Some Points. (4 December, 2019, 6 Kislev 5780)
Duration: 32.45 minutes
The Israelites Tribes descedn from ABRAHAM, iSAAC, and iSRAEL.
Isaac was the son of Abraham, Isaac had inherited the Promised Blessing. Through his wife Rebecca ("Rivkah") Isaac begat twin sons, Esau and Jacob. Jacob was later renamed Israel (Genesis 32:28, 35:10). He was the forefather of the 12 Twelve Tribes of Israel.
These are the events leading up to the birth of Jacob and Esau. Rebecca had been barren but Isaac prayed and his prayers were answered. Rebecca became pregnant with twins.
The Bible tells us:
Genesis (NASB) 25:
21 Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and the LORD answered him and Rebekah his wife conceived. 22 But the children struggled together within her; and she said, 'If it is so, why then am I this way?' So she went to inquire of the LORD. 23 The LORD said to her,
'Two nations are in your womb;
And two peoples will be separated from your body;
And one people shall be stronger than the other;
And the older shall serve the younger.'
24 When her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb. 25 Now the first came forth red, all over like a hairy garment; and they named him Esau. 26 Afterward his brother came forth with his hand holding on to Esau's heel, so his name was called Jacob; and Isaac was sixty years old when she gave birth to them.
Esau was the Firstborn, Jacob came afterwards clutching on to the heel of Jacob. That is how Jacob got his name. The name "Jacob" derives from a Hebrew root word meaning "heel." We will discuss this further on.
Later Esau sold the birthright to Jacob. The Bible narrative continues:
Genesis (NASB) 25: 27 When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the field, but Jacob was a peaceful man, living in tents. 28 Now Isaac loved Esau, because he had a taste for game, but Rebekah loved Jacob. 29 When Jacob had cooked stew, Esau came in from the field and he was famished; 30 and Esau said to Jacob, 'Please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there, for I am famished.' Therefore his name was called Edom. 31 But Jacob said, 'First sell me your birthright.' 32 Esau said, 'Behold, I am about to die; so of what use then is the birthright to me?' 33 And Jacob said, 'First swear to me'; so he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew; and he ate and drank, and rose and went on his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.
Let us consider, What was the Birthright? What really happened?
Some say the Firstborn Birthright entailed receipt of an extra portion in the Inheritance. This is what the Law later says (Deuteronomy 21:17). Most of the Commentators however incline to the view that this was not the case here. The majority say that the Firstborn Birthright meant the fulfillment of a spiritual obligation that meant both rewards (if done well) and penalties if not fulfilled properly.
[See the Hebrew-language compendium of Classical Rabbinical Commentaries, "Otsar Mepharshi HaTorah."]
The first-born sons of the Israelites later had the role of the priests before being replaced by the Tribe of Levi (Numbers 3:12). The Commentary of "Chizkuni" (Hezekiah ben Manoah, 1200s CE, France) associates the Right of the Firstborn to inheritance of the Land of Israel and service in the Temple. This was to be realized many centuries later but some degree of awareness of future events existed at that time. This view of the Chizkuni complements that of the others who spoke of a Spiritual-Priesthood association with the Firstborn Right.
What really did happen when Esau sold the Birthright to Jacob?
From an initial reading of the Bible text we might get the following impression:
It might seem at first glance that Esau came in famished from the hunt, and asked for a taste of the food that Jacob had prepared. Jacob said, "Fist sell me the birthright!" Esau said the Birthright was no good to him if he was going to die of starvation anyway. Jacob again insisted and so the transaction was made.
This is misleading.
First of all the word translated as "famished" in Hebrew is "iy-ef" meaning literally "tired, exhausted."
Esau did not actually say (as translated above), "Please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there." In Hebrew the word translated here as "let me have a swallow" is "Halitani" meaning "Pour it down my throat," i.e. feed me!.
Jacob did not say, "First sell me the Birthrigh!"
The word translated as "First" in the translated passage is "Ka-Yom" literally "as of this day" and NOT "first"!
The ESV renders the expression, "Sell me your birthright now."
The KJV has it, "Sell me your birthright as of this day."
Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg (author of "Haketav VehaKabbalah," 1785-1865, Germany) explains the expression "Ka-Yom" to mean, "As Clear as the Day is, sell it to me."
Rabbi Mecklenberg also explains that the word "then Jacob gave" in the phrase, "Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew" (Genesis 25:34) as meaning more exactly "Jacob had given." [In Hebrew it is "Ve-Yaacov natan," instead of "Va-yitan Yaacov." ] This is indeed the meaning of the Biblical Hebrew as explained by Rabbi Mecklenberg.
Also what did Esau mean when he said, "Behold, I am about to die; so of what use then is the birthright to me?" (25:32)?
The Hebrew expression more correctly is rendered as "I am going to die, why should the Birthright concern me?" He also did not necessarily express this to Jacob. In Biblical Style "saying" could just as easily mean that he had been thinking these words to himself.
By "I am about to die," the Hatam Softer (1762-1839) and others explain Esau to have meant "I am liable for death" Esau according to tradition was known as someone who took the wives of other men by force and lived a dissolute sinful life. This was his existence. It was the way he had chosen. He was resigned to his fate and prepared for the consequences. The Right of the Firstborn with its Priestly Spiritual Responsibilities would only add to his already onerous culpability. Just because he had resigned himself to a lifev without God does not mean he was prepared to incur additional penalties for no reason or pleasure.
On the other hand this same right of the Firstborn and its obligations was suited to the personality of Jacob. From his side, Jacob would have had an innate concern that it should be in his hands because he wanted it done properly.
Let us revise the Translation in light of the above observations and other points.
