The Birthright

The parashat Toledoth describes the continuing lives of Isaac and Rebekah, the birth of Jacob and Esau, the continual encounters of Isaac with water and wells, and the most crucial story in the development of Jewish history, the accession of Jacob to his brother’s birthright and to Isaac’s blessing.

The persistent theme in this parasha is the reappearance of dualistic principals with the birth of the third patriarch, Jacob and the presence of two elements ‘the body’ and ‘the soul’ as seen through the birth of Esau and Jacob. And where the two must coexist, but for the first time in Jewish history ‘the soul’ gains dominance over ‘the body’. This is a theme to persist in subsequent leadership in the Tanach.

Through this parasha we see the personalities of Isaac, Rebekah, Esau and Jacob evolve.

Isaac

Isaac is a unique personality in The Tanach. He is the only person who has gone through a near death experience when he was about to be sacrificed. This experience, instead of being a psychological trauma implanted on his personality, had an indelible effect upon his subsequent actions. His four limbs had been bound to the ‘one’ in the Akeda, on Mount Moriah, the navel of the world where heaven meets earth, which was paradise, Garden of Eden (179), half way to the Messiah. As his jugular vein was about to be cut, and his blood was about to flow upon the altar of God, he was brought back from the dead, from the ‘one’ back to the ‘four’. This made Isaac unique. He had seen paradise.

Isaac was the first patriarch to have been circumcised on the eighth day. Hence his seed is pure and is the first step to evolution of a pure Hebrew race through the generations of Jacob.

Moreover, as we saw in the previous parasha, Isaac persists in his personality as represented by water. He, as the second patriarch, is linked to the first story of creation when on the second day the water of heaven and earth are divided (Genesis 1:6-7). He is also linked to water in the second story of creation commencing at Genesis 2:6 where a mist rises from the earth and later divides into four rivers sprouting from the Garden of Eden. And in this parasha we find once again Isaac’s main contentions with the phenomenal world is related to water rights, lack of water (drought) and wells (Genesis 26:1; Genesis 26-33).

Isaac represents the female element, the bodily soul (nefesh). He is passive and accepting. He loves Esau because, Esau represent ‘the body’ and hence complements Isaac’s nature. On the same basis Isaac loves Rebekah.

Rebekah

In contrast to Isaac, Rebekah is dominant and decisive. And whereas Isaac represents ‘the soul’, Rebekah represents ‘the body’. She decides upon her own volition that she will leave her family to go immediately to marry Isaac, without hesitation, Similarly it is Rebekah who takes the decision to deceive her own husband (and son) to bring the birthright to the soul. (Genesis 24: 58). Whereas Isaac loves Esau, so Rebekah loves Jacob, who is also symbolised by the soul.

Esau and Jacob

 

The birth of the twins demonstrates immediately their two personalities where Esau, who was red all over like a hairy garment (Genesis 25:25), is ‘the body’ and Jacob, who was born with no particular physical characteristics, represents ‘the soul’.

The name of the twins suggests the same. Esau is spelt עשו ayin-sin-vav and has value of 70+300+6 = 376. Jacob can be spelt two ways either with vav: יעקוב yod-ayin-kof-vav-beth=10+70+100+6+2 = 188; or without the vav: יעקב yod-ayin-kof-beth= 10+70+100+2 = 182. In most instances in the Bible it is written without the vav, but in Leviticus 26 and also in various verses in Jeremiah it is written with the vav. If we use the spelling with the vav, we find that the name Esau with a gematrical value of 376 is exactly two times the value of Jacob at 188. This 2:1 ratio is significant in many of the Biblical texts. Notably in the case of Egypt and Canaan (the Promised Land) where Canaan כנען is spelt: caf –nun-ayin-nun = 20-50-70-50 = 190; and Egypt =Mitzraim מצרים in Hebrew and spelt: mem-tzadik-resh-yod-mem = 40-90-200-10-40 = 380. Hence the ratio of Egypt: Canaan is 2:1. In both instances the 2:1 ratio reflects the world of duality (Esau and Egypt) versus the world of ‘oneness’ (Jacob and Canaan). This is reflected very clearly in the description of the two personalities and where it can be seen that Esau is born of the phenomenal world and whose very being is associated with material aspects of the world, whereas Jacob lives in the world of spirituality.

Esau ‘shoots from the hip’ and makes decisions in accord with gut reactions. He cannot see beyond his immediate needs of the ‘now’. He is impulsive and completely driven by the ‘forces of development’. Although he is a very worldly person he is not capable of even determining his own life’s direction. So we see when he returns from the field tired hungry and thirsty, he simply thinks of his immediate bodily needs and despises his entire future for a bowl of pottage (Genesis 25:29-33). Similarly, when his father shows dissatisfaction when he marries the daughters of the Canaan (the Hittites) (Genesis 26: 34-35; 28:6-9), he immediately goes off and marries the daughter of Ishmael. He is a very confused person, and this is seen in the text:

In Genesis 26:34-35 he marries Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite and in Genesis 28:6-9 he marries Mahalath, daughter of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, sister of Nebajoth). Yet in Genesis 36:1-2: it states: Now these are the generation of Esau who is Edom. Esau took his wives the daughters of Canaan; Adah the daughter of Elon the Hittite, and Aholibamah the daughter of Anah the daughter of Zibeon the Hivite; And Basemath Ishmael’s daughter sister of Nebajoth.

This is all very confusing, either the names of his wives were changed or that Esau is a very confused person who cannot even recognise or remember the names of his wives (and relatives) whom he married as a result of a gut reaction.

As much as Esau represented ‘the body’, so Jacob represents ‘the soul’. He was a plain man dwelling in tents (Genesis 25:27). We don’t even know what he looks like. What does this mean?

The soul is naked: it is soft like the yolk of and egg. It has no outer shell of the body, or of the ego, to face the outside world. The soul therefore hides itself within the body for fear that exposure would cause ridicule, harm or death. It only exposes itself when there is no choice or it is safe to do so. Such is Jacob, such also is Joseph and at a later date, Esther, where the name Esther means ‘I will hide myself’, and derived from the verb l’hasteer, meaning to hide. This will be discussed at time of Purim.

Jacob lives in tents. Tents are temporary dwellings, as are those constructed during Succoth. They represent the temporal nature of our life on earth, of our bodies and of ourselves. Hence when Jacob was ‘dwelling in tents’ he was contemplating his life and future in context of the overall nature of existence. He was not involved with the phenomenal world and its needs or its demand upon himself to be a shepherd and breadwinner for the family.

Jacob was the third patriarch he is represented by the third sign of the zodiac, Gemini, which is a dualistic sign. Hence he is a twin and marries two wives who are two sisters, Rachel and Leah. He also represents the third day of creation {1} when God says ‘it is good’ twice, (Genesis 1: 9-12). The third day is when not only organic life is brought to earth, but herb yielding seed and fruit trees whose seed is within itself (this phrase will be discussed in another chapter). So it is that the seed of Jacob brings into existence the twelve tribes of Israel for Jacob’s seed was the product of the first circumcision carried out on Isaac on the eighth day. His seed is pure and so are the generations afterwards.

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{1} The appearance of organic life on the 3rd day of creation is related to Uspensky’s theory of the ‘Music of the Spheres, where all phenomena can be associated with the musical octave. Hence the jump between the B-C interval which is a semi-tonal interval requires superlative energy and result in the existence of life.

 

Fate and cause and effect

The first lesson learnt from the act of Jacob usurping the birthright from Esau is that of fate. Religions and attitudes of peoples of eastern countries are often assumed to understand that fate, or karma, is pre-ordained; that the future is caste; that all mundane and supra-mundane events occur at a pre-scribed time.

This attenuation of fate to the understanding of the Eastern religions is incorrect and is due to misinterpretation not only by believers but also by scholars. Belief in fate is perhaps a layman’s interpretation of what is otherwise understood to be cause and effect, i.e. something happens because something else has happened beforehand to cause this reaction. Of course within the concept of cause and effect there are many options as to how an individual will react to a certain set of circumstances and therefore what the next effect will be. However the option chosen by any individual will depend upon his interpretation of the event, which in turn will depend upon his/her personal history i.e. the sequence of causes and effects in his or her life, previous or present and his personality. Simply said, if you got burnt previously you don’t go near fire again resulting in pyro-phobia.

In the case of Jacob and Esau is it clear at the very outset that Jacob is un-accepting of his position in the womb as coming ‘second’ to his brother:

And the children struggled together inside her; and she said, If it be so, why am I thus? And she went to inquire of the Lord: And the Lord said to her, Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples shall be separated from your bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger: Genesis 25: 22-23.

In the Story of the Birthright, fate, karma and ‘cause and effect’ are denied. Cause and Effect prescribed that Jacob was born second and that in no way could the course of nature be changed. Jacob is destined not to receive the birthright. Yet, in the story of Jacob neither he, nor his mother, accepts the immutability of the course of nature, and indeed he steals the birthright changing the entire course of history and the evolution of the Hebrew race. Even Isaac realises, subsequent to the implicit deceit of his son that the blessing he imparted to Jacob was right and was the will of God, for indeed he says: ‘Yea, and he shall be blessed (Genesis 27:33).

The fact that Jacob could overcome his brother, who was stronger, at birth, was reversed after their birth. Jacob was a quiet man living in tents. He spent his days contemplating and understanding the process and cause of ‘cause and effect’ and hence was able to change his situation by (i) understanding the cause, and (ii) not being affected by it. As such he was able to change the course of nature and the course of the line of the Patriarchs by ‘stealing the birthright’.

