Revivim, rabbi Eliezer Melamed
Revivim, rabbi Eliezer Melamed

The Blessing of Isaac, and the War on the Wicked

Isaac wanted to bless Esau because he feared Jacob would not be able to stand alone in the face of the forces of evil in the world, and therefore he thought Esau could stand by his side * The ploy Yaakov executed on the advice of his mother made Yitzchak realize that Yaakov, his successor, could combine the two forces * Since it has become clear that there is no danger in eating fish together with milk, even those who follow Maran’s instruction may act leniently, and it is not considered nullification of an ancient custom

Why did our forefather Isaac want to bless the evil Esau? Could it be he was unaware that Jacob was righteous and upright and Esau evil? Is it conceivable that a great man like our forefather Isaac would prefer his wicked son over his righteous son? Undoubtedly, he loved Yaakov and wished to bless him with unique blessings according to his character as well, but how could he even think of giving Esau such important blessings? After all, we have suffered so much anguish and bitterness from Esau and his descendants – and our forefather Isaac wished to bless him?!

Isaac Was Profoundly Aware of Evil

Rather, our forefather Isaac apparently knew that Jacob was righteous and God-fearing, and Esau evil. Nonetheless, he was also familiar with the depth of the evil in the world, and knew that there are wicked people who have no limitations,  who are willing to murder anyone standing in their way, and enjoy doing it. Such wicked people are willing to harm all that is dear and holy in order to advance their goals. They are capable of forging an alliance, and the very next day, if to their advantage, break it without batting an eyelid. Such wicked people should not be underestimated; they are skilled in evil, and when they see people presenting a moral worldview threatening their stance, they will do anything to eliminate them.

The Fear Jacob’s Sons Lacked the Know-How to Fight the Wicked

Isaac was concerned that the pure and righteous sons of Jacob would be unable to stand up against such people. True, Jacob also possessed heroism and wisdom, but maybe his sons would lack enough courage and cruelty to strive for victory over their enemies. Perhaps when they saw wicked people succeeding, out of their great righteousness they would accept upon themselves the decree, saying, “It must be from heaven,” and not attempt to devise schemes to overcome and subdue them.

Even if they undestood the cruel world in which they lived, and by virtue of their righteousness and wisdom succeeded in overcoming their enemies, perhaps they would lack the desire to avenge the wicked and repay them for having plotted to destroy Israel. Maybe they would think there is nobility and beauty in compassion for the wicked, sustain them, and even magnanimously agree to grant them land and powers. Then, when Israel is a bit careless, as happens from time to time, their enemies will take advantage of their weakness, destroy them, and leave no reminisce of Israel, God forbid. Perhaps Isaac feared that Jacob’s innocence and compassion indicated a sort of weakness in his will, a lack of commitment to the goal and vision of rectifying the world. And as we know, the Master of the Universe does not perform miracles for someone who does not strive with all his might to stand up for himself and succeed, and as our Sages said: “Any Torah scholar who does not avenge himself and bear a grudge like a snake, is not considered a Torah scholar at all” (Yoma 23a).

In order to defeat the wicked in the world, sometimes it is necessary to wrap oneself in cruelty and cunning, to devise guiles and strive for complete victory, as our forefather Abraham did. For although he was extremely pious, merciful, and hospitable like no other, when necessary, he knew how to fight, defeat, and strike down the four evil kings. The beauty of his soul and his nobility did not benefit the wicked who fought him. They failed to crack his confidence in the righteousness of his way, and his commitment to defeat and strike them down. However, our forefather Isaac feared that if Jacob and his seed endured unassisted, they would be incapable of standing up to the evil, and would be scattered, obliterated, and the world would return to chaos.

Perhaps Esau will Complete Jacob

Isaac thought in his heart that maybe this was the reason why God gave him two sons. Jacob – the righteous and God-fearing son, and Esau who, at the time, admittedly seemed evil – a hunter, a thief and a robber – and was even willing to murder for that purpose, but who knows? Perhaps this cruelty and cunning in its root, were meant to assist holiness. After all, as our Sages said, the person who finally avenged Abraham from Nimrod for having thrown him into the fiery furnace was Esau, who, after seeing his extraordinary clothes, coveted them, killed Nimrod, and took them for himself (Genesis Rabbah 65:16).

In addition, perhaps thanks to the trust and blessing that Isaac would grant him, Esau would take upon himself on the great vision and work together with the righteous and virtuous Jacob, to instill the values ​​of faith, justice, and kindness in the world. He would then turn his ability to murder and deceive against the wicked permeating the world, and thus, truth would prevail (according to Malbim and the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh on Genesis 27: 1).

The Blessing Will Remain His

But lo and behold, the sons were switched, and on the advice of our foremother Rebecca, Jacob received the blessing. The great wonder was that after our forefather Isaac realized it was not Esau who he blessed, but Jacob, he was indeed seized with a violent fit of trembling, but nevertheless, was not angry with Jacob, rather said: “The blessing will remain his” (Genesis 27: 33).

