Toldos Reflections: Mitzvah Power!
Chapter 27 portrays one of the great dramas in the
Torah. Yaakov wrests the brachos from Eisav. On Rivkah's
command, Yaakov disguises himself as Eisav, in the
presence of a blind and trusting Yitzchak, then seizes
his father's blessings at great personal risk and even
greater personal discomfort. Different subplots merge
into a poignant climax; a story, the drama of which
melds irony, complexity, sarcasm, sadness and ultimate
triumph, and which, in the process, leaves us with a
multitude of questions
Consider a few:
1. Did Yitzchak understand Eisav's character?
2. Wasn't Yitzchak aware of the prophecy that "the
younger one shall rule over the older"?
3. Granted(,) Yaakov had to listen to his mother, but
why did Rivkah do it this way?
4. Does a blessing count if you don't know the
identity of the recipient ?
5. Why are the brachos so important anyway?
6. Why did God engineer it this way?
Note the irony of Eisav, master of deception and
guile, being duped by the the trusting Yaakov.
sarcasm of our "lamdan" Eisav explaining the true
"pshat" (meaning) of Yaakov's name: ("Is he not
rightly called Yaakov?
He has deceived me twice; he took my birthright, and now
he has taken my blessing. )
complexity of Yaakov man of truth engaging in
sadness of a weeping, broken Eisav:
When Eisav heard his father's words, he wailed a most
loud and bitter cry, and he said to his father, "Bless
me too, my father." Eisav said to his father, "Do you
have only one blessing, my father? Bless me too, my
father," and Eisav raised his voice and wept.
Two simple words appear three times in our chapter.
Remarkably, never before and never again are they used
to describe Yaakov and Eisav. The words: gadol
and katan, [lit. big and small] appear
1. ....in the introduction to the episode as a whole:
Pasuk 1: And when Yitzchok grew old his eyesight
faded and he could not see. He called Eisav, his big
son, and said to him, "My son." [Eisav] said to him,
"Here I am."
2. ... when Rivkah implements her plan:
Pasuk 15: Rivkah took the garments of Eisav, her big
son, [the garments] that were precious [to him] that
were in her keeping in the house, and put them on
Yaakov, her small son.
3. in the aftermath of the episode:
Rivkah was informed about the words of Eisav, her big
son, and she sent [a messenger] to call Yaakov, her
small son, and she said to him .. [for Eisav intends]
to kill you.
The constant refrain of gadol and katan
seems redundant. Our meforshim get to work:
1. To Ramban, the Torah emphasizes the difficulty
of Rivkah's task, as a mother. Can one imagine a
mother having to slight her child, the first-born apple
of her maternal eye? Rivkah's ability to transcend her
natural instinct in order to recognize Yaakov as the
appropriate recipient for bechora and blessings, is even
more remarkable because of her certainty that a rift
will ensue. As the story concludes, gadol and
katan are accentuated again to indicate that
Rivkah opts for the difficult, and correct task over the
the one that is expedient.
2. Netziv and Ohr Hachaim link gadol to Eisav's
stature and strength. Because Eisav was bigger, Yaakov
must wear Eisav's clothing. Because Eisav was stronger,
Yaakov, the physically weaker, had to escape.
3. Midrash # 1: Chanifa, inappropriate flattery,
has a place. When a wicked person is in control, one may
(at times) pay him undue adulation. Apparently, it beats
the alternative. For now, Eisav is on top of the world,
and is therefore called gadol. Why is Yaakov
called katan? Perhaps to indicate that deference
(acting katan) to the powerful, is the
4. A second Midrashic approach: (Bereishis Rabah,
R. Eliezer ben Shimon said: This may be compared to a
country that was seeking a bodyguard for the king.
Now(,) a certain woman there had a son, a dwarf, whom
she used to call 'Tallswift'. Said she: 'My son is tall
and swift; why then do you not appoint him?' 'While
in your eyes he is tall and swift,' they retorted, 'in
ours he is but a dwarf.' In like manner, Eisav's father
called him great.His mother too called him great. Said
Hashem to them: While in your eyes he is great, in Mine
he is small,' as it says, Behold, I make thee small
among the nations (Obad. I, 2).
In other words, the text mockingly calls him great - a
sobering reminder that what appears to be is often not
what really is - That which is great in this world, may
well be insignificant in the real one!
Rav Schwab develops a final compelling notion. Gadol
is not a this-worldly expression of physical prowess or
power; it is a spiritual indicator.
R. Shimon ben Gamliel said: All my lifetime tended to
my father, yet I did not do for him a hundredth part of
the, service Eisav did for his father. I used to
wait upon my father in soiled garments and go out into
the street in clean ones; but when Eisav waited on his
father, he did so in royal robes, 'For,' said he,
'nothing but royal robes befits my father's honor.'
The power of a mitzvah performed with sincerity and
without agenda is holy and awesome and simply cannot be
Yitzchak's desire to taste of Eisav's mitzvah is
inspiring for those with whom we might have given up
hope. It reminds us that it is never too late, It is
never beyond hope for anyone to bring holiness and
beauty into Hashem's world.
- Asher Brander
 Which implies a notion of
 A fascinating midrash depicts echoes of
Eisav's cries through time: R. Hanina said:
Whoever maintains that the Holy One, blessed be
He, is lax [in dispensing justice] . .. He is
merely longsuffering, but [ultimately] collects
His due. Yaakov made Eisav break out into a cry
but once, and where was he punished for it? In
Shushan, the castle, as it says, And he cried
with a loud and bitter cry, etc. (Esther4:1)
 This notion, says Rav Schwab also
explains why the Torah [28:5 - cf. Rashi]
curiously identifies Rivkah as the being the
mother of Yaakov and Eisav - as if to say that
in one aspect - she retained a special unique
connection with her Eisav.
 See Yeshayahu, 27:11 for an incredible
Rashi that states Edom's power till this very
day is nourished by that mitzvah and only when
it lapses will he suffer defeat.