Rivka vs. Rome
Many people are surprised by Yitzchak’s decision to deliver a bracha to Esav, wondering what he could have been thinking. To me, it is Rivka who is difficult to understand.
It is important to remember that the Avot and Imahot were entirely conscious of the unfolding Divine plan that they were a part of. Yitzchak assumes that both of his sons should be included in the mission of Avraham. After all, God had to tell Avraham directly that Yishmael was to be excluded. That was not Avraham’s wish. Yitzchak receives no such message from God, and so it would not occur to him that either of his sons are meant to be excluded.
He does need to create appropriate roles for each son, however, and so each will need a specially chosen bracha. Yitzchak planned to give Ya’akov a bracha, but seems to hold it in abeyance till right before he sends his son away to Padan Aram. He tells his Ya’akov, (in chapter 28) “3 And God Almighty bless thee, and make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, that thou mayest be a congregation of peoples; 4 and give thee the blessing of Abraham, to thee, and to thy seed with thee; that thou mayest inherit the land of thy sojournings, which God gave unto Abraham”. This was does not appear to be something that Yizchak planned to say to Esav.
The blessing that he meant for Esav, (but gave to Ya’akov took through subterfuge) was, (chapter 27) “28 So God give thee of the dew of heaven, and of the fat places of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine. 29 Let peoples serve thee, and nations bow down to thee. Be lord over thy brethren, and let thy mother's sons bow down to thee. Cursed be every one that curseth thee, and blessed be every one that blesseth thee.” I think that Yitzchak wanted to give this blessing to Esav, and to save the blessing of Avraham to eventually give to Ya’akov.
What then was Yitzchak’s plan? What role did he foresee for Esav in God’s plan? I think that to understand him, you have to imagine the course of history as being significantly different.
The Roman Empire (in one form or another) ruled much of the civilized world from the 1st century B.C.E. till the 4th century C.E. Oddly, its culture was largely borrowed from others. Although the Romans were extremely efficient at conquest, their cultural values and expressions were adopted from the Greeks. The ways of the Greeks filled a need in Roman life for art, values and even religion. Eventually, these Greek ways ran their limit, and were replaced by Christianity as the official Roman religion.
Imagine if the “mentor culture” for Rome had not come from Athens, but from Jerusalem. If Judean culture and values had been the template that the Romans had adopted, the world that they subdued would have looked very different. Perhaps a true Pax Romana would have been in place. Perhaps Christianity would never have ascended to the heights that it did, because the values it represented would already have been the basics of Roman life.
Imagine, if you will, a Rome that flourished under the spiritual aegis of Yerushalayim. Imagine that in 70 C.E., instead of destroying the Temple, a permanent Roman garrison being placed nearby to protect and honor it. How different would the course of world history have been? More to the point, how different would Jewish history have been? The potential partnership between the sons of Yisrael and the sons of Esav has been replaced by centuries of conflict. That is a much longer and harder route for Am Yisrael.
This was the genius in Yitzchak’s plan. Yitzchak knew who both of his sons were. He knew that Yakov was the one with spiritual potential, and Esav was the man of the field. He knew that the heirs of Esav would subdue the world, but that they could live under the spiritual guidance of the descendants of Yakov. That is why he chose the blessings that he did, so that his sons would become the fathers of nations that would bring God’s plan to fruition. To me, Yitzchak’s vision is brilliant.
His plan was derailed, however, by the maneuverings of his wife Rivka. What then was Rivka thinking? That is more difficult to understand. Why did she assume that one of her sons should be excluded? Why did she assume that she should take unilateral action, rather than working together with Yitzchak? Why did she involve Yakov in her machinations at all? These are hard questions to answer.
Perhaps she thought that she had been called to action. A prophecy was presented to Rivka to comfort her for her painful pregnancy. She is told, (in chapter 25) “Two nations are in thy womb, and two peoples shall be separated from thy innards; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.” Although no action is implied by these words, she may have heard them as a charge. She might have understood that mission to be that she must actively exclude the older son from the destiny of the covenantal nation.
Perhaps her plan to have Ya’akov usurp the brachot of Esav was simply her own initiative. These things are unclear. It does, however, seem to me that Yitzchak was operating out of the basic default plan, and Rivka decided to change it. The course of Jewish History was determined, and we are still playing out that destiny.