Jacob Took the Blessings


The Torah relates that Jacob disguised himself as his brother Esau to secure the blessings from his father Isaac (Genesis 27:14-27). On the surface this act of deception is unbecoming of the patriarch Jacob who is described as a man of truth, as the verse states (Micah 7:20), “Ascribe truth to Jacob”. This article will examine the ethics of this deception through the pardes method of exposition (i.e. literal meaning, exegesis, allusions, and secrets of the Torah), drawn from scripture, Talmud, Midrash, and Zohar with associated commentaries. 

Literal Meaning – פשט

The following verses in Genesis provide the basis for this analysis to distinguish between the optics and justification of this deception.

27:27 – “He (Isaac) drew close and kissed him (Jacob); he (Isaac) smelled the fragrance of his garments and kissed him and blessed him. He (Isaac) said: See, the fragrance of my son is like the fragrance of a field which Hashem had blessed.”

27:33 – “Then Isaac trembled in great perplexity and said: Who – where- the one who hunted game, then brought it to me, and I partook of all … and I blessed him? Indeed he shall remain blessed.”

27:34 – “When Esau heard his father’s words, he cried out an exceedingly in a great and bitter cry.”

28:1 – “Isaac summoned Jacob and blessed him.”

32:27– “He (the combatant against Jacob) said, “Let me go for dawn has broken. Then Jacob said: I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

The written Torah is often very brief when describing incidents and relies upon the oral Torah to fill in the details and providing moral instruction. Based upon a literal reading of the verse the following questions arise in the order of the verses:

  1. What is the significance of the fragrance of his son and the field?
  2. Why did Isaac tremble and nevertheless bless Jacob?
  3.  What resulted from this bitter cry?
  4. Why did Isaac bless Jacob a second time?
  5. Who was this combatant and why did Jacob insist that he bless him?

The following sections, where applicable will answer these questions in detail. For the ease of the reader, the answers will be numbered in reference to the questions with the letters a, and b, referring to the answers of the Midrash and Zohar, respectively. 

Exegesis – דרש

Although the Talmud does not deal with these questions specifically it does mention the fragrance of the field of Genesis 27:27 in Taanit 29b and the encounter with the combatant of Genesis 32:27 in Chullin 91a. However in both cases the Talmud does not elaborate on these incidents nor refer them to the blessings of Jacob. By contrast the Talmud does address the moral dilemma, “Does the Torah condone what appears to be a questionable action for a good purpose? Or in the vernacular, “Does the end justify the means?” The answer from the Talmud is a qualified, “Yes”. However each situation must be analyzed carefully and the final decision must be ratified by the recognized rabbinic leaders of the generation.

Ends Justify the Means – National Level

The author will cite two examples from the Talmud based upon the verse in Psalms 119:126, “A time to do for Hashem; they have violated Your Torah.” The Talmud (Berachot 63a) interprets this verse as, “A time to do for Hashem; even to violate Your Torah.” Rashi on the Talmud (ibid.) cites the example of Elijah the prophet who built an altar and offered an animal to Hashem on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:19-39). This action was in violation of the Torah’s commandment to only offer animals in the Temple (Leviticus 17:3-4 and 9, Deuteronomy 12:13-14). However Elijah considered his actions to be justified in order to convince the Israelites to worship Hashem and not the idols of the other nations. He requested that the idolatrous prophets of Baal prepare a bull offering on their altar without lighting the wood (1 Kings 18:23). Elijah similarly prepared a bull offering without lighting the wood (ibid.) To strengthen the test he insisted upon pouring water on the altar (ibid. 34) and prayed to Hashem for a miracle (ibid. 37). Hashem responded to Elijah’s prayers by sending a miraculous fire from heaven which burnt the wood, bull offering, and stone of the altar (ibid. 38).

