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This question came up recently, and the immediate answer that I got from people around me is that Yaakov was securing the brachos which are due to the bechor.

However, the problem with this answer is that ultimately, having bought the bechora did not actually help in obtaining the brachos. After all, instead of doing any trickery, Yaakov could have simply went over to Yitzchak and told him that he had bought the bechora and was therefore entitled to the brachos.

Others mentioned the idea of being entitled to bring korbanos. Once again, I don't see the connection between being a bechor and bringing a korban. After all, all the avos brought korbanos as well, and none of them were a bechor.

So my question is, why was Yaakov so interested in acquiring the Bechora from Eisav? What did he ultimately gain (or attempt to gain) from the purchase?

  • See Rashi to 27:36 – Double AA Dec 11 '16 at 0:57
  • @DoubleAA Hmm. Then why the requirement for any trickery - all he would have to do is tell Yitzchak that he purchased it. No? – yydl Dec 11 '16 at 1:03
  • I suspect dozens of supercommentators on Rashi have discussed that. – Double AA Dec 11 '16 at 18:54
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There are two main approaches to the purchase, found in the Rishonim.

  1. That Ya'akov purchased the monetary inheritance right generally held by the firstborn.

Suggested by: Rashbam, Ibn Ezra, Rabbenu Hayyim Paltiel, the Da'at Z'kenim Tosafist compilation, the Hadar Z'keim Tosafist compilation, the Toldot Yitshak (by the uncle and mentor of R. Yosef Karo), and the Meshivat Nefesh (15th cent.) (Gen. 25:31).

  1. That the firstborn generally has certain authority over the younger siblings, who must show a degree of deference to him.

Suggested by: Ibn Ezra (ibid), Radak (ibid), Hizkuni (ibid), and Rabbenu Hayyim Paltiel (ibid) who specifically uses it to avoid the difficulties with the Midrashic explanation that the firstborn carried the right to offer sacrifices.

R. Bahye (ibid) writes that both are true; the firstborn had both unique inheritance rights, and the right to honour from the other siblings.

The idea that the firstborn was designated, at least by default to offer sacrifices is stated by Rabbenu Avraham ben Harambam in his commentary to Genesis (25:31). He gives Kayyin and Shem as examples.

Alternatively, Shadal (there) suggests that the firstborn would take over the household affairs after the death of the father.

  • Interestingly, Rabbenu Hayyim Paltiel casually writes both answers. – mevaqesh Dec 11 '16 at 18:58
  • Note: a small minority of Rishonim follow the Midrash about Korbanot, but a) this does not pose a contradiction to there being two main approaches. b) In context, I mean two main approaches that avoid the question. || I relegated this to comments, to avoid an overly pedantic side discussion form distracting from the answer. – mevaqesh Dec 11 '16 at 19:21
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He was indeed interested in the right to bring korbanos. The Midrash (Bamidbar 4:8) explains that the right to bring korbanos originated with Adam (the original 'bechor') and had to be transmitted through the generations, either to another bechor, or to a tzaddik (depending on the circumstances. The Midrash delineates each step of the transmission). The Midrash continues that Yitzchak gave it to Yaakov because of the purchase from Eisav. The Etz Yosef cites Rashi (Bereishis 27:36) who describes how Yitzchak became aware of the purchase and gave his blessing to it. Putting this together with the Midrash and Etz Yosef, it would seem that Yitzchak was transmitting the right to bring korbanos, and that the purchase itself was not final/effective immediately (Yitzchak had not yet transmitted it to Eisav, after all), but was rather a necessary step in procuring the right from Yitzchak.

  • Of course this is difficult, since every single non-Jew is entitled to offer korbanot, and the Torah only prohibited bamot later; coinciding with the construction of central places of worship. – mevaqesh Dec 11 '16 at 18:44
  • The Midrash (Bamidbar 4:8) Are you referring to B'midbar Rabba? It should be noted that this work postdates Rashi, so this is more of a commentary on Rashi, than a source for him. – mevaqesh Dec 11 '16 at 19:16
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Could it be that Yaakov knew he had to get the Berocha, and with the guidance of his mother knew he would need to resort to trickery to obtain it. He then would have had a concern that obtaining the Berocha in this way would constitute stealing, which must have been a moral negative even that early.

So he bought the right to the Berocha from Esau so that it would not be stealing when he obtained it.

I think I got this explanation from Rabbi Shmuel Mann after shul one Shabbos, after the Torah reading of this portion. But although he was very knowledgable, I am not certain that he was quoting from a source. And unfortunately, it is too late to ask him now.

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