Some stories are rich with visual imagery, while others resound with song. But it is fragrance, specifically the smell of savory food, which infuses Parashat Toledot. Food plays an essential role in several pivotal scenes. It is with a pot of lentil stew that Jacob purchases Esau’s birthright, and it is with a steak dinner that he secures the senior blessing from his father. The first story is simple—Esau is famished and ready to trade away anything for a bowl of soup. But the second story is enormously complex.
Isaac’s announcement that he requires Esau to hunt an animal and feed his father from the kill before blessing him is baffling. As a literary device, this delay in the action creates narrative space for the collusion between Rebecca and Jacob to transpire. While Esau is out hunting they will quickly kill two goats from the herd and feed Isaac. Rebecca and Jacob take advantage of Isaac’s blindness in order to trick him into making a false blessing. True, Rebecca had received a divine oracle saying that Jacob was destined for primacy, and Jacob had after all purchased the birthright. However, it seems that old Isaac had not been filled in on these details, so he is literally and figuratively in the dark. And he is hungry, waiting for his boy to bring him dinner.
But why does Isaac need to eat meat before blessing Esau? Why can’t he simply call his son in for his blessing, just as other biblical characters do? Indeed, we bless our children on Friday night before dinner, not after enjoying our meal. What is different about Isaac? Continue reading