In parasha Toldot, we learn of the interesting family life of Isaac and Rebecca.
Rebecca is unable to have children for many years. Isaac prays for her, and God answers by giving her twins. Esau is born first. Then Jacob comes, holding on to Esau’s heel. We will see there was a purpose in this.
Esau and Jacob’s early years are an example of how people respond differently to their environment. When they were small, they were the same. But Esau grows up to become a man of the field and a hunter. Rashi explains the Torah uses the phrase for hunter as someone who “knows trapping” meaning that he knew how to deceive people. Esau deceived Isaac to think that he was concerned with God, when he actually worshipped idols. Jacob grows up to “live in tents” which Rashi explains were the tents where Noah’s descendants Shem and Eber teach the ways of Torah.
As the firstborn, Esau will inherit the family birthright, which means the spiritual leadership of the family. Jacob knows that Esau is not fit for this task, because Esau is deceitful and worships idols. This is why Jacob was holding on to Esau’s foot when they were born, because Jacob knew that Esau would not be qualified for spiritual leadership so Jacob tried to be born first.
One day, Esau comes back from hunting and is very hungry. Jacob is making a lentil stew, and Esau asks for some. Jacob offers to give Esau some of the stew in exchange for Esau’s birthright. The birthright means so little to Esau, he agrees.
Near the end of his life, Isaac wishes to bless his children. He calls for Esau to catch and cook some game with recipes he loves, and then he will bless Esau. When Rebecca was pregnant with the twins, God told her that she was carrying two nations, and that the elder would serve the younger. She knew that God’s plan was to have Jacob receive the preferred blessing from their father.
Esau was very hairy and Jacob was not, so Rebecca disguised Jacob by putting goat skins on parts of his body. She then made the kind of delicacies that Isaac loved, and gave them to Jacob, who took them to Isaac. Isaac felt Jacob’s arms and they felt like Esau’s, so he blessed Jacob thinking he was Esau. The blessing was for abundance and leadership, and included “be a lord to your brothers.” When Esau heard the blessing, he cried out for his own blessing, and was also blessed by Isaac.
Esau was very angry with Jacob, and said he would kill Jacob after their father died. Rebecca saw Esau’s hatred, and told Jacob to take his family and go to her birthplace in Haran, to live with her brother Laban.
The family drama has played out with some familiar themes. A righteous woman who has to wait many years to have the children she wants very much. Rivalry among brothers when the younger brother rises above the elder.
We will see the family of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs suffer through similar difficulties in the next few weeks. It all leads to the fulfillment of God’s promises.