By Rabbi Ariel Abel.
ISAAC’S LIFE is reported as strangely non-verbal and, apparently, unoriginal.
Like his father before him, Isaac creates a very awkward misunderstanding with the Philistines: he tells their king that Rebecca, his wife, is in fact his sister. This myth sustains itself until Abimelech observes them in an intimate situation. He then calls Isaac to account in an embarrassing exchange which seems to confirm a family reputation for uncooperative passivity. Non-communication creates a rift between husband and wife later when the time comes to bless the children in their old age.
Favouritism is the result, with Rebecca preferring Jacob and Isaac wishing to bestow his loving blessing upon Esau. A scene of deceit and dramatic farce ensues, with a mother dressing up her adult son in hairy skins to convince the father that he is the other son. Jacob does nothing to de- serve his father’s blessing, relying on his mother’s own curried goat to masquerade as Esau’s hard-won hunted venison. Jacob then receives the coveted blessing. Esau reacts hysterically and pronounces a death wish upon his brother. Isaac reacts by giving both a blessing, convincing neither of its value. As we know, exile now becomes the lot of one son (Jacob) and his descendants from this point onwards.
Meanwhile, the other son (Esau) will maintain an eternal reputation for hating his brother. Hiding true motives and not speaking out is more dangerous than open feud. Abraham and Sarah argued over love and propriety and despite that their marriage still thrived. However, when one sits on the fence in a relationship and does not declare one’s posi- tion clearly, much suffering is sure to ensue. Lack of clarity in communicating politics is bad enough; silence in a marriage is positively lethal for the children and their future descendants.
In 2004, I delivered an ex- citing set of lectures on Judaism at Oxford University. I offered the chance for the assembled academics to ask the question that most bothered them. Half the assembled audience put their hands went up – and all asked the same question: How do Jews view Jacob’s deceit?
I pointed out that much later in the story, when the brothers met again, Jacob begged his brother to “take back” the paternally-accorded privilege, something that Esau declined to do. Surely the Judeo-Christian tradition of forgiveness precludes us from withholding Jacob’s attempt at putting right any perceived or actual wrong! The episode at Oxford was a powerful reminder to me of the way in which deficient communication can spawn hate and resentment for thousands of years.