Toldot 5773 – Jacob Tortures Esau

Esau and Jacob (in Hebrew: Esav and Yaakov) were twins.

Because Esau was born a few minutes before Jacob, he had the privileges and responsibilities of the firstborn.

Esau the Unfit Firstborn

Jacob realized that Esau 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.

Genesis 25

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.

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Simple Reading

According to the simplest reading of these verses, here is the timeline of events on that day:

  1. Esau came in
  2. He said he needed food
  3. Jacob negotiated for the birthright
  4. Esau agreed
  5. Finally, Jacob gave Esau some food
  6. Esau ate and left.

It seems like Jacob took advantage of Esau.

Esau needed food. Jacob 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 Jacob gave Esau bread …”

Another Explanation

Verse 34 begins “v’Jacob 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 Jacob gave
  • And Jacob did give
  • And Jacob was giving
  • And Jacob has given
  • And Jacob had given

The best translation depends upon the context.

Here is how Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch translates Verse 34:

Genesis 25

34 Ya’akov had given Esau bread and a pottage of lentils. He ate, he drank, he rose and he went out. Thus did Esau 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 parsha.

When Isaac wanted to bless Esau, Jacob managed to obtain the blessing.

I know. I know.

Jacob “getting” / “stealing” the blessing really needs to be discussed.

Sorry. I don’t have time to go into it this week. Some other time. 🙂

Esau is not pleased (to put it mildly) when he discovers what Jacob did.

Genesis 27:35-36

35 And he [Isaac] said, “Your brother came with cunning and took your blessing.”
36 And he [Esau] 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 Isaac heard about the selling of the birthright.

Here is part of Rashi’s comment on this verse:

Rashi on Genesis 27:36

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 Isaac, it is now a settled matter. The birthright belongs to Jacob.

Esau does not claim that Jacob got the birthright by taking advantage of him when he was weak and dying of hunger.


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Picture Credit – lentil stew: from Flickr

A Note on the Translations
The translation of Bible verses is based on the Judaica Press Tanach.
The translation of Gemara is based on the Soncino Talmud.
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