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When Isaac blesses Jacob, the verse states: “And may God give you of the dew of the heavens and of the fatness of the earth” (Genesis, 27:28).
When he blesses Esau, the verse says, “Behold, of the fatness of the earth shall be your dwelling and of the dew of the heavens from above” (Genesis, 27:39).
Although the blessings to Jacob and Esau appear similar, there are two striking differences between them. To Jacob, Isaac said, “May God give you,” whereas in Esau’s blessing he does not invoke the Name of God. Secondly, in Jacob’s blessing, the blessing of “the dew of the heavens” precedes the blessing of “the fatness of the earth,” whereas in Esau’s blessing the order is reversed.
Although Isaac thought he was blessing Esau, the Divine Spirit motivated him to give Jacob the blessing appropriate for him. Jacob was to know that everything he possesses, even if it appears to be the result of his own efforts, is a gift from God. Moses warned the Israelites that when they inherit the Promised Land and become affluent, they should not think that it was their skill, prowess and work that produced their affluence, but that it was God Who gave them the ability to acquire wealth (Deuteronomy 8:17-18). Jacob’s descendants can have this faith, but to Esau’s descendants it is an alien concept. Living by the sword, Esau’s descendants gained their wealth by plunder and robbery.
The Divine Spirit also bestowed upon Jacob the awareness that the goal and purpose of life is spiritual, “the dew of the heavens.” This is achieved via the fulfillment of the Divine will. Inasmuch as one cannot fulfill the mitzvot without the physical means to do so, earthly belongings, “the fatness of the earth,” are a necessity, but they should be seen only as a means, not as an ultimate goal.
Esau, on the other hand, lives for earthly pleasures. “The fatness of the land” is primary, and any spirituality is but an afterthought.
The two nuances are related. We can live spiritual lives only if we are aware that all mundane possessions are Divine gifts. If we lose sight of our utter dependence on God, we can degenerate into creatures that seek only physical pleasures, and we thereby lose the dignity of spirituality that elevates us above all other living things.
Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski