25:19 “..Abraham begot Isaac.” – The Torah felt compelled to add that Abraham begot Isaac to allude to the fact that the cynics of Abraham’s generation had been saying that Sarah, who had lived so long with Abraham without bearing a child, must have become pregnant by Abimalech. In order to refute this slander, God made Isaac’s features so undeniably similar to Abraham’s that even the scoffers had to admit that it was indeed Abraham who had begotten Isaac!
According to the literal sense of the narrative, however, since the Torah identifies Ishmael as the son ‘whom Hagar the Egyptian, servant of Sarah, had borne to Abraham’, it now identifies Isaac as Abraham’s primary son, whom Abraham had begotten from his true wife … Similarly in Chronicles after listing Abraham’s descendants as Isaac, Ishmael, and the children of Kenturah, the text reverts and mentions ‘Abraham begot Isaac’. See I Chronicles 1:34.
25:20 “..forty years old..” – According to the traditional Rabbinic chronology of Seder Olam followed by Rashi, Isaac was thirty-seven years old at the Akeidah ~ at which time Rebecca was born. He waited until she was physically capable of marriage ~ three years ~ and he married when he was forty. After the Akeidah, Abraham was informed that Isaac’s bride – Rebecca – had been born. Isaac then waited the necessary three years and married her although she was not yet physically fit to bear children. (Mizrachi)
“..daughter of Bethuel..” – Although we are already aware of her family background and native land, the Torah repeats these facts to proclaim her praise: She was the daughter of a wicked man, sister of a wicked man, and her native place was one of wicked people, yet Rebecca did not emulate their wicked ways.
25:21 It was in the twentieth year of their marriage that they began praying. When Isaac married Rebecca, she was, according to most opinions three years old. Until she was thirteen, she could not considered able to bear children since one does not usually bear children below the age of thirteen. They waited ten additional years as the halachah required, and only then did they begin to storm the gates of heaven with prayers.
Isaac prayed, ‘Hashem, God of heaven and earth, Whose goodness and mercies fill the earth, You took my father from his ancestral home and birthplace and brought him to this land. You said to him: ‘To your offspring will I give this land’ and You promised him, ‘I will multiply your seeds as the stars of heaven and as the sand of the sea.’ Now, may Your words which You spoke to my father be verified, for our eyes are directed to You only.’ (Sefer HaYashar)
He was certain that he would have children because God had promised him descendants. But he began to doubt that the Covenant of Abraham would be carried on by the offspring of someone from Laban’s family. Therefore, he prayed particularly referring to his wife, Rebecca. (Hirsch)
“..because she was barren.” – Why was Rebecca barren? Providence caused Rebecca to remain barren so long lest her heathen relatives maintain that it was their prayers and blessings (given her before she departed with Eliezer in 24:60) that had been instrumental in her fruitfulness. Therefore, as this verse makes clear, Hashem allowed Himself to be prevailed upon by him: Rebecca conceived as a direct result of God’s response to Isaac’s prayer.
Note: Of the four Matriarchs, three were barren:
- Sarah: to allow Ishmael to be born from Abraham (16:2) and to allow for her change of name, with its esoteric implications;
- Rebecca: to delay the wicked Esau’s birth until Abraham reached ripe old age, for it is known that Abraham was to die before Esau took to wicked ways;
- Rachel: to provide a reason for marrying Bilhah and Zilpah from whom were born, Dan, Naftali, Gad, and Asher.
“..and his wife Rebecca conceived.” – The Torah mentions her name here to accentuate that it was as ‘Rebecca’ that she conceived; unlike Sarah, her name did not have to be changed before she could bear a child.
25:22 “The children agitated within her..” – The Rabbis explain that agitated is derived from the root ‘to run’: When Rebecca passed the Torah academy conducted by Shem and Eber, Jacob ‘ran’ and struggled to come forth; and when she passed a temple of idol worship, Esau ‘ran’ and struggled to come forth. (Midrash)
Gur Aryek explains that this embryonic Jacob-Esau struggle was not influenced by their personal Good and Evil Inclination, for they were not present before birth. Rather, Jacob and Esau represented cosmic forces in Creation, forces that transcended the normal course of personality development, and that existed even before birth.
