The Birth of Jacob and Esau

25:19 After recording Abraham's death in the previous parashah,1 the Torah began its description of how God fulfilled His promise of making his two "highborn" sons, Isaac and Ishmael, into great nations. It detailed the history of Ishmael's descendants, noting how they imitated the behavior of Abraham's "lowborn" sons (whom he had fathered with his concubine Hagar) in choosing to sever themselves from Abraham's spiritual heritage. In this parashah, the Torah now details the history of Isaac's descendants, noting how they followed the pattern set by Abraham's "highborn" sons:

  • Isaac (like his father Abraham) had two full-status sons: Esau and Jacob.
  • Isaac's elder son, Esau (like Abraham's eldest son), although born first, was in fact of secondary status, for he had been conceived second.
  • Isaac's elder son, Esau (like Abraham's eldest son), chose the path of unbridled sensualism, while his younger son, Jacob (like Abraham's younger son) chose the path of Divine service.
  • Isaac's elder son, Esau (like Abraham's elder son), protested the transference of the mantle of leadership to his younger brother.

The following—Jacob and Esau, whose births will presently be recounted—are the descendants of Isaac, son of Abraham. Although Abraham was also the father of Ishmael, his life's work was perpetuated by virtue of the fact that he was the father of Isaac, who remained loyal to Abraham's moral legacy.

20 Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebecca, in the year 2088, when she was three years old. Although Rebecca was the daughter of the wicked Bethuel the Aramean of Padan Aram and the sister of the wicked Laban the Aramean as well, and she had been born into and raised in an immoral environment, their influence did not taint her spiritually. Aram is referred to here as Padan Aram because padan means both (a) "double" (the region of Aram comprised two countries, Aram Naharayim2 and Aram Tzovah3) and (b) "field."

21 Rebecca only became physically mature enough to conceive at the age of thirteen. Despite this, she still remained barren even after reaching maturation. Isaac and Rebecca waited and prayed for children for ten years, just as his parents, Abraham and Sarah, had,4 after which they realized that the time had come to take additional measures. But unlike his father, Isaac did not want to procreate through his wife's handmaid. Abraham had conferred upon him the status of a sacrificial animal;5 hence Isaac understood that, because of this holy status, he should not defile himself, even in such a subtle way as this.6 Isaac and Rebecca therefore decided instead to increase the intensity and frequency of their prayers. Isaac pleaded with God while his wife did the same at the opposite side of the room, for she was barren. Even though they both prayed intensely, God responded specifically to Isaac's plea, for the prayers of a righteous person who is the child of a righteous parent are more effective than those of a righteous person who is the child of a wicked parent. Thus, his wife Rebecca conceived. She became pregnant with twins; the first one to be conceived developed deeper inside her womb than the second, who developed positioned to be born first.7

22 The children struggled within her. When she would pass by the academy of Shem and Ever, Jacob would try to get out; when she would pass by a temple of idol worship, Esau would try to get out. They also fought between themselves over which one would inherit the blessings of the physical world and which one the blessings of the World to Come. Not knowing she was carrying twins, she said, "If the pain of pregnancy is so great, why did I pray for it?" So she went to the academy of Shem and Ever to inquire of God as to what exactly was causing her so much discomfort.

23 God told Shem to say to her, "The progenitors of two nations are in your womb. Both nations will be powerful and, in the future, their two leaders will be world-renowned for their wealth.8 Nonetheless, these two powers will diverge the moment they emerge from within you: The younger will be predisposed toward righteousness and the elder toward wickedness. Furthermore, although they will both be powerful, they will never wield equal power simultaneously; when one rises, the other will fall, and vice-versa. Thus, the upper hand will pass from one power to the other and back again. Nonetheless, even when the younger has the upper hand, the elder and his descendants will always serve the younger and his descendants."9

24 Her pregnancy reached full term, because one of the twins in her womb was predisposed to wickedness. Rebecca therefore did not possess enough merit to warrant that God shorten her uncomfortable pregnancy.10

25 The first one emerged ruddy—a portent that he would be a shedder of blood—and full of hair all over like a woolen cloak that is covered with hair, so everyone present at his birth called him Esau [Asui—"completed"]. This name stuck.

