Two men approach each other from across a field. You would be surprised to learn they are twins, so different are they now. But even before their paths diverged, they were not alike.
One strides purposefully forward with the confidence in his own element, at home. Well he might, as he is surrounded by 400 of his own men. He has the ruddy complexion of a man much in the sun, the bunched muscles and darting eyes of a hunter and a fighter.
His brother has no beard. He has the calm, steady gaze of a man who has engaged with clever men and prevailed yet knows tragedy. He walks with a pronounced limp. His followers are mostly women and children.
When only a dozen yards separate them, Esau — the hunter — breaks from his entourage, rushing headlong toward Jacob, his crippled brother. For a moment, Jacob braces for an attack as they did not part on the best of terms. But no, Esau embraces him with heartfelt warmth.
* * *
Esau: Greetings, brother.
Jacob: And to you.
Esau: It’s terrific to see you, but what are we doing here? We won’t have this reconciliation until Vayishlach. This week’s reading is Toledoth.
Jacob: As the rabbis have assured us in Pesachim 6b, “There is no early or late in Torah.” More to the point, what we’ll be discussing takes place in Toledoth. And this is the first time we get together after our unpleasant parting in that portion. And since we are going to so cheerfully reconcile come Vayishlach, I thought it best to reconsider some of the earlier unpleasantness.
Esau: Unpleasantness? What unpleasantness? Jakie, come on. That’s all in the past. Water over the damn.
Jacob: The what?
Esau: Did I say damn? I meant dam. Water over the dam.
Jacob: No, I think we really have to discuss what happened.
Esau: What happened? Nothing. It’s so long ago, I can hardly remember. Like what, the thing with the heel grabbing? We were babies. Or the mess of pottage?
Jacob: Lentil stew, actually.
Esau: Whatever. A little trade-off.
Jacob: Beans for a birthright?
Esau: If beans is what you got and beans is what I want. Why not?
Jacob: I’m delighted you feel that way.
Esau: Of course. And Father’s blessing. That was so funny, you and those animal pelts.
Jacob: You know that was Mom’s idea. The whole thing.
Esau: Don’t worry. I barely remember the details. Goatskin, wasn’t it?
Jacob: Uh… yeah.
Esau: And you served him venison hunter’s style, no? What kind of mushrooms did you use? Must have been chanterelles. I can’t see you doing anything with morals.
Jacob: Excuse me?
Esau: Oh, I meant morels, of course.
Jacob: You know what? We really have to talk.
Esau: Naw. I’m just having fun with you.
Jacob: You sure?
Esau: Yeah. I mean don’t you believe in God?
Jacob: Of course, I do.
Esau: Well, me, too. You can’t live out in nature as I do and not have some appreciation of the oceanic.
Jacob: What are you getting at, exactly?
Esau: Karma. Look, it was obviously God’s will that you be the father of nations. So it was only a failure of faith that made you grab at my heel to change our natural birth order, a failure of faith that allowed you to cheat a starving man of his birthright, a failure of faith that made you play a ridiculous charade on a poor old blind man in order to steal his final blessing. Come on. Do you really think Dad couldn’t tell? It was goatskin, for heaven’s sake. I’m a hirsute guy, but gimme a break. Besides, even Mom never knew all the herbs and spices I threw into my venison stew. And your voice. My gosh, he was blind, not deaf. He knew exactly what he was doing. And frankly, I did, too. I wasn’t cut out for your kind of life. I’m a hunter. Heck, I’m a killer. Ask Nimrod. If I had gone to work for Laban, and he pulled that stuff with me, he’d be a grease spot on the desert by now. But Mom knew you would learn from him. Though frankly, I don’t see why you needed much help in chicanery, cunning, trickery, duplicity, double-dealing and lies. But I understand. You were just preparing to deal with the real world. And that’s karma enough for anybody. It looks to me like you’ve already started to pay for your little peccadilloes.
Jacob: I have?
Esau: The limp?
Jacob: Oh, yeah.
Esau: And as it is written, you will say to Pharaoh: “Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life.” (Genesis 47:9) I’d say that’s pretty much salt for salt, eh?
Jacob: You’re sure you’re not mad at me?
Esau: Okay, maybe just a little.
Jeffrey Fiskin is a writer who lives in Los Angeles with his family.