The Talmud Gittin (60a and b) explains that the Torah consists of the written law (i.e. the five books of Moses) and the oral law contained in the Talmud and Midrash. The Talmud (ibid.) also states that the written law should remain written and the oral law should be passed down orally. However one is permitted to maintain private notes of the oral law for individual study. Rabbi Yehudah the Prince broke with tradition by consigning the oral law to writing for public study through the Mishna invoking Psalms 119:126. He felt that due to the Roman persecution the oral law may be forgotten unless put into writing.

Ends Justify the Means – Jacob’s Life

In addition to national considerations, the Talmud provides examples from Jacob’s life where “The ends justify the means”. For example the Talmud Megillah 13b comments on Genesis 29:13, “Jacob told Rachel that he was a kinsman (literally brother) to her father and a son of Rebecca” by asking, “Was Jacob, in fact her father’s brother? But wasn’t he (in fact) the son of her father’s sister?” Hence the two statements of Genesis 29:13 are apparently contradictory. The Talmud relates that Jacob wanted to marry Rachel upon meeting her. Rachel informed Jacob that her father, Laban, was a swindler and Jacob would not be able to outwit him. Jacob responded that when required he could outwit Laban. He said to Rachel that he was a kinsman to her father not by birth but his equal in deception. Rachel taken back by Jacob’s suggestion and asked, “Is it permitted for the righteous to be involved in deception?” Jacob responded that it is permitted based upon the verse (2 Samuel 22:27), “With the pure you will show yourself pure, and with the perverse you will show yourself cunning”, implying that one should deal with others in the manner appropriate for their personality. Hence, in certain situations, “The ends justify the means”.  

The Torah (Genesis 33:12) relates that after meeting Jacob, Esau wished to escort Jacob to show his new friendship. However Jacob, doubting Esau’s sincerity, declined the offer (ibid. 13) and told Esau that he will go at his own slow place, with the children and the flocks, to eventually meet Esau at Seir (ibid.14).  Based on this incident, the Talmud (Avodah Zarah 25b) advises an Israelite, when travelling with a potentially hostile gentile, to tell him that he plans to journey farther than the intended destination. In this manner, the gentile may defer an attack to a later stage in the journey, thinking that he has plenty of time to act. In the mean time, the Israelite will leave the gentile earlier than stated and arrive at his destination safely.  In this the Israelite can tell a “white lie” to avoid a potentially dangerous situation, providing another example of “The ends justify the means”.    

Genesis Rabbah (78:18) notes that Jacob never met Esau at Seir which appears to be a “white lie”. However this Midrash accepts that Jacob was a man of complete truth (Micah 7:20) and could not even tell a “white lie”.  Therefore this Midrash understands that Jacob or his descendants will eventually meet Esau, at the time of the messiah as the verse states (Obadiah 1:21), “Then saviours will ascend Mount Zion to judge Esau’s mountain (i.e. Seir) and the kingdom will be Hashem’s.” This Midrash would agree with the Talmud that a regular person may lie to avoid danger but a man of great piety should attempt to confuse an adversary by making a vague statement that may be interpreted in different ways.

Blessings on Probation

The Talmud (Berachot 4a) accepts that Jacob realized that his blessings were conditional on following the ways of Hashem by noting the apparent contradiction in two verses. On the one hand Hashem promised Jacob that He (divine) would protect him (Genesis 28:15), “Behold, I (Hashem) am with you and will protect you wherever you go.”  On the other had when Jacob was to encounter Esau he was terrified (ibid. 32:8) by his army of 400 men. If Hashem had promised Jacob protection, why was he worried? The Talmud answers (ibid.) that perhaps a sin could cause him to lose this protection. The Midrash Genesis Rabbah (76:2) adds that Jacob was concerned that during his absence he was unable to fulfill these mitzvoth namely:

  • Honouring his parents by serving them.
  • Dwelling in the land of Israel.

By contrast Esau who remained at home did fulfill these mitzvoth and therefore could possibly defeat Jacob in battle. Hence even if “The ends justify the means” one must remain moral to receive Hashem’s blessings. Otherwise Hashem may judge a person according to the letter of the law and hold him accountable for a questionable action.  

