Humash and English Collide: The Sale of the Birthright

April 30, 2015

Serendipity:  the act of finding something valuable or delightful when one is not looking for it.

Dr. Berkman – English

english webpost 2My  9H2 and 9H3 read Brave New World and immediately after saw and discussed the film, Gattaca.  Gattaca is set in the not-too-distant future.  A less-than-perfect man, Vincent Freeman,  wants to travel to the stars; however, society  has categorized him as less than suitable given his imperfect genetic make-up.  He has become one of the underclass of humans that is useful only for menial jobs. To move ahead, Vincent assumes the identity of Jerome Morrow, a perfect genetic specimen who is a paraplegic as a result of a car accident. With professional advice, Vincent learns to deceive DNA and urine sample testing.  Because a stolen birthright is a major motif in Gattaca, a comparison and contrast paper comparing and contrasting the film to the story of Yaakov and Esav from Chumash was assigned.  (Not only is the ability to construct a tightly structured comparison and contrast a valuable skill,  but the ability to apply knowledge of  Chumash to secular studies in high school and on into college can be an advantageous one.)  So when my students asked me if I knew that they were currently studying the story of Yaakov and Esev in their Chumash class: Serendipity

Mrs. Goldfisher – Chumash

Esav cries out to his father immediately after discovering that his brother Yaakov received the blessing that was intended for him and says: ‘Is not he rightly named Yaakov (root עקב) ? for he has supplanted (ויעקבני) me these two times: he took away my birthright; and, behold, now he hath taken away my blessing.’ (Genesis 37:36)

Is Esav correct? Did Yaakov trick him twice?

english webpost 1Esav is correct in that there were two separate stories where Yaakov comes out a winner: the sale of the birthright and the blessing narrative.  Students in Frisch studied both these narratives.  Here is a peek at what we learned about the first story, namely the sale of the birthright:

Students first analyzed the text carefully to develop Esav’s character and study the various methods of characterization at play in Genesis chapter 25.  After the textual analysis we asked essential questions to discover whether or not Yaakov acted unjust.  First and foremost can a birthright be bought and sold?  Did Esav desire to be the firstborn with all the responsibility it entailed? Was he willing to wait to reap the benefits of the birthright or did he only appreciate immediate physical gratification? We studied medieval commentators such as Rashi, Rashbam and Chizkuni and evaluated their approaches.  In addition, we placed the biblical story in its historical context, within the Ancient Near East, and looked to the Nuzi Tablets for historical and legal support.  If one can argue that Yaakov purchased the birthright from someone who did not value the birthright and that he paid a fair amount for this honor than certainly Yaakov cannot be called a trickster.

The narrator has the last word “and Esav despised his birthright (35:34).”  Esav might claim he was deceived with the sale of the birthright but we cannot take all his words at face value.

Ben Moskowitz – Frisch ninth grader

…The stealing of the birthright also gives the viewer a new perspective of Anton’s character. In the beginning, Esav didn’t care about his birthright and gave it up for lentil soup. However, Anton always cared about his birthright, and he always tried to prove to Vincent that he was the superior brother and deserved the birthright. This gives the viewer the initial reaction that Anton is good. Although Anton  tries putting Vincent down, he cares and appreciates his birthright. However, later when Yaakov gets the blessing instead of Esav and when Yaakov used Esav’s birthright, only then does Esav get angry. In fact, he gets so angry he attempts to kill his brother, which is why people who know the story view Esav as such an evil person. When Anton knew that his brother obtained his birthright, he got very angry, and he threatened to make Vincent’s  deception public and ruin his dreams, which is almost like killing Vincent. By seeing that Anton’s and Esav’s reacted in very similar ways when learning that the other person took their birthright shows the viewer how evil Anton was. Anton acts in a very similar way to Esav, while even though Anton probably didn’t go through with his threat, just making it allowed us to compare him to Esav letting the viewer view him as an evil person. By comparing Anton and Esav, the viewer gains a clearer perspective on Anton’s character.