I've just read the story of Jacob and Esau (Bereishis ch. 25 and 27), and I fail to understand why Jacob is consistently portrayed and idolized as a protagonist and a hero - based on what I've read, I consider him treacherous and evil character.

This is mostly based on his treatment towards Esau; when his famished [and apparently dying?] brother came to him and asked him for food, his reply was to demand the forfeiture of Esau's birthright. When his dying father wished to bless Esau, he lied to him and told him that he was Esau in order to steal the blessing.

He (and his mother) are deceitful and manipulative, yet I have not found a negative word on them - in fact, after Jacob robbed Esau of his birthright, it is said that Esau 'spurned' his birthright, shifting the blame to Esau. Jacob is idolized to the point that the entire Kingdom of Israel is named after him, and I just don't understand why; his actions make me detest him.

Why is Jacob, despite his treacherous deeds, portrayed by the Bible as a hero?

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    Daniel, welcome to Mi Yodeya, and thanks very much for bringing your question here! I hope you'll poke around and find other information that interests you, perhaps including our 105 other questions about the patriarchs. Please consider registering your account, which will give you access to more of the site's features.
    – Isaac Moses
    May 23 '13 at 20:07
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    @Dan, I think that an excellent answer to the question as stated would address your second option first and then your first option.
    – Isaac Moses
    May 23 '13 at 20:49
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    Daniel, I really don't think you have anything to apologize for, FTR. The question is clear enough as it is, IMO. Like I said, an excellent answer would explain a traditional Jewish approach to understanding the text and would then also address why the text was written in a way that, read by itself, seems to point in the opposite ethical direction. (ping @Dan)
    – Isaac Moses
    May 23 '13 at 20:54
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    @Daniel, consider the possibility that in the lentil-stew incident, Eisav was "dying" in the sense that your teenager will just die if he doesn't get his own car (or cell phone, or iPad, or whatever), not that he was actually dying. Also, Yaakov didn't keep him from eating; he just said that if you want some of mine rather than getting your own, there's a price. The incident with his father is far more troubling to me. Anyway, thanks for bringing your question here, and welcome to Mi Yodeya! May 23 '13 at 21:21

Although Issac was going to give Esau the beracha due to him being the elder, Rebecca knew from nevua that Jacob was the one who was supposed to get the beracha, Jacob spent his time studying Torah instead of hunting, and Esau did sell the birthright after all. Esau was not dying, for right after eating he up and walked away, he didn't care so much what would happen to his descendents as he said, "Behold, I am going to die, so why do I need this birthright?"

Jacob did not even want to deceive his father even if it was necessary for him to get the blessing he deserved, he only did so because of Rebecca.

Esau on the other hand was willing to kill Jacob over the blessing. Jacob showed by his actions in the following chapters that he was righteous. God had the entire Jewish nation come from him. So he was not a villain.

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    Rebecca was a neviah? Why wasn't she mentioned on the list of seven prophetesses (Megillah 14a)?
    – Double AA
    May 26 '13 at 4:23
  • How do you know he had any descendants at the time for whom a birthright would be useful after his passing? If this was the only way to live, then I imagine his descendants would prefer being born to having a birthright.
    – Double AA
    May 26 '13 at 4:27
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    @DoubleAA See Targum Onkelos (B'reishis 27:13, "Alai is'amar bin'vu'a..."), who writes that Rivka told Ya'akov that she knew through prophesy that no curse would fall upon Ya'akov from obeying her. Rashi (Makos 24a, s.v. lo ragal al l'shono) cites this as evidence that Rivka commanded Ya'akov to do this based on her prophesy. The Ramban (B'reishis, 27:7) also writes that Rivka had ru'ach hakodesh.
    – Fred
    May 26 '13 at 5:18
  • @DoubleAA Also, the Ramban writes (ibid., 27:4) that Rivka knew from the prophecy related to her earlier (see B'reishis 25:23) that Ya'akov was supposed to take the blessing, and that she had never told Yitzchak this prophecy. Perhaps Aaliyah was referring to this.
    – Fred
    May 26 '13 at 5:23
  • @Fred Indeed although still odd. see also parsha.blogspot.com/2009/11/…
    – Double AA
    May 26 '13 at 5:27

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