Torah reading: Genesis 25:19 - 28:9
Haftarah: Malachi 1:1-27
A lot of brothers suffer from sibling rivalry issues, especially when they are twins. Jacob and Esau had it worse; they had a Prophecy.
Before they were even born, the twins were so active in their mother, Rebekah's womb that they seemed to be fighting already. The Lord told Rebekah:
"Two nations are in your womb,Rebekah doesn't seem to have told her husband, Isaac about this; or maybe she did and he just didn't take it seriously. If he had, things might have gone differently.
and two peoples from within you will be separated;
one people will be stronger than the other,
and the older will serve the younger."
Then again, who knows with prophecy.
The story is a famliar one. Esau comes home from hunting one day and sees his brother making some read bean stew -- "a mess of pottage" in the King Jim Version. Esau's hungry, and asks for some of it. Jacob says he will only if Esau gives him this birthright in return. Esau figures it's no big deal, so he agrees. Besides, he was hungry.
Why did Jacob make this outrageous demand? Maybe it was just sibling rivarly and competitiveness; but I suspect Jacob's mother told him about the Prophecy. Rebekah favored Jacob, the clever one, the Boy of Prophecy; but Isaac favored Esau, the rugged, manly outdoorsman. I think that even then, Jacob was trying to work things to make the prophecy come true. Jacob was a trickster, and a schemer. He always had a Cunning Plan.
Years later, when their father Isaac was old and nearing death, he summons Esau in order to bestow upon him a Father's Blessing. This is big. What he is doing is transmitting the blessing first bestowed by the Lord upon Abraham, and then passed on to Isaac. Now Isaac is going to pass it forward to the next generation. But first, Isaac tells Esau to hunt some wild game and prepare a meal for him.
Rebekah overhears this conversation and sees an opportunity to fix things. Jacob isn't the only one who has Cunning Plans. She instructs Jacob to go to his father with a meal she will prepare out of her "How to make Goat Taste Like Venison" cookbook and pretend to be his brother. Isaac's eyes are so dimmed with age that if Jacob wears one of Esau's shirts so that he'll smell right, and covers his hands and neck with goat skins, so that his skin will feel rough and hairy like Esau's, the old man will never know the difference.
"It's so crazy, it might work!" Jacob says. And it does; the ruse fools Isaac and the old man bestows a blessing upon his younger son much like the Prophecy Rebekah received all those years earlier.
Of course, once Esau finds out, he's furious and vows to kill Jacob just as soon as the old man has kicked the bucket. Rebekah advises Jacob to take a long trip. A very long trip. For his health.
We often hear people talk about "God's Divine Plan", which sounds all very nice and reverent. The problem comes in (or one of them anyway), when we start to confuse the Lord's Plan with our own ideas of how things should go. This was Jacob all over; he was always coming up with tricks and gimmicks to get what he wanted. This week's Torah reading is only the beginning; in the following weeks we'll see even more of his wacky schemes.
Jacob might well have argued that what he was doing might have been unethical, but that it was justified in order to fulfill the Word of the Lord.
Maybe. But although I do believe (as one of Jacob's sons will say several chapters from now) that the Lord can turn Evil to Good, that doesn't mean that the Evil was Good in the first place.
By the end of this week's reading, Jacob has gained his inheritance, but lost his family and his home. In the readings for the coming weeks, we'll see how he meets a guy even trickier than he is; and how many of his own tricks come to bite him in the butt; and how ultimately Jacob's own sons play upon him the cruellest trick imaginable.