When Isaac was old and his eyes were so weak that he could no longer see, he called for Esau his older son and said to him, “My son.” “Here I am,” he answered. — Genesis 27:1
The Torah portion for this week, Toldot, which means “offspring,” is from Genesis 25:19—28:9, and the Haftorah is from Malachi 1:1–2:7.
This week’s reading contains one of the most dramatic scenes in the Bible. It is the story about how Jacob tricked his father into believing that he was his brother Esau so that Isaac would bless him. After Jacob was blessed, Esau returned from a day out hunting ready for his blessing only to find out that his blessing was taken. Isaac was shaken as he realized what had occurred. Esau cried out in anguish as he realized what had transpired. It was a traumatic day for everyone.
The story is introduced with the information that “Isaac was old and his eyes were so weak that he could no longer see.” This is the source of the drama in unfolding events. Isaac’s physical blindness was what allowed Jacob to pull off the ruse. Moreover, the Jewish sages teach that Isaac’s non-physical vision was likewise clouded and contributed to the events as well. Isaac couldn’t see that Esau was undeserving of the blessing and that the future of mankind rested on Jacob, the worthier son, being blessed. However, we must ask why Isaac ended up so blind. He was no less righteous than Moses, who never weakened in his vision (Deuteronomy 34:7).
The sages suggest several reasons for the loss of Isaac’s eyesight. One interesting suggestion is that Isaac’s sight was changed by the tears that the angels in heaven shed when Isaac was on the altar. Those tears were tears of mercy. They got into Isaac’s eyes and left his vision compromised forever.
Here’s what this means: When Isaac was spared by God at the altar, he experienced God’s mercy. This forever changed Isaac so profoundly that everything he would see from then on would be viewed through a lens of mercy. He judged everyone he saw through the lens of mercy. This is why when he looked at Esau, he was incapable of seeing him as all bad. He saw the good in him, had mercy on him, and embraced Esau with love.
This is what it means that Isaac’s vision was compromised. He refused to give up on Esau and only saw his good side. Was this a grave mistake – something we should avoid?
The sages teach that the world is a much better place because Isaac saw good in Esau. Esau never fully repented, but all his good points, which he passed down to his descendants, stemmed from Isaac’s embrace.
Friends, it always pays to look at the world with eyes of mercy. See the good in others, even in those who seem so far from God. When we look at others through the lens of mercy, God will look at us in the very same way.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President