Hints and allusions – רמז

The Midrash Genesis Rabbah answers all of these questions in great detail.

Answer 1a – Fragrance of his son and field

The Midrash (ibid. 65:22) notes that as soon as Jacob entered the tent, Isaac had a premonition of the Garden of Eden, both through his son and the garments, indicating that the recipient of  the blessings was worthy in the eyes of Hashem. The next Midrash (ibid. 65:23) states that Isaac also had a vision of Jerusalem and the temples that will be built there, indicating that the descendants of this recipient will serve Hashem at this site. Furthermore when Isaac ate of the fare brought by Jacob the food miraculously had many flavours (e.g. meat, fish, and delicacies) indicating the worthiness of the recipient (ibid. 67:3), whomever it may be.    

Answer 2a – Isaac trembling

The Midrash (ibid. 67:2) explains that as soon as Esau entered the tent Isaac had a premonition of purgatory and felt an intense heat symbolizing punishment of the wicked. Isaac realized that something was terribly wrong in that a member of his family was destined to purgatory, especially in view of the previous premonition of the Garden of Eden. However he was not sure who was condemned, hence the great trembling (i.e. future punishment and uncertainty). The Midrash continues in a dramatic fashion and through Isaac’s stream of consciousness. Isaac pondered who was at fault:

  • Was he at fault for giving the blessings to Jacob and not Esau, thereby depriving Esau his due as first born?
  • Was Jacob at fault by deceiving his father through an elaborate ruse and in effect “stealing the blessings” from Esau? 
  • Or was Esau at fault and thereby unworthy of the blessings?

While pondering the situation, Hashem answered Isaac that neither Isaac nor Jacob was at fault. Rather the hunter, his son Esau, was destined for purgatory. The Midrash finds a hint in Genesis 27:33, “Who (is the guilty one) – where (אפוא similar letters to baking אפה destined for purgatory), the one who hunted (Esau who is called the hunter in Genesis 25:27). “  

Answer 2a (continued) – Confirmation of the Blessing

After the premonition of purgatory Isaac was prepared to curse Jacob for his deception (ibid. 67:3). When Hashem revealed Esau as the guilty party, Isaac confirmed the blessing. However Isaac was still not sure where Esau had failed so miserably. After hearing that Esau had sold his birthright (Genesis 27:36) then Isaac confirmed the blessing to Jacob wholeheartedly (Midrash Tanchuma Yashan 23 on Toldot).

Answer 3a – Result of the Bitter Cry

The Midrash (ibid 67:4) points out that the loud and bitter cries of Esau made an impression in heaven and led to corrective action against the Israelites at the time of Esther and Mordechai. Hashem has great patience and waited for the appropriate time to punish the Israelites for Jacob’s deception. This Midrash links these two events because the phrasing of the loud and bitter cry in the respective verses is almost identical and occurs nowhere else in scripture. In Genesis 27:34, Esau cried a great and bitter cry (ומרה גדלה צעקה) and in turn Mordechai cried a great and bitter cry (ומרה גדולה זעקה) after hearing about Haman’s decree against the Israelites (Esther 4:1). The differences between the phrasing involves the word cry which may be spelled with a zayin (ז) or tzade (צ) and the word greatly (גדולה) which may be spelled with or without the letter vav (ו) without a change in meaning.  (The letters zayin (ז) or tzade (צ) are used interchangeably in scripture because the pronunciation of these letters is similar.) The additional vav (ו) in the latter verse may imply a greater tragedy for Mordechai since the life of the Israelites was at risk. By contrast when Esau cried his life was not at risk. Rather he cried because he felt that he permanently lost Isaac’s blessings.   

The reader may ask,”Does this Midrash imply that Jacob acted improperly by deceiving his father and taking the blessings from Esau?” The Midrash (ibid. 67:12) acknowledges that Isaac wholeheartedly ratified the blessings to Jacob before sending him to Haran especially after the premonition of purgatory, as explained in answer 2. In addition the Zohar (1:144b) mentions that Jacob was justified to take the blessings from Esau after selling the birthright to Jacob. If Jacob was justified in his actions why did the Israelites suffer at the time of Purim? The answer is multi-layered as follows:

  1. Jacob did not suffer this crying. Rather it was his descendants.
  2. Haman’s decree against the Israelites occurred over 1,000 years after the incident of the blessings which leads to the next answer.
  3. The blessings received by Jacob and consequently his descendants are conditional on proper serving of Hashem. In effect Jacob and his descendants are on probation, until the messianic era, to receive these blessings. If Hashem does not find the Israelites worthy then the blessings could revert to Esau and his descendants. In fact, Haman was a descendent of King Agag (Esther 3:1), who was a descendant of Amalek (1 Samuel 15:8), who was in turn a grandson of Esau (Genesis 36:12). The Talmud Megillah 12a discusses the failings of the Israelites that led to Haman’s decree. Rabbi Simon ben Yochai states that the decree was enacted against the Israelites because they bowed down to the statue of Nebuchadnezzar except for Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (Daniel Chapter 3). The Talmudic commentators debate whether this statue was idolatrous or merely as political gesture in honour of the king.  In addition his students felt that Hashem was displeased because the Israelites enjoyed themselves at the banquet of King Ahasuerus which commemorated the destruction of the First Temple and perpetuation of the exile (Esther 1:5). 

In summary, Jacob was justified to take the blessing but his descendants were punished for their own failings and the hurt caused to Esau under the principle of divine justice – measure for measure (Sotah 8b).

Answer 4a – Second Blessing

The Midrash (ibid. 67:12), commenting on Genesis 28:1, points out that Isaac blessed Jacob a second time for the following reasons:

  • To Inform Jacob that he was the legitimate heir to his blessings and that Isaac overlooked the deception.
  • To strengthen the blessings in Isaac’s mind since the earlier ratification (Genesis 27:33) occurred in a state of turmoil and haste.

Isaac conferred the second blessing to Jacob with full awareness of his sons, the worthy Jacob and the now unworthy Esau. The first blessing was somewhat limited because Isaac thought he was blessing Esau who may not have been fully worthy of these additional blessings. Therefore Isaac added the following blessings at this time:

  • Be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 28:3).
  • Receive the blessings of Abraham that you may possess (eternally) the land of your sojourns which Hashem gave to Abraham (ibid. 4).

Answer 5a – The Mysterious Combatant

The Torah does not identify the mysterious combatant of Jacob. In fact after defeating this combatant, Jacob asks for his name (Genesis 32:30) but the combatant refuses. However Jacob insists on a blessing before the combatant leaves (ibid. 27) and here the combatant agrees (ibid.30).  Genesis Rabbah 77:3 indentifies this combatant as the guardian angel of Esau. Hence Jacob insisted on this blessing to confirm that they agreed to Jacob’s blessings in heaven in addition to the confirmation of his father Isaac.

Truth vs. Falsehood

This article has discussed the moral dilemma of “The ends justify the means”, especially with respect to the conflict between Jacob and Esau. The Hebrew language itself alludes to the battle of truth (אמת) vs. falsehood (שקר) in terms of spacing, form, and sequence of the letters of these words. .


The Talmud (Shabbat 104a) notes that the letters of truth (אמת) are distant from one another, indicating that truth is not easily found. The author would like to add the letters of truth contain the first (א), last (ת), and middle (מ) letters of the Hebrew alphabet, indicating that truth means seeing the whole picture from beginning to end. The reader may ask, “How can the letter (מ) be exactly in the middle of alphabet when the Hebrew alphabet consists of 22 letters?” The answer is that this alphabet contains 5 additional letter forms which appear at the end of a word (viz. ץ,ף,ן,ם,ך) resulting in 27 letters (i.e. 22+5=27). Hence the middle letter of the alphabet is the 14th letter ((1+27)/2 = 14). If one inserts the additional forms in alphabetical sequence then the letter (מ) is exactly the 14th letter because the letters ל,ך,כ,י are in sequence 10-13.