“..she went to inquire..” – She went to the academy of Shem, a prophet, who could inquire of God on her behalf. She kept her predicament from Isaac and Abraham for fear that they might deem her suffering to be a sign of sinfulness on her part. (Gur Aryeh)
As indicated in the next verse, Hashem conveyed the significance of her frightening symptoms only to her and not to Isaac. Since God did not reveal this prophecy to Isaac, Rebecca felt she did not have the right to do so, even years later when she conspired to win Isaac’s blessings for Jacob over Esau. Chizhuni explains that this is why Isaac could not imagine Esau to be a sinner. For though Isaac was a prophet, the mystery of the entire matter of Jacob and Esau remained unrevealed to him…. It would seem that Rebecca was specifically bidden to withhold the matter from Isaac, in order that he not despair of educating Esau to serve God. Had Isaac not devoted himself equally to Jacob and to Esau, the latter would have had an excuse to ignore his obligations to God.
25:23 ‘Hashem said to her…” – Through Shem, God conveyed to her that the unborn infants represented two nations and two conflicting ideologies ~ Israel and Edom ~ and that their struggle in the womb symbolized the future rivalries between them, which would end up with the younger prevailing over the older (Hoffman). Thus, the turmoil within her was due to the irreconcilable conflict between the two nations that was already taking shape. (Mizrachi)
The Sages teach that the two of them will never be mighty simultaneously; when one falls, the other will rise (Megillah 6a). History has demonstrated this prophecy in practice. Two regimes, one embracing morality and justice and the other standing for barbarity and cruelty cannot coexist for long. They must always be in conflict until one comes to dominate the other, whether through victory on the battlefield or in the contest for men’s minds.
“..and the elder shall serve the younger.” – According to the Midrash, Or HaAfeilah, this prophecy will be fulfilled in the days of the Messiah.
When Jacob in later addressing Esau referred to himself as ‘your servant Jacob’ (32:5). God said to him, not only have you profaned the holy (by referring to yourself as his ‘servant’ and addressing him as ‘my lord Esau’), but additionally you thereby disregard My promise that the ‘elder shall serve the younger’. By your life!! Your own words shall materialize: Esau will dominate you in this world, but you will dominate him in the World to Come.
25:24 Hirsch comments that, in view of the sharp differences prophesized for the children, it was anticipated that they would be dissimilar from birth. Unexpectedly, however, they were identical twins except that Esau was more developed physically. This external similarity combined with their divergent personalities and futures, and draws attention to the fact that the seeds of the future conflict lay deep beneath the surface and require intensive study.
If they were intended to be so dissimilar, why were they born as twins? There is no chaff without wheat, and no wheat without chaff. Of Esau it is written (Ovadiah 1:18) ‘the house of Esau shall be the chaff; and of Jacob it is written (Jeremiah 2:3) ‘Israel is holy to Hashem, the first fruits of His harvest (wheat). (Chizkuni)
25:25 “The first one emerged red,..” – His complexion was ruddy and he was as hairy as a woolen garment. The redness of his complexion portended his murderous nature (Rashi), since there is no other reason for the Torah to have mentioned it. (Mizrachi)
The young King David, too, was ruddy, and Samuel feared that this might indicate a tendency toward bloodshed on his part. But God reassured him, saying that David had beautiful eyes (I Samuel 16:12), meaning that he would kill only upon the ruling of the Sanhedrin, which acts as the ‘eyes of the nation’, whereas Esau would kill whenever the mood moved him (Midrash).
All character traits can be used for good. Man must harness his nature and not let his nature harness him. David and Esau had similar personalities, but David utilized it for good and became one of the greatest people whoever lived. Esau let his nature run rampart, and became the eternal symbol of evil and cruelty.
