One of the very first things they teach you when you're learning to drive is to watch out for "blind spots" - those areas that are so close to us, that the rear view mirrors cannot pick them up. We must therefore get out of our comfort zone, and actually turn our heads to ensure that it is safe to stop or make a necessary turn.
We can apply this metaphor to our own lives at those times when things are "too close" to be seen - when our ego and pride cover up our shortcomings, thus, creating a blind spot. A blind spot is an area that we can't see, unless we take the time to look. The funny thing about blind spots is that we can see other people's blind spots just fine, it's our own that we struggle with.
One of the many great features of the Torah is that it does not shy away from exposing the blind spots of our ancestors. We learn from the story of Yitzchak, that we are all blind to something. Maybe it's a blind spot in a relationship; perhaps we have a blind spot when it comes to G-d. Maybe we are blind to our own qualities and our own challenges. We are sometimes blind to our own blind spots. Ironic, yes?
From the Torah we know that Yitzchak had a literal blind spot. He lost his eyesight towards the end of his life. But it seemed that Yitzchak was more than physically blind and was unable to make a solid character assessment. When charged with the task of choosing one of his sons to receive the bracha and serve as the next family representative, he chose Esav (who used his hunting skills to swindle people) instead of the wholesome and pure Yaakov.
To understand Yitzchak’s thought process, like all good amateur therapists, it helps to understand the relationship with his own father, Avraham. He was a prominent man and was the star. He was after all, Avraham (av hamon hagoyim). He had the initiative, and was recognized for his contributions to the world. He unveiled circumcision; inaugurated the concept of bikkur cholim (visiting the sick); made the first seudat hodaah (a celebratory meal after a mitzvah); fought powerful kings to save Lot, and argued with G-d to save Sodom. Avraham stood firm for what he believed was right. Avraham, for all these reasons, will always be a powerful figure in the Torah.
Yitzchak, as opposed to Avraham, was not a powerful figure, he was not a catalyst for change. What was Yitzchak known for? What did Yitzchak accomplish in his life? He was passive and his only claim to fame was being the child selected for slaughter.
The events of Parshat Toldot changed the way Yitzchak looked at the world. He was forced to confront his own legacy. As Yitzchak’s life was drawing to a close, he reflected, saw that he had not made an impact in this world, as he wasn’t even able to sustain his father’s earlier accomplishments. In some respects, Yitzchak may have seen his life as a failure.
So why did Yitzchak initially choose Esav over Yaakov? Yitzchak believed that Esav, with a little love and guidance would be better equipped to sustain Avraham’s initiatives. Esav was cunning and daring. He could make things happen. Esav was a man of the world, a man of action, courageous and bold. Although he used questionable methods, Esav had what it took to bring change to the people, and Yitzchak saw Esav as the true successor to Avraham.
So why, in the end, did Yaakov get the blessing? Because of trickery or some kind of ruse? This is the most important point of this Parsha. Yaakov came to this “meeting” dressed in Esav’s clothes and covering his arms with goat skins to resemble his brother’s hairy complexion. But, Yitzchak was not tricked, he was not deceived. Yitzchak knew precisely to whom he was giving the blessing! It was at THIS moment, that Yitzchak saw a different Yaakov. A Yaakov willing to take action, albeit not through the best means, but he was ready to make things right. Yaakov took on some of the characteristics of his grandfather, became fit to receive the bracha and engage the world. At that moment when Yaakov took on some of the traits of Esav and Avraham, Yitzchak cried out “hakol kol Yaakov vihayidyim yiday Esav! (Yaakov you have successfully merged the man of the tent and the man of action!)
Yitzchak looked inward late in life and identified his core weakness. He “sensed” his blind spots and took steps to change the future. Once we are set in our ways, it is difficult for us to see our blind spots, let alone to make significant changes in them. Just like with Yitzchak and Yaakov, unless we take the time to look, we can miss our own blind spots.
As a school, it is important that we take a look at our blind spots, both as individuals and collectively as an institution. We encourage you, our parents and community, to reach out to us when YOU see a blind spot we may be missing. One way we will be reaching out to you for input will be via a series of parent and community surveys we are designing. We want to know what you think, and your input is vital to the continued success of our school. Until those surveys come out, as always, I encourage you to reach out to me via email, phone or a good ole’ fashioned panim el panim (face-to-face) conversation.
In the spirit of this week’s Parsha, I encourage each of us to open our eyes, remove the blinders and take the time to look at our own blind spots this Shabbat.