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The Stolen Blessings

The Stolen Blessings

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The story of the stolen blessings is often understood as a contest between the two brothers for the legacy of Abraham and Isaac, with Isaac mistakenly taking Esau to be the worthy heir, and Rebecca, knowing the true nature of her elder son, devising the plan that would place Jacob at Isaac's bedside at the crucial moment.

However, a closer reading of the Torah's account indicates that Isaac was well aware of the difference between his two children. Jacob almost gave himself away when he said, in reply to his father's question about how he managed to find game so quickly, "The L-rd your G‑d sent me good speed"; Isaac knew that Esau did not speak that way, and immediately suspected that the son before him was Jacob rather than Esau.

In fact, by the time we reach the end of the story, it is quite clear that Isaac never intended to bequeath the spiritual legacy of Abraham--the Divine promise to make his seed a great nation and to give them the Holy Land as their eternal heritage--to Esau.

When Esau discovers that Jacob has received the blessings, he begs Isaac, "Bless me, too, my father!" "But I have made him your master," says Isaac, "I have given him [the blessings of] grain and wine. What can I do for you now, my son?" "Have you only one blessing, my father?!" sobs Esau. "Bless me too, my father!" Finally, Isaac blesses Esau that "Of the fatness of the land shall be your dwelling, and of the dew of heaven above" (the fat of the land and the dew of heaven themselves having already been granted to Jacob), and promises him that should the descendants of Jacob sin and become unworthy of their blessings, they will forfeit their mastery over Esau's descendants in material affairs. This is the best he can do for his beloved elder son.

But in the very next chapter we read how Isaac summons Jacob to him, and... blesses him. "May G‑d Almighty bless you," says Isaac, "make you fruitful, and multiply you, and you shall become a populous nation. And may He grant you the blessing of Abraham, to you and your descendants, that you may inherit the land of your dwelling, which G‑d has given to Abraham"--blessings which had not been included in his earlier benedictions to either son.

So Isaac never intended to make Esau the father of the people of Israel, never thought to bequeath the Holy Land to him, never considered him heir to "the blessing of Abraham." There were two distinct blessings in Isaac all along (Esau seems to have sensed this when he cried, "Have you only one blessing, my father?!"), intended for his two sons: Jacob was to be given the spiritual legacy of Abraham, while Esau was to be granted the blessings of the material world.

Isaac desired that a partnership should be formed between his two sons: that the scholarly, unworldly Jacob should devote himself to spiritual pursuits, while Esau should apply his cunning and worldliness to the constructive development of the material world, in support of and in harmony with Jacob's holy endeavors.

Rebecca disagreed: both worlds must be given to Jacob. There cannot be "two departments," for the material world cannot be entrusted to materialists. Only one who is steeped in the Divine wisdom can know how to make proper use of G‑d's world. Only one who possesses a spiritual outlook and value system will be able to master the physical reality rather than be mastered by it.

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Craig Hamilton Sandwich, MA August 11, 2013

Tricking The Hunted, Not Theft Perhaps, the real one who was tricked in the story was Esau. Isaac probably knew what was going on, and Jacob, Rebecca and he, Isaac, collaborated on a trick that would give Esau some of his own medicine, as hunting often involves tricking the hunted. Ever go fishing with a rubber worm? I also like the idea that this story is about a trick, a lesser crime than theft. Theft would be in the instance that this blessing was something rightfully belonging to Esau, when in reality though the firstborn should be redeemed, that does not give Esau a right to be blessed first. Reply

Mary Reidsville December 3, 2012

Brought about by HaShem The answer of whether Yaacov stole the blessing is found in an earlier chapter in the midrash when Esau sold Yaacov his birthright, it says: "And Jacob acted wisely with Esau in this manner, and Esau sold his birthright to Jacob, for it was so brought about by the L-rd." So, Yaacov was led by G-d to intercept the birthright, which Esau was not worthy of receiving due to his bloodthirstiness and idolatry. By the time Rivka ordered Yaacov to also intercept the blessing, perhaps Yaacov recognized that G-d also did not want Esau to receive the blessing. In any case, I don't believe Yaacov intercepted the birthright or the blessing for his own gain, but to bring about what he believed in his heart was G-d's will. Reply

Larry Grafanakis Phoenix, AZ December 3, 2012

Pearl of great price No, I don't say that Yaakov stole the blessing. But he was opportunistic in bargaining for something that he recognized of great value. And a good question, is it wrong for something of great value to be sought for by one who realizes and appreciates its value? I think not. And he bargained for it anyway, he didn't steal it. And I agree with William Shulman. Yitzchak knew it was Yaakov, and was going along with the contrivance of Rivkah, but knowing all along that the whole affair was orchestrated by HaShem. Reply

Mary Reidsville, NC/USA June 13, 2012

Yaakov did not steal I was not raised Jewish, but it is clear to me that Yaakov did not "steal" the blessing. The Almighty who knew Yaakov's heart, his desire to know G-d and live a righteous life, granted him the blessing through the instruction of a wise mother. Reply

Gisele Brooklyn, NY November 23, 2006

Do you think that Esau, and Ishmuel would have been less evil if their parents would not favor their brothers over them, and tried to work on the "BAD SONS"/ to improve their behavior? I feel when parents favor one child over another it creates problems! Let us discuss this aspect of this sederah (torah reading) too.
shabbat shalom to all Reply

Rivka Bunnickstein November 21, 2006

YAAKOV WAS MEANT TO BE.. I think that at this point, the Lord (as always) organizes the circumstances to fulfill his holy porposes. It may seem that Yaakov stole the blessing, but if we meditate it, Yaakov only took what he was meant to have (decided by de almighty). Congratulations!!! this has been a great text as usual =) Reply

William Shulman Baltimore, MD, 21209 May 8, 2006

Yaakov did not steal Esau's blessing Dear Sir,
Our father Yaakov never stole Esau's blessing. He did not change his voice or mannerisms. He used the polite and gentile forms of speech knowing full well his father would detect these, I think your calling Yaakovs stealing of Esau's blessing as Lashon Harah against our father Yaakov. The Goying always say that Yaakov strole the blessing. but for Jews to do that?? Reply

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