Toldot: Did Rebecca Do The Right Thing?

Did Rebecca do the right thing when she manipulated her son into deceiving her husband?

Did Rebecca do the right thing when she manipulated her son into deceiving her husband?

Table for Five: Toldot

Edited by Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist 

And Rebecca took the costly garments of Esau, her elder son, which were with her in the house, and she dressed Jacob, her younger son.

-Gen. 27:15


Benjamin Elterman, Screenwriter, Essayist, Bnei Mitzvah Speech Consultant

There’s so much that’s perplexing about this verse. Why is Rebecca dressing her fully grown son? Why does the Torah need to tell us Esau is the older and Jacob is the younger? We already know this! And why does Rebecca have Esau’s nicest garments? He’s a man with two wives after all.

The Hebrew words for elder and younger are gadol and ketan, which can also mean larger and smaller. But some of our greatest figures are referred to as ketan, including King David. According to the Or HaChaim, Rebecca literally tailored Esau’s garments for Jacob. I think what the Torah is telling us is that sometimes only a mother can see the greatness of her child. So when everyone, even a father, is ready to give up on a child, a mother must go to great lengths. This can mean literally tailoring tools so the child can leave their comfort zone to succeed.

For us that can mean finding the right teacher, the right sport, or the right environment. Does that make it okay for Rebecca to have stolen her other son’s clothes? According to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Esau didn’t trust his wives, so he left his most expensive clothes at his parents’ home. How disastrous of a marriage must Esau have had that he prized his clothes over his marriage(s). So too, parents must be careful not to give children too much special treatment, lest they come to value themselves over what is truly important.


Miriam Kreisman, President, Tzaddik Foundation and Mother of 4

Why did Rivka take Esav’s clothes to mask Yaakov if Yitzchak is blind and won’t be able to see the clothes anyway? Why specify that the clothes are clean? Or in Rivka’s house? A simple verse yet so much going on.

Under normal circumstances in a holy Jewish home, the wife doesn’t try to deceive her husband. How did Rivka know she had to step in to save the future of the Jewish people? She overheard Yitzchak tell Esav to prepare food to receive the blessing and Esav’s special clothes were ready and available in her house. Let me elaborate. What made Esav worthy of even those blessings? That he honored his father.

According to the Rashbam, Esav wore these special garments when he would serve his father. It is not the clothes that make a man but what he does with them. Yitzchak may be blind but he could smell a mitzvah a mile away. The verse states these special garments were stored in “her house,” not Yitzchak’s house, because it is the feminine role that was at play. If the garments were in Esav’s house they would have been skunked up by the smoke of the idolatrous fire of Esav’s wives, literally and figuratively. Rivka, the quintessential holy Jewish homemaker, understood the powerful impact of the wife in the home. No way was she going to allow Esav and his wives to receive the powerful blessings that Yitzchak had to give. That was going to Yaakov.

Rabbi Patricia Fenton, American Jewish University

Our verse describes a turning point in the Torah, a point at which decisions are made that determine our history. Esau, a married man, leaves his costly garments with his mother. Rashi explains that he is suspicious of his wives, whom his mother dislikes. When does Esau, symbol of Edom, Rome, and other enemies of the Jews, wear these garments? In Midrash Devarim Rabbah we read this confession: “Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel said: No one honored his father like I honored mine, yet I found that Esau honored his father more than I. I would serve my father in dirty clothes, then put on nice clothes and go out, but Esau wore the best clothes to serve his father.”

In Pirkei Avot 4:1, “Ben Zoma says: Who is honorable? The one who honors others.” And in Mishnah Peah 1:1, honoring one’s father and mother is included in the list of “things that a person eats the fruit of in this world, and the principal remains for him in the world to come.”

Esau, favored by his father, honors him by leaving the house to hunt meat for his father’s favorite meal, while Jacob, favored by his mother, honors her by accepting Esau’s clothes in order to trick his father out of the blessing. Rebecca has heard the word of God, but is unable to implement it without wounding her family. Isaac has doubts, but blesses Jacob. This verse reminds us that life is complex and so are our ancestors.

Yehudit Garmaise, Reporter, Freelance Writer

When we find ourselves in need of a bracha, we must remember that Eliezer chose Rivka as a suitable wife for Yitzchak because he noticed how, with great effort, she repeatedly ran to provide water not only to strangers, but to their camels. Just as Rivka merited to marry Yitzchak and to serve as one of the imahos (matriarchs) because she behaved with zrizus, alacrity for others, and mesirus nefesh, self-sacrifice, we learn that we create our own worthiness for brachos by behaving similarly.

What lesson then do we learn from Rivka when she tricked Yitzchak to provide Yaacov (whom she perceived was worthier than Eisav), with her husband’s considerable brachos? Protesting his mother’s plan, Yaakov cried, “I will bring a curse upon myself!” “Let your curse be upon me,” Rivka responded. “Just heed my words.” How do we get our children to “Heed our words?” We must show them what we are willing and not willing, to do.

Only when Yaakov understood that his mother was prepared to sacrifice her own life so that he would receive the blessings, did he become willing to go along with her plan. This episode teaches us that we can only pass down our mesorah (traditions) by showing our children that we are willing to sacrifice for it. Rivka persuaded Yaakov to follow her lead, not because he was relieved that she would bear the consequences of his actions, but because her declaration showed him how intent she was that he receive his father’s blessings.

Gershon Schusterman, Rabbi, businessman, mashpia

Rebecca masterminded a scheme to defraud Esau of Isaac’s blessings intended for him, and Jacob, “the wholesome man,” (25:27) contributed to the deception. How could they? In the Torah’s seemingly unnecessary emphasis that Esau was the elder son and Jacob the younger, lie the answers. While the twins were kicking in utero (25:22), they were already living out their rivalry. Rebecca queried God (25:22), Who informed her that her twins would become two nations who will be locked in the historical struggle of Good and Evil and that ultimately, “the elder shall serve the younger.”

God concealed this information from Isaac, indicating to Rebecca that this was her mission to achieve. This ruse was also a follow-up to Jacob’s having bought the birthright, rightfully entitling him to the blessings intended for the first-born. These two issues justified their subterfuge. Isaac knew that Esau was a ruffian. “You shall live by your sword,” (27:40) Isaac acknowledged, but hoped to channel Esau’s aggressiveness and draw him in with kindness, blessing him generously. Only Rebecca was privy to God’s plan and understood that this was the cosmic battle of Good and Evil playing out before her eyes. Kabbalistic gem: back in Paradise, the serpent deceived Eve so she and Adam would eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. For this, they were banished from the Garden of Eden and sentenced to hard labor. Rebecca thus had to use deceptive tactics to wage the same battle.

With thanks to Benjamin Elterman, Miriam Kreisman, Rabbi Patricia Fenton, Yehudit Garmaise, and Rabbi Gershon Schusterman.

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Image: Isaac Blessing Jacob by Govert Flinck 1638

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