Rabbi YY Jacobson
Rabbi YY JacobsonIsrael National News

Touched to the Core

The bloodbath orchestrated by Hamas and Iran on Saturday, Simchat Torah (October 7, 2023) in Southern Israel has woken up a part in every single Jew that was dormant. The glee of the enemy in slaughtering Jewish babies reminded us that this has nothing to do with occupation, colonization, apartheid, or any other myth. This was a manifestation of visceral evil which craves to destroy every single Jew. Had Hamas had its way, it would joyfully perform this mini-Holocaust daily, until all 6.6 million Jews in Israel lay lifeless. And then it would start on the Jews everywhere else.

Every Jew living today feels the need to respond. Of course, we must defend ourselves in every possible way; we must support Israel and our soldiers with every fiber of our being—encouraging them to fulfill their moral historic duty of eliminating every vestige of bloodthirsty evil. Of course, we must lift the morale of our brothers and sisters in Israel and the world over through an unprecedented outpouring of support, love and oneness, like never before.

But there is something more.

Taking the Blessings

The twin brothers Jacob and Esau (Yaakov & Eisav) occupy the leitmotif of this week’s Torah portion, Toldos.

Rebecca (Rivkah) loves Jacob (Yaakov), the child dwelling in the tents; while Isaac (Yitzchak) loved Esau (Eisav), the “skilled hunter, the man of the field.” As the story progresses, Isaac grows old and his eyes become dim. He expresses his desire to bless his beloved son Esau before he dies. While Esau goes off to hunt for his father's favorite food, Rebecca summons her son Jacob and instructs him to go take his father’s blessings. She dresses Jacob in Esau's clothes, covers his arms and neck with goatskins to simulate the feel of his hairier brother, prepares a similar dish, and sends Jacob to his father with the food. The Torah quotes her saying:[1]

And now my son, listen to my voice, to what I am commanding you.

Go now to the flock, and take for me from there two choice kids, and I will make them tasty foods for your father, as he likes.

So Jacob drew near to Isaac his father, and he felt him, and he said, "The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau."

Jacob receives his father's blessings for "the dew of the heaven and the fat of the land" and mastery over his brother. Once Esau returns with the food, it is too late. Jacob has already obtained the blessings.

The Mysteries

This is a deeply complex narrative, or to paraphrase Winston Churchill who said of Russia, "a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma."

Here are five of the most thundering questions. How did Isaac and Rebecca allow themselves to grow so far apart in their perception of their children, to the point that Isaac favored Esau, and Rebecca insisted that Jacob receive the blessings? Why would she deceive her husband rather than speak to him? Why did Jacob employ cunning and stealth to deceive an unsuspecting brother? When Isaac discovers the trick, he seems shocked and bewildered. Why did he never chastise his wife or son?

Finally, when Jacob entered Isaac’s chamber, and his father felt him, Isaac declared: "The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau." Clearly, Isaac identified this man as having Jacob’s voice. So why did he give him the blessings? Why did he not investigate who is the person standing before him?

Dozens of interpretations have been offered. Today I wish to present one perspective (of many possible ones)—it is an extraordinary insight presented by the late Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (1903-1993).[2]

The Ashes of Isaac

Isaac was the first person to be born a Jew. At the most defining moment of his life, he lay on the altar, bound up, about to be sacrificed. He was moments away from death. Only in the eleventh hour did the angel command Abraham: “Do not lay your hand on the lad.”

It was, at that moment when he lay on the altar, that Isaac understood the magnitude of sacrifice that Jewish existence would require.[3] He knew that to be a Jew would be far from a simple feat. His people will endure fire and water. “Fire will not burn us; water will not drown us,” goes a famous Russian Chassidic song. But fire and water it is! Jewish survival ought never to be taken for granted. “In each generation they rise up against us to annihilate us,” we say in the Passover Haggadah, “and G-d saves us from their hands.”

