According to a 2016 Gallup Poll, 89% of Americans surveyed said they believe in God or in a universal spirit, significantly more than the 67% of Canadians according to a 2017 Angus Reid Survey (National Post, April 13, 2017). The Pew Research Center further revealed that belief in God is significantly higher among women than among men (56% – 44%) and much lower (16%) among those who earn more than $100,000 annually. The Torah – or at least one episode in the Torah – confirms Pew’s findings.

The Biblical narrative reports that Isaac favored his son Esav “because he had a taste for game” (Genesis 25:28). In contrast, Rebecca dotes on Jacob. Rabbi Ismar Schorsch illuminates the contrast. He writes: “It is the more virile, robust, and adventurous of his two sons that Isaac showers with attention. Unlike Rebecca, he is oblivious to the divine wish that the religious legacy of Abraham pass through the line of Jacob.” Rabbi Schorsch is struck by the “unspiritual character of Isaac, for whom pleasure takes precedence over piety, an image reinforced by the wealth he amassed as a farmer in Gerar.” The Midrash (Genesis Rabbah 63) tries its best to alter this image of Jacob. It suggests that it was not the taste of game in his mouth that motivated Isaac, but the verbal games that Esav played – pretending piety – that made Esav Isaac’s favorite. But the Midrashic attempt to transform Esav into a cerebral, if not spiritual, being seems feeble at best.

 

Isaac had his moment. According to one Midrash Isaac willingly offered himself on the altar that his father had constructed for his sacrifice. But once that moment passed, Isaac seemed to have become more intent on his gratification than his self-actualization.

 

It is Rebecca who is Isaac’s spiritual superior. The text gives two illustrations. First, her ready acceptance of the proposal of marriage to a total stranger only because he is Abraham’s heir exemplifies her remarkable conviction that there is no match worthier than to a man who bears a divine legacy. Second, in the midst of a difficult pregnancy, she inquires of God (Genesis 25:22). So it is her innate religious spirit that convinces her to manipulate events to ensure that the chain of tradition pass through the more otherworldly Jacob than the more worldly Esav. It is Rebecca who emerges as the wisest person in this episode and the text does little to hide this fact. She is so sure of her judgment that she is willing to bear the consequences (Genesis 27:13).

 

And it is through Rebecca’s guidance that the course of Israelite history is altered.