By contrast the letters of falsehood (שקר) are adjacent to each other (i.e. letters 19-21 in the basic alphabet of 22 letters and 24-26 in the expanded alphabet of 27 letters) indicating that the falsehood is easily found. As above, the author would like to add the adjacent letters of falsehood (שקר) indicate that falsehood results from looking at a narrow segment of a complex issue (e.g. 15 second sound bites on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) instead of the entire issue.


The Talmud (ibid.) notes that each of the letters of truth (אמת) has a solid base and two legs, in the vernacular “a leg to stand on”, or in the language of the Talmud (ibid.), “Truth stands (eternally).” In addition the letters of truth (אמת) are level both on top and at the bottom.

By contrast each of the letters of falsehood (שקר) has a limited base and one leg to indicate that the falsehood will not prevail or in the vernacular, “Truth always comes out.”  In addition in the Letters of Rabbi Akiva, a Midrash on the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, comes the well known expression, “Falsehood has no legs (basis)” or in Hebrew, “שקר אין לו רגלים”

 The reader may remark, “The letter shin (ש) has a solid base”. There are two answers to this question. Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (the Ari) explains that the solid base of the shin indicates that falsehood cannot survive unless there is an element of truth. As the Talmud (Sotah 35a) states, “Any slander (or falsehood) that does not begin with a truthful statement will not be accepted by others.” In addition, some write the letter shin with a narrow or curved base. Unlike the letters of truth, the letters of falsehood are level at the top but not at the bottom, indicating that an argument of falsehood is not consistent but jumbled.


The letters of truth (אמת) are in increasing sequence (i.e. 1, 14, and 27 in the expanded alphabet). By contrast the letters of falsehood (שקר) are not in consecutive order (i.e. letters 26, 24, and 25 in the expanded alphabet), meaning that a false position is not properly ordered.   


The following table summarizes the difference between the truth vs. falsehood in reference to the Hebrew alphabet.

SpacingSpan the alphabetClose togetherSee the whole picture
BaseSolid/LevelFlimsy/JumbledLasting message
OrderSequentialOut of sequenceClear position

The author would like to add the following word association between Jacob and the truth. The Torah (Genesis 25:27) calls Jacob a man of integrity תם איש. By rearranging these letters one obtains the expression “אמת יש” which means “there is truth”, implying that Jacob was always a man of integrity and truth even when facing difficult situations.

Secrets of Torah – סוד

The Zohar answers all of these questions in great detail, often with a similar answer as the Midrash, but with particular emphasis to the link between heaven and earth as well as the concept of rectification of earlier events. This section will compare and contrast to the answers of the Midrash.


The Zohar (1:35b and 1:142a) unequivocally states that Jacob was justified in securing the blessings from his father Isaac, even when deceiving his father. The former source explains that Jacob was a rectification of Adam who lost his blessings after eating from the Tree of Knowledge and was expelled from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:17-19 23-24). The Zohar identifies the forces of evil with the snake and Esau. In effect when Jacob took the blessing from his brother Esau, he was restoring the original spiritual order of the world (i.e. good over evil) based upon the principle of rectification. The latter source continues on this theme by stating that all of Jacob’s actions were for the sake of heaven (i.e. pure motives) and that the Shechinah was always with him. In fact the Shechinah informed Rebecca about Isaac’s plan to bless Esau allowing her time to thwart this plan and implement the will of Hashem.