The Mission

That may be one reason Isaac had a special affinity for Esau: “And Isaac loved Esau because [his] game was in his mouth,” the Torah states.[4] “Esau was a man who understood hunting, a man of the field, whereas Jacob was an innocent man, dwelling in tents,” the Torah tells us.[5] Isaac understood that for the Jew to survive he will need to “dwell in the tents” of study and prayer,[6] to reside in the citadels of the spirit, in the mansions of moral contemplation and ethical explorations, aligned with G-d, the source of life, but he will also need to learn how to hunt in the field, how to take a weapon in his hand and battle with viscous aggressors in the killings fields of a harsh terrain. In the worlds of the Talmud: “He who comes to kill you, kill him first.”[7]

It’s not only about security. The mission of the Jew is to transform the physical and material world into a divine abode. To achieve this, he must enter into the real world and impact it. He must enter the open fields of society and live proudly as a Jew, to bring sanctity and holiness into the mundane, to integrate heaven and earth.

A Perfect Partnership

In Isaac’s mind, a partnership between the twins Esau and Jacob will guarantee an eternal people. Jacob will grant the people its soul, spirit, conscience, and moral GPS, its Divine core, but Esau will be in charge of the "field," he will become the facilitator of Jacob’s spiritual light and love in our physical world, standing guard against the enemy that craves to destroy goodness, morality and holiness in our world.[8]

The tragedy, of course, was that Esau did not see himself as a partner of Jacob. His material prowess, hunting skills, and field-maneuvers have become divorced from his spiritual, soulful core. His body was severed from his soul. “And Esau came from the field, and he was exhausted.” His soul was exhausted because it felt empty. He craved to conquer the entire “field,” to own the world, but he did not own himself; he remained internally worn out, emotionally exhausted, detached from his own spiritual roots. His internal universe was chaotic, distraught, and frenzied. Isaac yearned that Esau’s enormous strength be harnessed to facilitate his soul, becoming a partner with Jacob. He wants to bless, empower and sublimate Esau.

Rebecca’s Vision

It is Rebecca, the Jewish mother, who understands the calling of the moment—and the calling of history. “Now my son, listen to my voice, to what I am commanding you. Go now to the flock, and take for me from there two choice kids, and I will make them tasty foods for your father, as he likes.” My dear Jacob! It is time to leave your tents of study and go out to the field (where the goats are.[9]) It is time for you to learn how to garb yourself in Esau’s cloaks and gear—to confront the enemy that might come to kill you. Sure, your tents of study and prayer will remain your eternal compass; they will guide your direction in the field and navigate your movements in the outside world; your faith and spiritual authenticity will be the bedrock of your success. But to be anchored in G-d means that at times you must go out and protect your children, standing up to your enemies with unwavering resolve. You must never apologize for your moral duty to crush your enemy, and you must never allow your hyper sense of fake morality and ethics to turn you into the punching bag of the world. If there is even the slightest chance that one of your children is in danger, you must go on the offensive and let your enemy be frightened for his life.

My dear Jacob! You despise violence, loathe conflict, and never give up on the dream of peace. We are the people of the book, not of the sword. But Jacob, there is a time in history when you must wage war, so that your children live. David will need to stand up to a Goliath; in the Persia of old, during the edicts of Haman, Jews will need to engage in moral violence to fight off their blood thirsty foes. In the days of Chanukah, the Jews will once again need to take up arms to save their people and faith. Time and time again, Jews will need to learn how to fight back. In June of 1967, and numerous times before and after, Israel will need to wage war to save a beleaguered people from the enemy’s quest for our annihilation.

After Simchas Torah 5784 it is clear that the restrain Israel demonstrated over the last decades, and all the compromises it made, have invited only war and violence. The words of Churchill in 1940 about the Nazis are applicable to Israel's terrible lack of vision in regard to its neighbors: "Each one hopes that if he feeds the crocodile enough, the crocodile will eat him last. All of them hope that the storm will pass before their turn comes to be devoured. But I fear greatly that the storm will not pass. It will rage and it will roar ever more loudly, ever more widely."

Do we want dead Jews who are seen as ethical, or living Jews whom the UN and other clueless Jew haters will forever condemn?

My dear Jacob—said his mother—one day, Esau and Yishmael will become your partner. One day, the Moshiach will come—and may it be speedily in our days—and you will return to your tents of spiritual ecstasy, as the “spirit of impurity will be removed from the world,” and the entire “earth will be filled with Divine consciousness as the waters covers the sea.” There will be a time when, in the words of Isaiah (2:4), “He [G-d] shall judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples, and they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift the sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”

But till that glorious day, my dear Jacob, you -- a prince of G-d, a man of wisdom, integrity and faith -- must dress like Esau, you must don his gear. For your enemy is brutal, ruthless, and bloodthirsty. As long as you duck, the international community empathizes with his murderous plans. The world respects Jews who respect themselves, their faith, their history and their Torah; the world admires Jews who are not afraid of doing everything it takes to stop immoral violence and bloodshed. The world wants a strong Israel who demonstrates unwavering moral clarity to eliminate every last vestige of evil and terror.

A Radiant Field

Jacob obeys. He learns to enter the field. He learns to don the clothes of Esau. And when he enters the chambers of his father, something remarkable happens.

And he [Isaac] said, "Serve [it] to me that I may eat of the game of my son, so that my soul will bless you." And he served him, and he ate, and he brought him wine, and he drank.

And his father Isaac said to him, "Please come closer and kiss me, my son."

And he came closer, and he kissed him, and he smelled the fragrance of his garments, and he blessed him, and he said, "Behold, the fragrance of my son is like the fragrance of a field, which the Lord has blessed!

Isaac tells his son that his fragrance is one of a field blessed by G-d. Esau was a man of the field. Jacob was not. But when Jacob was forced to enter the field—to enter into the material, physical and earthy reality where Esau lives and succeeds; when Jacob is forced to learn how to use a rifle and drive a jeep; when Jacob is compelled to battle a war for survival; when Jacob is compelled to live and function in the larger world—it has “the fragrance of a field, which the Lord has blessed!” It is not a field which causes exhaustion and loneliness; it is a field that mirrors the radiance of the Divine. Jacob’s field is filled with sanctity, harmony, and spiritual depth. Jacob imbues Esau’s cloaks and vocation with holiness. Jacob's field is not a place of vulgarity and bruteness; it is a garden of G-d. Jacob holds his book in one hand, and his plow in the other; his book in one hand and his sword in the other—realizing that the material too belongs to the oneness of the Divine.

As Moses tells his people:[10]For the Lord, your G-d, goes along in the midst of your camp, to rescue you and to deliver your enemies before you. Therefore, your camp shall be holy…”

An Integrated Jacob

Isaac, at last, acknowledges the possibility of Jacob fulfilling his mission, even while Esau is not yet ready to serve as a partner. “So Jacob drew near to Isaac his father, and he felt him, and he said, "The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau." At this moment, Isaac experienced that wondrous synthesis in his child. His voice is the voice of Jacob—a voice of Torah, of wisdom, of spiritual truth, of justice, compassion, ethics, sacred nobility, and moral values. It is the “Yiddishe Shtime,” the voice of Yiddishkeit. “But the hands are the hands of Esau”—this same boy is capable of standing up to a cruel enemy with unapologetic resolve, unwavering moral clarity, unrestrained determination, and undeterred strength to preserve its life. His mind, heart and soul will be defined by Torah, and when the moment calls for it, he will know how to go out and change the world.

