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The Source of Jacob’s Two Blessings

Isaac Blesses Jacob (Gen. 27:1-27) Doré’s English Bible.  Date 1866

Isaac’s Second Blessing to Jacob

When Esau realizes that his father, Isaac, has been tricked into giving Esau’s blessing to his brother, Jacob, he cries and asks his father (Gen 27:38), “Have you but one blessing, Father? Bless me too, Father!” Persuaded to do something for his unfortunate son, Isaac comes up with a new blessing, but one that is clearly less than the blessing mistakenly given to Jacob.

The premise of this story is that Isaac has but one real blessing, and that the boys are, therefore, in some competition over who will get it. This is why it is surprising when Isaac, upon sending Jacob to Paddan-Aram, gives him a new blessing.

כח:ג וְאֵ֤ל שַׁדַּי֙ יְבָרֵ֣ךְ אֹֽתְךָ֔ וְיַפְרְךָ֖ וְיַרְבֶּ֑ךָ וְהָיִ֖יתָ לִקְהַ֥ל עַמִּֽים:
28:3 May El Shaddai bless you, make you fertile and numerous, so that you become an assembly of peoples.
כח:דוְיִֽתֶּן לְךָ֙ אֶת בִּרְכַּ֣ת אַבְרָהָ֔ם לְךָ֖ וּלְזַרְעֲךָ֣ אִתָּ֑ךְ לְרִשְׁתְּךָ֙ אֶת אֶ֣רֶץ מְגֻרֶ֔יךָ אֲשֶׁר נָתַ֥ן אֱלֹהִ֖ים לְאַבְרָהָֽם:
28:4 May He grant the blessing of Abraham to you and your offspring, that you may possess the land where you are sojourning, which God assigned to Abraham.

Wasn’t there only one blessing and didn’t Jacob already receive it?

This blessing presents a further problem. As David Frankel points out in his TABS devar Torah, “The Two Versions of Jacob,” Jacob has just stolen Esau’s blessing by tricking his father. Instead of rebuking Jacob for his behavior, or processing the situation in any way, Isaac speaks as if he knows of no strife in the family and proceeds to bless his son.

Traditional Answers

1 – Confirming Blessing

A common answer among traditional interpreters suggests that now that Isaac’s eyes have been opened and he realized that he was destined to bless Jacob and not Esau, he is worried that people will feel that the blessing he gave was questionable since it was given under false pretexts. So he summons Jacob and gives him another blessing, this time knowing to whom he was speaking.[1]

This answer is problematic. First, it isn’t the same blessing. If Isaac just wanted to repeat the blessing, he should have done so. Second, Isaac, immediately after finding out that it was not Esau, had already confirmed the blessing, “now he must remain blessed.”[2] Third, the interaction between Isaac and Jacob doesn’t really imply any of this. There is no statement on Isaac’s part along the lines of “now I understand” or “I forgive you,” or “this time I give you the blessing freely.” There is nothing said by Jacob either asking for forgiveness, defending his behavior, or thanking Isaac for his understanding.

2 – Isaac Always Intended to Give Jacob this Blessing

There is another interpretation, which argues that Isaac always intended to give the main blessing to Jacob.[3] In Isaac’s mind, Jacob was always the son who would receive “Abraham’s blessing,” i.e. the gift of the Promised Land (28:3-4). It was only that Isaac wished to give an entirely separate blessing to Esau, one of wealth and material power. However, Rebekah, either because she misunderstood Isaac’s intentions, or because she wished Jacob to have everything, came up with the ruse for Jacob to get Esau’s blessing.

Although this reading creatively addresses why the blessing in chapter 28 is different from that of chapter 27, it is contradicted by a close reading of the first blessing:

כז:כח וְיִֽתֶּן לְךָ֙ הָאֱ-לֹהִ֔ים מִטַּל֙ הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וּמִשְׁמַנֵּ֖י הָאָ֑רֶץ וְרֹ֥ב דָּגָ֖ן וְתִירֹֽשׁ:
27:28 “May God give you of the dew of heaven and the fat of the earth, abundance of new grain and wine.
כז:כט יַֽעַבְד֣וּךָ עַמִּ֗ים וישתחו וְיִֽשְׁתַּחֲו֤וּ לְךָ֙ לְאֻמִּ֔ים הֱוֵ֤ה גְבִיר֙ לְאַחֶ֔יךָ וְיִשְׁתַּחֲו֥וּ לְךָ֖ בְּנֵ֣י אִמֶּ֑ךָ אֹרְרֶ֣יךָ אָר֔וּר וּֽמְבָרֲכֶ֖יךָ בָּרֽוּךְ:
27:29 Let peoples serve you, and nations bow to you; Be master over your brothers, and let your mother’s sons bow to you. Cursed be they who curse you, blessed they who bless you.”

