` A time for deals and a time for donations — imaginary family values

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The Jacob of the last two parshiyot is the consummate deal-maker. He sells his birthright to Esau (25:33). Impersonating Esau, he tells his father, “eat my game, so that your soul will bless me” (27:19). His oath to God is conditional: “if the Eternal God will be with me, and guard me on this road …” (28:20–22). And of course, he offers his labor to Laban in exchange for Rachael (29:18, 27), and then agrees to work further in exchange for the striped and spotted sheep (30:32–33). Even his wives get into the contractual spirit, when Leah uses mandrakes to buy the right to sleep with Jacob from Rachael (30:15).

But here, when he reunites with Esau, he makes no deal: he gives lavish gifts and says it was only “to find favor in your eyes, sir” (33:8). What changed?

Once Jacob returns to his father’s house, God has held His end of His conditional oath with Jacob. Jacob’s success in Laban’s household fulfills the blessing originally meant for Esau (27:28–29). With twelve sons, he can pass on the blessing of Abraham (28:3–4) … even if he, and eleven of those sons, meet untimely deaths. Jacob has received many blessings, but immortality is not among them.

Jacob has nothing to offer God in exchange for a continuation of his good fortune. All he can say is “I have become small from all the kindness and truth that you have done for Your servant” (32:11). By realizing the significance of the gifts he received from God, he begins to appreciate the significance of the gifts he can give to his brother.

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