Two Brothers; Two Paths; One Family

And the Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two kingdoms will separate from your innards, and one kingdom will become mightier than the other kingdom, and the elder will serve the younger.

Until their 13th birthday, Jacob and Esau were nearly indistinguishable. They went to cheder every morning, came home at 3 p.m. and did their chores. They were the spitting image of their devout parents.

Then came the split:

And the youths grew up, and Esau was a man who understood hunting, a man of the field, whereas Jacob was an innocent man, dwelling in tents. And Isaac loved Esau because [his] game was in his mouth, but Rebecca loved Jacob.

The commentators seem confused. Did Issac love Esau based on his son’s ability to hunt? Did Rebecca love only Jacob? What about her other son?

Esau and Jacob were highly gifted. But Esau demonstrated greater talents than his brother. Ovadia Ben Yaakov Sforno says Esau was an expert in agriculture. He was a marksman and could trap animals for food. He was also a first-class warrior.

These skills would have been valued in any family. The patriarch Issac was forced to uproot his family because of famine. He was confronted by hostile gangs in Philistine who plugged up water wells dug by Abraham. He could use somebody like Esau on his side.

Esau’s big day came when he was still a teenager. It was the day of Abraham’s funeral and Esau met his grandfather’s tormentor Nimrod. For hours, the young grandson battled until Esau killed the aging despot and took his coat of many colors that belonged to Adam. Never did a son rank so high in his father’s eyes as Esau. The boy had avenged Issac’s father on the day of his death.

Rebecca loved Jacob for precisely the opposite. The boy couldn’t hunt, farm or fight. But he was honest and devout — qualities required to make Jacob the heir. Rebecca was determined not to allow her husband to choose Esau, who despised the responsibilities of birthright. Indeed, Esau would sell his birthright to Jacob for bread and a pottage of lentils.

Still, Esau had no intention of giving up anything, a key trait of the wicked. He would rape, pillage and kill and then use his charm to get out of any jam. When Esau met his father the young man would always ask some clever question in Jewish law to display his piety and scholarship.

Although he maintained numerous concubines, Esau made sure to wait until 40 to announce his marriage — the same age as his father. The bride’s name was Judith, although she came from the Hittites, forbidden to Abraham and his descendants. The newlyweds had a great time upstairs in their parent’s house, particularly when burning incense to the Hittite idols and watching the smoke pour out of their apartment.

Finally, Issac decided to arrange the affairs of his estate and bless his children. Esau might have sold his birthright, but he didn’t tell his father that. The young conman was eager to receive the divine blessings that would bring him greater power and wealth.

Issac’s bar seemed low: He merely wanted Esau to bring fresh venison and prepare it properly. That meant ritual slaughter, draining the blood and using kosher utensils — easy tasks that would prove that Esau was really at heart a fine Jewish boy.

Now it was Rebecca’s turn. She told Jacob to pretend to be Esau and bring the food that his mother would cook. Rebecca told him to don Esau’s coat that he had taken from Nimrod to complete the deception.

But Jacob was not much of an actor and Issac grew suspicious. Even a superman like Esau couldn’t hunt, slaughter, prepare and cook meat within an hour. Then, there was the way Jacob spoke to his father — quietly, modestly and respectfully. That wasn’t like the swaggering Esau at all.

So, Jacob drew near to Isaac his father, and he felt him, and he said, “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.”

Eventually, Issac began the blessing of what he thought was his first-born. Some commentators assert that Issac was fooled throughout and believed he was blessing Esau. Not so, says Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki, or Rashi. Rashi was struck by Issac’s choice of G-d’s name, “Elokim,” which denotes justice rather than charity.

And may the Lord 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.”

Issac knew he was blessing the pious Jacob. And his blessing, Rashi says, was conditional. “If you are worthy then He will give you, and if not, then He will not give you.”

Issac, however, was apparently far more generous to Esau. The patriarch’s blessing, Rashi says, was unconditional. It would not be abrogated regardless of Esau’s behavior.

And his father Isaac answered and said to him, “Behold, your dwelling place shall be the fat places of the earth and of the dew of the heaven from above. And you shall live by your sword, and you shall serve your brother, and it will be, when you grieve, that you will break his yoke off your neck.”

Esau should have walked out of his father’s house with a smile. He had received exactly the blessing he wanted — a fertile homeland and a war machine. But he was angered by the latter part of the sentence: “and you shall serve your brother.” In contrast, Jacob had received the same blessing as that which Abraham gave Issac. The bottom line: Jacob would be the heir and continue the line of the patriarchs. Esau would pick up his winnings and leave.

And Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing that his father had blessed him, and Esau said to himself, “Let the days of mourning for my father draw near, I will then kill my brother Jacob. “

Throughout history, Esau’s descendants would be stronger, richer and more powerful than the children of Jacob. But Esau’s family would never get over the fact that he had departed from Abraham and Issac. They would resent Jacob’s choice of modesty and piety even though this would involve unimaginable suffering.

Esau’s vow to kill Jacob explains everything — the destruction of the two temples, Crusades, Inquisition, pogroms, Holocaust, Iran’s nuclear threat. Yet Esau knows that he will never break the chain of Abraham, Issac and Jacob.

That’s got to hurt.

About the Author
Steve Rodan has been a journalist for some 40 years and worked for major media outlets in Israel, Europe and the United States. For 18 years, he directed Middle East Newsline, an online daily news service that focused on defense, security and energy. Along with Elly Sinclair, he has just released his first book: In Jewish Blood: The Zionist Alliance With Germany, 1933-1963 and available on Amazon.
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