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Torah reading:  Genesis 25:19 - 28:9
Haftarah:  Malachi 1:1-27

A lot of brothers suffer from sibling rivalry issues, especially when they are twins.  Jacob and Esau had it worse; they had a Prophecy.

Before they were even born, the twins were so active in their mother, Rebekah's womb that they seemed to be fighting already.  The Lord told Rebekah:

"Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from within you will be separated;
one people will be stronger than the other,
and the older will serve the younger."
(Genesis 25:23)
Rebekah doesn't seem to have told her husband, Isaac about this; or maybe she did and he just didn't take it seriously.  If he had, things might have gone differently.

Then again, who knows with prophecy.


The story is a famliar one.  Esau comes home from hunting one day and sees his brother making some read bean stew -- "a mess of pottage" in the King Jim Version.  Esau's hungry, and asks for some of it.  Jacob says he will only if Esau gives him this birthright in return.  Esau figures it's no big deal, so he agrees.  Besides, he was hungry.

Why did Jacob make this outrageous demand?  Maybe it was just sibling rivarly and competitiveness; but I suspect Jacob's mother told him about the Prophecy.  Rebekah favored Jacob, the clever one, the Boy of Prophecy; but Isaac favored Esau, the rugged, manly outdoorsman.  I think that even then, Jacob was trying to work things to make the prophecy come true.  Jacob was a trickster, and a schemer.  He always had a Cunning Plan.

Years later, when their father Isaac was old and nearing death, he summons Esau in order to bestow upon him a Father's Blessing.  This is big.  What he is doing is transmitting the blessing first bestowed by the Lord upon Abraham, and then passed on to Isaac.  Now Isaac is going to pass it forward to the next generation.  But first, Isaac tells Esau to hunt some wild game and prepare a meal for him.

Rebekah overhears this conversation and sees an opportunity to fix things.  Jacob isn't the only one who has Cunning Plans.  She instructs Jacob to go to his father with a meal she will prepare out of her "How to make Goat Taste Like Venison" cookbook and pretend to be his brother.  Isaac's eyes are so dimmed with age that if Jacob wears one of Esau's shirts so that he'll smell right, and covers his hands and neck with goat skins, so that his skin will feel rough and hairy like Esau's, the old man will never know the difference.

"It's so crazy, it might work!"  Jacob says.  And it does; the ruse fools Isaac and the old man bestows a blessing upon his younger son much like the Prophecy Rebekah received all those years earlier.

Of course, once Esau finds out, he's furious and vows to kill Jacob just as soon as the old man has kicked the bucket.  Rebekah advises Jacob to take a long trip.  A very long trip.  For his health.

We often hear people talk about "God's Divine Plan", which sounds all very nice and reverent.  The problem comes in (or one of them anyway), when we start to confuse the Lord's Plan with our own ideas of how things should go.  This was Jacob all over; he was always coming up with tricks and gimmicks to get what he wanted.  This week's Torah reading is only the beginning; in the following weeks we'll see even more of his wacky schemes.

Jacob might well have argued that what he was doing might have been unethical, but that it was justified in order to fulfill the Word of the Lord.

Maybe.  But although I do believe (as one of Jacob's sons will say several chapters from now) that the Lord can turn Evil to Good, that doesn't mean that the Evil was Good in the first place.

By the end of this week's reading, Jacob has gained his inheritance, but lost his family and his home.  In the readings for the coming weeks, we'll see how he meets a guy even trickier than he is; and how many of his own tricks come to bite him in the butt; and how ultimately Jacob's own sons play upon him the cruellest trick imaginable.

Originally posted to Street Prophets on Thu Nov 15, 2012 at 04:32 PM PST.

Also republished by Elders of Zion.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (14+ / 0-)

    "All the World's a Stage and Everyone's a Critic." -- Mervyn Alquist

    by quarkstomper on Thu Nov 15, 2012 at 04:32:57 PM PST

  •  Hebrew school (4+ / 0-)

    When my 6 year old started Hebrew school, she would come home and recant bible stories where something bad--or unethical--was rewarded.  These stories are inappropriate for young children who look at them simplistically.  Actually, I also find them inappropriate for any age.  I finally complained to the rabbi when the story of Samson and the mice (?) was taught--he told the teachers to be less literal with younger children--edit out the victory of vice.

    Apres Bush, le deluge.

    by melvynny on Thu Nov 15, 2012 at 04:45:51 PM PST

    •  I Think they were Foxes (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Navy Vet Terp, Oh Mary Oh, krwada

      If the Samson story is the one I'm thinking of, it involved foxes, and PETA would definitely not have approved of it.

      On the subject of editing the stories for children, I'm of two minds.  My gut reaction is opposed to bowdlerizing them.  Several years ago, I was writing a puppet play based on the story of Esther for our church's Vacation Bible School, and out of curiousity  I watched the "Veggie Tales" version to see how they handled the story.  In the "Veggie Tales" version, nobody got killed.  Not even Haman.  Instead they were taken away to the dungeons to be tickled.  This bugged me.  Yes, I know; "Veggie Tales" are meant to be whimsical and toddler-friendly.  Still it bugged me.