26 His brother then emerged, and his hand was grasping Esau's heel—a portent that the nation that would descend from him would rise to power "on the heels" of the nation that would descend from Esau: as soon as the latter's power would begin to wane, the former would wrest dominion from it. He was also born grasping Esau's heel because, since he was conceived first,11 he wanted to emerge first and receive the birthright. God named this second son Jacob [Ya'akov, from akeiv—"heel"] by inspiring Isaac to give him a name recalling how he was born grasping Esau's heel. Jacob was born circumcised.12 Isaac was in his sixtieth year when Rebecca gave birth to them.

The Sale of the Birthright

27 Although Esau was indeed inclined toward sensuality from birth, Abraham's tutelage and positive influence inspired him to channel this inclination positively. But when the boys grew to maturity and turned thirteen (in the year 2121), they chose divergent paths in life. Jacob continued studying and living an unblemished life, while Esau, although continuing to don the external trappings of righteousness, secretly13 pursued a life of unbridled sensualism. In order to hide this tendency from his father, Esau became an expert in ensnaring him into thinking he was exceedingly pious by asking him clever questions. For example, Isaac continued Abraham's practice of voluntarily observing the commandments, including tithing all his possessions.14 Esau asked a clever question about tithing salt and straw: although the intrinsic value of these commodities is negligible, they can be used to enhance other commodities. For example, salt enhances the natural taste of food; straw can be added to clay to make bricks. Should their worth be assessed according to their actual monetary value or according to their value when used to their best advantage, as in the above example?15 Questions like this led Isaac to believe that Esau was truly pious. In reality, however, Esau was an undisciplined man, who spent his time in the field, hunting animals and birds. In contrast, Jacob was a guileless man, and, not pretending to be anything he was not, went to live in the tents of Shem and Ever to study the Torah.

28 Isaac loved Esau, both for the game he provided from his hunting and because he was deceived by his cunning words, while Rebecca loved Jacob.

29 By the time Esau turned fifteen (in the year 2123), he was eager to start living his chosen, immoral lifestyle openly. Although God had originally intended that Abraham live to the age of 180, He shortened his life by five years so that he not have to witness Esau's defection from his ideals.16 On the day his grandfather Abraham died, Jacob was cooking a stew of red lentils to serve his father as the customary first meal of mourners (for the round lentils are a reminder that mourning is part of the cycle of life). Esau came in from the field, exhausted from his first foray into active immorality, in which he actually committed murder.

30 Esau said to Jacob, "Now feed me a gulp of that red, red stuff, for I'm exhausted!" He was therefore given the nickname Edom [adom—"red"].

31 Jacob knew that Esau's birthright as the firstborn included the duty and privilege of offering the family's sacrifices. But since Esau's degenerate behavior clearly rendered him unworthy of this privilege, Jacob replied, "I will feed you, but only if you sell me your birthright, irrevocably, so the transaction will be as clear as day."

32 Esau foresaw that the day would come when the privilege of offering sacrifices would no longer belong to the firstborn. Furthermore, he asked Jacob, "Why do you want the birthright, anyway?" Jacob answered, "Offering sacrifices is clearly a very serious and important occupation, because performing it incorrectly makes one liable to serious punishment. Some infringements, such as performing it when drunk or with hair that has not been cut in thirty days, are even punishable by death!"17 Esau said, "Look, I'm going to eventually die, and after my death the birthright will in any event not pass on to my progeny down through the generations; furthermore, even while it still belongs to me, I'm going to die on account of it anyway, so of what use is a birthright to me? Fine, I agree to sell it to you."

33 Jacob said, "Make an oath to me this day," so he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob.

34 Jacob then gave Esau bread and the lentil stew; he ate and drank, and got up and left. And thus Esau spurned the birthright, in accord with his increasing wickedness.

Isaac in Philistia

26:1 There was again a famine in the land, apart from the first famine that had been in the days of Abraham, so Isaac left Hebron and went to dwell with Avimelech, king of the Philistines, in Gerar.

2 Isaac had previously considered going down to Egypt, just as his father Abraham had, but God appeared to him and said, "Do not go down to Egypt, for since you have the sacred status of a sacrificial animal,18 it is not fitting for you to live outside the Land of Israel, in a place where people are not yet conscious of God's presence.19 Rather, live in the part of the Holy Land of which I shall tell you. Go to Philistia and settle in Gerar. True, this area is not actually part of the land I promised to Abraham,20 but it is close enough to have been positively influenced by him; moreover, it will eventually become part of the Holy Land.21 It is therefore not inappropriate for you to live there.