Genesis (Yair) 25: 27 Then the youths were grown. Esau was a man who knew about hunting, a man of the field, but Jacob was a simple man, who lived in tents. 29 And so Jacob cooked a stew. Then Esau came in from the field and he was exhausted; 30 Then Esau said to Jacob, 'Please pour some of that very red stuff down my throat, for I am exhausted.' Therefore his name was called Edom [i.e. "Red']. 31 Then Jacob said, 'Sell me your birthright, now in a clear-cut sale.' 32 And Esau said, 'Behold, I am going to die [for my sins]; what pertinence has the birthright to me?' 33 Then Jacob said, 'Swear to me, now, in a clear-cut way'; so he swore to him, and he sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Now Jacob had [already] given Esau bread and lentil stew; and he ate and drank, and rose and went away. And so Esau despised the Birthright.
In summary, Esau had come in exhausted from the hunt. He asked Jacob to pour part of the lentil stew that had been prepared down his throat. Jacob did so. Jacob THEN requested the Firstborn Right. Esau said that he was condemned to die in this world regardless of anything else -because of the mode of life he had chosen. The Firstborn right of Priesthood type obligation was therefore superfluous and even a liability for him. He made a clear-cut vow giving the Birthright to Jacob. Esau had despised it.
Jacob wanted the Birthright because it was important in its own right. It had relevance to how he believed things should be and so he wanted it because under the circumstances he was the only one who would know how to use it!
Later, Isaac, the father of Jacob and Esau wished to give a parting Death-Bed type blessing to Esau. Jacob was instructed by his mother, Rebecca, to disguise himself as Esau and take the blessing. He did so. He presented himself to Isaac who was blind and he was blessed. Isaac, being deceived, had blessed Jacob assuming he was Esau.
When Esau heard what had happened he said:
Genesis (NASB) 27:
36 ....'Is he not rightly named Jacob, for he has supplanted me these two times? He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.'
This gives us a play on words:
The phrase relays the following message:
# Was Jacob not aptly called Jacob ["Yaakov" i.e. Supplanter and Deceiver]? He has overtaken me ("ve-Yaakavaini" [ ] ) twice!
The name 'Jacob' in Hebrew is 'Yaacov' ( יעקב) from the root 'akev' ( עקב) connoting 'Akev' ( עקב) i.e. 'heel.' When Esau and his twin brother were born Jacob came out holding the heel of Esau.
Jacob received his name because he performed a deed with the heel ("akev" ) of his brother. This name 'Yaacov' ( יעקב) shares its word root with words connoting "overtake" ( עוקב) and "deception" ( עקבה).
It may be supposed that when one passes by or overtakes another you come around their heel ("akev") to go ahead of them.
If you deceive another you also come at them in a roundabout way as if you come from behind, from the heel or "akev."
Esau was born first. He had the right of the Birthright. Jacob induced Esau to sell the Birthright to him and Esau did so.
Jacob acted as he did through the directions of his mother, Rebecca, who had been told that Jacob had to receive the preeminence. Why it had to be this way is another matter. It may have involved the prototypical symbolism of the deed.
First Jacob acquired the Birthright from Esau after Esau had expressed contempt for it. After he had received the Birthright, the Deathbed Blessing should also have automatically been given to Jacob. Esau may not have realized this at first. Isaac at the time may not have been aware that Jacob had gained the Birthright. This may be seen by the reaction of Isaac when he hears that Jacob had taken both the Birthright and the Blessing:
Genesis (NASB) 27:
30 Now it came about, as soon as Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, and Jacob had hardly gone out from the presence of Isaac his father, that Esau his brother came in from his hunting. 31 Then he also made savory food, and brought it to his father; and he said to his father, 'Let my father arise and eat of his son's game, that you may bless me.' 32 Isaac his father said to him, 'Who are you?' And he said, 'I am your son, your firstborn, Esau.' 33 Then Isaac trembled violently, and said, 'Who was he then that hunted game and brought it to me, so that I ate of all of it before you came, and blessed him? Yes, and he shall be blessed.' 34 When Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry, and said to his father, 'Bless me, even me also, O my father!' 35 And he said, 'Your brother came deceitfully and has taken away your blessing.' 36 Then he said, 'Is he not rightly named Jacob, for he has supplanted me these two times? He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.' And he said, 'Have you not reserved a blessing for me?' 37 But Isaac replied to Esau, 'Behold, I have made him your master, and all his relatives I have given to him as servants; and with grain and new wine I have sustained him. Now as for you then, what can I do, my son?'
Note that Isaac even beofe he knows what has happened is already aware that the Almighty had confirmed the blessing to Jacob, Yes, and he shall be blessed.' After hearing that the pretender was Jacob Isaac remarks,
Genesis (NASB) 27:
37 .. Isaac replied to Esau, 'Behold, I have made him your master, and all his relatives I have given to him as servants; and with grain and new wine I have sustained him. Now as for you then, what can I do, my son?'
In these words Isaac in effect confirms the Birthright and Blessing to Jacob as he does again later on (Genesis 28:3-4).
Genesis (NASB) 28:
1 So Isaac called Jacob and blessed him... 3 May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. 4 May He also give you the blessing of Abraham, to you and to your descendants with you, that you may possess the land of your sojournings, which God gave to Abraham.
Jacob had dressed up as Esau so that he might be blessed. Jacob needed to adopt behavioral patterns associated with Esau in order to carry out his mission for the good of mankind. This may be the secret of the Ten Tribes who had to become like the Gentiles in order to elevate humanity from inside it, i.e. to go down to the pagan level and then rise up from it dragging the rest of mankind with them.