This blessing does not read like an extra blessing about wealth. It reads like a declaration about which son will be the dominant son, who will carry on the legacy. It is similar to the previous blessings given to Abraham:

יב:ב וְאֶֽעֶשְׂךָ֙ לְג֣וֹי גָּד֔וֹל וַאֲבָ֣רֶכְךָ֔ וַאֲגַדְּלָ֖ה שְׁמֶ֑ךָ וֶהְיֵ֖ה בְּרָכָֽה:
12:2 I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you shall be a blessing.
יב:ג וַאֲבָֽרֲכָה֙ מְבָ֣רְכֶ֔יךָ וּמְקַלֶּלְךָ֖ אָאֹ֑ר וְנִבְרְכ֣וּ בְךָ֔ כֹּ֖ל מִשְׁפְּחֹ֥ת הָאֲדָמָֽה:
12:3 I will bless those who bless you and curse him that curses you; and all the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you.”

Reading Isaac’s response to Esau strengthens this point. When Esau asks whether his father has no blessing left to give him, Isaac responds:

הֵ֣ן גְּבִ֞יר שַׂמְתִּ֥יו לָךְ֙ וְאֶת־כָּל־אֶחָ֗יו נָתַ֤תִּי לוֹ֙ לַעֲבָדִ֔ים וְדָגָ֥ן וְתִירֹ֖שׁ סְמַכְתִּ֑יו וּלְכָ֣ה אֵפ֔וֹא מָ֥ה אֶֽעֱשֶׂ֖ה בְּנִֽי:
"But I have made him master over you: I have given him all his brothers for servants, and sustained him with grain and wine. What, then, can I still do for you, my son?”

This does not sound like the reaction of someone who thought about the blessing he just gave as a nice extra. It sounds as if Isaac believes this blessing to contain everything of importance that he could think of. The brother who received this blessing will be the dominant brother and continue the legacy of being a blessing unto the nations and the dominant force in this chosen family.

Who Sends Jacob Away?

The narrative presents other problems. After Rebekah finds out that Esau wants to kill Jacob she instructs him to run away (27:42-45).

כז:מב …הִנֵּה֙ עֵשָׂ֣ו אָחִ֔יךָ מִתְנַחֵ֥ם לְךָ֖ לְהָרְגֶֽךָ:
27:42 …“Your brother Esau is consoling himself by planning to kill you.
כז:מג וְעַתָּ֥ה בְנִ֖י שְׁמַ֣ע בְּקֹלִ֑י וְק֧וּם בְּרַח לְךָ֛ אֶל לָבָ֥ן אָחִ֖י חָרָֽנָה:
27:43 Now, my son, listen to me. Flee at once to Haran, to my brother Laban.
כז:מד וְיָשַׁבְתָּ֥ עִמּ֖וֹ יָמִ֣ים אֲחָדִ֑ים עַ֥ד אֲשֶׁר תָּשׁ֖וּב חֲמַ֥ת אָחִֽיךָ:
27:44 Stay with him a while, until your brother’s fury subsides—
כז:מה עַד שׁ֨וּב אַף אָחִ֜יךָ מִמְּךָ֗ וְשָׁכַח֙ אֵ֣ת אֲשֶׁר עָשִׂ֣יתָ לּ֔וֹ וְשָׁלַחְתִּ֖י וּלְקַחְתִּ֣יךָ מִשָּׁ֑ם לָמָ֥ה אֶשְׁכַּ֛ל גַּם שְׁנֵיכֶ֖ם י֥וֹם אֶחָֽד:
27:45 until your brother’s anger against you subsides—and he forgets what you have done to him. Then I will fetch you from there. Let me not lose you both in one day!”

But rather than being told of Jacob running away, the next verse (v. 46) has Rebekah complaining to her husband that she doesn’t want Jacob to marry local women and Isaac seems to be the only one who motivates Jacob to leave for Haran. While it may be tempting to interpret this as an attempt to manipulate Isaac to send Jacob away, the sentiment in Rebekah’s statement, speaks to a different agenda.

Why is Rebekah’s Complaining about Hittite Women?

Moreover, when Rebekah makes the complaint about the Hittite women, she says,

קַ֣צְתִּי בְחַיַּ֔י מִפְּנֵ֖י בְּנ֣וֹת חֵ֑ת אִם לֹקֵ֣חַ יַ֠עֲקֹב אִשָּׁ֨ה מִבְּנֽוֹת חֵ֤ת כָּאֵ֙לֶּה֙ מִבְּנ֣וֹת הָאָ֔רֶץ לָ֥מָּה לִּ֖י חַיִּֽים:
“I am disgusted with my life because of the Hittite women. If Jacob marries a Hittite woman like these (כָּאֵלֶּה), from among the native women, what good will life be to me?”

