To See with Our Eyes Closed

Rabbi Zvi Teichman

And it came to pass, when Yitzchok had become old, and his eyes dimmed from seeing…

His blindness here, the Midrash teaches, has a twofold meaning. Figuratively blinded to Esav’s feigned righteousness that deluded Yitzchok into thinking that perhaps Esav was worthy of being his successor, and literally, physical sightlessness. 

Both factors permitted the entire story to unravel as it did from start to finish. If not for Esav’s deceptions, Yitzchok would have surely selected Yaakov as his heir. Were Yitzchok to have possessed accurate natural vision, Yaakov could not have pulled off his strategic move in capturing the blessing.

Why all the obfuscation? Why did the divine providence so decree that Yitzchok was susceptible to such blindness?

Earlier during the sojourn of Avraham and Sarah in Gerar they implement a ruse to present themselves as brother and sister rather than husband and wife, out of fear the Philistines might attempt to murder Avraham and take Sarah as a wife for their king, Avimelech.

When Avimelech discovers the deception, he is incredulous to their suspicions, he immediately returns Sarah and showers them with gifts offering them to roam freely in the land. In what seems as an act of gracious appeasement to Sarah for her travail, he offers on her behalf a thousand pieces of silver and exclaims, “Behold!… let it be for you a כסות עינים, an eye-covering for all who are with you; and to all will you be vindicated”.  

The ‘eye-covering’ here refers to the quashing of any perceived doubts in the minds of the people as to what might have transpired between them, since the magnanimity of the gift would serve as testament to her purity having remained intact.  

Yet the Talmud teaches that between the lines of this respectful tribute lay an intended curse.

Avimelech in his reference to an eye-covering was really saying, “since you concealed from me that he is your husband and caused me this pain, may it be His will you should have blind children”, which was fulfilled in Yitzchok whose eyes were dimmed. (ב”ק צג.)

The Talmud derives from here the famous adage: The curse of a common person should not be light in your eyes.

Is it plausible that Sarah should be deserving of a ‘curse’ because she justifiably sought to protect herself from the lecherous Philistines?

Do we really have to be concerned that every common person’s reactive curses will come to fruition? Why then doesn’t the Talmud instruct us to avoid provoking them, but simply tells us to ‘not take it lightly’? And if we do take it seriously will that stave off the curse?

Lastly, this angry cynical expression betrays the simple meaning of the verse that seemingly portrays Avimelech’s benevolent calm and desire to placate Sarah.

Every encounter in life is clearly orchestrated from on high and meant as a challenge to make us great. Certainly, Sarah did the right thing under the circumstances she was in. Nevertheless, Avimelech was clearly offended. He truly believed that were he to have known the truth he would never have entertained abducting Sarah. He was perturbed by Sarah’s deceiving and aspersing him. Although he maintained a dignified response, there stirred within him resentment for having been falsely accused of ill intentions. 

Reading between the lines of his otherwise noble expression of graciousness and obvious concern for Sarah’s own reputation in the eyes of the masses lest she be falsely besmirched, the Talmud reveals for us his deeper frustration and resentment. He subconsciously seethed, wondering how Sarah and her descendants would react to the deception and false accusations from others.

Perhaps that is the deeper meaning in the directive to take seriously the curse of a commoner. If we claim a right to justify deception and suspicion when warranted, and not be held accountable for the pain it may have caused others, then we too must prove our mettle by not being upset when we are on the other side of the challenge. If we react angrily in taking it personally and refuse to see the hand of G-d Who maneuvers each of our encounters, then we are deserving of the curses foisted on us.

We must make sure we are consistent and pure in all our intentions lest we be held accountable for our duplicity. 

Yitzchok was blinded to Esav’s true character, falling for his display of false righteousness. Yitzchok’s literal blindness allowed him to be duped by Yaakov in conferring his blessings upon him. In one moment both situations became crystal clear to him. Despite being deceived Yitzchok never took it personally and reacted calmly with each one of his sons in dealing with the new reality accordingly.

Sarah, his beloved and remarkable mother, evidently taught him well. She didn’t write off Avimelech’s concern and took it very seriously. Not out of fear of his power to curse her, but more out of a sense of mission to inculcate remarkable character traits within her progeny, to see in every moment another divinely inspired opportunity to achieve greatness.

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