The brothers Jacob and Esau have a strong presence in this week’s Torah portion Tol’dot. Jacob and his mother, Rebekah, deceive the blind and near-death Isaac. Rebekah has Jacob wear goat skins and Esau’s clothing so that Isaac would think him to be Esau. This deceit would end with Isaac bestowing upon Jacob the blessing of the firstborn that would make Jacob head of the household.
This story is well-known. What is not often discussed is the storytelling symbolism behind this event. Michael L. Morgan, Chancellor’s Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and Jewish Studies at Indiana University talks of this in his d’var Torah “The Voice of Jacob and the Hands of Esau.”
Dr. Morgan’s image-rich comparison of Jacob and Esau paints brothers who are polar opposites. He further makes this comparison relevant by pointing out that “the stakes are greater-neither personal, nor familial, nor even political, but rather mythic. Here are two dimensions of human existence-logos and physis, culture and nature, speech and violence. Which shall receive the blessing of the future? Which shall flourish and rule? Which shall be our master and govern the ways of human life and the ways of nations? Or might it be that there is no alternative, no either/or? Isaac blessed the one who stood before him. He was worried but resolute. Humankind would not be wholly rational and cultivated nor wholly violent and driven by passion. It would be both, for the voice is the voice of Jacob, and the hands are the hands of Esau.”