Isaac called his elder son Isaac to his side, as he lay in his bed, old and frail. He was ready to give Esau his first-son blessing. To mark this momentous occasion, he asked Esau to go get his favorite take-out (Esau was a good hunter and great cook.) Esau hurried off to get the food, and Isaac sat back to wait. In the meantime, Rebecca, who had overheard the exchange, stepped in to manipulate the family moment to her advantage, or rather, to their son Jacob’s advantage. She positioned him to steal the firstborn blessing by fooling (lying to) Isaac.
Was Isaac really blind to his own son? Was he playing along, knowing his son Jacob was playing him? In a new book called, Unscrolled,(Workman Publishing, 2013) in which 54 writers and artists each take on a parasha, Jonathan Foer says Isaac knew that Esau was headed out to assimilate into the non-Israelite world by marrying those non-Israelite wives, and the future of the community depended on Jacob staying in the (tent)fold. Jacob had to get the blessing – it would have been wasted on Esau.
Yet Jacob is the greater scoundrel here. He deceives his father, steals from his brother, and then runs away to avoid his brother’s understandable wrath, all egged on by his manipulative mother. Was Isaac blind to this, too? It seems he was content ignore, and thereby continue the favored-son pattern of his own dysfunctional family, as it played out between Jacob and Esau, and eleven of Jacob’s sons and their brother Joseph.
It’s not good to be blind to your own children’s failings. One of my grandmothers would swear that if her grandkids were ax murderers, we would be the BEST ax murderers out there – we could do no wrong. Do we do our children a favor when we raise them with what looks like unconditional love, but is blind denial, pretending to be love, cloaked like Jacob in Esau’s clothes?
Sorry, Grandma, but I think the answer is no. It’s hard to accept flaws in those we love so much, but if Isaac had confronted his sons and told them straight out to whom he was giving the blessing, without the charades and trickery, perhaps Esau wouldn’t have strayed so far from his family. The brothers didn’t see each other for 20 years; the family was torn apart. The best love is clear-eyed, open, see-your-kids-for-who-they-really-are and love them anyway. That’s the kind of unconditional love that allows a child to grow and experiment and most importantly, fail. If you never fail, you never learn what real success is. Maybe Jacob wasn’t the only one stealing in this story. Maybe Isaac, through his refusal to see his sons clearly, robbed each son of his own brother.