Jacob and Esau.

Author:Inbinder, Gary
  1. The Birthright

    In Genesis, we are given a prophecy about the birth of Jacob and Esau that has echoed through the millennia: "Two nations are in thy womb, and two peoples shall be separated from thy bowels; And the one people shall be stronger than the other people; And the elder shall serve the younger" (emphases added). A foretaste and forewarning of the struggle to come is given in the twins' struggle within their mother, Rebecca's, womb and the odd circumstances of their birth, for Esau emerges first, red and hairy, followed by smooth Jacob holding firm to his brother Esau's heel.

    Let us bracket for a moment the struggle, the contrast between ruddy hairiness and pale smoothness, and the grasping of the heel, while understanding that Esau grew to be a "natural man," a man of the field and the hunt, an "elder" or more primitive image of humankind, while Jacob grew to be a "smooth" civilized man, a logo-centric man of the tent, or the polis, a "younger" or more evolved human. By understanding this, we understand why Esau sold his birthright for a "mess of pottage." Esau is a man living in the realm of the senses, a man of the natural flux with all its diversity, mutability, temporality, finitude, contingency, and relativity. Thus, his ends are immediate, and his will is directed toward the satisfaction of those immediate ends.

    Jacob is a man who, while also tied to this temporal and finite existence, strives within the realm of the intelligible toward that which is one, fixed and eternal, infinite, necessary and absolute. His ends, therefore, are transcendent and his means to achieving those ends, his telos, is by way of the logical ordering of the temporal world through justice, charity, and love. His higher nature rules the lower, he strives with the divine logos, the creative intelligence of this world wherein may be conceived a universal moral law. His will is to make that law prevail.

    Esau cannot know anything beyond the need of the moment. Esau's concupiscence is too strong to admit knowledge that transcends time and place. The bowl of lentil soup looks good, smells good, tastes good--it satisfies the needs and hunger of the moment.

    Jacob, logical and spiritual, yet grounded in reality, is possessed of a dual consciousness of being. He knows the true worth of his birthright, which arguably is the very ascent of man from the primitive to the civilized, and such a birthright could not possibly pass to such as the emotive and concupiscent Esau. Thus understood, there is no theft or unfair advantage taken of Esau; rather it is providence that passes the torch of human progress to him who is fit to bear it, and Esau must be content to serve Jacob if there is to be order and harmony in this world.

    There is an interesting corollary here to the Classical Greek understanding of virtue, in that the virtuous man understands that present pleasure must often be sacrificed, or present pain must be endured, for an ultimate good, whereas the man lacking in virtue will seize the present pleasure, or avoid the present pain, without thinking of the ultimate consequences of his actions. Thus...

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