3 Sojourn in this land, and even though it has also been somewhat affected by the famine,22 I will be with you and bless you, for I will give all these lands to you and your descendants, and I will fulfill the oath that I made to your father Abraham:23

4 I will make your descendants so numerous that you will not be able to count them, just as it is impossible to count the stars of the sky,24 and will give all these lands to your descendants. And all the nations of the earth will bless themselves by mentioning the names of your descendants: when someone will want to bless his children, he will say, 'May you be like Isaac's children.'

5 I confer all these blessings upon you because your father Abraham heeded My voice when I tested him, and voluntarily chose to scrupulously adhere to the teachings of the Torah, even though he was not at all legally required to: There are certain commandments that I have given humanity explicitly, yet others that they have taken upon themselves voluntarily to observe, and one (circumcision) that I commanded him expressly. But above and beyond all this, he also observed My restrictions, i.e., the unofficial safeguards (which I will in the future leave up to the sages to legislate) designed to keep people from violating official restrictions; My commandments, i.e., the ordinances that human intellect dictates in any case; and My rules, i.e., those commandments that have no rational explanation. In addition, I confer these blessings upon you because your father Abraham studied My instructions, i.e., the written Torah and its oral explanation."25

Second Reading 6 So Isaac settled in Gerar.

7 When the local people asked about his wife, he said—just as Abraham had responded regarding Sarah—"She is my sister." He purposely misled them because he was afraid to say to them, "She is my wife"—"lest," he thought to himself, "the local people kill me on account of Rebecca, because she is of beautiful appearance."

8 But, unlike what Pharaoh had done to Sarah, the king did not abduct Rebecca at once. Therefore, after Isaac had already been there a long time, he decided that he no longer needed to be so circumspect. Avimelech, king of the Philistines, looked out the window of his palace and caught sight of Isaac gladdening his wife Rebecca in the course of marital intimacy.

9 Avimelech summoned Isaac and said, "So she is really your wife! How could you have said, 'She is my sister'?" Isaac answered him, "For I thought, 'Lest I die because of her.' "

10 Avimelech then said, "What have you done to us? I, the most preeminent one among the people, could easily have had relations with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us!"

11 Avimelech issued an order of warning to all the people: "Whosoever lays a finger on this man or his wife shall surely be put to death."

12 Isaac sowed grain in that region and in that year. Being that it was not a particularly fertile area, and it was also a year of famine, he estimated that it would be a small yield. But he nonetheless reaped a hundredfold more than he expected, for God had blessed him. Furthermore, when they then calculated the yield for the purpose of taking tithes, they found that it had miraculously increased a hundredfold again, in the merit of his intention to tithe it, for God had blessed him.26

Third Reading 13 Thus, the man prospered, and continued to prosper until he became extremely wealthy. His wealth became proverbial; a common saying was: "Better the dung of Isaac's mules than the gold and silver of Avimelech."

14 He owned flocks and herds and many business enterprises, and the Philistines envied him.

15 They blocked up all the wells that his father's servants had dug in the days of his father Abraham,27 and filled them with earth. Their pretext was that these wells could serve as a water supply for an invading army.

16 Avimelech said to Isaac, "Go away from us, for you have become much more powerful than we are."

17 Isaac went away from there and encamped in the Gerar Valley, at a distance from the city, and settled there.

18 He re-dug the other wells of water that had been dug in the days of his father Abraham, which the Philistines had blocked up after Abraham's death, and gave them the same names that his father had given them.

19 Isaac's servants then dug elsewhere in the Gerar valley, and found a well of fresh spring water there.

20 The shepherds of Gerar quarreled with Isaac's shepherds, saying, "Since we use this land to pasture our flocks, the water you have discovered is ours." Isaac named the well Esek ["contention"], because they had contended with him.

21 They dug another well, and they quarreled over that one, too, so Isaac named it Sitnah ["harassment"].

22 He moved on from there and dug yet another well, and they did not quarrel over it, so he named it Rechovot ["open spaces"], saying, "For now God has granted us ample space to expand, and we shall flourish materially in the land."28

Isaac in Beersheba

Fourth Reading 23 From there, he went up to Beersheba.

24 God appeared to him that night and said, "I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid due to all this contention, for I am with you. I will bless you and make your descendants numerous, for the sake of My servant Abraham."

25 Isaac built an altar there and invoked God. He pitched his tent there, and there Isaac's servants dug yet another well, but did not discover water immediately.