Since Scripture nowhere states that Esau was circumcised, as it does, by implication of Jacob and his sons (34:15), Da’as Zekeinum preserves a tradition that Isaac hesitated to circumcise Esau on the eighth day because his ruddiness might have been symptomatic of ill health in which case circumcision should be delayed. When it became apparent that ruddiness was his nature, Isaac decided to wait to circumcise him until his thirteenth birthday, the age at which Ishmael was circumcised. But at the age of thirteen, Esau stopped it.
25:26 “After that his brother emerged” – Rashi is troubled by why Jacob was born second or according to Levush, why this verse does not read ‘the second emerged’ which stylistically would agree with the previous verse which reads ‘the first one emerged.’
Rashi comments, “I heard a Midrash (Rabbah 63:8) which expounds this literally: Jacob was justified in trying to prevent Esau from issuing first, since Jacob had been conceived first and Esau second. Consider a narrow tube into which two stones are inserted in succession. The one inserted first will emerge last, and vice versa. Accordingly, Esau, who was formed last emerged first, and Jacob who had really been formed first, emerged last. Accordingly, Jacob’s hand was grasping onto Esau’s heel, since he wanted to emerge first, as the first one conceived, and legally be claimed first born. Thus, as Levush concludes, the verse does not refer to Jacob as second but simply as brother since in terms of conception he was first.
“Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.” – Ten years passed from their marriage until she reached the age of thirteen and became capable of bearing children. He waited these ten years as his father Abraham did in regard to Sarah. When she still did not conceive, he realized she was barren and prayed for her. But he did not want to marry one of his maids (as Abraham did in the case of Sarah) because he had been sanctified on Mount Mariah to be an unblemished offering and could therefore not marry a slave.
25:27 “And Esau became one who knows hunting,” – The figurative Midrashic interpretation which Rashi follows is not opposed to the literal sense but reflects a profound perception into the nature of Esau. The term, one who knows hunting signifies, as Hirsch points out, that “the hunter, must understand the art of stalking; he must be able to appear quite innocent and still have in his heart the thought of killing. It is the complete exercise of trickery, insidiousness….” Hence, apparently, Rashi accepted as the underlying simple sense of the phrase, the Midrashic interpretation that the phrase implies Esau’s devious character in deceiving his father.
Yalkut Shimoni preserves a Midrash that Esau’s skill as a hunter was directly attributable to a tunic which Esau took from Nimrod. This garment, originally made for Adam, passed on to Cush, who in turn passed it on to his son, Nimrod. It was embroidered with animals and birds, and it was to this that Nimrod owned his prowess and renown.
As Hadar Zekeinim and Da’as Zekeinim record, Esau and Nimrod had been engaged in a bitter feud for a long time and finally resolved to leave the decision to a duel. Jacob, knowing that Nimrod was invulnerable as long as he was clad in Adam’s garments, advised his brother not to enter into combat before his adversary had removed these garments. Whereupon Esau put those garments on stealthily and killed Nimrod in the duel. This made Esau, too, a cunning hunter. These were the coveted garments of Esau (referred to in 27:15) which Jacob wore when he received Isaac’s blessings.
“But Jacob was a wholesome man” – The description of Jacob as, simple man,contrasts with Esau as, a man who knows hunting; Jacob’s, abiding in tents, contrasts with Esau as, a man of the field, again emphasizing the starkness of their diametrically opposed characteristics. (Ibn Ezra; Abarbanel)
“..abiding in tents.” – In the tents (schools) of Shem and Eber (Rashi). According to Radak, the intent of the plural is that he studied with every sage he encountered, this being his sole desire; and he was simple. According to Racanati, he dwelt among the tents of Abraham and Isaac and received instruction from both of them.
