This parashah begins with the story of Isaac and Rebekah, how she struggled with her pregnancy and was told (by God) that she had two nations in her. When the time came to give birth, Esau came out already hairy, with Jacob holding onto the heel of Esau.
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One day years later, Esau came back from a hunting trip and he was starved (I’m sure he wasn’t really at death’s door, as he whined about), and coming to Jacob’s tent he asked Jacob to give him some of the lentil stew he was making.
Jacob made Esau promise to sell him the rights of the firstborn in exchange for the stew, and Esau (always first to do and second to think about it) immediately transferred this right to Jacob, for a bowl of stew and some bread and water.
Meanwhile, Isaac remained in the land and God blessed him, but he (like his father, before him) lied about his relationship with Rebekah, saying she was his sister. The king, Abimelech (maybe the same one that Abraham knew?) saw them fooling around once and learned the truth. He asked Isaac why he lied, which might have caused someone to sin and bring disaster on the people, and Isaac gave the same answer Abraham did, which was that he was afraid he would be killed so someone could take his wife for himself.
Time out! So you’re telling me that it was wrong to take another man’s
wife, but it was OK if you killed him first, making her a widow?
Back to the parashah…so Isaac was blessed and became very powerful, so much so that Abimelech went to him and basically told him to leave the area because they were afraid of him. So Isaac went, digging wells along the way, but the locals kept taking the wells claiming the land, and therefore the water, is theirs. After the third well, Isaac was able to remain. When this happened, Abimelech had a change of heart and decided it was best to make a pact with Isaac instead of just sending him away, which they did.
Now we come to the well-known story of how Jacob tricked Isaac into giving him the blessing of the firstborn. Of course, we need to remember that it was Rebekah’s idea, not Jacob’s. In any event, Jacob (with Mom’s help) received the blessing reserved for the firstborn, and when Esau learned of this, he cried to his father for any blessing at all and received the “B Team” version of the blessing, the one that Jacob most likely would have received.
Angry, Esau vows to kill Jacob as soon as Isaac is dead, and hearing of this, Rebekah has Isaac send Jacob to her brother, Laban, to find a wife, claiming that Esau’s choice of the local women as wives is an abomination to her.
That’s the end of this parashah.
If you look in most bibles, they will title this story as something along the lines of “Jacob Steals Esau’s Birthright” or “Jacob Steals the Blessing of the Firstborn.”
I never liked that because it isn’t correct: Jacob did not steal anything. He did not take something that belonged to someone else, he bargained for it. If you see someone with a car you like and offer to buy it from him or her and they sell it to you, is that stealing? If they accept an offer much lower than its intrinsic value, is that stealing? It may be getting a steal, as the expression goes, but technically it is just getting a good price, that’s all.
When I was a Tinman, which is the term for someone selling siding (I also sold replacement windows and kitchen refacing), I learned that the sale is made when the buyer’s perceived value of the product is higher than the price tag. Someone may think a product isn’t worth $25, and someone else may feel that same product is a great buy at $75!
I never told anyone how to spend their money: my job as the salesman was to build the most value I could into the product so when I gave the final price to the buyer (after I let them negotiate) it would be less than their perceived value. And I never lied to do that- you don’t have to lie to be a good salesman.
The important point in this parashah, which is almost always ignored by almost every Bible version, is not that Jacob stole the birthright but that the birthright had no value to Esau. I mean, c’mon- the guy sold what at that time would have been a double-share of the father’s estate, which the Bible tells us was significant, for a bowl of stew!
And later, when Jacob allegedly stole the blessing of the firstborn, that wasn’t stealing, either- the blessing belonged to him! He was the legal owner of the firstborn’s birthright, which included the blessing!
Here’s the real message that I want to give today, which is just briefly mentioned in the very beginning of this parashah but is significant for any Gentile who has been taught that when they accept Yeshua as their Messiah, they are not subject to the Torah commandments.
I’m talking about Genesis 26:5; but first, let’s review the background.
Leading up to this verse, we read there is a famine and God tells Isaac to not go to Egypt but remain in the land of Canaan, and that if he goes where God tells him to go then God will fulfill the same promise to Isaac that he gave to Abraham.
Throughout my 25+ years as a believing Jewish man, I have constantly heard that we are saved by faith, and throughout the Bible, both Old and New Covenants, we are reminded that it was because Abraham believed God when God told him something, that his faith was counted as righteousness (Genesis 15:6.)
And that is where Christianity stops talking about Abraham’s faith. They constantly use his faith as the only reason he was considered righteous; today, we don’t just need to have faith in God but also faithfully accept that Yeshua is the Messiah, and it is that faith through which we are “saved.”
But there is more to it than that, and that’s what God tells Isaac in Genesis 26:5 which is why God promised Abraham what he did (Genesis 26:5 CJB):
All this is because Avraham heeded what I said and did what I told him to do -he followed my mitzvot, my regulations and my teachings.
What? Abraham’s faith wasn’t all that God wanted? Apparently not, since God said his promises to Abraham were because he heeded what God said (i.e., believed him) and DID everything God told him to do.
Yes, as uncomfortable as this is, God is saying that faith, alone, isn’t all you need: you must not just faithfully believe but also DO what God says.
That is why Abraham received the promises: he believed and he did.
That is what James means in James 2:14 when he says that faith without works is dead.
Sorry to bust so many people’s comfort zone bubbles, but just believing in God and Jesus ain’t gonna cut it all the way through. Oh, yeah, you may end up in heaven, or have a place on the new earth; you may not have to spend eternity out of God’s presence, but if you are in, it will be at the lowest level possible.
God already knew what I learned a long time ago: people don’t mean what they say, they mean what they do.
So if you think you are saved but do none of the things that God requires of everyone (maybe your religion has told you the Torah is just for Jews, but that is a lie), then you should reconsider whether God wants you to do what he said, or what some religious leader with a seminary degree tells you to do.
Abraham received blessings from God for believing and doing as God said; Isaac received blessings for believing and doing as God said.
So, nu? What makes you think you don’t have to?
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That’s it for this week, so l’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!