It has always been noted that the Torah is unique by virtue of the very human terms with which it describes its great heroes. Even the patriarchs and matriarchs are not presented as models of perfection. This is not only true of their actions, but also of them physically. The most prominent example is that of Isaac, of whom it says: “His eyes were too dim to see” (Genesis 27:1).

Beyond the obvious fact that if Isaac weren’t blind,* he would never have blessed Jacob instead of Esau, what can be learned from this description of Isaac?

It is a well-known fact that many people who are impaired in one sense compensate for it with their other senses. In the very same chapter in which Isaac’s blindness is described, sound, touch and smell are each used by Isaac for identification. When he doubts his hearing (“The voice is the voice of Jacob…”), Isaac relies on touch (“but the hands are the hands of Esau.”). After eating the meal presented to him by Jacob, Isaac tests his son one last time by smelling him. Jacob, however, was wearing Esau’s clothes, so Isaac “smelled the fragrance of his garments, and he blessed him.”

The Jewish understanding that blindness is not a reason to consider someone inferior (something which lesser people often do) can be seen in the tale of the blind Rabbi Sheshet, who was able to tell when the king was approaching by the sound (or lack thereof) of the crowd. When asked how he knew, he responded by saying that earthly royalty is like heavenly royalty, and God, the King of kings, is found” in the still small voice” (I Kings 19:11). And though Rabbi Sheshet could not see him with his eyes, he nevertheless said the blessing recited when seeing a king.

*While Isaac’s blindness is the primary reason that he was fooled, his “blindness” can also be read as a metaphor for the fact that he was “blinded” by Esau’s false pretenses of righteousness.

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