Sunday, October 13, 2013

Inheritance of Jacob's Birthright: To Whom?

Nadene Goldfoot                                                                           

                       Canaan, the land of contention today between Arabs and Jews.  Pictured are the borders of Eretz Yisrael (Land of Israel) at time of death of Joshua of the tribe of Ephraim and successor of Moses of the tribe of Levi as Israelite commander and 1st Judge. He died at age 110.  Moses had died at age 120  in 1271 BCE.   The orange sections were not yet conquered.

Abram-Abraham's story
Abraham had to hide underground for 13 years from  the Cushite, King Nimrod, ruler of Babylon, etc, of Assyria, who wanted to kill him.
Nimrod flung Abraham into a burning furnace.
Abraham was commanded to leave his family and homeland of Ur.
Almost as soon as he arrived in Canaan, he was forced to leave and escape a famine.
Sarah, his wife, was kidnapped by Pharaoh's officials.
The king  captured Lot, his nephew, and Abraham was forced to go to war to rescue him.
G-d told Abraham that his offspring would suffer under 4 monarchies.
At an advanced age, he was commanded to circumcise himself and his son.
He was commanded to drive away Ishmael and Hagar.
He had to go through the binding of Isaac on the altar, told it was a sacrifice.  (Rashi)

Ishmael and Isaac's story        
                             The land of Israel according to the allocation planned by Moses and carried out by Joshua as dictated from G-d.  This was where the 12 tribes were to settle.  

It didn't work out very well for Abram to have consorted with Hagar the Egyptian, his wife Sarai's maidservant.  Even though it was Sarai who gave him permission,  in the end she regretted it very much.  In those days, having 2 women under the same roof ended in shambles.  Hagar did conceive, according to plan,  as Abram was told that he was to be the father of many nations, and so far his aging wife, Sarai, had not become pregnant.
Probably because she was feeling guilty, she told her husband to get the young  Hagar pregnant.  As soon as Hagar knew she was with child, she felt her position was above Sarai's.  Sarai was actually the niece of Abram, so was a blood relative, regardless. Abram had told the Pharaoh's men that she was his sister, but that was only to save his own life.  It was a little white lie, though, as she was related to him.  At that time, other than Pharaohs, they didn't marry or consort with their sisters.  They did marry relatives, though.  Claiming they were siblings was the only way to save his own life.   Sarai felt outrage at how she was being treated by her maidservant.  She blamed Abram.  Abram told her that Hagar was her maidservant and she had his permission to deal with her as she wished, and Sarai was harsh, so harsh that Hagar ran away.

An angel found Hagar and advised her to return and that she would someday have many children and that right now she was going to have a son and he would be called Ishmael.  He also warned her that he would be wild and his hand would be against everyone so that everyone would be against him, but he would be the leader over all his brothers that he lived with.  Actually, they would be his half-brothers as Abram would not father any more of her children.

G-d came to Abram and changed his name to Abraham.  He told him that he would keep a covenant with G-d and would be the father of a multitude of nations and that kings would come from him.  It was to be an everlasting covenant and that he and his descendants would believe in him, the one G-d and that he was giving the land to them, the land of Abraham's sojourns, the whole of the land of Canaan as an everlasting possession.  All the males were to be circumcised which was the sign of the covenant.  He was told that Sarai would also have a son and his name was to be Isaac and that the covenant would be maintained through Isaac.  G-d also blessed Ishmael and told him that he would bear 12 princes and he would be a great nation.  Sarai would be renamed Sarah.  As it turned out, Jacob would also father 12 princes, tribal leaders of the Israelites.

Abraham circumcised 13 year old Ishmael and all the servants, those born during their time with him and new ones who Abraham had recently bought and all were circumcised.  Isaac was indeed born and circumcised at 8 days.  She was able to nurse him, even though Hagar had said she never would be able to due to the fact that she was so old.  When Isaac was finally weaned, Abraham made a feast for all to celebrate.  He was probably about 2 years of age.  Then she spotted Ishmael, about 15 years of age and didn't want him inheriting from Abraham so insisted that both Hagar and he leave their compound.  G-d told him to obey his wife and that the covenant was through Isaac anyway, but that Ishmael would make out all right and would become a nation.  Abraham gave Hagar bread and a skin of water and sent them away, but she strayed and wound up in the desert of Beer-sheba.  They used up their provisions and Hagar prepared for their death.  G-d saw and opened her eyes so that she finally noticed a well of water close by.  Ishmael became an archer in the desert of Paran and his mother found him a wife from Egypt.  The covenant went from Abraham to Isaac to Jacob, the grandson.  
Esau and Jacob's story
Isaac had married Rebeccah, and she bore him twins.  Before they were born, G-d told her that she had 2 nations within her who were agitating each other and that's why there was so much movement and kicking going on that was bothering her.  The elder would serve the younger. This proved to be a premonition of the rivalry which was to exist between the brothers and their descendants.  Their fight in her uterus made Rebeccah feel that life was unbearable and she wished to die.  She was told they would be antagonistic from birth.  The ruddinesss of Esau was a premonition of his love for hunting and the shedding of blood.

