Of the the three men whom Jews call Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the one least likely to become THE Jewish paradigm would appear to be Jacob. On the surface, Jacob's biography appears to be not only uninspiring but contrary to a role model we moderns would deem appropriate to be the Prototype for Jews.
Each of the three Patriarchs has been assigned a time of day by Jewish tradition. Abraham is identified with Morning. His life exemplifies a new dawn and hopefulness and a relationship with the true Creator. Isaac is identified with Noon, traditionally a time of rest and siesta in the Eastern World. He exemplifies passivity at best. This is seen especially in the story of his near sacrifice when he willingly and passively presents himself as an offering upon God's altar. Yet Jewish tradition identifies his very willingness to passively be a sacrifice with reawakening, new life, and resurrection, and it is for this very reason that Christianity has seen him as the prototype for Christ. And finally, Jacob is identified with Night, and his life is dark indeed. In fact, as the arch prototype of Jew, Jacob may very well represent the dark and nightmare world of Jews for thousands of years. The Jewish author Elie Weisel has written a novel about the Holocaust entitled NIGHT.
Almost from the beginning of his "career", Jacob is weighted down with problems. Even in utero, he wrestles with his twin brother [a foreshadowing of a later wrestling?]. Jacob appears to dwell in the shadow of his brother, Esau, their father's favorite. Esau is a robust young man who is a mighty hunter, and I am surprised never to have found in any Jewish source, although I imagine it exists, a comparison of Esau to Nimrod.
Wikipedia tells us that Nimrod is, according to the Book of Genesis, a great-grandson of Noah and the king of Shinar [Sumer]. He is depicted in the Bible as both a man of power in the earth and mighty hunter. He also figures in many legends and folktales outside the Bible. Extra-Biblical traditions associating him with the Tower of Babel led to a darkening of his reputation. Jewish interpreters as early as Philo and Yochanan ben Zakai (1st century CE) interpreted "a mighty hunter before the Lord" as "in opposition to the Lord". And his name in Hebrew means "rebel".
At any rate, Jewish tradition has attributed to Esau a disposition or personality similar to that of Nimrod.
27 And the boys grew: and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a plain man, dwelling in tents.
The verses are interpreted by Jews as definitions of the twins. Esau is a cunning hunter and devotes hi time to killing. He uses his cunning to kill. Jacob is a plain, - quiet, contemplative, - man who devotes his time to studying the things pertaining to God.
28 And Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison: but Rebekah loved Jacob.
All boys want to be loved by their fathers but Isaac prefers Esau. We remember that Rebekah chose to become a Hebrew and enter the Covenant of the Hebrews, and apparently passed her converts' zeal on to Jacob. But even Jacob's choice to be a man of God is not sufficient to win Isaac's admiration. Esau and Jacob are twins but Esau is the first born of twins, the first fruits of Isaac's loins and therefore his favorite.
Inspired by his mother, Jacob begins his own life of cunning and deceit, a poor beginning for a man whose very name is to become a synonym for the Jewish People. Of the three Patriarchs, he is the one we'd vote "least likely to succeed".
Jealous of his brother's position of firstborn, Jacob succeeds in forcing Esau to hand over his birthright in exchange for a fast-food meal after he has come home from a heavy hunt. He then succeeds in obtaining his father's blessing of the firstborn by disguising himself as Esau and tricking his blind father. But in doing this, he earns the animosity and murderous hatred of Esau and must flee from his family in order to avoid being killed by Esau. So Rebekah facilites his escape.
46 And Rebekah said to Isaac, "I am weary of my life because of the daughters of Heth; if Jacob takes a wife of the daughters of Heth, like these who are the daughters of the land, what good will my life be to me?"
1 Then Isaac called Jacob and blessed him, and charged him, and said to him: "You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan.
2 Arise, go to Padan Aram, to the house of Bethuel your mother's father; and take yourself a wife from there of the daughters of Laban your mother's brother.
5 So Isaac sent Jacob away, and he went to Padan Aram, to Laban the son of Bethuel the Syrian, the brother of Rebekah, the mother of Jacob and Esau.