      On the other hand, Delivering the stories straight with no context and no commentary isn't very good either.  There are a lot of stories in Scriptures which simply relate the events and leave the reader to make the moral judgements.  An example of this is the story of Lot's Daughters.  I've seen people claim "The Bible says if a woman can't find a husband she must sleep with her father to get a son."  Uh, no.  According to Genesis that's what the Daughters of Lot did, but the text never says that God commanded it, or even condoned it.  The text simply tells the story and assumes that the reader will make the correct interpretation.

      "All the World's a Stage and Everyone's a Critic." -- Mervyn Alquist

      by quarkstomper on Thu Nov 15, 2012 at 05:29:17 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  With little ones (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        you can always say "and what do you think should happen to (name each character)?"

        As for Esther, we still bowdlerize the story even for grownups by pretty much leaving the last chapter undiscussed.

        Republicans want to make government small enough to fit in your vagina..

        by ramara on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 04:35:47 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Or as the saying goes (5+ / 0-)

    "The end does not justify the means."  

    In the short run, Jacob earned the hatred of his brother.  According to Genesis 25:30 and 36:15 and 36:43, Esau became the founder of the kingdom of Edom and later in Bible we read of wars between Edom and Israel.  To the rabbis, Edom and Esau became the code words for the hated Roman Empire, condemning Rome outright was not a safe thing for them to do.  This equivalence of Esau and Rome prejudiced the rabbi's interpretations of the Biblical story, making Esau the epitomy of evil, but the Biblical story minus the Talmudic gloss was a lot more complicated than that.

    In the 1930's Rabbi Leo Baeck, Chief Rabbi of Berlin, would condemn Esau and Edom and Rome in his weekly sermons, these were his code words for Nazi Germany, which the Jews of Berlin understood but the two Gestapo agents assigned to sit in the synagogue to hear the sermon did not.  After a year of two they approached the rabbi after services and told him he better cut out the talk of Esau Edom and Rome, they had finally figured it out, or next time he would be arrested and sent to a concentration.  He stopped the references, although that didn't save him in the long run from Theresienstadt.

    "We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals, now we know that it is bad economics." Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jan. 20, 1937

    by Navy Vet Terp on Thu Nov 15, 2012 at 04:53:44 PM PST

  •  So Jacob was the direct ancerstor of Baldric (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    krwada, quarkstomper, blueyedace2

    They both have cunning plans...

    The last time we mixed religion and politics people got burned at the stake.

    by irishwitch on Thu Nov 15, 2012 at 04:54:48 PM PST

  •  The Rabbis had no sympathy for Esau (5+ / 0-)

    but I always did.  Jacob stole from him, then stole away.  Yet Esau treats him with kindness when the brothers finally meet again.  Why is the man so vilified?

    •  My Guess is Hindsight (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Navy Vet Terp, blueyedace2, krwada

      From what I understand, the general consensus of most biblical scholars is that the story of Jacob and Esau was written during the period of Israel's monarchy, when Israel and Edom were at best rivals and at worst at each other's throats.  So, the thinking goes, Israel's version of history depicts Edom's founding father as a jerk.

      But to my reading, although my inner nerd likes the idea of the little geek getting the better of his big jock brother, Jacob doesn't come off very admirably either.

      "All the World's a Stage and Everyone's a Critic." -- Mervyn Alquist

      by quarkstomper on Thu Nov 15, 2012 at 05:09:37 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Why waste your time with fairy tales? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Johnny Nucleo, corvo

    This never happened probably :P

    Romney/Caligula 2012!

    by sujigu on Thu Nov 15, 2012 at 05:10:49 PM PST

    •  Why did you waste your time with this diary? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Navy Vet Terp

      There are a lot of reasons to read fairy tales.  Some of them carry morals or illustrate truths.  Some of them can be used to illuminate issues or ideas that have relevance in our lives.

      If you have read any of the other entires in the D'var Torah series, you'll see that's what these diaries try to do; to use the stories recorded in Scripture as jumping-off points for other ideas.

      Oh, and some fairy tales are entertaining as stories.

      "All the World's a Stage and Everyone's a Critic." -- Mervyn Alquist

      by quarkstomper on Thu Nov 15, 2012 at 05:37:09 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Wow. (0+ / 0-)

      First outright troll I've ever seen on DKos.  Stay classy, dude.

  •  Sold ... for a bowl of lentil stew (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    quarkstomper, SchuyH

    Many times I have wondered which nation is represented by Esau. I have also wondered where the descendants of Hagar went to also...

    No more gooper LITE!

    by krwada on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 11:10:24 AM PST

    •  Esau become Edom (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      krwada, SchuyH

      There was a kingdom bordering the tribe of Judah during the period of the Judges and the Monarchy called Edom which was supposed to have been the descendents of Esau.  "Edom" means "red" and the name became attached to Esau either because he was a ruddy baby or because of the whole red lentil stew business.  The text makes both connections.  I think Edom as a kingdom became absorbed by Babylon about the time Nebuchadnezzer annexed the Kingdom of Judah; but the people of Edom survived longer as a culture.  King Herod the Great was an Idumean, or an Edomite; (which was one of the reasons a lot of the Jews he ruled considered his reign illegitimate).  Later still, rabbinical writers used "Edom" to symbolize the enemies of Israel, as Navy Vet Terp mentioned in a comment above.

      As for the descendants of Hagar, according to Muslim tradition, the Arabs are descended from Ishmael; so yes, they're still around.

      "All the World's a Stage and Everyone's a Critic." -- Mervyn Alquist

      by quarkstomper on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 12:27:40 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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