Seemingly, the initial reason he wanted to bless Esau was that he was the firstborn, and Isaac believed that if God had arranged things in that manner, then there was probably a reason for it. Yet, a fear still lingered deep down in his heart that Esau’s wickedness was irreparable, and unworthy of blessing. However, when he realized that Jacob had succeeded in deceiving Esau and taking his blessing, he realized that this too was from God, and was also for the good. Issac also realized that if Jacob succeeded in deceiving Esau, it meant he also knew how to get along in the world, and would be able to face the wicked, and defeat them. If that was the case, “the blessing will remain his.”

King David

After many years had passed when Shmuel (Samuel), the greatest prophet after Moshe Rabbeinu, and the great successor of Moshe and Aaron, was about to establish the kingdom in Israel, coming in the mission of God to anoint the son of Yishai, he found David, reddish as Esau. “He became very frightened and said, ‘He too will be a murderer like Esau.’ The Almighty told Shmuel that there was no need to be afraid. When Esau killed it was in cold blood, but David would only take a life to carry out the just decisions of the Sanhedrin [the Jewish Supreme Court]” (Bereishit Rabbah 63:8) . Indeed, there was never a greater king than David, who miraculously combined various qualities. On the one hand, he studied Torah with extreme delicacy, embraced God in prayer and yearning, and administered law and justice for all his people. On the other hand, he fought heroically and ruthlessly against the enemies of Israel, as he said in his song:

“I pursued my enemies and wiped them out, without turning back until they were destroyed. I destroyed them, crushed them; they cannot get up; they have fallen under my feet. For you braced me with strength for the battle and bent down my adversaries beneath me. You made my enemies turn their backs in flight, so that I could destroy those who hate me. They looked, but there was no one to help, even to God, but he didn’t answer. I pulverized them like dust on the ground, pounded and stamped on them like mud in the streets” (2 Samuel 22: 38-43).

Since everything he did was in honor of God and Israel, not only did these opposing qualities fail to interfere with one another, actually, they bolstered them. By virtue of his devotion to faith, justice and law, David knew how to fight the wicked and not concede, and consequently, was privileged to establish the kingdom of Israel, and build Jerusalem. True, having had to shed so much blood, he was unable to build the Holy Temple himself; however, in his devotion and self-sacrifice, he paved the way for its building.

Is Cooking and Eating Fish with Milk Prohibited

Q: Rabbi, I heard that you said that based on the opinion of doctors, today Sephardic Jews are also allowed to eat fish with milk. Rabbi, how can you repeal a severe prohibition written by Maran Rabbi Yosef Karo, and practiced by all Sephardim?

A: First, I will clarify the law from its source. The Torah forbade cooking meat with milk, and our Sages decreed not to eat meat and milk even if they were not cooked together. They also forbade to eat chicken with milk, because chicken is similar to meat. However, our Sages did not decree fish to be considered as meat, since they are very different in appearance, and their law is also different, in that they do not require slaughtering, and their blood is permitted to be eaten. It is also explained in the Mishnah (Chulin 103b), that fish may be cooked with milk. In the Talmud it is expained as well, that people were accustomed to eat fish dipped in kutach, which is a chalavi (milky) sauce (Chulin 111b). This is also what the Rishonim wrote. We see then that me’ikar ha’din (according to the letter of the law), it is agreed upon by all, that eating fish with milk is permitted. This was the custom of the vast majority of Jews up until the end of the days of the Rishonim.

The Chumra of the Beit Yosef and the custom of Sephardim

Indeed, Maran Rabbi Yosef Karo wrote in his book ‘Beit Yosef’ (YD 87:3) that one should not eat fish with milk for fear of danger. There are some poskim who questioned his decision – how could he prohibit something that was explicitly permitted in the Talmud (Shach 87:5)? Therefore, there were those who claimed that a scribe had made a mistake in his words, and that he meant not to eat meat with fish (Taz 87:3; Pri Chadash 6).

Nevertheless, in practice, many Jews in the countries of East and North Africa were accustomed to be machmir (stringent) in this matter (Yechave Daat 6:48). Some poskim said that eating fish with milk should be avoided, but eating them with butter was permitted (Zivchei Tzedek).

Halakha Follows the Opinion of the Lenient Sephardi Poskim

However, even among Sephardic poskim, there were those who permitted eating fish with milk (Pri Chadash, Chida, Shulchan Gevoah). In recent generations, Rabbi Shalom Mashash (Shemesh u’Magen 4, YD 12) and Rabbi Chaim David Halevi (Mayim Chaim 3: 24) have also written similarly.

And since nowadays all doctors agree that there is no danger in this, and the entire reason of the strict poskim is only because of the fear of the medical danger in question, the primary halakha follows the opinion of the lenient poskim, and le’chatchila (ideally), they may be relied upon.

It is Possible that even the Strict Poskim Would Agree to This

In addition, it is most likely that even those poskim who in the past were strict not to eat fish and milk because of the danger, had they heard todays’ doctors, would instruct to permit. This does not constitute besmirching the minhag of previous generations who were strict in this matter and feared danger, because it is possible that in the past, in certain geographical areas, there may have been bacteria in milk that when came into contact with fish, caused diseases, and from experience, doctors in those places instructed to avoid eating fish with milk. Since it is a mitzvah to beware of dangers, the rabbis in those locations would have instructed people listen to the voice of the doctors, as well. Today, however, when it is customary to pasteurize milk, they too would agree with the position of all the doctors that there is no danger in this matter, and would permit fish to be eaten with milk.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.

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