A Stolen Blessing

With jacob-meets-esau-francesco-hayezthe arrival of Jacob in the Biblical text, we have talked about the blessings: who got them, which ones did they get, and which ones did they not get. Today, I will deal with this topic again, but only in passing since this section of Torah closes the book on the heir of Birchat Abraham[1]. But first, Jacob is worried about the imminent meeting with Esau[2]. And he is worried. He hears his brother is approaching and has an entourage of 400 men[3]. In his panic, Jacob prays to G-d:

And Jacob said: ‘O G-d of my father Abraham, and G-d of my father Isaac, O Hashem, who said to me: Return to your country, and to your kindred, and I will do you good; I am not worthy of all the mercies and all the truth You have shown Your servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I have become two camps. Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother [from the hand of Esau]; for I fear him, lest he come and smite me, the mother with the children[4]. And You said: I will surely do you good, and make your seed as the sand of the sea, that cannot be numbered for multitude.’ (Genesis 32:10-13)

This is Jacob’s recollection of the words of G-d, but does he remember them correctly? After his father and mother both told him to leave and go to the house of Laban, G-d made a promise to Jacob while he dreamt under the stairway to Heaven:

And, behold, Hashem stood beside him, and said: ‘I am Hashem, the G-d of Abraham your father, and the G-d of Isaac. The land upon which you lie, I will give it to you and to you seed. And your seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west, to the east, to the north, and to the south. And in you and in your seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And, behold, I am with you, and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back into this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you[5].’

Just prior to his departure from Laban’s home, Hashem spoke to him and gives him a promise.

And Hashem said to Jacob: ‘Return to the land of your fathers, and to your kindred; and I will be with you.[6]

The promises Jacob reminds G-d in his plea:

  • I will surely do you good
  • (I will) make your seed as the sand of the sea

We could discuss point by point either the merits of Jacob’s memory or Jacob’s lack of proper recollection, but my main focus is the blessings. He was promised that G-d would be with him while he was with Laban and that promise was fulfilled. Now, after 20 years in Laban’s home, G-d said, return to the land of your fathers and I will be with you. One possible reading is that G-d is with Jacob whether he is in the land of Laban or in the land of his fathers, but another equally probable reading is that once Jacob returns to the land of his fathers, G-d will once again be with him. In other words, he was with Jacob while he was in Laban’s home… until he was told to return; Hashem will be with him once again when he returns… as if G-d will be waiting for him in Eretz Canaan. [No one likes this reading, but this reading seems to fit better with the fear Jacob feels as the meeting with Esau draws nigh. In his own words, Jacob is worried not for himself but for his family: lest he come and smite me: the mother with the children[7]. This seems to indicate Jacob understands that the family he currently has is not necessary for G-d to fulfill His promises[8].]

I often wonder if Jacob successfully stole the brachah[9] intended for Esau. The question, whether we know it or not, is based on the idea that G-d has no choice but to submit to the words that come out of our mouths. If we can shoehorn G-d into subservience by the words of our mouths, then we have every reason to believe Jacob “stole” Esau’s brachah. I hate to break it to you, but our words do not carry that kind of power. We can hurt people with our words, Heaven forbid, and we can uplift and heal, but we cannot manipulate our G-d.

When I look at Jacob’s life, I see a turning point in his life; his life took a sharp turn, and this turn brought complication of often-catastrophic proportions. This change in direction occurred when he was given an impossible task: honor his father and disobey his mother, or honor his mother and deceive his father. That event forever complicated his life. When Jacob met Pharaoh hear the end of his life he says, “The days of the years of my sojournings are a hundred and thirty years; few and evil have been the days of the years of my life.[10]” This comment gave me a new slant, if you will, on the conversation between Esau and Jacob when they meet after twenty years of separation:

As you know, Jacob took a good portion of his flocks and herd and sent it in front of him. These were intended to be gifts to appease Esau. The last time he was home, Esau was waiting for their father to die so he could kill Jacob; therefore, Jacob had good reason to be in fear.

However, when they meet, there is brotherly love and a sense of reconciliation. Esau tries to give the gifts back saying he has enough, but Jacob refuses, saying, stuff slows him down. Genesis 33:11 goes one step further and says something we all miss: Please accept my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough.” Thus he urged him, and he took it.

Why does Jacob use the term brachah at this point? Is he saying his flocks and herds are a blessing? That might be a bit arrogant.

Perhaps he is offering to return the blessing he received surreptitiously to its rightful owner.

Painting Credit: Jacob meets Esau, Francesco Hayez

[1] The blessings of Abraham, Genesis 28:4

[2] Genesis 32:8

[3] Genesis 32:7

[4] Genesis 32:10-12

[5] Genesis 28:13-15

[6] Genesis 31:3

[7] Genesis 32:12

[8] If we recall a gentleman named Job, his family was killed, yet G-d still blessed him and gave him every blessing and a new family.

[9] blessing

[10] Genesis 47:9


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