Esav and Yaakov were twins.
Because Esav was born a few minutes before Yaakov, he had the privileges and responsibilities of the firstborn.
Yaakov realized that Esav was not spiritually fit to fulfill his role.
Therefore, he took advantage of an opportunity to purchase the birthright from his brother.
Here is the Judaica Press translation of the relevant verses.
29 Now Jacob cooked a pottage, and Esau came from the field, and he was faint.
30 And Esau said to Jacob, “Pour into [me] some of this red, red [pottage], for I am faint”; he was therefore named Edom.
31 And Jacob said, “Sell me as of this day your birthright.”
32 Esau replied, “Behold, I am going to die; so why do I need this birthright?”
33 And Jacob said, “Swear to me as of this day”; so he swore to him, and he sold his birthright to Jacob.
34 And Jacob gave Esau bread and a pottage of lentils, and he ate and drank and arose and left, and Esau despised the birthright.
According to the simplest reading of these verses, here is the timeline of events on that day:
- Esav came in
- He said he needed food
- Yaakov negotiated for the birthright
- Esav agreed
- Finally, Yaakov gave Esav some food
- Esav ate and left.
It seems like Yaakov took advantage of Esav.
Esav needed food. Yaakov had food, but denied it to his brother until he gave up the birthright.
In fact, some translations of Verse 34 strengthen this understanding. They render it as “then Yaakov gave Esav bread …”
Verse 34 begins “v’Yaakov natan …”
The word “natan” is a masculine, third person, past tense verb which expresses the idea of giving.
English has many ways to describe an action in the past.
There are five completely acceptable ways that our phrase could be translated:
- And Yaakov gave
- And Yaakov did give
- And Yaakov was giving
- And Yaakov has given
- And Yaakov had given
The best translation depends upon the context.
Here is how Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch translates Verse 34:
34 Ya’akov had given Esav bread and a pottage of lentils. He ate, he drank, he rose and he went out. Thus did Esav despise the birthright.
Support for Rav Hirsch
Rav Hirsch does not explain why he favors this translation.
I think that we can find support for his approach from later in the parasha.
When Yitzchak wanted to bless Esav, Yaakov managed to obtain the blessing.
Yaakov getting the blessing really needs to be discussed.
Sorry. I don’t have time to go into it this week. Some other time. 🙂
Esav is not pleased (to put it mildly) when he discovers what Yaakov did.
35 And he [Yitzchak] said, “Your brother came with cunning and took your blessing.”
36 And he [Esav] said, “Is it for this reason that he was named Jacob? For he has deceived me twice; he took my birthright, and behold, now he has taken my blessing.” And he said, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?”
This is the first time that Yitzchak heard about the selling of the birthright.
Here is part of Rashi’s comment on this verse:
Why did Isaac shudder [Verse 27:33]?
He said, “Perhaps I am guilty of an iniquity, for I have blessed the younger son before the older one, and thus altered the order of the relationship.”[Thereupon], Esau started crying, “He has already deceived me twice!”
His father said to him, “What did he do to you?”
He replied, “He took my birthright.”
He [Isaac] said, “That is why I was troubled and shuddered, for [I was afraid that] perhaps I [had] transgressed the line of strict justice, [but] now [that I know that] I actually blessed the firstborn, ‘he too shall be blessed’.”
To Yitzchak, it is now a settled matter. The birhtright belongs to Yaakov.
Esav does not claim that Yaakov got the birthright by taking advantage of him when he was weak and dying of hunger.
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