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A Complicated Family


The relationship between Jacob and Esau is a colourful saga within the larger family story that fills the book of Genesis. By this stage of the narrative, Abraham and Sarah have both died and the attention turns to the next generation: Isaac and his wife Rebekah. After a difficult pregnancy Rebekah, gives birth to twin boys, Esau and Jacob, with Esau emerging from the womb ahead of his brother. When we meet them in adulthood, the tensions between the brothers are exacerbated by their strong-minded (manipulative?) mother and their relatively passive (weak?) father.


From chapter 27 tensions build as Jacob and his mother conspire in a plan of deceit. By posing as Esau, Jacob tricks his elderly blind father into blessing him with the paternal blessing which would ordinarily go to the firstborn (Esau). When the trickery is revealed, all hell breaks loose. The episode closes with Jacob fleeing for his life before Esau’s wrath.


If at first glance the family dynamic appears complex (dysfunctional?), the interpretative traditions of Judaism search the sacred text for deeper insights. For example, when we read the text carefully with the help of Jewish commentators, we note that Jacob is blessed by his father not once but twice; the first time under the pretext of being Esau, and the second with his true identity in full view just before he flees his homeland.


1. Blessing intended for Esau: “May God give you of the dew of heaven, and of the fatness of the earth, and plenty of grain and wine...” (See Gen. 27:27-29).


2. Blessing for Jacob: “May God Almighty bless you and make your fruitful... May he give to you the blessing of Abraham... so that you may take possession of the land...” (See Gen. 28:3-4).


The contrast between the blessings is striking. The first (meant for Esau) promises material pro