all the other relationships featured in Bereshit, there is not a single instance where one snapped at the other. There is even a description of them just talking and sporting. So it seems incredible that not once, but twice in our parasha, does Rivka feel the need to mislead Yitzhak. First, she sends Yaakov to trick Yitzhak into getting Esav’s blessing. Then after Esav plots to kill Yaakov, and she sends off Yaakov for his own protection, she seemingly still cannot talk to Yitzhak and has to give him a pretext for Yaakov’s departure. What is going on? If she was concerned about Esav, why go around YItzhak’s back? Why wouldn’t she be able to discuss her concerns with her husband?

According to an insightful comment by R Samson Raphael Hirsch in his Torah commentary, it’s likely she did in fact discuss her concerns about Esav. Many times. Yitzhak just didn’t listen. He had long wanted to wanted to bless Esav, and each time Rivka persuaded him to hold off, but she never could show him the truth about her son. Esav was deceiving his father, and she decided the only way to prove how easily Yitzhak could be deceived was to deceive him herself. If Yitzhak could be fooled by Yaakov playing Esav, the implication is that Esav could fool Yitzhak by playing Yaakov.

Rav Hirsch suggests that Yitzhak never assumed that Esav was as righteous as Yaakov. He knew Esav was far less studious. He knew, too, that Esav was a hunter who relished bloodshed and cunning. But Yitzhak thought for all that, there would still be a place for his elder son in the future People of Avraham, that it would be possible for Esav to turn his talents for good. He didn’t realize that by this time Esav had solidified himself as a person of desire and had no drive for self-improvement. It was a delusion maintained by careful deception on Esav’s part. Yitzhak, growing up in the house of the righteous Avraham and Sarah had no experience with guile and could not see his son was a fraud.

But Rivka was from a different background. She grew up in the house of her brother Laban. She knew trickery and insincerity very well, and she had no delusions about her son. She also knew what would come of unbridled physicality when coupled with wealth and power. When even Esav’s idol-worshipping wives failed to shake Yitzhak’s faith in his essential righteousness, Rivka was determined to make her beloved husband see the light before it was too late. When talking didn’t work, she resorted to her training in deception.

Rav Hirsch doesn’t directly state so, but he hints that it was her same background that perhaps made her less believable to Yitzhak in the first place. When describing the twenty years without any progeny, he writes that Yitzhak knew he was personally Divinely ordained to have kids and pass on the Covenant of Avraham, “but whether the Covenant would be carried on by a sister of Laban, in spite of her own excellency especially having waited so long, on that he could well begin to have some doubts.” Her background as a daughter of idolaters and a sister to Laban comes up several more times in Rav Hirsch’s comments. Yitzhak never wavered from his devotion to his wife, but here too, he may have assumed that if there was a conflict between his vision of Avraham’s people and his wife’s, perhaps they should trust the one who was pure from birth. But he was wrong, and his wife painfully proved it.

Befitting his status as a Patriarch, Yitzhak instantly grasped the point of the deception and realized his error. He ratified the blessing given to Yaakov, and he never gave Esav a blessing which indicated any sort of place in Gd’s people. Befitting Rivka’s status as a Matriarch, she does not rub her victory in her husband’s face. She does not say “Esav, the one you really trusted, is now plotting to kill our other son.” She simply informs Yitzhak that the time has come for Yaakov to marry, for him to carry on their legacy, and Yitzhak then pays his wife the biggest compliment of all. He wants Yaakov to specifically marry Laban’s daughter. He wants him to find someone like Rivka, someone who grew up in that environment, and yet still became as great as she was. Only someone that special is able to help Yaakov secure his legacy, as Rivka helped him.