25:28 “..but Rebecca loved Jacob.” – Rebecca’s love for Jacob was earned; she was not ‘deceived’ into loving him. Rather, he earned her love. (Hirsch) She loved only him. She recognized how Jacob clung to the path of Torah, wisdom and life, and how Esau rejected these and chose instead a dangerous occupation, acted wantonly, and plundered. Isaac, who was aged and of poor sight, remained at home and to the extent that he was unaware of Esau’s wickedness. The Torah mentioned this detail to prepare us for the sale of the birthright as a display of Esau’s recklessness. (Radak)
It may be asked, seeing that the Shechinah was with Isaac, how is it that he was unaware of Esau’s evil deeds? The truth is that the Shechinah,although continually with Isaac, did not reveal to him Esau’s evil career in order that Jacob should receive his blessing not by the will of Isaac, but by the will of the Holy One, Blessed by He. So it was destined to be, and when Jacob entered the presence of his father, the Shechinah accompanied him, and Isaac thus felt that there was before him one who was worthy of being blessed; and blessed he was by the will of the Shechinah. (Zohar)
Furthermore, it must be remembered that Rebecca, and not Isaac, was the recipient of the prophecy regarding the elder serving the younger and hence had a God-given truer perspective of the characteristics of her sons. (Rashbam)
25:29 The Sale of the Birthright – Abraham died that day and Jacob cooked a stew of lentils to provide his father with the traditional mourner’s meal.
“ and Esau came in from the field.” – The day of mourning for Abraham has arrived. Isaac and Rebecca weep; Jacob weeps; heaven and earth weep. The sick people Abraham had healed and all those upon whom he had showered hospitality – all mourn for him. The great of all the nations stood in the mourner’s row and lamented. “Woe to the world that has lost its leader; woe to the ship that has lost it’s pilot!” (Bava Basra 91b) Even Ishmael who had repented mourns the great father he had just helped bury (se 25:7-9).
They return from the Cave of Machpelah – Isaac sits on the ground and mourns while Jacob prepares the customary mourner’s meal from his own lentils since a mourner may not eat the first meal from his own food, but only from that of others.
Where was Esau? Esau, in contrast, is portrayed as going about his evil business as usual, uninvolved, as it were, in his family’s bereavement: “Esau came in from the field.” For on that day, he slew Nimrod and committed five heinous sins.
25:30 “..pour into me now..” – The Hebrew which is in the transitive has a very forceful connotation. The sense of the expression, as Rashi explains it, is: I will open my mouth; pour a lot into it! The expression, as Rashi points out citing the Mishnah in Shabbos 155b, is normally used for feeding animals.
Rashi comments: Abraham had died on that day in order to be spared seeing his grandson Esau enter upon a career of wickedness (for as the Talmud, Bava Basra 16b notes, on the day Abraham died, Esau began his sinful career (so in effect Abraham was spared witnessing it). Esau committed five crimes on that day: he violated a betrothed maiden; committed murder; denied God; denied resurrection of the dead; and spurned the birthright.) For had Abraham lived to see this, he would not have enjoyed the good old age promised him by God. Therefore, God cut his life short by five years – for he lived five years less than his son Isaac. Jacob was now preparing this lentil stew for the customary mourner’s meal.
“..for I am exhausted.” – I have no strength to feed myself. (Ralbag)
“He was therefore named Edom.” – Edom mean ‘red’. He was ruddy and desired red food for the sake of which he sold his birthright. Thus Edom was a term of contempt. (Rashbam; Ramban)
Haamek Davar interprets: Esau, by his very act of referring to the stew as adom, caused himself to be so referred to after this episode. This was part of the Divine Plan so that everyone should become aware of what transpired and the matter would accordingly be ratified and not subject to change. Furthermore, the name Edom in itself was appropriate to him as the Midrash comments: He was red, his food red, his land red (32:4), his warriors were red and their garments were red.
