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    Did Jacob enjoy it? – Tol’dot

    Esau selling the birthright, by Hendrick ter Brugghen c.1627

    Esau did not deserve the birthright. But was Jacob right to gain it by deceit?

    Midrashim and later commentators argue that he acted with great reluctance. B’reshit Rabbah, for example, says that when Rebekah told him to bring her the means of carrying out the deceit, he acted without enthusiasm but “under duress, bent and weeping”.

    Though Jacob obeyed out of respect for his mother, there is still the question of whether he was right to deceive his father or to supplant his brother.

    Several Biblical authors imply grave disapproval. Jeremiah 9:3 castigates brothers who supplant one another. Others point out that the deceit Jacob practised came back to haunt him when he in turn was deceived many times by his father-in-law Laban.

    Further, when Jacob and Esau finally met again after many years of estrangement, Jacob had to appease his brother. The Jacob who gained the blessing by stealth now said to Esau, “Take, I pray you, my blessing” (Gen. 33:11).

    Whether the word “blessing” means here the original blessing from Isaac destined for Esau, or the blessing of a gift tendered as a peace offering, the result is probably the same: Jacob humbly seeks his brother’s good will.

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