“Perhaps my father will hold me to feel me …?” (Gen. 27:12)
Jacob imagines that his father will wish to touch him and feel his limbs. Why?
During these days of isolation and quarantine we are permitted to read this story – of Jacob’ obtaining his father’s blessing through subterfuge – with a heightened appreciation for its tactile elements. We usually read Isaac’s actions as gropings to dispel his doubts. And we are accustomed to following the stages of the preparations that Rebecca and Jacob perform as completely focused on fooling Isaac, so that he will not guess Jacob’s true identity when he bestows the blessing on his son. But we should pay more attention to Isaac’s own preparations as he readies himself to give over that blessing.
As Isaac is poised to give his son a blessing, before he has any grounds for suspicion, let us notice that he desires to engage in a series of very physical acts. He tells his son (Esau) to prepare for him a choice meal to eat, “so that my soul will bless you before I die.” (Gen. 27:4) His physical satiation will open his heart so that he will feel ever more loving and generous in spirit when he grants a blessing to his beloved son. (See Sparks, 2009) The portals of blessing are opened through the body. Thus, afterwards, he calls for his son (now Jacob) to come closer, so that he can physically hold onto him, and then he asks his son to embrace him so that he may inhale deeply and take in his son’s fragrance.
Are these requests only for the sake of proving the identity of the one meant to receive the blessing? Yes, Isaac may have had some uncertainty about who it was standing before him, disguised as he was and dimly perceived by the nearly blind patriarch. But let us remember that Jacob has already wondered that perhaps Isaac would reach out to touch him. We need not subsume this story solely within the rubric of suspicion. Let us recognize the primal presence of love, as well. We may imagine that Jacob thinks his father will desire to touch and feel him for a very simple reason. Jacob assumes that Isaac will wish to take hold of his beloved son and have the pleasure of touching his child simply because that is what loving people do.
Deprived of the sense of sight, Isaac reaches out to his beloved through every sense remaining to him – through taste, touch, smell and hearing (“the voice is the voice of Jacob!” Gen. 27:22) I well remember how my mother, of blessed memory, would greet her sisters and family members with fierce hugs and exclamations in Arabic about how sweetly they smelled!
To touch and to hold the ones we love – that is a most basic impulse and need. How bitterly well we know this today!
Rabbi David Greenstein
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Thank you to Sarita Eisenberg for suggesting the title and selecting an image for this Torah Sparks – Rabbi Greenstein