“And Yaakov approached Yitzchak his father, and Yitzchak felt him, and said, ‘The voice is the voice of Yaakov, and the hands are the hands of Eisav.’ ” – Bereishis 27:22
To “trick” Yitzchak into giving him the berachah, Yaakov donned Eisav’s clothing, put the skin of an animal on his arms and neck to simulate the hairiness of Eisav, and went in to his father to receive the blessing. As they were twins, the subterfuge was almost perfect, and it seemed as if Yaakov had succeeded. For all intents and purposes, he appeared as Eisav, spoke as Eisav, and presented himself as his twin. Yet something made Yitzchak suspicious, and he said the famous words: “The voice is the voice of Yaakov, and the hands are the hands of Eisav.”
Rashi explains what tipped Yitzchak off. Yaakov used the equivalent of the word “please,” as in “Please, my father, get up. Please, my father, take this.” These were words that Eisav would never utter. Therefore, Yitzchak suspected that it wasn’t Eisav, but rather Yaakov, and he asked to “feel” the person in front of him to determine which of the brothers it was.
This Rashi is very difficult to understand when we take into account Eisav’s relationship with his father.
Eisav had genuine respect and reverence for his father – in fact, he loved him. The Midrash Rabbah says that “In the course of human history, no man ever treated his father with the respect that Eisav treated his father. So how is it possible he was gruff and rude to a man who he loved and adored?
The answer to this question lies in understanding human nature.
Force of Habit
We are engaged in thousands of interactions, choices, and decisions each day. Unlike an animal, which is preprogrammed to perform in a particular manner, the human has free will to choose how he will respond, react, and deal with every situation. If every one of his decisions was a conscious choice that had to be thought out, he would spend his entire day just making them.
A man is approaching. Do I smile and nod, or do I look the other way? He’s looking at me; do I turn my head to respond or do I look out at the trees? When he asks me how my day is, does he expect a detailed inventory of actions or does he mean it in a casual manner?
To allow us to function productively, Hashem gave us the power of habit. Habit allows us to respond almost unconsciously to the thousands of choices we are constantly engaged in. As a result, we can talk and eat dinner at the same time. We can drive a car, watch the traffic, change lanes, and hold a conversation. Most of the actions we engage in are done on auto-pilot. We don’t have to think about them. We have done them before, created our patterns of action and reaction, so now we can just go about our business without having to use up our conscious minds on rote activities. Habit governs and controls most of the actions and choices of our day.
This force is a double-edged sword. It can allow us to accomplish worlds more because of it, but it costs us in the sense that bad habits and poor reactions can lock us into behaviors and responses that don’t accurately represent our will. We’re just stuck with them because of the ruts that we have created.
This seems to be the answer to Rashi. There is no question Eisav deeply respected his father. But Eisav was gruff. His operating mode was curt and rude. Those were the habits that he developed, the manner in which he acted, the patterns that he etched into his soul. Even when he was in a situation of serving a man that he greatly respected, his years of mechanized routine surfaced, and he spoke the way that he usually spoke. When Yaakov impersonated Eisav and used polite terms, it was out of character. Yitzchak noticed something out of synch. This wasn’t the Eisav he had known for so many years.