In a story, there is generally a protagonist and an antagonist - a "good guy" vs. a "bad guy." Consider the following familiar movies or movie franchises and identify the protagonist(s) and antagonist(s) of each:
- The Wizard of Oz
- Harry Potter
- The Hunger Games
- Star Wars
- Black Panther
Even in Jewish stories, there is generally an easily identifiable "good guy" and "bad guy":
The following story, which describes the relationship between Jacob and Esau since before they were born, is less black-and-white. Read the following excerpts and consider the questions that follow. As you read, underline any text that seems to point to a character as a "good guy" and circle any text that seems to point to a character as a "bad guy." In the margins, indicate which character is "good" or "bad" and why.
(20) Isaac was forty years old when he took to wife Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean. (21) Isaac pleaded with Adonai on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and Adonai responded to his plea, and his wife Rebekah conceived. (22) But the children struggled in her womb, and she said, “If so, why do I exist?” She went to inquire of Adonai, (23) and Adonai answered her, “Two nations are in your womb; two separate peoples shall issue from your body; One people shall be mightier than the other, and the older shall serve the younger.” (24) When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. (25) The first one emerged red, like a hairy mantle all over; so they named him Esau. (26) Then his brother emerged, holding on to the heel of Esau; so they named him Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when they were born. (27) When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the outdoors; but Jacob was a mild man who stayed in camp. (28) Isaac favored Esau because he had a taste for game; but Rebekah favored Jacob.
But the children struggled: whenever she passed by a place that Torah was being studied, Jacob moved powerfully [inside her womb]... but whenever she passed by the gate of a pagan temple Esau moved powerfully. (Genesis Rabbah)
- Does the text seem to be describing one twin as superior to the other? Which one and why?
- Why does Jacob favor Esau? Why does Rebekah favor Jacob?
- What do you think could happen when parents have favorites?
- Is this a fair trade?
- What can you infer about Esau's personality from this text? About Jacob's?
(1) When Isaac was old and his eyes were too dim to see, he called his older son Esau and said to him, “My son.” He answered, “Here I am.” (2) And he said, “I am old now, and I do not know how soon I may die. (3) Take your gear, your quiver and bow, and go out into the open and hunt me some game. (4) Then prepare a dish for me such as I like, and bring it to me to eat, so that I may give you my innermost blessing before I die.”
(5) Rebekah had been listening as Isaac spoke to his son Esau. When Esau had gone out into the open to hunt game to bring home, (6) Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “I overheard your father speaking to your brother Esau, saying, (7) ‘Bring me some game and prepare a dish for me to eat, that I may bless you, with Adonai's approval, before I die.’ (8) Now, my son, listen carefully as I instruct you. (9) Go to the flock and fetch me two choice kids, and I will make of them a dish for your father, such as he likes. (10) Then take it to your father to eat, in order that he may bless you before he dies.” (11) Jacob answered his mother Rebekah, “But my brother Esau is a hairy man and I am smooth-skinned. (12) If my father touches me, I shall appear to him as a trickster and bring upon myself a curse, not a blessing.” (13) But his mother said to him, “Your curse, my son, be upon me! Just do as I say and go fetch them for me.”
- Where is Rebekah while Isaac and Esau are talking?
- Who's idea is it to trick Isaac? Who objects and why?
- How does Rebekah assure Jacob that he is not going to be held responsible?
(14) He got them and brought them to his mother, and his mother prepared a dish such as his father liked. (15) Rebekah then took the best clothes of her older son Esau, which were there in the house, and had her younger son Jacob put them on; (16) and she covered his hands and the hairless part of his neck with the skins of the kids. (17) Then she put in the hands of her son Jacob the dish and the bread that she had prepared. (18) He went to his father and said, “Father.” And he said, “Yes, which of my sons are you?” (19) Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau, your first-born; I have done as you told me. Pray sit up and eat of my game, that you may give me your innermost blessing.” (20) Isaac said to his son, “How did you succeed so quickly, my son?” And he said, “Because Adonai your God granted me good fortune.” (21) Isaac said to Jacob, “Come closer that I may feel you, my son—whether you are really my son Esau or not.”
- At what point does Isaac become suspicious?
- How many lies has Jacob told so far?
(22) So Jacob drew close to his father Isaac, who felt him and wondered. “The voice is the voice of Jacob, yet the hands are the hands of Esau.” (23) He did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like those of his brother Esau; and so he blessed him. (24) He asked, “Are you really my son Esau?” And when he said, “I am,” (25) he said, “Serve me and let me eat of my son’s game that I may give you my innermost blessing.” So he served him and he ate, and he brought him wine and he drank. (26) Then his father Isaac said to him, “Come close and kiss me, my son”; (27) and he went up and kissed him. And he smelled his clothes and he blessed him, saying, “Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of the fields that Adonai has blessed. (28) “May God give you Of the dew of heaven and the fat of the earth, Abundance of new grain and wine. (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, and blessed be they who bless you.”
- Is Isaac deceived? What argument could you make that he is deceived, and what argument could you make that he is not?
- How many lies does Jacob tell in this segment?
(30) No sooner had Jacob left the presence of his father Isaac—after Isaac had finished blessing Jacob—than his brother Esau came back from his hunt. (31) He too prepared a dish and brought it to his father. And he said to his father, “Let my father sit up and eat of his son’s game, so that you may give me your innermost blessing.” (32) His father Isaac said to him, “Who are you?” And he said, “I am your son, Esau, your first-born!” (33) Isaac was seized with very violent trembling. “Who was it then,” he demanded, “that hunted game and brought it to me? Moreover, I ate of it before you came, and I blessed him; now he must remain blessed!”
- Why does Isaac tremble?
- What do you think Esau's response will be?
(34) When Esau heard his father’s words, he burst into wild and bitter sobbing, and said to his father, “Bless me too, Father!” (35) But he answered, “Your brother came with guile and took away your blessing.” (36) [Esau] said, “Was he, then, named Jacob that he might supplant me these two times? First he took away my birthright and now he has taken away my blessing!” And he added, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?” (37) Isaac answered, saying to Esau, “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?” (38) And Esau said to his father, “Have you but one blessing, Father? Bless me too, Father!” And Esau wept aloud. (39) And his father Isaac answered, saying to him, “See, your abode shall enjoy the fat of the earth And the dew of heaven above. (40) Yet by your sword you shall live, And you shall serve your brother; But when you grow restive, You shall break his yoke from your neck.” (41) Now Esau harbored a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing which his father had given him, and Esau said to himself, “Let but the mourning period of my father come, and I will kill my brother Jacob.”
- What is Esau's first response? Does he get what he wants?
- What does Esau plan to do to Jacob? Is his plan justified?
- What do you think Rebekah's response will be?
(42) When the words of her older son Esau were reported to Rebekah, she sent for her younger son Jacob and said to him, “Your brother Esau is consoling himself by planning to kill you. (43) Now, my son, listen to me. Flee at once to Haran, to my brother Laban. (44) Stay with him a while, until your brother’s fury subsides— (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!”
- Who does Rebekah expect Esau to blame?
- Does Esau know about her role in the trickery? What might he say to her?
- Do you think this family will ever come back together? Why or why not?