The first child born was rather a shock to the family.  He was ruddy, red, entirely like a hairy mantle, so they named him Esau (thick haired).   The 2nd son was born holding  onto Esau's heel and was named Jacob. Holding onto the heels was as if he were pulling him back and preventing him from being the firstborn.   Esau became a hunter and Jacob stayed in the tents studying religion  and was a shepherd.  Isaac loved Esau and Rebeccah loved Jacob.  Jacob would cook the game that Esau brought in.

One day Esau came into the tents absolutely famished.  Jacob got him to sell his birthright which was a spiritual one as the 1st son to him, and then he would give him food to eat.  Because Esau held such things in contempt, he did so gladly for his immediate gratification. In those days the first son was to act as a priest and his behavior didn't show that he valued this dignity and privilege.  This birthright did not give him any material advantages.   That was the very day that their grandfather, Abraham, had died and Jacob had been cooking the traditional mourner's meal for Isaac, bread and lentil stew.  Word got around that Esau had sold Jacob his birthright to be the leader and to carry out the covenant made with G-d.
Jacob and Esau split up, but both came together when Isaac was dying.  Rebeccah talked Jacob into putting  the skins of the young goats on his arms, hands and neck  to trick the almost blind Isaac  into giving him the ritual blessing to the eldest. She knew he would take hold of his arm.   That shows just how hairy Esau was, with a smooth skinned twin.  They definitely were not identical twins but must have been fraternal twins.  Rebeccah saw her son Esau as a course materialist, not interested in spiritual things such as the one G-d of Abraham and Isaac.  He was also attracted to the women of the area who were not of their beliefs and feared that grandchildren of them would never follow a belief of theirs of one G-d but would continue with their idol worship.   The blessing was that G-d would give Jacob dew from the heavens and fatness of the earth, much grain and wine.  People and nations would serve him.  Those that cursed him would be cursed instead.  Those that blessed him would in turn be blessed.

When Esau returned, Isaac found out the truth and told him that his brother came with cleverness and took his blessing.
 Esau replied, " It is because his name was called Jacob that he outwitted me 2 times in that he was tricked out of his birthright and now his blessing.  He begged for a blessing and wept, so Isaac told him that he would live on the fatness of the earth and the dew of the heavens and by his sword he would live and would serve his brother, but it  would be that when he was aggrieved, greatly pained and distressed in spirit,  he would cast off his yoke from his neck.

All this made Esau think of only one thing, to kill his brother.  Rebeccah heard this and sent Jacob away for his own protection.  He was to go to her brother, Laben in Charan until Esau had calmed down. Rebeccah was afraid that Jacob would marry a girl from Heth or the women around her, so Isaac instructed him to take a wife from Laban's daughters.   He also told Esau not to take a wife from Canaan and that Jacob had obeyed these instructions, so he realized that they thought the Canaanites were evil so he went to Ishmael and took Mahalath, his daughter, and added her to his present wives.  It was an I'll get even act, which was the type of person he was.

Time went by and Isaac died.  Jacob brought tribute to Esau for when they got together to bury their father of 200 she-goats, 20 he goats, 200 ewes and 20 rams, 30 female camels still nursing their colts, 40 cows, 10 bulls, 20 she donkeys and 10 he donkeys brought by his servants who were told to say that they were from Jacob, his servant.  At this time, Jacob had wrestled with an angel and his name was changed to Israel.  The angel struck him in the hip causing him to limp.  Jacob was feeling guilty of being saved from Esau's wrath and felt he had not been worthy of all G-d's kindnesses. Esau (nation of Edom) greeted him with 400 men.   The brothers kissed, then cried.

 Rashi, the great commentator, said that at this moment Esau's mercy was aroused and he kissed Jacob with all his heart. Jacob let him know that he had only been a wanderer these past 20 years, a sojourner, not a prince.  He wanted him to know that there was no cause to hate him because of the blessing and that he was not greater than his twin and that the blessing hadn't been fulfilled.  Jacob had become sensitive to spiritual realities and was capable of genuine reformation and was penitent.  Such a man comes nearer to G-d than those who have never stumbled or fallen into sin.
Jacob and his family of 70 persons moved to Egypt at a time of famine.  From the time of entering to the time of departure with Moses, they were there for 400 years, of which most were spent as slaves in building projects such as storage cities for the Pharaoh.  They left as a group of 600,000.  Judaism comes to us through the beliefs of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, our 3 patriarchs.  Moses gave us the Torah, the definition of our beliefs.

Resource: Tanakh, The Stone Edition
Pentateuch and Haftorahs I  by Dr. J.H. Hertz, chief Rabbi of the British Empire
The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia

No comments:

Post a Comment