Pride Does Not Bring Blessings
Before dying, our father Isaac wanted to bless his firstborn son Esau. How did he choose the time to bless him? The Sages say, “When a man comes to his parents’ age, for five years before and five years after he must fear death” (Bereshith Rabba 65:12). At that time Isaac was 123 years old, and he was unsure whether he should consider the age at which his mother had died (127 years). If he did take her age into account, he could possibly die in four years. Otherwise he would reach his father’s age. This is why Isaac wanted to bless Esau now, for he could possibly die in the near future.
However when we closely examine the blessings he bestowed, a crucial question arises: If Isaac believed that he would soon leave this world, why did he decide to bless only Esau? Why did he not bless his younger son Jacob as well? Was Isaac unaware of Jacob’s extraordinary character traits? Was Jacob less valuable than Esau in his father’s eyes, even though Jacob was a righteous man who dwelled in tents – the tents of Shem and Eber – spending his time in Torah study? Why not bless Jacob as well?
There is something else we need to understand. We know very well, as our Sages have said, that these blessings were given on the night of Passover. Now if Isaac had already chosen to bless Esau, why did he do so on the night of Passover, a time consecrated to the Children of Israel, not to the nations, and especially not to such a wicked man as Esau! Isaac should have postponed the blessings to another time. Here the Torah wants to teach us a lesson for all times. We know that regardless of the sins that a person has committed before G-d – even to point of being filled with sins – G-d does not put him to death immediately. Instead He waits, allowing him time to completely repent, as the verse states: “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked should turn from his way and live” (Ezekiel 33:11). Furthermore, Hashem Himself carries out the verse, “Knocking! It is the voice of my Beloved” (Song of Songs 5:2), meaning that He knocks at the doors of the wicked in order that they wholeheartedly repent. Here we may ask how someone who is completely filled with sins, continuing to sin to the point that the forbidden seems permitted to him, can change his ways and return to G-d. How can he transform himself into a righteous person and come closer to Hashem? We find an effective way of doing so among the works of our Sages, who said: “There is no man who does not have his hour” (Perkei Avoth 4:3), for certainly everyone has at least one mitzvah that he fulfills. Hence if an individual, even a wicked one, has one mitzvah that he fulfills with all his strength, and from which the evil inclination cannot dissuade him, that mitzvah can lift him out of the mud. Because of that mitzvah, the teaching “One mitzvah brings about another” (Perkei Avoth 4:2) will be fulfilled in him, and he will perform one mitzvah after another until he completely returns to G-d. However in order to wholeheartedly carry out that mitzvah, a person needs a push, some outside help. How can he get such help? The Tzaddik can procure it for him by infusing a little faith into his heart, a measure of trust in G-d, showing him that He created the world and directs it. The Tzaddik has the power to remove jealousy, hatred, and other defects from a person’s heart, which will free him from the yoke of the evil inclination. He can then take upon himself the yoke of the kingdom of Heaven.
Such was the case with Esau. The Sages recount that one mitzvah was of great importance to him, one to which he devoted his entire heart and soul, namely the mitzvah of honoring one’s father and mother. The Sages say, “When Esau attended on his father, he attended on him in royal robes” (Bereshith Rabba 65:16), which means that he possessed an effective mitzvah that could take lead him out of wickedness and allow him to mend his ways.
This is why Isaac, who knew that his son Esau possessed such an important mitzvah, believed that he could help him – through the merit of that mitzvah – to completely repent of all his sins. He therefore wanted to bless Esau and bestow blessings upon him so that he might merit eternal life, a life of Torah.
Not only that, but Isaac also wanted to bless him before dying. That is, he wanted to remind him of the day of death. He wanted to teach him that the fate of all men is death, and that one should prepare himself in this world and repent. Isaac did not need to bless Jacob, however, because Jacob had always been filled with Torah, mitzvot, and good deeds.
What did Isaac do? He chose the very night of Passover – the night protected from the forces of evil – to bless Esau. By doing so, Isaac alluded to the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, to the victory of Israel over Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, and to the freedom of the Jewish people. Isaac suggested to Esau that this was the reason why it was better for him to repent. There was nothing to be gained by living with a feeling of hated for his brother Jacob, for that was the night of the Children of Israel’s deliverance.
However the wicked Esau was so immersed in his sins, as always, that he continued to despise his brother Jacob. He felt superior to him because he, Esau, honored his parents more than Jacob did. Thus pride made Esau lose his senses, to the point that he said: “When the days of mourning for my father are at hand, then I will slay my brother Jacob” (Genesis 27:41). Why did Esau plan on doing this? It was because he thought that he could take Jacob’s blessings after killing him. From here we see that blessings were denied to Esau because of his pride, which meant that he did not deserve to come closer to the Holy One, blessed be He, as did his brother Jacob.
All this teaches us a lifelong lesson to follow, namely the extent to which we must distance ourselves from pride and negative character traits, running from them as from a burning building. Pride can make us lose all blessings, for we can only merit them by acting with humility.