26 In the meantime, Avimelech came to him from Gerar, together with a group of some of his friends and Pikol, chief of his troops.

27 Isaac said to them, "Why have you come to me, seeing that you evidently hate me and therefore sent me away from you?"

28 They replied, "We have seen about your father and seen regarding you, too, that God has been with you, granting you unnatural success,29 so we said: Let the solemn oath made between us and your father now continue to be in force between us and you, and let us make a covenant with you

29 that you will do us no evil, just as we did you no harm when we asked you to leave, and just as we treated you only with kindness and let you leave in peace. Now, you please treat us in the same manner, you who are blessed by God."

Fifth Reading 30 Isaac agreed to their proposal. He prepared them a feast and they ate and drank.

31 They got up early in the morning and made an oath to each other. Isaac then sent them on their way and they departed from him in peace.

32 On that very day, Isaac's servants came and told him about the well they had dug, and they said to him, "We have found water!"

33 He named the well Shivah [from shevuah—"oath"]. The name of the city was therefore not changed, but re-designated30 as Beersheba ["Well of the Oath"], and this remains its name to this very day (see Figure 27).

Esau Marries

34 In the year 2148, when Esau was forty years old, he recalled that his father had married at that same age. Therefore, in filial emulation of his father's conduct, he also married. Despite having seduced married women and ravished them over the course of the preceding twenty-five years in flagrant disregard of his father's morals, he did not consider this affectation the least bit hypocritical. Esau married two women: the first was named Oholivamah the daughter of Anah,31 but Esau nicknamed her Judith [Yehudit—"a woman who acknowledges (that idolatry is false)"] in order to trick Isaac into thinking that she was righteous. In order to hide the fact that she was illegitimate (since she was actually the daughter of Anah's wife by Anah's father32), Esau called her the daughter of Be'eri ["My well"], implying that her father had engaged in digging wells for the advancement of civilization, just as Isaac had. Esau called her father the Hittite rather than the Hivite, because he wanted Isaac to think that she was a local girl.33 The second was named Adah, daughter of Elon; people nicknamed her Basmat ["spice woman"] daughter of Elon the Hittite because she regularly burned incense-offerings to idols. Esau did not change her nickname; he simply lied to Isaac and said that she was so named because her deeds were as morally pleasing as the fragrance of spices is physically pleasing.34

35 These wives were spiritually rebellious toward Isaac and Rebecca and caused them great anguish for, among other things, they unabashedly served idols.

The Blessings of Isaac

27:1 Twenty-three years after Esau married, in the year 2171, Isaac had grown old. Despite the fact that he had been blessed by God with good health and longevity,35 the smoke from Esau's wives' idolatrous incense offerings gradually dimmed his eyesight. In addition, his eyesight had already become dim by then because of the ministering angels' tears that had fallen into his eyes when he was bound on the altar, eighty-six years prior to this.36 All this was arranged by Divine providence so that he would be deceived into blessing Jacob rather than Esau, as will now be recounted.

He summoned his elder son Esau and said to him, "My son," and he answered him, "Here I am."

2 Isaac said, "See, I have now grown old; I am now 123 years old. I do not know the day of my death. True, God blessed me with longevity, but it could be that this blessing has already run its course. As a rule, people die either five years before or five years after the age at which their parents died. Of my two parents, my mother died at the younger age, 127. But she had already reached old age—her natural longevity37—at ninety;38 she lived until 127 only because of God's blessing. If my natural longevity is to be five years less than my mother's, that is, age eighty-five, then I have already lived out the same Divine blessing of thirty-seven additional years that my mother did.39 It is therefore time to put my affairs in order. In particular, I must bless you, in order that the spiritual leadership of the family pass on to you after I die. In order for me to bless you properly, I must be properly inspired; I must sense the spiritual potential in some physical act of yours.

3 So therefore, now, please, sharpen your weapons—your sword and the arrows for your bow—and go out to the field and trap me some ownerless game. Be sure to trap only an ownerless deer, so that you not serve me something stolen, and to sharpen the slaughtering knife so that you slaughter the animal in accordance with the Torah's laws.

4 Then prepare me some delicacies to my liking, and bring them to me so that I may eat, so that I may grant you my soul's blessing before I die."

5 Rebecca had been listening while Isaac was speaking to Esau, his son. Esau went out to the field—intending to trap some ownerless game, as his father had stipulated, but was nevertheless also prepared to bring home stolen game if no ownerless deer could be found.

