Striving For Perfection
by: Cheryl Pedersen *
We are all master rationalizers. Whatever it is we have done that might be perceived by others to be wrong, we can rationalize why our intentions were good, our motives pure. It’s just the execution that makes it APPEAR as though we did wrong. And we’ve all done it. We lied so someone wouldn’t get hurt. We helped because the accolades felt so good. We made a cutting remark because the recipient really deserved it.
One of the more difficult stories in Torah as far as rationalizing why is the story of how Jacob stole Esau’s blessing. Here is this ”good guy,” Jacob, father of the Jewish people, conniving with his mother of all people to get his elderly blind father to give the blessing reserved for the oldest son to him. This story is full of wrong. Jacob betrays his own brother as well as his father and the kicker is his mother helps him. Rebekah wrongs her husband by helping her son deceive him. Isn’t that elder abuse at some level?
The standard rationalization for this messy situation is that prophecy Rebekah received when she was still pregnant with the twins. “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples shall be separated from you; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.” (Genesis 25:23). There is that, right from God’s mouth.
Rebekah also watched how the two brothers grew up. Esau was the hunter. He was impetuous, a man of impulse, not reflection. Face it, he was as much to blame for the birthright switch as Jacob. He couldn’t care less about birthright when he was hungry. Rebekah figured that if he didn’t care about his birthright, he couldn’t possibly be a trusted leader.
We also have the matter of Esau’s wives, Judith and Basemath. When Esau was forty he married two Hittite women. “They were a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah.” (Genesis 26:34). Surely, Rebekah reasoned, a man who was impervious to the feelings of his parents and who had no self-restraint in choosing a marriage partner couldn’t be Abraham’s heir.
These facts all played into Rebekah’s plan to help Jacob deceive Isaac. It didn’t hurt that Jacob was—let’s just say it—a bit of a mama’s boy. He hung around the house, helped with the cooking (I hear he made a mean lentil stew), and spent his free time reading and studying.
In her defense, remember she was the woman at the well who not only offered water not just to Abraham’s servant, but offered to water his camels as well. She was not Lady MacBeth acting out of malice or personal ambition. She was a woman trying to help God’s plan come to fruition.
The passage that is most painful is to read of what happens when Esau comes to his father after Jacob has already received the blessing. We don’t typically read such emotional words. Think about the anguish Abraham must have felt walking up that mountain with Isaac, but Torah breathes not a word about it. This time, however…
Isaac trembled violently and said, ’Who was it, then, that hunted game and brought it to me? I ate it just before you came and I blessed him—and indeed he will be blessed!’ When Esau heard his father’s words, he burst out with a loud and bitter cry and said to his father, ’Bless me—me too, my father!’
But he said, ’Your brother came deceitfully and took your blessing.’
Esau said, ‘Isn’t he rightly named Jacob This is the second tie he has taken advantage of me: he took my birthright, and now he’s taken my blessing!’ Then he asked, ’Haven’t you reserved any blessing for me?’ Genesis 27:33-36
It is a heartbreaking scene to be sure. Esau’s upset turned to rage and he swore to kill his brother Jacob. Rebekah, seeing what a mess had been created, sent Jacob away. A family of promise was torn apart because of deceit…seeking right results in a totally wrong way.
There is no way to rationalize it. Forcing God’s hand to get what you believe is right has consequences. For Isaac, it was the knowledge that he had unwittingly blessed the ”wrong” son. For Rebekah it was seeing her sons estranged from one another and not seeing her favored son again. For Esau it was the lasting memory of losing something that was rightfully his. And for Jacob? He fled his home for more than twenty years in fear for his life. He married into a family where he was on the receiving end of deceit from Laban his father-in-law. In later years he experienced deceit as well at the hands of his own sons who brought him a bloodied robe and said his beloved son Joseph saying he’d been killed by a beast.
Sadly, when Jacob appeared before Pharaoh many years later and was asked how old he was, Jacob said, “Few and evil have been the years of my life.” (Genesis 47:9). What a sad reflection on a man’s life. Jacob is also the only one in Torah to make such a remark.
We all know the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It’s a moral principle found in most major religions in one way or another. The story of Jacob is a living example of how that works. What you do to others comes back to you measure for measure. There are consequences for our actions.
In the end, Isaac was not given the credit he deserved for knowing his sons and what kind of blessing they would each appreciate. Isn’t that what every parent believes? That they know their children? What they like and what they will appreciate? Isaac blessed Esau with wealth and power as he knew Esau would want. He blessed Jacob with children and land as a fulfillment of the covenantal promise from God. Why didn’t Rebekah trust Isaac to do as God requested? Why did she think God needed help?
Lessons abound in Torah if we will just read beyond the story and into the underlying message. 1) There are consequences for your actions. 2) God doesn’t really need a lot of manipulative help to accomplish His will. He mostly needs us to act properly in accordance with His commandments and trust Him to do the rest.
*NOTE: You can view more of Cheryl Pedersen's articles at her website - "I Am My Father's Daughter"