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Rabbi's Blog

rabbi 05 smallsf badge lgRabbi Joel Landau  (rabbi@adathisraelsf.org) has been the Rabbi of Adath Israel since May 2013. He was ordained by the Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem and has served previously as a congregational Rabbi in Charleston, South Carolina and Irvine, California. A full biography of Rabbi Landau is available here.


In this week’s parasha we read about the famous episode of Yaakov deceiving his father at his mother’s behest. This was done in order for Yaakov to receive the blessing that Yitzchak had intended to give to Esau. Despite Yaakov’s efforts to conceal his identity and pretend to be Esau, the Torah tells us that Yitzchak was suspicious: “And Yitzchak said to Yaakov, ‘Come close, if you please, so I can touch you, my son; are you indeed my son Esau or not?’” (Bereshit 27:21)

What prompted Yitzchak to sense something strange in the behavior of his son that led him to doubt his true identity? Rashi (v. 21) comments:

Yitzchak said to himself, “It is not the practice of Esau to have the name of G-d (shem Shamayim) fluent in his mouth and yet, this one said, 'Because the Lord, your G-d, arranged it.’”

But didn’t Yaakov also know that Esau doesn’t normally invoke the name of G-d glibly, naturally and unselfconsciously? Therefore, why would he mention G-d’s name and in doing so, undoubtedly arise the suspicion of his father and potentially jeopardize the entire mission unnecessarily?

One response to this question is particularly relevant to the committed modern American Jew. We all seek, and to a large extent have received, the many blessings that accompany living in American society. However, the other side of this coin is that we sometimes adopt the “garments” of the general culture that surrounds us, both figuratively and literally.  However, this episode with Yaakov teaches us an essential element of being Jewish in a foreign culture. No matter how great our desire to achieve these blessings, we can never do so at the expense of eliminating G-d’s name from the way we express and conduct ourselves.  If our goal is to be successful Jewish Americans, we must ensure that our Jewish essence is clearly and unapologetically expressed together with our American values.