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Topic: Esav Selling Birthright

Jeff wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

In last week's Parsha summary (Toldot) you wrote: "Esav rushes in, ravenous from a hard day's hunting, and sells his birthright (and its concomitant spiritual responsibilities) for a bowl of soup, clearly demonstrating his unworthiness for the position of the firstborn." Why didn't Yaakov simply give his brother something to eat? Wouldn't that be the brotherly (not to mention humanly decent) thing to do? I do, however, understand how selling the birthright for food demonstrated his unworthiness.

Dear Jeff,

You're asking a good question. Interestingly enough, there's no clear indication from the text that Yaakov withheld food from Esav.

On the contrary, the verses indicate that Yaakov actually did give Esav the food immediately. The verse says: "He sold his birthright to Yaakov, and Yaakov had (already) given Esav bread and lentils..." According to the rules of Hebrew grammar, "had given" is past perfect: When Esav sold the birthright for money, Yaakov had already given him free food!

But assuming that Yaakov withheld the food, why would he do that? The Talmud states: "Said Rabbi Yochanan: Five sins that wicked one (Esav) transgressed on that day - adultery, murder, heresy, denial of the future resurrection and despising of the birthright."

Yaakov knew who his brother was. Esav was totally unworthy to serve G-d. He would desecrate that service. Esav was a fraud. The very fact that Esav sold the birthright showed just how unworthy of it he was. Therefore, Yaakov saw this opportunity as an obligation to relieve Esav of the birthright.


  • Haktav V'hakaballa 25:31
  • Tractate Bava Batra 15b

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