Rebekah does not have to invent a ruse to get Jacob out of harm's way. Again she shows her dedication to the Covenant by her objections to Jacob marrying a Hittite woman. Here Hittite implies also Canaanites and others not dedicated to God. Rebekah's concern about whom her younger son would marry was based on the marriage of Esau to a Hittite woman [Gen.26:34]. Isaac concurs with Rebekah and sends Jacob off to live with his kin in Aram, those Sumerians who had not become Hebrews but who nevertheless had left Sumer with Abraham at the bidding of God, and therefore presumably more ready than the Canaanites to embrace the Covenant.
With Jacob's descent [YERIDAH] from the Land into the land of Aram, his lifelong journey into night begins.
10 Now Jacob went out from Beersheba and went toward Haran.
11 So he came to a certain place and stayed there all night, because the sun had set. And he took one of the stones of that place and put it at his head, and he lay down in that place to sleep.
12 Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.
13 And behold, the LORD stood above it and said: "I am the LORD God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants.
14 Also your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south; and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.
15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you."
16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it."
17 And he was afraid and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!"
Jacob's very first intimate encounter with God happens at night and Jacob finds it an awesome [fearful] experience.
Several things should be noticed about these verses. First of all, God repeats to him what He had said to Abraham, "In you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed", confirming that Jacob is the one upon whom the responsibility of the Covenant has fallen. Secondly, one commentator says that the angels descend to commune with Jacob but then they ascend because this is the border of the Holy Land and the angels are not allowed to leave the Land. Thirdly, Rabbi Eliezer the Great said that this vision is the same as the Covenant Between The Pieces in that Jacob was shown the successive empires which would rise and fall, and in turn subjugate Israel. The place was still inside the border of the Holy Land because the House of God and the Gate of Heaven can only be there, and Jacob named the place Beth-El, God's House.
Jacob arrives in Aram and is welcomed into the home of Laban, his uncle. Jacob agrees to work for Laban and asks for the hand of his daughter Rachel for whom he promises to work for seven years. At the end of the prescribed time, Laban deceives Jacob by giving him his older daughter Leah. When Jacob discovers the deceit at the moment of consummation, he becomes indignant. But Laban mockingly tells him that "It is not so done in our place, to give the younger before the firstborn", a verbal slap, reminding Jacob that he too used deceit against his own father to secure the blessing of the firstborn. But both men make an agreement that if Jacob will work an extra week, Laban will also give him Rachel to wife. Jacob agrees but he winds up working for Laban for longer than a week. He served in Laban's house twenty years during which time his wives gave birth to twelve sons and a daughter. These twelve sons were to be the progenitors of the twelve tribes of Israel. Jacob also had increased in wealth during his time with Laban which aroused Laban's envy, and the two became antagonists. Then Jacob told his family that it was time to leave Aram and return to the Land of Canaan. Jacob and his family leave in secret and Laban follows them. When they meet, there are recriminations but finally they agree to make a pact of nonaggression, and that neither one will pass over to the territory of the other. They set up an altar as a symbol of the pact.
45 So Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar.
46 Then Jacob said to his brethren, "Gather stones." And they took stones and made a heap, and they ate there on the heap.
47 Laban called it Jegar Sahadutha, but Jacob called it Galeed.
48 And Laban said, "This heap is a witness between you and me this day." Therefore its name was called Galeed,
49 also Mizpah, because he said, "May the LORD watch between you and me when we are absent one from another.
50 If you afflict my daughters, or if you take other wives besides my daughters, although no man is with us-see, God is witness between you and me!"
51 Then Laban said to Jacob, "Here is this heap and here is this pillar, which I have placed between you and me.
52 This heap is a witness, and this pillar is a witness, that I will not pass beyond this heap to you, and you will not pass beyond this heap and this pillar to me, for harm.
53 The God of Abraham, the God of Nahor, and the God of their father judge between us." And Jacob swore by the Fear of his father Isaac.
54 Then Jacob offered a sacrifice on the mountain, and called his brethren to eat bread. And they ate bread and stayed all night on the mountain.
55 And early in the morning Laban arose, and kissed his sons and daughters and blessed them. Then Laban departed and returned to his place.
Laban swears by the God of Abraham and his brother Nahor but Jacob swears of the God of his father Isaac. The point is that Laban can only know God as He who guided them out of Sumer but Jacob has a much deeper relationship with God inherited by Isaac the Hebrew.
1 So Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. 2 When Jacob saw them, he said, "This is God's camp." And he called the name of that place Machanaim.
