The question is asked by countless meforshim:
How was it possible that Yitzchak Avinu, the paradigm of avodas Hashem, should originally see fit to give the brachos to Esav, who as Chazal teach us was perpetually engaged in acts of evil?
The Midrash teaches us on the words “When Yitzchak became old, and his eyes dimmed from seeing,” that his eyes grew dim “from seeing the evil of the rasha.”
The Divrei Yisrael explains that there are various levels in not seeing evil.
Yeshayah Hanavi teaches about the righteous man “who shuts his eyes from seeing evil.” This is an individual who, when he senses he is in the presence of evil, shuts his eyes so that he is not exposed to it. Yet, there is still a higher level. That is of a tzaddik who has so purified himself that he has no need to shut his eyes; his eyes simply do not see any evil.
The Divrei Yisrael tells of the Meor Einayim, zy”a, who walked into a well-lit room on a Friday night and began groping as if he was walking in total darkness. Not able to see where he was walking, he actually knocked his head into a wall. It turned out that a non-Jew had lit the lamp in the room on Shabbos, and the lofty eyes of the Meor Einayim could not see anything in the “light” provided by an act that was forbidden on Shabbos.
Yitzchak Avinu had already totally eradicated the yetzer hara, and therefore his pure eyes could not see the evil of his elder son.
The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh explains that Yitzchak Avinu hoped that granting the brachos to Esav would serve as a conduit for his return to the proper path. Chazal tell us that the tragedy of Dinah was a punishment for Yaakov Avinu’s decision not to allow Dinah to marry Esav, for she might have succeeded in bringing him to righteousness. “Perhaps,” the Ohr Hachaim adds, “it would have worked.”
While Esav is generally perceived as evil incarnate, he was an individual with enormous potential. If he would have used his head to overcome his desires, he could have reached even greater heights than his brother. Tragically, he didn’t, and it was only his head that merited to come to rest in Me’aras Hamachpelah. (According to Kabbalah, with the coming of Moshiach, Esav will merit purification.)
Few would feel that giving brachos is the way to reach a son who devoted his life to acts of violence and immorality. Yet from this it would appear that there is no limit to our communal obligation towards our youth, even if, R”l, they have strayed from the proper path. No stone may be left unturned, every obstacle removed and the flickering flame of hope never extinguished. In the end it will be clear to all that the efforts were not in vain, for eventually all Hashem’s children will return home.
A related question asked by many is that, since it was clearly Hashem’s intent that the brachos should actually go to Yaakov Avinu, why did He see fit that Yaakov should receive them under such circumstances?
One explanation given is that had the brachos gone directly to Yaakov Avinu, we, his descendants, would have merited these blessings only when emulating our great ancestor. The Ribbono shel Olam knew that there would be a time when the Yidden will stray from the proper path, and in His great mercy, He desired that we benefit from the brachos even then. Therefore, the brachos were ostensibly set to be given to Esav, even though he was certainly unworthy of receiving them. Now the bar was set so much lower, for in comparison to Esav, we are certainly worthy of the brachos.
In a similar vein, the Rebbe Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk explains the Mishnah in Avos: “There are four types among those who attend the beis medrash. He who attends but does not practice its teachings still secures the reward for attending. He who practices but does not attend the beis medrash secures the reward for practicing. He who attends and practices is a Chassid, while he who neither attends nor practices is a rasha.”
Why is he who neither attends nor practices listed among those who attend the beis medrash?
Shlomo Hamelech teaches us in Koheles, “There is no man so wholly righteous on earth that he does good and never sins.” However, when the righteous man is compared to a sinner, then the very comparison closes the mouths of the prosecuting angels. He who neither attends nor practices is listed, for he plays a crucial role: it’s because of him, i.e. relative to his inaction, that he who does attend and optimally does practice receives a full reward.
When the Ribbono shel Olam told Hoshea Hanavi that Am Yisrael had sinned, Hoshea responded by suggesting that Hashem “exchange [them] for a different nation.”
The Rebbe explains that the intention of Hoshea was that Hashem should compare us with the other nations, and then our virtues and good deeds will become apparent.
In a generation in which the level of morality in general society has descended so dramatically, may we merit that our mitzvos we perform, and our attempts to lives filled with holiness and purity, find favor in the eyes of Hashem.