It is not difficult to notice the chillingly similar wording of Ya’akov’s conversation with his father Yitzchak when he takes Esav’s blessing on the one hand, and Yitzchak’s earlier conversation with his own father Avraham on the way to his sacrifice at Mount Moriah on the other. In both cases, the child ostensibly gets their father’s attention by saying, “Avi, my father”; to which the father responds, “Hineinei, here I am.” On the face of it, a conventional exchange between father and son, we see it nowhere else in Tanakh. Moreover both discussions take place at pivotal points in which the respective father-son relationships are tested to their limits.
As Kli Yakar incisively understands Yitzchak’s use of the word, avi, Yitzchak realized what was happening and wanted to know whether it was still his father who would do such a thing. By answering, “Here I am, my son,” Avraham was telling him that it was. While not wanting to indicate any opposition to the divine command, Avraham nevertheless let his son know that he loved him and cared for his wellbeing as much as ever. That, says Kli Yakar, was enough to satisfy Yitzchak and allowed both of them to continue “walking together” – i.e. in agreement.
Accordingly, Yaakov may have later been asking Yitzchak whether his decision to bless Esav meant that he no longer saw himself as Ya’akov’s father. In Ya’akov’s eyes, his father’s decision to bless his brother may have been as disturbing as Avraham’s decision to sacrifice Yitzchak. Not knowing whether there was any other blessing reserved for him, Ya’akov may have felt that his father was – at least figuratively – preparing to sacrifice him as well.
And though he was impersonating Esav, the fact that Yitzchak later indicates that he recognized Ya’akov’s voice may well mean that the word, avi, was said in such a way as to at least remind him of Ya’akov and that which was ultimately being asked of him here, even if he may not have been sure who was asking it. While this likely reminded of his own experience, it was also a reminder of his father’s more comforting role in the excruciating test they faced both together and apart.
Hence Yitzchak replies almost intuitively to both of his sons – whether they are present or not – “Hineini – indeed it is I who wants to give the blessing to Esav, but my love and concern for both sons remains intact.” But then Yitzchak does something as profound as it is unexpected. Avraham responded, “Here I am my son”; whereas Yitzchak adds a couple of words that completely change the response, “Here I am, who are you, my son.”
My suggestion here is that Ya’akov’s slightly accusatory address to his father is being turned back at him. When Yitzchak had challenged his father, he had come from a place of total authenticity; and so his father responded in kind. But not so here – hearing the voice of Ya’akov, Yitzchak senses the deception and resulting inauthenticity of his younger son. And so echoing God’s voice to Adam in Eden when the latter lost his way, Yitzchak asks his son who the Torah had only recently described as tam, innocent, whether he has not lost his way as well. Moreover in the steadfast way characteristic of Yitzchak, he unrelentingly uses his own father’s refrain, “my son,” seven more times to dissuade Ya’akov from his course of action.
But Ya’akov remains undeterred and shows himself to be more like Esav than Ya’akov had thought, thereby making him fit to receive a blessing meant for a man of the world, prepared to lie when required. Yitzchak would still need to grapple with the implications of Ya’akov’s bold move. But he would not be alone in this. Ya’akov would also – and probably much more fundamentally – have to grapple with his father’s accusation, until he would come back home over two decades later.
For when he meets the angel on his way back, Ya’akov essentially wrestles with the question his father had asked him before, “Who are you, my son? You managed to take the role of Esav in dealing with him and with Lavan, but is that who you really want to be?” Ya’akov’s victory at that point presumably means that he was able to come back to himself, and so come back to his father as well.
Of course, Ya’akov is far from unusual in this story. Life sometimes sends us into situations in which we lose ourselves. And at such points, the way back can only begin when we are willing to ask ourselves who we truly are.