25:31 “Jacob said, ‘Sell, as this day,..” – Rashbam renders: Sell your share of our father’s inheritance to me as this day, i.e. immediately, for a sum of money which I shall give you. Then I will give you the food as testimony and ratification of the deal. We find that food was used to signify conclusion of agreements as in (31:46) they ate by the heap – to ratify the covenant between Jacob and Laban. (Radak and Ramban also interpret that the food was not payment for the sale; but that money passed hands. See verse 34)
“..your birthright to me.” – The sacrificial service was then carried out by first born sons, and Jacob considered the wicked Esau unworthy of sacrificing to the Holy One, Blessed be He. (Rashi)
According to Ibn Ezra’s primary interpretation, the birthright consisted of the firstborn’s right of a double share in the father’s estate (Ramban disagrees with this and maintains that this right was instituted later by Torah law); alternatively since the Patriarchs fulfilled the whole Torah, Jacob felt obligated to show honor to his older brother. He considered the wicked Esau undeserving of this and therefore asked to purchase this privilege from him.
25:32 “And Esau said, ‘Look, I am going to die..” – Following Rashi’s interpretation that the birthright’s only immediate privilege was the right to perform the sacrificial service, Esau now reasoned: … ‘My birthright is an unstable privilege.’ … For Esau learned that many breaches of the regulations governing the service – such as officiating after drinking much wine, or officiating bare-headed (see Sanhedrin 22b, are punishable by death at the hands of Heaven.) Esau then exclaimed: “Look, I am going to die, it is likely that I will die while Father is still alive and the birthright carries no special distinction while he lives. ‘Of what benefit is a birthright to me?’
“…what use to me is a birthright?” – When Esau uttered these words, the Shechinah exclaimed: then of what use is a blessing – a play on words between birthright, and blessing – to you. (Midrash HaGadol)
25:33 “Jacob said, ‘Swear to me as this day.” – i.e. – Make your oath as clear as day..
“He swore to him and sold his birthright.” – The Torah, by mentioning that he sold his birthright to Jacob thereby testifies to the validity of the sale. The Midrash notes that Esau brought in with him a group of ruffians. They jeered at Jacob saying, “Let’s eat his food and mock at him!” As if the entire transaction had been in jest. But the Holy One, Blessed be He, consented to the sale, as it is written (Exodus 4:22) Thus says Hashem, Israel (Jacob) is my first born.
25:34 “Jacob gave to Esau..” – Although, Sforno maintains that an unspecified amount of money eventually passed hands, and that the bread and lentil stew was not the purchase price, he suggests that the stew, or the pot containing it was the legal instrument of ‘acquisition by symbolic barter’, reminiscent of Ruth 4:7. (For according to Halachah, whenever a transaction occurs, the transaction may be consummated – even before money changes hands – by a symbolic act signifying acquisition by the new owner.)
“…bread and lentil stew,..” – Not until here does the Torah reveal what it was that Jacob was cooking; why was the lentil stew not mentioned earlier in verse 29? R’Bachya comments that mention of the type of food is left for after the sale to emphasize the grossness of Esau. For what did he give up his precious birthright – for a pot of beans.
“..and he ate and drank, got up and left.” After eating and drinking he returned to his hunt which was the cause of despising the birthright. Thus acts the fool; he eats and drinks to fulfill his passing desire, not giving a care for the future. (Ramban)
“Thus, Esau spurned the birthright.” As Rashi comments to verse 32.. Esau discarded the birthright because he feared the death penalties associated with it. If so, he stood in awe of its responsibilities – why does the Torah accuse him of “despising” it? Harav Moshe Feinstein derives from this that one must accept the responsibility of serving God even though he may be subjected to danger and calumny. For one to refuse His service to avoid such burdens is equivalent to despising His Torah.
HaKsav V’haKaballah observes that Jacob was interested only in the spiritual aspects of the birthright, not the physical benefit. We see, therefore, that Jacob always remained subservient to Esau, referring to him as my lord, and to himself as your servant, Jacob.
As Hirsch notes, we find Jacob deriving no material advantage whatever from the sale. To the contrary, in succeeding chapters, we find Esau growing powerful and mighty while Jacob became an exiled shepherd toiling for Laban. Jacob’s desire was solely for the spiritual benefits of the birthright. That relationship between the brothers has been acted out in succeeding generations. Esau lusted for material wealth which Jacob gladly surrendered in return for spiritual growth.