Of course, when the Jewish country has enough manpower to fight the enemy on the battlefield, it is an awesome and Divine merit for the army and the community to allow Jews to be dedicated completely to Torah study—the lifeline of our people. Those Jews who sit and study Torah day and night grant spiritual protection and Divine blessing to the army, the people, and the land. But if more manpower is needed, it is a grand mitzvah for every single capable Jew to don arms and go fight when the enemy attacks. And concerning war, the Torah states, “Your camp shall be holy,” as your rifle is part and parcel of your spiritual holiness.[11]

Indeed, the opening of Isaac’s blessings to Jacob is: “And may the Lord give you of the dew of the heavens and [of] the fatness of the earth and an abundance of grain and wine.” He blesses him not only with the heavenly dew but also with the fatness of the earth. He empowers him not only to be holy in heaven, but also to bring holiness to the earth. Not to shy away from his power to conquer the earth and bring G-d into the earth.[12]

Wake Up!

The relevance to our times is clear. The Jewish people are facing yet again a sworn enemy. What Hamas and its supporters targeted was not just a piece of land, but an entire people. We have once again been confronted by the force of evil and diabolical hatred that craves to destroy G-d’s eternal people.

At such a time, our response must be: Let’s be Jewish like never before in history, and let's be united like never before! The voice of Jacob remains our greatest power—the voice of Torah study, the voice of prayer, the voice of celebrating Mitzvos and Judaism. This is why we are here today, 3300 years after our inception and 3300 years after almost every Empire tried to get rid of us.

Let us become the greatest Jews ever, by studying what it means to be a Jew and living it. 16 million Jews are waiting for marching orders. Each of us ought to use his or her influence to inspire our brothers and sisters to start living Judaism in their daily life, beginning with one mitzvah.

And at this moment let us not forget our moral duty to use the “hands of Esau.” Israel's moral obligation is to eliminate terror with unwavering might, without endangering our soldiers. We must protect ourselves. Every synagogue, every school, every Jewish center, and every Jewish community must guarantee the highest level of physical and spiritual security. Not minimal security, but the maximum level of safety.

While we do not look for wars, we are a nation which loves peace, searches for peace, and respects and loves all people, if someone attacks us, we ought to respond with all our might. “One who is merciful to the cruel becomes cruel to those who deserve mercy,” say our sages.[13]

Meir Uziel, an Israeli comedian (and grandson of former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Ben Tzion Uziel), once quipped: In the competition for Ms. Ethical among the 200 nations of the world, we always come in last place, since we are the only ones who show up!

Lessons from the Holocaust

The late Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin once wrote:

“I believe the lessons of the Holocaust are these. First, if an enemy of our people says he seeks to destroy us, believe him. Don’t doubt him for a moment. Don’t make light of it. Do all in your power to deny him the means of carrying out his satanic intent. (Note: one month later, Begin dispatched Israel’s Air Force to destroy the Iraqi nuclear facility at Osirak.)

“Second, when a Jew anywhere in the world is threatened or under attack, do all in your power to come to his aid. Never pause to wonder what the world will think or say. The world will never pity slaughtered Jews. The world may not necessarily like the fighting Jew, but the world will have to take account of him.

“Third, a Jew must learn to defend himself. He must forever be prepared for whenever threat looms.

“Fourth, Jewish dignity and honor must be protected in all circumstances. The seeds of Jewish destruction lie in passively enabling the enemy to humiliate us. Only when the enemy succeeds in turning the spirit of the Jew into dust and ashes in life, can he turn the Jew into dust and ashes in death. During the Holocaust it was after the enemy had humiliated the Jews, trampled them underfoot, divided them, deceived them, afflicted them, drove brother against brother, only then could he lead them, almost without resistance, to the gates of Auschwitz. Therefore, at all times and whatever the cost, safeguard the dignity and honor of the Jewish people.

Soldiers in prayer
Soldiers in prayerFlash 90

Begin missed one point, which sadly proved to cause such weakness in Israel. For Israel to retain its deterrence power, it must be convinced of its moral right, of its spiritual mission in this world, of its destiny as G-d’s people. Every Jew must know the truth that the entire land of Israel is our eternal home, G-d's gift to the Jewish people. Only when the voice is the voice of Jacob, will his hands be able to deliver the punch it needs to. Without it, Jacob become apologetic, weak, frail and perceived as someone who can be defeated with enough pressure, lies, and terror.