Who are these women? The last Hittite women that were mentioned are the wives of Esau:

כו:לד וַיְהִ֤י עֵשָׂו֙ בֶּן אַרְבָּעִ֣ים שָׁנָ֔ה וַיִּקַּ֤ח אִשָּׁה֙ אֶת יְהוּדִ֔ית בַּת בְּאֵרִ֖י הַֽחִתִּ֑י וְאֶת בָּ֣שְׂמַ֔ת בַּת אֵילֹ֖ן הַֽחִתִּֽי:
When Esau was forty years old, he took to wife Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite;

These were last mentioned 45 verses ago! In addition, the text as we have it presents a chronological problem. A calculation of Jacob’s years[4] suggest that Jacob and Esau at the time of blessing were 71 or 77. This would mean that Rebekah’s statement about Esau’s wives occurs 31/36 years after his marriage! This is an abrupt textual and time jump for Rebekah to bring this up now.

In short, there is nothing in the account of this second blessing that implies knowledge of the previous story of Jacob stealing of the blessing …and this is for a good reason: the author of this account doesn’t know that story.

Academic Solution – Two Very Different Stories

According to standard source critical division of chapters 26-28, P (the Priestly text) has no story of Jacob stealing a blessing. There is no fight between the brothers that forces Jacob to flee and no reason for Isaac to express any displeasure at Jacob or his behavior. In P, the only issue that drives Isaac sending Jacob to Paddan-Aram is the desire that Jacob find a suitable wife. Here is the P text: [Note: // represents where the seam is.]