The Accession of the birthright to Jacob

The soul and the body

The accession of the birthright to Jacob is the first instance in the Tanach in which ‘the soul’ (Jacob) has subordinated ‘the body’ (Esau) and this is an instance that will repeat itself in future episodes in the Tanach {2}.

In order to do so ‘the soul’ has to wear a battledress in order to protect it soft interior from exposure. And it was clear to both Jacob and to Rebekah that ‘the soul’ could not receive the blessing of Isaac if it is exposed itself in its natural form. So Jacob had to cover himself with the garment of ‘the body’ of his brother Esau, just as Esther had to hide her inner self in order to become queen to Aharuserus, and Elijah would wear his mantle. (Kings I:19)

The two kids

We note in Genesis 27:9 that Rebekah requests Jacob to fetch ‘two kids’ from the flock, to replace the deer that Esau had gone out to hunt.

Why ‘two kids’ when one would be enough for the purpose of a meal for his father?

We can refer to the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, in which two kids are taken from the flock, and one bears the sins of the children of Israel into the desert and the second is sacrificed. In Judaic law kids are used for sin-offering of the Children of Israel: c.f. Genesis 23:19 The kid as a sin offering at the end of counting the Omer on the 50th day; Exodus: 9:3 The kid as a sin offering for the Children of Israel for the purification of The Tabernacle; The kid as a sin offering at the beginning of a new month, Rosh Hahodesh.

In this parasha we do not know the fate of each of the kids, but may surmise that one was used as a sin offering for the purpose of (i) the purification of Jacob before he is about to receive the blessing of his father Isaac, (ii) as a means to compromise the deceit in which he is about to indulge and (iii) to dilute the effect of the of his father’s curse that may ensue. The first cause would be most significant.

The Blessing

Therefore God give thee of the dew of heaven and the fatness of the earth and plenty of corn and wine; Let people serve thee and nations bow down to thee: be lord over thy brethren, and let thy mother’s son bow down to thee: curseth be everyone that curseth thee and blessed be he that blesseth thee (Genesis 27:28-29).

Without going into the blessing of Isaac imparted to Jacob in too much detail, it is interesting to note that the blessing (Genesis 27:28-29) comprises 26 words and 111 letters. 26 is both the numerical value for the sacred word for God, the Tetragrammation, adonai, spelt yod-heh-vav-heh = 10-5-6-5 =26. It is also the component value of the letter aleph, א, which comprises 2 yods linked by a vav = 10-6-10=26.

Moreover the letter aleph א has a full or atbash value of 111. This is where the word aleph אלפ is expanded and spelt in its full form aleph-lamed-peh א-ל-פ = 1-30-80 =111.

The gematria of the blessing would suggest that the words of Isaac were in fact the words of God transmitted through him. It would also suggest that Jacob receiving Isaac’s blessing and the birthright was part of the overall plan of creation before the world began.

In accord with ancient lore it is said that whilst Jacob was preparing to receive the blessing of Isaac, Esau, who was a cunning hunter (Genesis 25:27), was pursuing after the deer which continued to eluding him, guided by the hand of God. In an analogy the deer could be described as the four-legged forces of development over which he had no control. Then, at the instant that Isaac had completed his blessing of Jacob, it is said that Esau caught the deer.

The fury of Esau

The fury of Esau as expressed in Genesis 27:32-40 is that of a man attempting to clutch at both worlds. On the one hand he is a full participant in the world of development and is completely guided by the forces of development yet in the same breath he wants the blessing that will lead him to the next world. The contradiction of the two opposing forces makes this impossible.

Isaac realises this and at that instant realises that the blessing bestowed upon Jacob was right hence his response is: Yea, and he shall be blessed Genesis: 27:33.

So it is that Isaac creates another blessing more appropriate to the nature of Esau: And by the sword shalt thy live, and shalt serve thy brother (Genesis 27:40).

 

{1} The appearance of organic life on the 3rd day of creation is related to Uspensky’s theory of the ‘Music of the Spheres, where all phenomena can be associated with the musical octave. Hence the jump between the B-C interval which is a semi-tonal interval requires superlative energy and result in the existence of life.

{2}In accord with transcription of clay tablets at ancient Nuzi, near Kirkuk, the city of the Hurrians, one tablet describe the sale of the birthright of an elder brother to a younger brother for 3 sheep, indicating that this was not an uncommon practice and that it was legally binding. Moreover a similar tablets indicated that an oral deposition is also legally binding and hence not only was the agreement of Esau to transfer the birthright to Jacob legal but also the subsequent blessing of Isaac to Jacob, even though it was conducting under deceitful circumstances.

 

 
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