This parashah contains the narrative of how Jacob “stole” Esau’s birthright. After doing this, he also fooled his father, Isaac, into giving him the blessing of the firstborn Isaac had intended for Esau, so twice Jacob supplanted and “stole” Esau’s rights.
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After this was done, Esau pledged to kill Jacob as soon as their father died, so hearing of this, Rebekah had Isaac send Jacob to Paddan-Aram, where her brother Laban lived to find a wife for himself. Of course, this was also her way to get Jacob away from Esau.
My question is this: did Jacob really steal anything?
Esau was a man of immediate gratification and had no respect for his birthright. This we know simply by how easily he gave it up. He wasn’t on the verge of starvation, although he acted like he was; I mean, really? How far could he have been from his parent’s tent when he came into Jacob’s tent? Jacob made a deal- he knew that Esau had something of value (the birthright) and that he, Jacob, had something Esau wanted, so he simply performed a standard business transaction.
In today’s jargon, we might call the deal he made a “steal”, but he did not really steal anything.
Now, let’s talk about the blessing of the firstborn that he is also supposed to have stolen.
First off, Rebekah was the one who thought up the plan to deceive her husband, not Jacob. In fact, we don’t even know if Rebekah was aware of the fact that Jacob owned the birthright of the one who was to receive that blessing (we’ll come back to this point soon.) According to my Chumash, Rebekah conceived the plan to fool Isaac after she heard him tell Esau he was going to give him a blessing because she remembered the prophecy she received (Genesis 25:23) when God told her there were two nations in her womb, and the older would serve the younger. Remembering this, she knew she had to make sure Jacob received the greater blessing. That was her motivation for the plot to fool Isaac.
Now, let’s get back to my earlier point about Jacob being the one who owned the right to that blessing. Jacob owned the rights of the firstborn, which would include the blessing for the firstborn. When Esau sold his rights as firstborn, everything that the firstborn was entitled to now belonged to Jacob. That includes the blessing the firstborn is to receive. I think we can make an argument that when Jacob fooled his father, it wasn’t so much to receive the blessing as it was to make sure that Isaac did not do something wrong, i.e. giving the blessing for the firstborn to one who was not entitled to it.
Many “Christian” Bibles have a subtle anti-Semitic tone to them. In fact, most of the Bibles written have copied, or at least maintained, these chapter titles that are phrased in such a way as to mislead the reader. One that really gets my goat is in Acts when Shaul has his revelation of Yeshua. They almost call this one “Paul’s Conversion on the Road to Damascus.” Oy, how I hate that! Paul never converted to anything! Today’s section of the Bible is sometimes titled “Jacob Steals Esau’s Blessing”. I found that in an old, Dartmouth Bible I have. A newer Bible, the NIV Study Quest Bible, gives this section the title “Jacob Gets Esau’s Blessing”, so it is a little better than saying it was stolen. The NLT says he stole it, and most of the others I looked at (about a dozen or so) either have no chapter title or say “Jacob Tricks Isaac.” I would agree that he did trick Isaac, obviously, but I still maintain a less accusatory title would have been something like “Jacob Receives the Blessing of the Firstborn.”
As I said before, if anyone should be blamed for tricking Isaac, it should be Rebekah since it was her idea, to begin with.
After all, that blessing belonged to Jacob the moment Esau sold it to him. And this selling of non-tangible things wasn’t unusual for that culture. In Genesis 30:14, Leah’s son, Reuben found mandrakes, and when Rachel asked for them Leah offered to give them to her in exchange for the conjugal duties of Jacob. Here we see the same sort of transaction, where an intangible right is being bought and sold. So what Jacob did wasn’t as terrible, for that culture, as we would consider it if it was done today.
When we look through the Bible, we see that in order for God’s plan to come to fruition, he often “breaks the rules” that people have created so that his will is done. The firstborn not receiving what mankind mandated the firstborn should receive is one example of this, and we see it in this parashah, and also later with Manasseh and Ephraim, then David, Solomon, and throughout the kingships of the Northern Kingdom of Israel up even to the day they are destroyed by the Assyrians.
We have to live under the laws and regulations of this world, which will have an impact on our lives; however, they will not have any impact on God’s plan for us. So no matter who cheats you or steals from you, or just misleads you, remember that you can trust in God to steer you back onto the course he wants you to be on. In fact, someone’s treachery against you may actually be God’s way of getting you where he wants you to be!
Always trust God to direct and rescue you no matter what happens in your life, whether it be a blessing or tsouris.
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