These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Baruch Feldstern's Chumash Class

Posted on November 4, 2010 by David Bogomolny

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The dalet-hei Humash class recently engaged in an exercise that might be of interest to other students and teachers, for its pedagogic value and/or because it is related to this Shabbat’s parasha. As part of studying the account of Yaakov’s acquiring Esau’s birthright – Gen. 25:29-34 – we read all the comments of Rashi and Rashbam, and wrote a paragraph telling the story according to their respective interpretations. Students really got into this activity and many of the paragraphs were superb. Comparing the two very different stories that emerge, we were able once again, and in a graphic way, to appreciate differences between the approaches of Rashi and his grandson. Here are two sample retellings, authored respectively by Rashi and Rashbam, and by Talia Fein, Laura Freedman and Talia Kushnick:

Avraham had just died and the family was in Aveilut, so Yaakov was cooking a traditional lentil stew. Esav came in from the field and he was tired from all the killing that he had done. Esav said to Yaakov, “I will open my mouth and you will pour some stew into it, like you feed a camel, because I am tried.” Then they got to talking about the Avodah in the Beit Hamikdash and the eldest’s obligations within it. Yaakov said, “sell me your birthright because it gives you the right to do Avodah and a rasha should not have the merit to be so close to God.” Esav said, “what is the good of this work?” Yaakov then explained that there are risks involved (some of which result in death.) Then Esav realized that he would probably die doing the Avodah and if so, why would he want it? So Yaakov said, “swear to me this day,” and Esav swore to him and sold his birthright to Yaakov. Yaakov gave Esav lentil stew and he ate, drank, got up, and l eft. Esav despised his birthright because he hated worshipping God.

Yaakov was making stew and Esav came in from the field and he was tired. He said to Yaakov urgently, “give me some of that red-red stuff because I am tired,” doubling his words because he was in such a rush to eat. Esav’s nickname was Edom because he was ruddy, he liked to eat red food, and he sold his birthright for red food. Yaakov demanded that Esav immediately sell him his birthright for money and then he would give him food to seal the deal. Esav responded, “I have a dangerous job. I am in the forest everyday fighting with lions and tigers and bears! I could die at any moment! Why do I need to wait for this birthright?” Yaakov made him promise that he would give him the birthright. Esav promised and then they made a financial exchange: money now for the eventual birthright. After the pact, Yaakov gave Esav bread and lentil stew. He ate, drank, got up, left, and later regretted his decision.