Synthesizing The Physical And The Spiritual

Rather than dividing the spiritual and physical blessings between Jacob and Esau, Rebekah saw the need for Jacob to receive both.

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Isaac had no reason to think that one of his sons would be rejected; he believed they would both lead this chosen nation as partners, with Esau as General, mastering the physical world and Jacob as High Priest, carrying on the spiritual legacy.

Combining Strength

However, Rebekah, the mother of these two brothers and, importantly, reared as the sister of Laban, (as emphasized in the second verse of the parashah), knew that such a partnership was impossible. She understood that Jacob needed both blessings--to combine spiritual strength with mastery over the physical world--in order to be the father of the Jewish nation.

Accordingly, she orchestrated the "theft" of the physical blessing in a context wherein Jacob would be introduced to his destiny--to be a person with kol Yaakov (the voice of Jacob) but also with yedei Eisav (the hands of Esau).

She thus wanted Jacob to undergo an apprenticeship with her brother, Laban, the master trickster, so that he would know how to combine these traits. He achieved mastery over the physical world, the Keli Yakar (17th century commentator), points out (Genesis: 31:1) when he surpasses Laban's ability to beguile his adversaries.

After this "education," the fully developed Jacob is commanded by God to return to Canaan, whereupon he wrestles with Esau's angel and is given a new name: Yisrael. This new name demonstrates his completed evolution, a name by which we, his descendants, are called: Benei Yisrael (the Children of Israel).

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Rabbi Nathan J. Diament

Nathan J. Diament is the Director of the Institute for Public Affairs of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America. He is an honors graduate of Yeshiva University and the Harvard Law School and the co-editor of Tikkun Olam: Social Responsibility in Jewish Law and Thought and the author of many essays on issues of public policy from the Orthodox perspective.