Today Jacob must increase his voice and must don the gloves of Esau to eliminate through absolute strength and deterrence every vestige of terror in its midst.

May G-d bless Israel and the entire Jewish nation; may G-d protect and free our hostages; may G-d protect our holy soldiers; may G-d give us the resolve we need to stop ducking and start demonstrating authentic strength. And may G-d bring redemption to our people, our land, and our world, now, Amen!


[1] Genesis 27:8-18:

[2] The Rav shared this at a convention of the Mizrachi movement, in Atlantic City, in 1961.You can read the original insight here: http://hebrewbooks.org/2813. Go to pp. 12-14. I included some other ideas to clarify some details.

[3] The end of Vayikra (26:42) reads: “V’Zocharti es brisi Yaakov, v’af es brisi Yitzchok, v’af s brisi Avraham ezkor. I will remember My covenant with Yaakov; also my covenant with Yitzchak, and also My covenant with Abraham will I remember.” The term Zechirah, the word for Remembering is mentioned in connection with Yaakov, and it is mentioned again with Abraham, but it is not mentioned with Yitzchak. Why? The great Biblical commentator, Rashi, offers the midrashic insight (Rashi to Lev. 26: 2).: “Why does Hashem use the term ‘Remembering’ for Abraham and Yaakov but not when he speaks of Yitzchak? Because in the case of Yitzchak, ‘Remembering’ is not necessary. The ashes of Yitzchak always appear before Me, gathered up and placed on the Altar!” Yitzchak remains the symbol of Jewish sacrifice, the readiness of the Jewish people to dedicate their lives as an offering for G-d. Yitzchak’s symbolic ashes stand before my eyes every single day, says G-d. The sages define Yitzchak as an “olah temimah”—a wholesome offering, whose sanctity required he never leave the borders of the Holy Land.

[4] Genesis 25:28

[5] Ibid. 25:27

[6] See Rashi to Genesis 25:27

[7] Sanhedrin 72a

[8] See at length the commentary of Netziv to the story.

[9] Esau is represented by the goat, “saeir,” while Jacob by the sheep, “hakvasim hifrid Yaakov.” (Or HaTorah Vayishlach vol. 1).

[10] Deut. 23:15

[11] See the address by the Lubavithcer Rebbe, 6 Tishrei 5728 (1967), a few months after the Six Day War. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fsADqkXyALk

[12] What is fascinating is that Jacob beloved’s son Joseph, will dream up, years later, a storm. "And Joseph dreamed a dream and told his brothers… 'Listen now to this dream, which I have dreamed: Behold we were binding sheaves in the middle of the field, when, behold! -- my sheaf arose and also remained standing; then behold! -- your sheaves gathered around and bowed down to my sheaf.' "So his brothers said to him, 'Will you reign over us? Will you dominate us?'. And he again dreamed another dream, and he related it to his brothers, and he said: 'Behold! I have dreamed another dream, and behold, the sun, the moon and eleven stars were prostrating themselves to me'… His brothers envied him, but his father awaited the matter."

Joseph's double dreams take him from the plane of agriculture to the realm of the celestial. First, he dreams of himself—and his brothers—embodied as sheaves of a field where their sheaves bow to his. Yet as his dreams progress, he views himself and his family as heavenly lights: the son, the moon and the stars. Joseph defines here two roles for himself and his family: He will be the great economist, leading a nation to a prosperous agricultural future, sustaining the land with earthly food. But simultaneously he sees himself guiding the sun, moon and starts—granting vision, light, and direction to the planet.

The two are not contradictory in his world—as Jacob was given both the dew of heaven and the fat of the earth. The voice must be the voice of Jacob, and the hands must employ the skills of Esau.

[13] Tanchuma, Parashat Metzora 1. Yalkut Shimoni Shmuel 1 #121.