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    The cunning hunter – Tol’dot

    Jacob & Esau, by James Tissot c.1896

    Jacob & Esau, by James Tissot c.1896

    Isaac’s two sons were contrasts.

    Jacob was the studious one who enjoyed his home and his books: The text says he loved his tents (Gen. 25:27), which Radak indicates means that wherever there was a tent of learning, that’s where one would find Jacob.

    Esau, on the other hand, was the “cunning hunter” (Gen. 25:27). Rashbam takes this phrase literally: Esau was the prototype of the macho man who, in later parlance, went in for “huntin’, shootin’, and fishin’”.

    Ibn Ezra thinks the idea of being not only a hunter but cunning is particularly important, since Esau exercised his wiles on deceiving the animal prey and making it easier to capture them.

    But the way the story works out with Esau and Jacob vying to impress their father, it seems more likely that the phrase “cunning hunter” doesn’t only refer to animal targets. It conveys the sense of a man who could flatter and dissemble when it came to other human beings, especially Father Isaac.

    Poor Isaac was old and losing his eyesight – a contrast to the later Moses who even at the end of his life was still vigorous and clear-sighted (Deut. 34). Isaac, on the other hand, was not only taken in by Esau’s wiles but probably wanted to be.

    The boys’ mother Rebekah got Jacob to pretend to be Esau in a superb piece of see-through disguise because she knew how gullible Isaac had become, and she wanted to show that if a patent disguise that covered the smooth arms of Jacob could fool him, all the more so could he be taken in by the smooth talk of Esau.

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