In what is one of the most dramatic stories in the Torah, we read about Jacob’s epic deception. He tricked his father Isaac, presenting himself as his older brother Esau, and thus stealing the blessing from Esau.

This story raises many questions:

Why did Isaac, the quintessential spiritual person, someone who was prepared to offer himself as a sacrifice to G‑d, want to bless his older son, the one who abandoned the tents of study and who spent his time out in the field leading a hunter’s lifestyle?

Why did Rebecca conspire to trick her husband, Isaac? If she felt that her younger son, Jacob, was deserving of the blessings, why did she not speak to her husband and convince him of her perspective?

Why the deception?

To understand the story, we must look at the actual blessing that Isaac was about to give. Isaac opened his blessings to his son, whom he thought was Esau, with the words:

And may the L‑rd give you of the dew of the heavens and [of] the fatness of the earth and an abundance of grain and wine. Nations shall serve you and kingdoms shall bow down to you; you shall be a master over your brothers, and your mother's sons shall bow down to you. Those who curse you shall be cursed, and those who bless you shall be blessed.1

The blessing that Jacob received through deception was a blessing for material success. Only later in the story, when Isaac sent Jacob to the land of Charan, did Isaac bless Jacob with a spiritual blessing:

And Isaac called Jacob and blessed him . . . “And may the Al-mighty G‑d bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, and you shall become an assembly of peoples. And may He give you the blessing of Abraham, to you and to your seed with you, that you may inherit the land of your sojournings, which G‑d gave to Abraham."2

Isaac never intended to bless Esau with the spiritual blessing and make him the bearer of Abraham’s legacy.3 Isaac understood that the studious Jacob was the one fit to carry forth the teachings of Judaism. He intended to bless Esau with material prosperity, hoping that a partnership between the secular Esau and the spiritual Jacob would ensure the future of Abraham’s legacy.

Isaac’s plan was not meant to be.

Rebecca understood that both the “blessing of Abraham,” and the blessing of “the dew of the heavens and the fat of the land,” must both be given to Jacob. She understood that, in Judaism’s view, the material cannot be separated from the spiritual. She understood that both materialism devoid of spirituality and spirituality that does not affect the material are deeply problematic. She understood that Jacob, the spiritual person, must also possess the material blessings.

And here we arrive at the spiritual meaning of deception.

The first instance where the Torah mentions deception is in the context of the sin of the Tree of Knowledge. The Torah tells us that the serpent who enticed Eve to see “that the tree was good for food and that it was a delight to the eyes” “was cunning, more than all the beasts of the field.” Thus, there is a connection between the cunning snake and the deception of Jacob: the deception of the snake can only be corrected by the deception of Jacob.4

According to the Zohar, the primary book of Jewish mysticism, Rebecca and Jacob represent Adam and Eve, and they were now using cunningness to correct the effect of the snake’s deception.

What is deception?

Deception occurs when the inner and outer layers are not in sync. When a person’s external actions are inconsistent with his inner motives, he is being deceptive. When the serpent told Eve to focus on the outer layer of reality of the fruit of the tree, that it appeared delightful to the eyes, but not on its inner energy and purpose, that was deception.

And when the intensely spiritual Jacob sought material blessing, when he invested his ambition into material success, he was also being deceptive.5 Jacob’s seeming interest in materialism was indeed a deception. For, in truth, Jacob’s inner desire was to carry out his spiritual legacy.

On the surface, it appeared that Jacob was like the rest of them. That he desired the dew and the fat of the land, the grain and the wealth for its own sake. But that was but a deception. Nothing could be further from the truth. For Jacob desired material blessing in order to advance his spiritual goals. Jacob wanted the dew and the grain, not for its own sake, but rather in order to successfully perpetuate the “blessing of Abraham.”