6 When Esau left, Rebecca said to her son Jacob, "I just heard your father speaking to your brother Esau, saying,

7 'Bring me some game and prepare me delicacies, so that I may eat and bless you in God's presence and with His approval before I die.'

8 So now, my son, heed my words in regard to what I command you.

9 Your father provided in our marriage contract that I may take two kid-goats from the flock every day, if need be. Therefore, go to the flock and bring me from there two choice kid-goats. Since today is the 14th of Nisan, we will use one for the Passover-offering, and I will make delicacies out of the other one of them, such as your father likes, for the meat of a kid-goat can be made to taste like deer meat.

10 You shall then bring them to your father and he will eat, so that he will bless you before he dies."

11 Jacob said to Rebecca his mother, "But my brother Esau is a hairy man, while I am a smooth-skinned man.

12 Perhaps my father will touch me, and then he will regard me as an impostor, and I will bring a curse upon myself, not a blessing!"

13 His mother said to him, "Let your curse be upon me, my son. Just heed my voice and go and bring them to me."

14 He went and got them and brought them to his mother, and his mother prepared delicacies to his father's liking.

15 Rebecca then took her older son Esau's clean clothes, which had belonged to Nimrod; Esau had coveted them and killed Nimrod to acquire them.40 These clothes were with her in the house because Esau did not trust his wives; to prevent his wives from stealing them, he kept them at his mother's house. She put them on her younger son Jacob,

16 and placed the kid-goat skins on his arms and on the smooth part of his neck.

17 She then handed to her son Jacob the delicacies and the bread she had prepared.

18 He came to his father and said, "Father," and he replied, "Here I am. Who are you, my son?"

19 Jacob answered his father, "[It is] I; Esau [is] your firstborn." Since the verb "to be" is not articulated in Hebrew, Jacob's answer had two meanings: (a) "I am Esau, your firstborn," and (b) "It is I; Esau is your firstborn." Jacob intended his father to understand his words according to the first meaning, but in order not to be technically guilty of lying, he phrased his reply so that it could also be understood the second way. Continuing to pose as Esau, Jacob said, "I have done as you told me." Jacob intended his father to understand this statement to mean that he had fulfilled Isaac's instruction to Esau, i.e., to prepare him a meal; in order not to be technically guilty of lying, Jacob phrased this statement so that it could also be understood, "I have always done as you instructed me." He continued, "Please arise and be seated at the table, and partake of my game, so that you may grant me your soul's blessing."

20 Isaac asked his son, "How did you find it so quickly, my son?" He replied, "Because God, your God, arranged it to happen this way for me."

21 Isaac said to himself, "This seems out of character for Esau: he does not usually mention God, nor does he usually address me so politely." He therefore said to Jacob, "Please come close and let me touch you, my son. Are you really my son Esau?"

22 So Jacob drew close to his father Isaac, who touched him and said, "The voice—the manner of speaking—is the voice of Jacob, but the hands—to the physical touch—are the hands of Esau."

23 He did not recognize him, because his arms were hairy like the arms of his brother Esau, so he proceeded to prepare to bless him.

24 He said, "So you really are my son Esau," and he replied, "I [am]." Here again, Jacob simply said "I," intending to mean simply "It is I," but allowing his father to understand his reply as meaning "I am [Esau]."

25 Then Isaac said, "Serve me so that I may partake of my son's game, so that I may grant you my soul's blessing."

Jacob served him and he ate, and he brought him wine and he drank.

26 His father Isaac said to him, "Please come close and kiss me, my son."

27 He came close and kissed him, and Isaac smelled the fragrance of his garments. Although goatskins usually have an unpleasant odor, in this case they miraculously took on the fragrance of an apple orchard, like the Garden of Eden.41 Isaac blessed him with ten blessings,42 as follows: He said, "See, my son's fragrance is already like the fragrance of a field which God has blessed. This indicates that you are fit to receive my blessings.

Sixth Reading 28 May God therefore grant you all the following blessings, plus the ability to capitalize on them and increase them by yourself.43 But whatever He grants you, may He give it to you only if you deserve it, for I know that you and your descendants will accept His justice unquestioningly.

Besides having already given you the fragrance of a blessed field, may He give you (1) of the dew of the heavens and (2) the fat—i.e., the choicest fruits—of the land, and (3) an abundance of grain and (4) wine.

