One of the best known stories of the Bible is in this parashah- the selling of the birthright. Or, as some describe it, Jacob steals Esau’s birthright and blessing.
We all know the story: Esau, Mr. Right-This-Minute-Who-Cares-About-Tomorrow , comes in from the field after a hard day, sees Jacob with some lentil stew (“That red stuff! Give me some of that red stuff!”) and says if Jacob doesn’t give him some stew he will starve to death. Jacob takes this opportunity to offer the stew for a price- the birthright of the firstborn.
Esau, not caring for anything past right now, says (essentially), “Sure, take it. After all, what good is it to me if I am dead.” Jacob then feeds Esau, and please note he also gives him bread and water, so he wasn’t all that bad. Consider Ebeneezer Scrooge, who wouldn’t even pay an additional half-penny for a piece of bread. After eating, Esau goes on his merry way, forgetting the whole thing.
Now later, Rivka (Rachel) gets wind that Yacov (Isaac) is getting ready to give the blessing to Esau, so she gets Jacob to cross-dress as Esau and “steal” the blessing. Of course, afterwards Isaac can’t give the firstborn blessing to Esau and Esau gets second-best, which doesn’t go over very well with him.
I want to mention that there is no mention, anywhere, that Rivka knew of the selling of the birthright so what she cajoled Jacob into doing was her own idea. Like mother, like son?
So, here’s the question: did Jacob really steal anything? After all, he did buy the birthright, so he also owned the blessing that goes with the birthright, right? If you buy a plot of land and it isn’t specified about the mineral rights, then you own the mineral rights, so if you own the birthright of the first-born, you own the blessing that the birthright is entitled to.
Here we see another example of how God’s ways are not our ways:
- Ishmael is first-born to Abraham but Isaac, the younger, gets the birthright;
- Jacob is younger than Esau, but Jacob gets the birthright;
- Ephraim is younger than Manasseh, but Ephraim receives the blessing under the right hand of Israel (reserved for the eldest);
- Solomon is much younger than Absalom and some of his other brothers, but he gets the kingdom.
Humans give the birthright and a double portion to the first-born son, but God has made sure that from the first of the Patriarchs all the way down the line, the son that is worthy is the one who gets the blessings.
Jacob did not steal the birthright or the blessing- he bought the birthright and by ownership of same, was entitled to the blessing. We could look at it this way: because Jacob owned the first-born blessing, which Isaac was going to give to Esau, by fooling his father Jacob actually saved his father from sinning against Jacob by giving Jacob’s rightful blessing to the wrong person!
What would have happened if Esau had been just a little more mature, just a little more cognizant, and just a little less immediate? Maybe he wouldn’t have given up his birthright so quickly, but in the long run it was good that he did. We see later, at the end of the parashah, that Esau just didn’t “get it”: when Isaac and Rebekah show their displeasure with Esau’s Hittite wives, he goes and marries Ishmael’s daughter.
Just not getting it.
But Jacob knew what he was doing from birth- after all, he did supplant, did he not? He knew what he wanted and how to get it, and although he was a bit sneaky and manipulative, it served him well and (eventually) served us all well. Jacob married well, too- Rachel was just as sneaky as Jacob was, stealing the family gods then pretending to be in her time of Nidah to prevent Laben from finding them.
But, then again, that’s another story.