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Parasha Notes: Esau and The Land of Israel

December 18, 2014

Esau sold his birthright, which was mostly the right to most of the lands in Canaan that his ancestors had acquired and stood to acquire. In practice, this meant that he was to receive twice as much land as Jacob, his only brother, and that he would be the ruler/chief of whatever people they would produce, much like Isaac became Abraham’s sole heir to his property and leader of his religious movement. According to tradition, this transaction occurred around the time that Abraham died, and Esau made a simple cost benefit analysis: he only stood to enjoy the birthright when his father would die, and as Abraham had lived to be 175, and Esau himself did not expect to live long given his line of work, he figured that it was not likely that he would have much use of an inheritance from his father, who was likely to go on living for another century also, and it was even possible that Esau would predecease his own father. Therefore, the future value of the birthright was not enough, and it made sense to sell it to Jacob. Jacob himself paid well for the birthright, and the lentils were just a formality to seal the deal.

We read that when Jacob came back to Canaan, Esau already dwelled in Seir, and at the end of the Parasha we read how Esau ended up there (Genesis 36:6-7):

And Esau took his wives, and his sons, and his daughters, and all the souls of his house, and his cattle, and all his beasts, and all his possessions, which he had gathered in the land of Canaan; and went into a land away from his brother Jacob. For their possessions were too great for them to dwell together; and the land of their sojourning could not bear them because of their cattle. 

That is, as they grew into adulthood, Esau and Jacob started to become wealthy just like Abraham  and Isaac, and because Esau had willingly sold his stake in Canaan, he began to realize that he  needed to find somewhere else to go! It was only when he was already a father many times over did he begin to realize the foolishness of his decision, and when his father sent for him to bless him, he began to regret it. He even came to blame Jacob, and sought to kill him for his part.  It was only later that Esau somehow reconciled himself to the fact that Jacob would receive the lion’s share of their father’s real estate and wealth (33:9):

And Esau said: ‘I have enough; my brother, let that which you have be yours.’ 

That is, Esau had so much of his own wealth, it might have dwarfed that which Jacob had and what Isaac stood to bequeath them, and he no longer had anything over which to begrudge Jacob.

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