Friday, November 9, 2012

A Biblical Generation Gap


Based on Likutey Moharan I, 10
Dovid Sears

When Yaakov Avinu disguises himself in his brother Esav’s garments to receive his father’s blessings, Yitzchak Avinu exclaims, “Behold, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that Hashem has blessed!” (Genesis 27:27). Only then does he bestow his blessings. What is the connection between the field and the blessings? Why does this exclamation immediately precede the transmission of these all-important—and irrevocable— spiritual gifts?

There are several connections with this story and the paradigm of the field. First of all, Esav is described as an ish sadeh, “man of the field” (Genesis 25:27). Yitzchak, too, is associated with the field, because it was his custom to pray in the fields, as the commentaries state in connection with his first meeting with his future wife, Rivkah (Rashi, Malbim, et al. on Genesis 24:63: “And Yitzchak went out to supplicate in the field…”). This suggests a spiritual affinity between Yitzchak and Esav—despite the fact that the father was a tzaddik and the son an evildoer. Both are connected to the field and the outdoors, whereas Yaakov is described as “a simple man, dwelling in tents” (Genesis 25:27). This may be why Yitzchak apparently favored Esav: perhaps it was easier for him to relate to another “man of the field.”

Rebbe Nachman of Breslev discusses the differences between Yaakov and the other Patriarchs in Likutey Moharan I, 10 (section 3). Citing the Gemara (Pesachim 88a), he states that Avraham called the future site of the Holy Temple a “mountain,” because this conformed to his mode of divine service; Avraham sought Hashem my separating himself from the rest of the world. Yitzchak called the same place a “field,” because he was able to bring the divine light a little closer to the ordinary things of this world. However, Yaakov called it a “house,” because he was able to reveal Godliness even on the most mundane level.

Because of these three distinct types of avodah, each of the Patriarchs seems unlike the others. However, despite their apparent differences, they represent three stages in one process, three parts of one whole. This is borne out by the rest of the biblical narrative, which tells how Yaakov’s children, the future Bnei Yisrael, became the sole bearers of the monotheistic legacy of all three Patriarchs, ultimately teaching it to the rest of the world.

Yet when one is in the middle of a process, it is hard to understand what is really going on. Therefore, it was unclear to Yitzchak that the son who would bear his torch was not Esav, the “man of the field” like himself, but the son who seemed so different than both himself and his iconoclastic father, Avraham: the “dweller in tents,” Yaakov.

His very name alludes to his divine mission. “Yaakov” is related to ekev, the heel of the foot, because it would be the task of Yaakov and his descendants to draw down the divine light to the lowest levels, bringing the world to perfection. Perhaps this is why, upon realizing that Yaakov had tricked him, his father exclaimed, “And indeed he shall be blessed!” (Genesis 27:33). At that moment, he understood that his spiritual mission would be fulfilled through the son who represented the next stage in the process of revelation: Yaakov, who would soon receive his prophetic vision on the site of the future Temple, and whose descendants would build the “house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 56:7).

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