It was a daring plan. Rivka ordered her younger son, Yaakov, to dress up and play the part of her older son, Esav, in order to receive the birthright blessings. Yaakov complied and brought his father a beautiful meal so as to put him in the right mindset to convey the berachos. The Torah describes the scene in great detail.
And he came to his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am. Who are you, my son?” And Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you have spoken to me. Please rise, sit down, and eat of my game, so that your soul will bless me.” And Isaac said to his son, “How is it that you have found [it] so quickly, my son?” And he said, “Because the Lord your God prepared it before me.” And Isaac said to Jacob, “Please come closer, so that I may feel you, my son, whether you are really my son Esau or not (Genesis 27:19-21).”
Yitzchak was suspicious, something did not seem right, and he asked Yaakov to approach.
“So, Jacob drew near to Isaac his father, and he felt him, and he said, “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” (Genesis 27:22).”
What was the meaning of Yitzchak’s statement, “The voice is the voice of Jacob?” Rashi comments, “the voice of Jacob: who speaks entreatingly: “Please rise,” but Esau spoke harshly, “Let my father arise!”
Yaakov was almost discovered; the plan was almost ruined because Yaakov did not speak like Esav. Yaakov spoke softly, Esav crudely. But why wouldn’t Yaakov try to replicate Esav’s speech? After all, Rashi indicates that it was not the pitch of Yaakov’s voice which aroused Yitzchak’s suspicion; it was the Yaakov’s soft word choice. If Yaakov was willing to dress like his brother, impersonate his brother, play the role of his brother – why not speak like him as well?
The Baal Shem Tov explains that Yaakov was willing to adapt in this strange and difficult situation. His mother asked him to do something which caused him profound discomfort. Rivka asked him to masquerade as Esav, to deceive his father, and Yaakov complied. Yaakov understood that life is complicated, and we must often adapt to new realities. We must sometimes change parts of our personality and lifestyle to meet certain life challenges. At times, we must yield to someone else when they ask us to do something necessary, even if it is uncomfortable. But at a certain point, I must draw my line. At a certain point, a person must say, I cannot sacrifice anymore. I cannot continue to make myself into the person you need me to be. I cannot yield any further. Because if I yield, change, sacrifice, or accommodate any more – I will no longer be me. Yaakov said, I will dress like my brother and pretend to be my brother – but I will not talk like Esav. Because the moment I speak like Esav is the moment I lose the last vestige of self. The moment I speak like him – I will no longer be me.
These words of the Baal Shem Tov resonate with such profound meaning. Life is filled with challenges. It can be challenges with family, professional challenges, or difficult interactions with others. When navigating these challenges, we are often called upon to make changes. I may have to yield to another (even if I am correct) for the sake of keeping the peace. There may be practices which are important to me but cause friction with others that I may have to give up. At times, I may have to develop a certain sternness (even if my natural disposition is to be kind and caring) in order to deal with difficult circumstances. Life changes us in so many ways, and at times, we must change ourselves to meet life’s challenges. But I must draw the line somewhere. I may be willing to change, yield, and give up certain things – but I can’t change, yield, and give up everything. Because if I change everything about me to accommodate you – then I am no longer. I must identify those pieces of me which must remain intact and immutable. I must establish the areas in which I can yield and accommodate and the areas in which I will always stand my ground. I must be clear as to when I can bend to accommodate you and when I must stand up and continue to be me. Yaakov was willing to be a dutiful son and listen to his mother. He was willing to sacrifice many things, but he could not give up his entire sense of self; something of him had to remain unchanged. May we find the courage to know when to change and to know when to stand strong.