כו:לד וַיְהִ֤י עֵשָׂו֙ בֶּן אַרְבָּעִ֣ים שָׁנָ֔ה וַיִּקַּ֤ח אִשָּׁה֙ אֶת יְהוּדִ֔ית בַּת בְּאֵרִ֖י הַֽחִתִּ֑י וְאֶת בָּ֣שְׂמַ֔ת בַּת אֵילֹ֖ן הַֽחִתִּֽי:
26:34 When Esau was forty years old, he took to wife Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite;
כו:לה וַתִּהְיֶ֖יןָ מֹ֣רַת ר֑וּחַ לְיִצְחָ֖ק וּלְרִבְקָֽה: //
26:35 and they were a source of bitterness to Isaac and Rebekah.//
כז:מו וַתֹּ֤אמֶר רִבְקָה֙ אֶל יִצְחָ֔ק קַ֣צְתִּי בְחַיַּ֔י מִפְּנֵ֖י בְּנ֣וֹת חֵ֑ת אִם לֹקֵ֣חַ יַ֠עֲקֹב אִשָּׁ֨ה מִבְּנֽוֹת חֵ֤ת כָּאֵ֙לֶּה֙ מִבְּנ֣וֹת הָאָ֔רֶץ לָ֥מָּה לִּ֖י חַיִּֽים:
27:46 Rebekah said to Isaac, “I am disgusted with my life because of the Hittite women. If Jacob marries a Hittite woman like these, from among the native women, what good will life be to me?”
כח:א וַיִּקְרָ֥א יִצְחָ֛ק אֶֽל יַעֲקֹ֖ב וַיְבָ֣רֶךְ אֹת֑וֹ וַיְצַוֵּ֙הוּ֙ וַיֹּ֣אמֶר ל֔וֹ לֹֽא תִקַּ֥ח אִשָּׁ֖ה מִבְּנ֥וֹת כְּנָֽעַן:
28:1 So Isaac sent for Jacob and blessed him. He instructed him, saying, “You shall not take a wife from among the Canaanite women.
כח:ב ק֖וּם לֵךְ֙ פַּדֶּ֣נָֽה אֲרָ֔ם בֵּ֥יתָה בְתוּאֵ֖ל אֲבִ֣י אִמֶּ֑ךָ וְקַח לְךָ֤ מִשָּׁם֙ אִשָּׁ֔ה מִבְּנ֥וֹת לָבָ֖ן אֲחִ֥י אִמֶּֽךָ:
28:2 Up, go to Paddan-Aram, to the house of Bethuel, your mother’s father, and take a wife there from among the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother,
כח:ג וְאֵ֤ל שַׁדַּי֙ יְבָרֵ֣ךְ אֹֽתְךָ֔ וְיַפְרְךָ֖ וְיַרְבֶּ֑ךָ וְהָיִ֖יתָ לִקְהַ֥ל עַמִּֽים:
28:3May El Shaddai bless you,[11] make you fertile and numerous, so that you become an assembly of peoples.
כח:דוְיִֽתֶּן לְךָ֙ אֶת בִּרְכַּ֣ת אַבְרָהָ֔ם לְךָ֖ וּלְזַרְעֲךָ֣ אִתָּ֑ךְ לְרִשְׁתְּךָ֙ אֶת אֶ֣רֶץ מְגֻרֶ֔יךָ אֲשֶׁר נָתַ֥ן אֱלֹהִ֖ים לְאַבְרָהָֽם:
28:4May He grant the blessing of Abraham to you and your offspring, that you may possess the land where you are sojourning, which God assigned to Abraham.”
כח:ה וַיִּשְׁלַ֤ח יִצְחָק֙ אֶֽת יַעֲקֹ֔ב וַיֵּ֖לֶךְ פַּדֶּ֣נָֽה אֲרָ֑ם אֶל לָבָ֤ן בֶּן בְּתוּאֵל֙ הָֽאֲרַמִּ֔י אֲחִ֣י רִבְקָ֔ה אֵ֥ם יַעֲקֹ֖ב וְעֵשָֽׂו:
28:5 Then Isaac sent Jacob off, and he went to Paddan-Aram, to Laban the son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, mother of Jacob and Esau.
כח:ווַיַּ֣רְא עֵשָׂ֗ו כִּֽי בֵרַ֣ךְ יִצְחָק֘ אֶֽת יַעֲקֹב֒ וְשִׁלַּ֤ח אֹתוֹ֙ פַּדֶּ֣נָֽה אֲרָ֔ם לָקַֽחַת ל֥וֹ מִשָּׁ֖ם אִשָּׁ֑ה בְּבָרֲכ֣וֹ אֹת֔וֹ וַיְצַ֤ו עָלָיו֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר לֹֽא תִקַּ֥ח אִשָּׁ֖ה מִבְּנ֥וֹת כְּנָֽעַן:
28:6 When Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him off to Paddan-Aram to take a wife from there, charging him, as he blessed him, “You shall not take a wife from among the Canaanite women,”
כח:ז וַיִּשְׁמַ֣ע יַעֲקֹ֔ב אֶל אָבִ֖יו וְאֶל אִמּ֑וֹ וַיֵּ֖לֶךְ פַּדֶּ֥נָֽה אֲרָֽם:
28:7 and that Jacob had obeyed his father and mother and gone to Paddan-Aram,
כח:ח וַיַּ֣רְא עֵשָׂ֔ו כִּ֥י רָע֖וֹת בְּנ֣וֹת כְּנָ֑עַן בְּעֵינֵ֖י יִצְחָ֥ק אָבִֽיו:
28:8 Esau realized that the Canaanite women displeased his father Isaac.
כח:ט וַיֵּ֥לֶךְ עֵשָׂ֖ו אֶל יִשְׁמָעֵ֑אל וַיִּקַּ֡ח אֶֽת מָחֲלַ֣ת׀ בַּת יִשְׁמָעֵ֨אל בֶּן אַבְרָהָ֜ם אֲח֧וֹת נְבָי֛וֹת עַל נָשָׁ֖יו ל֥וֹ לְאִשָּֽׁה:
28:9 So Esau went to Ishmael and took to wife, in addition to the wives he had, Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael son of Abraham, sister of Nebaioth (NJPS)

The Theme of the P Story – Choosing an Appropriate Wife

The story above reads smoothly.[5] The plot revolves solely around the issue of choosing an appropriate spouse. It begins with Esau’s choice of Hittite wives and ends with his choice of Ishmael’s daughter, in an attempt to please his parents. Isaac sends Jacob to Paddan-Aram to find a wife because he—and more importantly his wife—were unhappy with Esau’s choice, and Jacob, being their only other son, was their last hope.

The Theme of the J Story – Family Strife and the Theft of the Blessing

It is only in J (or JE)[6] where we find Jacob stealing his brother’s blessing and tricking his father. In J, Isaac loves Esau more than Jacob and wishes to give him the family blessing, the same blessing Abraham receives in Gen 12:3-4. Once Jacob does this, Isaac is forced to give his favorite son a quasi-blessing that Esau feels is worthless. Thus, Esau decides to kill his brother and Rebekah warns Jacob to run away, which he does. In this story, the reason that Isaac and Jacob never talk about the trick Jacob pulls is because Jacob runs away to Haran (not Paddan-Aram) without speaking to Isaac.

In short, in J there is no reconciliation between father and son; in P there is no discord to begin with.

Published

November 18, 2014

|

Last Updated

December 15, 2019

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