Three Jewish mothers were sitting on a bench discussing how much their sons love them.

“You know the Chagall painting hanging in my living room?” asked Betty. “My son Arnold bought that for my 75th birthday. What a good boy, he really loves his mother.”

“You call that love?” scoffed Dorothy. “You know the BMW I just got for Mother's Day? That's from my son Bernie. What a doll!”

Whereupon Shirley countered, “That's nothing! You know my son Stanley? He pays tons of money for a session with a psychologist every week. And what does he talk about? Me!”

I was reminded of this old Jewish joke when reading this week’s Torah portion. Rebecca overhears her blind and elderly husband, Isaac, telling their son Esau to bring him some food so that he may bless him before he dies. Rebecca instructs Jacob to impersonate his twin brother Esau, and gives him food that Isaac enjoys, so that he, rather than the wicked Esau, will receive the blessings.

But Jacob protests. “My brother Esau is a hairy person, and I am smooth-skinned. If my father feels me and realizes that I am an imposter, I will bring upon myself a curse and not a blessing.”

“Let your curse be upon me, my son…”1 his mother offers.

And indeed, Rebecca gave Jacob the food and Esau’s clothing to wear, and the rest is history. Isaac felt the hairy skins Jacob had placed on his arms and was confused, uttering the now-famous line, “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.”2

In the end, Jacob received the blessings, Esau was incensed and threatened to kill his brother, and Jacob was compelled to leave town.

But my question is: Didn’t Jacob love his mother? He was afraid of incurring his father’s wrath, but no sooner does his mother say, “Your curse be upon me, my son,” and Jacob agrees to go along with the ruse! You don’t want to be cursed, but you’re happy for your mother to be?!

Is this behavior becoming of Jacob, one of the founding fathers of our faith?

One straightforward approach I have gathered from the commentaries is this:

When Jacob saw that his mother was prepared to take the fall, to risk the potentially lethal curse of Isaac, he realized that these were no ordinary blessings.

It wasn’t a case of Fiddler on the Roof’s “A blessing on your head, mazel tov, mazel tov.”

These blessings would effectively designate the recipient as the next link in the chain of Jewish leadership and peoplehood. Whichever son received them would determine the very fate and destiny of the Jewish People.

Can you just imagine if in our prayers every day we intoned “the G‑d of Abraham, Isaac and … Esau”? Would our nation ever have become who we are if Esau, rather than Jacob, was the spiritual successor to Isaac?

If his mother was prepared to risk being cursed by the holy Isaac, this was proof enough to Jacob how absolutely critical it was for these blessings to be conferred upon him and not Esau. And so, then and there, Jacob agreed to his mother’s request.

This also explains how the holy patriarch Jacob could engage in deception, impersonating his brother before his blind father. Every year in shul someone asks me the obvious question: How could Yaakov Avinu, Jacob our forefather, lie?! How could he tell his father he was Esau?

But to save a life, deception is justified. And to save the life and legacy of an entire nation it is certainly justified.

Indeed, when Isaac realizes what transpired, what does he say? He doesn’t berate Jacob at all. Instead, he states “Indeed, [Jacob] shall remain blessed.”3

Jacob, like all Jewish boys, loved his mother. But he and his mother loved G‑d and were fully aware of the sacred responsibility on their shoulders to be guardians of our faith and our people. This was not a game. This was no charade. Isaac, in his blindness, or for whatever reason, felt that Esau should receive the blessings. Rebecca, with her woman’s intuition, knew better.

Both Jacob and Rebecca were fully cognizant of their mission to perpetuate Judaism and our glorious nation. And thanks to their courage, commitment, and preparedness for sacrifice, Jewish continuity was safe and assured for eternity.