The reader may ask, “Why did Hashem not intervene earlier and inform Isaac about Esau’s unworthiness thereby avoiding the deception of Jacob to secure the blessings?” Based upon the principle of rectification, Hashem desired that Jacob secure the blessings by an apparent deception to overcome the forces of evil and trickery (i.e. the snake and Esau) through the principle of measure for measure (Sotah 8b). The language of the verses supports this explanation as follows. The snake was cunning (Genesis 3:1) and fooled Eve into thinking that she would not be punished by eating from the Tree of Knowledge (ibid. 3:4-5). In turn Esau was a cunning deceiver (Genesis Rabbah 63:10 on Genesis 25:27 and Midrash Tanchuma Toldot 8 on Genesis 25:28) who fooled his father with false piety. Therefore Jacob, the man of truth, used deception to thwart Esau’s plans as the Isaac remarked (Genesis 27:35), “Your brother (i.e. Jacob) came with cunning (במרמה) and took your blessing.” Both Genesis Rabbah 67:4 and Targum Onkelos on this verse explain that the word “cunning” in this context means with the wisdom of the Torah.

Answer 1b – Fragrance of his son and field

Similar to the Midrash, the Zohar (1:144a) notes that as soon as Jacob entered the tent, Isaac had a premonition of the Garden of Eden, both through his son and the garments, indicating that the recipient of the blessings was worthy in the eyes of Hashem (ibid. 1:142b). The premonition of the Garden of Eden relates to the concept of rectification explained above.   

In addition, the Zohar notes the peculiar wording of Genesis (27:27), “… He (Isaac) smelled the fragrance of his garments and kissed him and blessed him. He (Isaac) said: See, the fragrance of my son is like the fragrance of a field which Hashem had blessed.” The Zohar (1:224a) raises the following questions “Why does the verse mention both the fragrance of the garments and his son? Why are both factors required to indicate that this person was worthy of the blessings?” The Zohar (ibid.) answers that the garments were fragranced by natural means (2:39a) to put Isaac in a good frame of mind for a blessing. The fragrance of his son is not literal bur refers to his son’s purity of soul and good deeds. In addition the Zohar (1:228a) asks, “Why does the verse mention that the field was blessed by Hashem?” The Zohar (ibid.) answers that a blessing on earth cannot take effect unless Hashem agrees to the blessing in advance. Hence the mention of the blessed field is a hint to Hashem’s agreement to the blessing of Jacob.    

Answer 2b – Isaac trembling

Similar to the Midrash, the Zohar (1:144a) explains that as soon as Esau entered the tent Isaac had a premonition of purgatory. Isaac realized that something was terribly wrong and trembled because:

  • Esau was destined to purgatory.
  • Isaac was misled by Esau’s false piety.
  • Isaac almost blessed the wrong son (i.e. Esau) especially in view of the previous premonition of the Garden of Eden with Jacob.

Answer 2b (continued) – Confirmation of the Blessing

The Zohar (1:144a and b) states that Isaac realized that Jacob was worthy of the blessings because:

  • The Shechinah was present at the time of the blessing to Jacob.
  • A heavenly voice proclaimed that Jacob is blessed.
  • Hashem told Isaac not to curse Jacob for his deception; rather he should confirm the blessing.

Although Jacob was worthy of the blessings, the Zohar (1:144a) points out that Jacob was punished for causing his father to tremble. The Zohar through a word association links verses (Genesis 27:33) where Isaac asked, “Who and where (אפוא) is the one whom I blessed” and (ibid. 37:16) where Joseph asked, “Where (איפה) are they (my brothers) pasturing my brothers?” The author would like to point out, as above answer 3a, that these blessings are conditional on proper observance of the ways of Hashem, indicting some shortcoming in Jacob. In contrast to the Purim incident which occurred more than 1,000 years after the blessing here:

  1. Jacob did suffer this fright when his sons told him that Joseph was killed (Genesis 37:32-33).
  2. The sale of Joseph was 45 years after Jacob received the blessings.
  3. Jacob was faulted by the sages by favouring Joseph over the other brothers. The Talmud Shabbat 10b states, “A person should never distinguish one son over the others, by giving him preferential treatment. Due to the striped garment that Jacob gave to Joseph (Genesis 37:3), the brothers became jealous of him leading to the descent to Egypt.”