29 (5) May peoples serve you, and (6) nations bow down to you. (7) May you be master over your brothers, and (8) may your mother's sons prostrate themselves before you. Although it may seem to you, at the outset, that your life is cursed, rest assured that, in the end, (9) those who curse you shall be cursed, and (10) those who bless you shall be blessed."

30 It was just then, when Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, and when Jacob had scarcely left his father Isaac's presence, that his brother Esau came back from his hunt.

31 He, too, had prepared delicacies and brought them to his father. He said to his father, "Let my father arise and partake of his son's game, so that you may give me your soul's blessing."

32 His father Isaac asked him, "Who are you?" and he replied, "I am your firstborn son, Esau."

33 Isaac shuddered in great bewilderment. At that moment, he also had a vision of Purgatory opening up beneath Esau's feet. From this, he understood that it was indeed Esau in front of him. He therefore asked, "Then who was it—and where is he—who trapped game and brought it to me, and I partook of it all before your arrival, and I blessed him? I miraculously tasted in the food he served me every single flavor that I desired to find in it. Therefore, although he received my blessings by tricking me, I understand now that he really was the one who deserved my blessing, so he will indeed be blessed." Yet Isaac still feared that he done something terribly wrong by blessing Jacob, since Esau was, after all, his firstborn.

34 When Esau heard his father's words, he let out an exceedingly great and bitter cry and said to his father, "Bless me, too, my father!"

35 He replied, "Your brother came with guile and took your blessing."

36 Esau said, "Is that why he was named Jacob [Yaakov, from the verb akov—"ensnare"], foretelling that he would someday ensnare me twice?!" Hearing this, Isaac asked, "What did he do to you the first time?" Esau replied, "He took away my birthright, and now look, he has also taken my blessing!" "If so," Isaac said, "I have committed no wrong, for I have indeed blessed my firstborn!" Esau then asked Isaac, "Have you not reserved a blessing for me?"

37 Isaac answered, saying to Esau, "What good will a blessing do you now? I have made him master over you, and have given him all his brothers as servants, so whatever belongs to you—even your children!44—will now automatically be his! And I have sustained him with grain and wine, so what, then, is there left that I can do for you, my son?"

38 Esau said to his father, "Do you have only one blessing, my father? Father, bless me too!" And Esau wept aloud.

39 His father Isaac then replied and said to him, "Very well, I shall bless you as you request. But when I blessed Jacob, I stipulated that my blessings would take effect only if he deserved them, for I sensed that he would accept God's justice unquestioningly. You and your descendants, however, will not be so accepting of God's will; I fear you will rebel against God if He does not grant you what you think you deserve. Therefore, whether you deserve it or not,45 I hereby bless you that your dwelling will be blessed with the fat of the land and with the dew of the heavens above. Even though your land will belong to your brother and you will serve him, you will live in comfort. The future homeland of your mightiest descendants will be the fertile Italian peninsula.

40 You shall live by your sword, and you shall serve your brother. But when you see Jacob or his descendants sinning, and are therefore rightly aggrieved that they were the primary recipients of the blessings, you will be permitted to throw his yoke off your neck and temporarily be freed of his lordship, even though you remain his servant in essence."46

41 Esau harbored hatred toward his brother Jacob because of the inferior blessing with which his father had blessed him, and wanted to seek revenge from him. But he did not want to upset his father, so Esau said to himself, "The days of mourning for my father will soon be here; I will wait until after his death and then kill my brother Jacob."

Isaac Sends Jacob to Padan Aram

42 Rebecca was told through Divine inspiration what her older son Esau had said to himself. She sent word and summoned her younger son Jacob, and said, "Your brother Esau is consoling himself over the appropriation of the blessings he feels were rightfully meant to be conferred on him by planning to kill you. He regrets being your brother; in his eyes, you are already dead and it is as if he is now being consoled by others over your death.

43 So now, my son, listen to my voice: arise and flee to my brother Laban in Charan.

44 Remain with him a while, up to seven years,47 until your brother's anger has subsided,

45 until your brother's rage against you has abated and he has forgotten what you did to him. I will then send word and bring you from there. Do not make the grave error of lingering around to try to defend yourself against his attack, for if you kill him, his children will then seek to avenge their father's death and kill you in turn. Why should I be bereaved of both of you in one day?" Rebecca unwittingly prophesied here that Jacob and Esau would die around the same time and both be buried on the same day.48

46 Rebecca then said to Isaac, "I am disgusted with my life because of the Hittite women. If Jacob marries a Hittite girl like these that Esau married, one of the local girls, why should I go on living?"

