Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Voice And The Hands (Toldot 5767)

The central theme of this week’s parashah is the transfer of the blessings from Yitzhak. Yaakov, dressed in skins to impersonate the hirsute Esav, approached his father, with the view to receiving the blessing intended for his brother. When Yitzhak encountered him (remember that he was blind), we are told:

Yitzhak said to his son - what is this that you have arrived speedily my son? He replied: the Lord your God has made it happen before me. Yitzhak said to Yaakov: please approach so that I may feel you my son. Are you my son Esav or not? Yaakov approached Yitzhak his father and he felt him. He said: the voice is the voice of Yaakov, but the hands are the hands of Esav. He did not recognise him as his hands were hairy like Esav’s hands, and he blessed him. (BeReishit 27:20-23)

The nature of the ‘voice’ and the ‘hands’ mentioned in this familiar verse has interested commentators throughout the ages. Rashi understands the ‘voice’ not as the tone of voice distinguishing Yaakov from Esav, but the manner of speaking:

Yitzhak thought: it is not Esav’s way to have God’s name flowing from his mouth, but this one said: the Lord your God has made it happen…. He spoke in a beseeching tone – ‘please get up’, but Esov spoke in a confrontational manner – ‘get up dad.’ (Rashi ad. loc.)

Yaakov may have successfully impersonated the timbre of Esav’s voice, but failed to capture his manner of speaking. This explanation is continued by HaKetav VeHaKabballah (19th c. Germany):

It seems to me that these brothers had similar voices, so Yitzhak was not afraid of recognising the voice. The explanation is that the main meaning of the word ‘kol’ is revelation, for the hidden thought is revealed through the utensils of speech. (HaKetav VeHaKabballah ad. loc.)

Rashbam (Rashi’s grandson and a great advocate of simple explanation) offers a simple rendition:

The voice is the voice of Yaakov - as they were twins, their voices were somewhat similar, thus Yitzhak was confused by his voice since he found him to be a man with a hairy neck. (Rashbam ad. loc.)

There are many Midrashic reading, which ascribe cosmic significance to the ‘hands’ and ‘voice’. In these readings, the voice of Yaakov is a spiritual entity, whereas the hands of Esav indicate a predilection to violence and conquest. Here are a few examples:

The voice is the voice of Yaakov. The voice is a voice of wisdom, yet the hands send death. Another reading - the voice is the voice of Yaakov - Yaakov only has control with his voice…. The hands are the hands of Esav, for Esav only controls with his hands…. Rebbi Yehudah bar Ilay expounded: the voice is the voice of Yaakov, which cries out from what the hands of Esav have done to him. Said Rebbi Yochanan: the voice of Emperor Hadrian, who killed 80,000 myriads of people at Betar. (BeReishit Rabbah 65:20-21)

There is no successful prayer that does not involve a descendent of Yaakov. The hands are the hands of Esav - there is no victorious war that does not involve a descendent of Esav. (Gittin 57b)

We conclude with an interesting reading by the Maharal:

The voice is the voice of Yaakov but the hands are the hands of Esav. This is to say that Yaakov has the power of the voice, which emerges from the inner part of Man, but Esav has the hands and there is nothing more external than the hands, which extend outwards. The inner voice prevails over the external hands. (Ohr Chadash 103)

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