But It Was Only A Cat!
“Yaakov said to his father, Please get up….” Bereishis 27:19)
A cat entered the home of Rabbi Moshe Pizitcher and snatched some food from the table. One of his granddaughters chased the cat out of the house and added some curses for good measure. Rav Moshe scolded her strongly. She couldn’t understand the rebuke since it was only said to a cat. Rav Moshe explained, “True, but you have defiled your mouth.” (Love Your Neighbor by Rabi Zelig Pliskin)
Our forefather Yitzchok had aged and was blind. Before he died, he wanted to bless his firstborn son, Esav. Yitzchok asked Esav to hunt an animal and prepare a meal for him and afterwards, Yitzchok would give Esav a significant blessing for posterity. Our Matriarch Rivkah knew prophetically that the blessings were supposed to go to Yaakov and not to Esav. We also know that Yaakov had purchased, from Esav, the rights to the firstborn. Accordingly, Rivkah told Yaakov that she would prepare a meal for him to bring to Yitzchok, after which he would go to receive the blessings. Yaakov voiced a concern to his mother that his skin was smooth while Esav’s skin was hairy. Yaakov feared that Yitzchok would realize that he was not Esav and would curse him instead of blessing him. Rivkah said that he should not be concerned. Targum Onkelos (Bereishis 27:13) explains that Rivkah told Yaakov that she had a prophecy that he would not be cursed. She put goatskins on Yaakov’s arms and neck so that he would feel hairy to the touch and then escorted Yaakov to the door of Yitzchok’s tent. Yaakov went inside and told his father to “PLEASE get up.” (27:19)
The Radak (27:20. quoted in Artscroll Bereishis) says that there was something in Yaakov’s voice that aroused Yitzchok’s suspicion that he was not Esav. Perhaps it was the polite and gentle way that Yaakov spoke to his father. Therefore, Yitzchok asked Yaakov how he was able to return so speedily after “hunting” an animal and preparing a meal (27:20). To which Yaakov replied, “Because Hashem, your G-d, arranged it for me”. Yaakov said that it was BECAUSE OF HASHEM. The Alshich (27:21. quoted in Artscroll Bereishis) says that at this point, Yitzchok became very suspicious that the person standing in front of him was Yaakov and not Esav. Rashi (27:24) says that Yitzchok said to himself, “It is not Esav’s way to mention the name of Hashem so readily.” Yitzchok asked the person in front of him to come closer so that he could feel his arms to see if they were hairy, like Esav or smooth like Yaakov. When Yaakov came closer, Yitzchok smelled the aroma of Gan Eden (Rashi 27:24). Whereupon he gave Yaakov the blessings.
Yaakov’s actions are puzzling. He tried so hard to make it appear that he was Esav. He was concerned lest Yitzchok curse him had he realized that he was not Esav. Why would Yaakov jeopardize everything by speaking in a way that was unlike the way Esav would speak? Why would Yaakov say, “Please” and why would he invoke Hashem’s name for the reason for his success, if that is NOT how Esav would speak?!
Yaakov left after receiving the blessings. As soon as he left, in walked Esav. Esav had hunted an animal and prepared a meal for Yitzchok. As he approached his father, he said, “Let my father arise”. (27:31) Rabbeinu Bachya points out that Yaakov had said to his father, “Rise up please and sit.” Yaakov had addressed his father with sensitivity and respect. Esav, by contrast, ordered his father to rise by saying: “Let my father arise”. He did not even ask him to be seated.
Esav was known for the respect that he gave his father. He was the paradigm of showing respect. The Midrash says (Bereishis Rabba 65:16) that Esav honored his father 100 times more than the great sage, Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel. Esav even wore his best clothes when he served his father.
Rabbi Alter Henach Leibowitz zt”l (quoted in Chidushei Lev by Rabbi Binyomin Luban) asks that if Esav was on such a high level of respecting his father, why didn’t he speak softly and respectfully to him? Why did he say in a harsh tone, “Let my father get up”? Especially at this time, Esav should have spoken more respectfully since he wanted the blessings from his father!
Rabbi Leibowitz zt”l answers that this is the way Esav was accustomed to speak to others in the marketplace. He was so used to speaking this way that he couldn’t change it, even when speaking to his father. It was so much a part of him. Even had he wanted, with all his heart, to speak to his father respectfully, he would have been unable to do so! It was too much a part of his essence. Esav was able to change his clothes, but he was not able to change his speech.
Similarly, if one has bad character traits, it is so difficult to separate from them, even for one’s own benefit. One must work very hard, using Mussar sefarim as guides, to try to uproot any bad character traits that he has.
With this in mind, we can answer our first question. Yaakov had such good middos ingrained within him that he was unable to change them even when attempting to appear as Esav. Yaakov was unable to talk harshly to his father and when asked, he automatically attributed his quickness to Hashem.
The way we talk to others becomes a part of us. That is the way we will talk to everyone. We should always be careful to create the habit of always speaking nicely and respectfully to everyone.