28:1 So Isaac called for Jacob and blessed him as follows.49 He instructed him, saying to him, "Do not take a wife from among the Canaanite women.

2 Arise and set out for Padan Aram, to the house of Bethuel, your mother's father, and take yourself a wife from there, from among the daughters of Laban, your mother's brother.

3 And may God Almighty, who is the infinite source of blessing, bless you and make you fruitful and numerous, so that your descendants become a community of peoples.

4 You are now setting out on a journey. Traveling generally decreases a person's odds of having children and adversely affects a person's renown.50 Nevertheless, may God bestow upon you the same blessing that He gave to my father Abraham when he set out on a journey, i.e., to become a great and famous nation51 despite the negative effects of the journey. And may your children also gain renown: may people invoke their names when they bless one another as examples to be emulated.52 Moreover, God's blessing to Abraham included not only fertility and renown; it also included the promise that his descendants will one day proudly refer to themselves collectively by his name. May God fulfill this promise in you. Laden with such blessings, I have no qualms about sending you off to Charan to marry, even though, in my case, my father Abraham preferred for me to remain here and have a wife brought to me from Charan. True, these blessings were not fulfilled in my father Abraham himself, for he only had one successor (myself) and his other son, Ishmael, has been more despised than admired.53 May God therefore fulfill these blessings through you, for yourself and for your descendants with you, rather than through Esau and his descendants. Furthermore, although of course I know that God promised that Ishmael54 and Esau55 will also become great nations, this promise has no bearing whatsoever on the blessing He bestowed on my father Abraham.56 Furthermore, do not think that my purpose in sending you out of Canaan to start your family while Esau remains here is for him to inherit the land. On the contrary: specifically because I am passing on Abraham's blessing of fertility to you, it will be you who will take possession of the land in which you have been sojourning, which God gave to Abraham."57

Seventh Reading 5 Isaac then sent Jacob on his way and he set out for Padan Aram, to the house of Laban, son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebecca, who was the mother of Jacob and Esau. As Abraham had done when he dispatched Eliezer, Isaac, too, sent Jacob laden with gifts for the future bride and her family, along with a document attesting to the fact that he was bequeathing all his wealth to Jacob.58

Esau Takes Another Wife

6 When Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and had sent him to Padan Aram to take himself a wife from there, and that when he blessed him he had commanded him, saying, "Do not take a wife from among the Canaanite girls,"

7 and that Jacob had obeyed his father and mother, and had gone to Padan Aram,

8 Esau understood that the Canaanite girls were evil in the eyes of his father Isaac.

9 So Esau went off immediately, trying to flaunt his alacrity,59 to his uncle Ishmael, and married his cousin Machalat, daughter of Abraham's son Ishmael, in order to show that he was no less deferential to his father's wishes than was his brother, Jacob; in fact, he was even more deferential to his father's wishes, because Jacob had been explicitly instructed to marry a family girl whereas he did so of his own volition. For two reasons, however, Esau did not follow Jacob to Padan Aram to marry one of his cousins from the royal line of Shem: Firstly, he understood that Jacob had gone there in order to fulfill Isaac's blessings, and he knew very well that he was no longer party to these blessings.60 And secondly, he sought to outdo Jacob—who went to marry a girl who was merely a member of Abraham's extended family—by marrying a girl who was Abraham's direct descendant.61

Shortly after Machalat became engaged to Esau, her father Ishmael died, making her an orphan bride. Therefore, when she married Esau, she did so only as the sister of her brother Nevayot, who was responsible for handling the wedding in lieu of their late father. She continued to be called "the sister of Nevayot" throughout her life.62

Machalat's given name was Basmat (not to be confused with Esau's Hittite wife, Basmat daughter of Elon63). She was nicknamed Machalat ("The Forgiven One") on her wedding day because she repented of all past sins on that day, and God forgives all a person's past sins on their wedding day if they repent properly.64 She was thus a righteous woman; Esau wanted to use this fact as a ploy to trick his father into believing that he, too, had repented. But he married her in addition to his other, Canaanite wives—he did not divorce them. It was therefore clear that, just as his first marriages had been acts of duplicity, so, too, was this marriage.65

Esau also heard that Isaac had promised Jacob that he would inherit the land of Israel, so Esau looked for another place to live and started spending time around Mount Seir.66 He did not move their permanently until later.67