Seeing from the point of view of another
A Teaching on Parshat Toldot
By Rabbi Pam Frydman
(This talk is linked to the website of Congregation P’nai Tikvah.)
Once there was a king who had four advisors. When the king asked for advice, each advisor would give the king a different answer and the king didn’t know what to do, so he went home and asked his wife, the queen. The queen said, let’s show the advisors that everyone sees things differently and that’s why they each give you different advice. If they can learn to see from each other’s point of view, maybe they can get together and figure out the best way to help you when you need their advice.
The king liked the idea, so he and the queen invited the four advisors to meet them meet them outside the royal barn. The king gave a handkerchief to each advisor and said, “Please cover your eyes with this handkerchief. The queen and I will walk you in and place you near an animal and – just for fun – see if you can guess which animal it is.”
The advisors liked the idea and they put on their handkerchiefs over their eyes. The queen led the first advisor to stand in front of the tail of an elephant. Then the king led the second advisor to stand at the side of the elephant and he brought the third advisor to stand on the other side of the elephant. Then the queen brought the fourth advisor to stand in front of one of the elephant’s tusks.
Each advisor touched the animal. The first advisor said, “It is a horse. I can tell by the tail.” The second advisor said, “No, it’s a donkey.” The third advisor said, “I actually think it is a mule.” The fourth advisor said, “I feel a tusk. It could be rhinoceros.”
Then the advisors took off their blindfolds. They looked at the elephant, they laughed, and then they walked over to each other and shook hands. After that, the advisors all got along better and they worked together to give the king better advice.
In this week’s Torah portion, Isaac is very old and he thinks he is going to die, so he asks his older son Esau to make him a nice dinner and Isaac says, “after I eat the food you prepare for me, I will give you a blessing to bless you for the future.” But Isaac’s wife Rebekah wants their younger son Jacob to receive the blessing, so Rebekah makes a special dinner and gives Jacob some special clothes to wear. She tells Jacob to put on the clothes, bring the dinner to his father and pretend to be his brother Esau so he can receive get Esau’s blessing from their father.
Late in Isaac’s life, he lost the ability to see, so he was essentially blind, and because of his blindness, he fell for this deception, he ate the food that Jacob brought while pretending to be Esau, and he gave Jacob the blessing that he had prepared for Esau. There are those who say that Isaac really knew that he was blessing Jacob and not Esau, but the real problem is that Isaac only prepared one blessing when he actually had two sons. This caused a family mess and this mess has caused a lot of problems throughout Jewish history.
If Isaac had realized that he needed to see from more than one point of view, he might have known how to prepare two awesome blessings for two very different sons. If Isaac’s wife Rebekah had trusted her husband to have two equally good blessings, or if she had offered to help Isaac come up with two wonderful blessings instead of tricking Isaac into giving Esau’s blessing to Jacob, history might be different and the relationship between the Jewish people and their Middle Eastern neighbors might be different.
How blessed we are to live in a time when we know how to see from the point of view of other people. We know how to get a second opinion when we are facing a medical problem and we are used to getting many opinions when we are arranging to remodel our kitchen. May we always remember to try to make room for the point of view of other people even though we see life differently than they do.