Although the Zohar (1:185b) clearly states that Jacob was justified in securing the blessings, even through deception, Hashem is exacting with the righteous for any minor failing. Therefore Jacob was punished, by losing Joseph for 22 years, as explained in factor 3 above.

 The Zohar (ibid.) finds hints in the wording of the verses to link the securing of the blessings to the sale of Joseph, based upon the principle of measure for measure (Sotah 8b).  The Zohar notes that Jacob wore goat skins (Genesis 27:16) to mislead his father into thinking that he was Esau. In turn Jacob’s sons slaughtered a goat (ibid. 37:31), whose blood is similar to that of a person (Genesis Rabbah 84:19), to mislead Jacob into thinking that Joseph was attacked by a wild animal. The Zohar finds another hint in the words “or not” לא אם which appears Genesis 27:21 and 37:32. Although this expression occurs 80 times in scripture and 8 times in the book of Genesis, the expression “or not” occurs consecutively when these 8 times are placed in order. The former verse speaks of Isaac’s doubt on the recipient of the blessing,”Are you my son Esau or not?” In the latter verse the sons of Jacob send messengers to Jacob with the tunic of Joseph who said, “Is this your son’s tunic or not?”

Answer 3b – Result of the Bitter Cry

Similar to the Midrash, the Zohar (1:145a) points out that the loud and bitter cries of Esau made an impression in heaven. Hashem has great patience and can wait for the appropriate time to punish the Israelites for Jacob’s deception. Unlike the Midrash, the Zohar does not provide a specific example but alludes to the long history of persecution suffered by the Israelites at the hands of Esau and his descendants.

Answer 4b – Second Blessing

Like the Midrash, The Zohar (1:146a) notes that Isaac blessed Jacob a second time to ratify the earlier blessing and inform Jacob that he did not primarily obtain the blessings though deception. In fact the Zohar states that Jacob received the blessing with the approval of the following parties:

  • Isaac  (Genesis 27:33 and 28:1)
  • Angel of Esau (ibid. 33:27)
  • Hashem (ibid. 34:5)

Answer 5b – The Mysterious Combatant

As mentioned above, the Torah does not identify the mysterious combatant of Jacob. Nevertheless Jacob insisted on a blessing before the combatant leaves (ibid. 27) and here the combatant agrees (ibid.30).  Similar to the Midrash, The Zohar 1:144a indentifies this combatant as the guardian angel of Esau and explains that Jacob insisted on this blessing to confirm that in heaven they agreed to Jacob’s blessings, thereby guaranteeing the Israelites eventual defeat of Esau at the end of days. The Zohar understands that all events in this world are related to events in the heavenly realm.

By contrast to the Midrash, the Zohar emphasizes the ratification of the earlier blessings by noting that the verse (Genesis 32:27) uses the past tense in terms of the blessings. The verse literally reads, “Jacob said: I will not let you go unless you have blessed me (ברכתני)”. The verb is conjugated in the past tense although the sense of the verb is in the future as is often translated in the English as “unless you bless me”.  It is interesting to note that the word (ברכתני) meaning “you have blessed me” has the same letters, albeit in a different order as the word (תברכני) meaning “you should bless me” as in Genesis 27:19 and 31, referring to Jacob and Esau respectively, indicating the link between past and future.


Based upon the many citations above, we can conclude that Jacob was justified in securing the blessings from Esau. In this case, “The ends justify the means” but as explained in this article this is not a general rule and each situation must be examined by a competent rabbinic authority to determine the proper path. One must consider that Hashem is exacting in his judgment, especially with the righteous. Therefore these blessings are given to Jacob and his descendants on a probationary status, meaning Hashem may punish them if they do not live up to the ideals of the Torah, especially when considering the fright suffered by Isaac and the cries of Esau.

The moral lesson from this episode is that eventually Jacob will prevail over Esau, not primarily by force, but with the spirit of Hashem as the verse states (Zachariah 4:6), “Not through armies and not through might, but through My (divine) spirit, says Hashem”. 

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