Birth of the Twins - Jacob and Esau

Twenty years had passed since Isaac’s and Rebecca’s marriage, but as yet, they had not been blessed with children. Finally, G‑d answered Isaac’s prayers, and Rebecca gave birth to twins. The first child to be born was covered with hair like a fully grown person. His parents called him Esau (from the Hebrew word “osso” — finish). The second child followed Esau, holding on to his brother’s heel, and Isaac called him Jacob (Yaakov, “One that takes by the heel”).

Jacob and Esau Grow Up

Although the children were twins and grew up together, they displayed a difference in character. Jacob spent all his time at home, engaged in study with his father and grandfather Abraham. Esau, however, resorted to countless tricks to avoid studying, and spent most of his time in the fields. He enjoyed hunting and killing, and was often absent from his home for many days.

Abraham’s Death

Abraham lived to a ripe and happy old age, and died at the age of one hundred and seventy-five. His sons, Isaac and Ishmael, buried him in the Cave of Machpelah.

Esau Kills Nimrod

On the day of Abraham’s death, Esau had been out in the fields as usual. He had lost his way and was trying to find his way back, when King Nimrod arrived with two servants. Esau hid behind a rock, and when Nimrod was left unguarded, he killed him and fought the two servants who rushed to the aid of their master. Esau escaped with King Nimrod’s clothes. These were Adam’s garments which later became the property of Noah; Noah’s son Ham, who was Nimrod’s grandfather, had subsequently become their owner, and finally Nimrod had acquired them. These divine clothes had made Nimrod a powerful and skillful hunter and a mighty ruler over all other kings. Now Esau had come into possession of the most valuable and cherished property a hunter could desire.

Jacob Buys the Birthright

The birthright was a sacred privilege enjoyed by the first-born son. This privilege made the first-born the real heir and successor to his father, as the head of the family. Isaac’s first-born son was to be devoted to the service of G‑d and to the sacred traditions of the family. But in the case of Esau, it soon became apparent that he was not the one to fulfill this sacred duty. Esau did not wish to shoulder this responsibility, preferring a happy and carefree life as a hunter and man of the fields. Jacob, on the other hand, seemed the ideal inheritor and successor. The day that Esau returned from that fateful hunting trip, his clothes still covered with the spatter of mud and blood, Jacob rebuked him for neglecting his holy duty as first-born. Esau, however, ridiculed Jacob and spoke very mockingly of the birthright. Jacob was shocked to hear such abuse of, and disrespect towards, the sacred privilege of the first-born, and proposed to buy the birthright from Esau who willingly agreed to make the deal. Thus Jacob came into the possession of something he cherished more than all the treasures of the world.

Read: Esau Sells his Birthright for a Mess of Pottage

Isaac Goes To Philistina

After Abraham’s death, famine again swept over the land of Canaan. Isaac wanted to follow the example of his father Abraham and go to Egypt. However, G‑d ordered him never to leave the land that had been promised to his father and to him, and Isaac traveled down only to the land of the Philistines. Isaac took the same precaution his father had taken when he sojourned among the Philistines. He said that Rebecca was not his wife, but his sister. King Abimelech desired to marry Rebecca, for she was the fairest woman he had ever seen. But when he found out that Rebecca was really Isaac’s wife, he was afraid to touch her or Isaac. When Isaac grew very prosperous, the Philistines became envious and requested him to leave. Isaac went to Beer Sheba, where his father Abraham had dwelt. Soon after, Abimelech paid Isaac a friendly visit, desiring to make up for his former unfriendly act. Abimelech asked Isaac to make a treaty of peace with him. This Isaac did, and Abimelech returned to his land.