Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508) was a preeminent Jewish thinker, scholar, and prolific Biblical
commentator. For Bible Studies, Genesis chapter 27,is one of the Bible’s most dramatic passages – Isaac’s
blessing. Old and blind Isaac intends to bless Esau. His wife Rebeccah won’t hear of it. She plans on
securing her husband’s blessing for her beloved Jacob, and not Esau. As for the stakes, they’re sky-high.
“Bring me venison, and make me savory food, that I may eat and bless
you before God before I die.”
Abravanel begins his discussion of the dynamic episode with a question: What motivated Isaac to bless
Esau? After all, we don’t find precedence in Genesis’ earlier chapters. Adam didn’t bless Seth. Nor did
Noah bless Shem. Even Abraham failed to do so. Hence, the query: What pushed Isaac to offer a
benediction to his Esau? The thorny question proves more disturbing when we consider Esau’s evilness.
Recall, God singled out Abraham. He promised the first patriarch, along with his descendants, divine
providence in exchange for their fealty and compliance to His ways. Furthermore, the Creator promised
title to the Holy Land.
Abravanel holds that each of the patriarchs, before their deaths, should have designated a rightful heir
(or heirs) to enter into the divine covenant, as described above. Certainly, this would have created a firm
chain, and set the record straight, as to successorship.
Isaac sought to choose his successor via a blessing. Later, Jacob will follow suit, though he will bless all
twelve of his sons. Interestingly, Abraham did not bless Isaac. Why not? There was no need. God had
made the choice for Abraham, as He proclaimed: “For in Isaac shall seed be called to you.” More to the
point. Heaven directed Abraham to expel Ishmael from the patriarch’s home. These things made
Abraham’s choice abundantly clear.
When Isaac reached old age, and it was time to announce his rightful, spiritual heir, he sensed a
predicament. Which son would sit on the Abraham’s lofty throne? God was mum on the subject. Isaac
knew that Esau and Jacob were polar opposites.
In Isaac’s estimation, Esau held the biological advantage; he was the first born. Jacob’s strengths were
his pious personality and religious contemplation. Seeing that the Almighty hadn’t tipped Isaac’s hand,
the patriarch felt he needed to devise an acid test. A blessing would determine his rightful successor.
“And he said, Behold now, I am old. I know not the day of my death.”
Isaac needed to know who would inherit the spiritual mantle and enter into God’s covenant. The last
thing the aged patriarch wanted was to shirk responsibility, and leave the decision open. The vacuum
would invite internecine strife between Esau and Jacob.
Here, then, is a snapshot of Isaac’s dilemma, according to Abravanel. Naturally, the Almighty intervened
with His budding nation, and helped Isaac resolve his quandary.