Immediately upon crossing the border into Canaan, that is, making ALIYA, Jacob is granted a divine welcome home. Jacob has already called the place God's Camp but why he renames it Machanaim, Dual Camps, is not clear unless he refers to two camps of angels, one ascending and one descending.
Now Jacob is back in the Holy Land and his major concern is his brother Esau's anger. He knows that in Esau's eyes, his usurping of the birthright is not only an insult but a robbery.
9 And Jacob said, O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, the LORD which saidst unto me, Return unto thy country, and to thy kindred, and I will deal well with thee:
10 I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands.
11 Deliver me, I pray thee, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau: for I fear him, lest he will come and smite me, and the mother with the children.
22 And he rose up that night, and took his two wives, and his two women servants, and his eleven sons, and passed over the ford Jabbok.
23 And he took them, and sent them over the brook, and sent over that he had.
24 And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.
25 And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob's thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him.
26 And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.
27 And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob.
28 And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.
29 And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there.
30 And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.
31 And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh.
22And he rose up that night, and took his two wives, and his two women servants, and his eleven sons, and passed over the ford Jabbok.
32 Therefore the children of Israel eat not of the sinew which shrank, which is upon the hollow of the thigh, unto this day: because he touched the hollow of Jacob's thigh in the sinew that shrank.
This famous Biblical story contains a wealth of information for our study of the move towards Jewishness.
Jacob is alone with his fear, and it is night, and he is filled with darkness. As a person cannot see clearly at night, so Jacob cannot see what lies ahead for him in the future. He has prayed to God to deliver him but God has not yet replied.
But now he does.
A figure, looking very much like a man, pounces upon him and struggles with him in combat all night long. Our rabbis have many interpretations about the identity of this man and the meaning of the struggle. The truth is that this story lives on many levels. Some say that the man was the agent of Esau who came to finish or complete the unresolved antagonism between them both. More to the point though, Jewish tradition regards Esau as the symbol of the gentile nations who will continually fight against Israel. Jacob holds his own until the dawn begins to break at which point the man realizes that Jacob has bested him and he pleads to be released. When Jacob keeps holding on to him, he wounds Jacob but to no effect. Jacob still holds him, and then asks for a price for his release. He asks for a blessing and is given the name Israel. Scripture implies that the name signifies one who struggles with God but the definition is very vague. The name is a combination of the Hebrew word El [God] and a verb SARA the meaning of which is uncertain. It is not the usual word used for struggle [ABAK} in Hebrew.
SARA in Arabic means to persist, persevere, and relates it to the Hebrew word SORA, meaning rows, and is used only once in Scripture in the book of Isaiah in 28:25. There is also the word MISRA, a unique word that probably means rule or dominion, and which Isaiah uses in the messianic passage in 8:6, "...and the government is on his shoulder." Nobody knows what the root of this word is but linguists have arrived at the conclusion that it must be identical to SRAR, the word that gave rise to the name Israel.
SARA, the common Hebrew verb meaning rule, reign, act as prince. And the noun SAR meaning prince, and SARAH meaning princess and is equal to both the name of Jacob's grandmother Sarah and the root-word of Israel.
We know that God doesn't lack the physical strength to best any human being in a fight, so we may conclude that the destruction of Jacob would go against the very nature of God.
But the symbolism is really transparent. The world will fight against Jews. At times it will seem that God Himself will fight against Jews but ultimately when the Jews' night is finally over, the eschatological dawn will see Jews victorious. Jacob's persistence and victory over his opponent raises him to a new level. From now on God's people will not be merely Hebrews; they will be the children of Israel, Israelites. This is the fruit of Jacob's choice to struggle with his destiny. The event is impressed in the mind of the Jewish people by the prohibition against eating the hindquarters of animals. God gave the laws of KASHRUT through Moses but Israel chose this dietary law on its own.
An excellent article and exposition on Jacob's struggle can be found at
After this event, Jacob and Esau finally do meet up but it is a foregone conclusion, after the elevation of Israel, Esau will not be a threat to him. In fact, Jacob and Esau do reconcile and Esau leaves Jacob in peace to continue his destiny as the father of the Jewish People.
9 And God appeared unto Jacob again, when he came out of Padanaram, and blessed him.
10 And God said unto him, Thy name is Jacob: thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name: and he called his name Israel.
11 And God said unto him, I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins;
12 And the land which I gave Abraham and Isaac, to thee I will give it, and to thy seed after thee will I give the land.
13 And God went up from him in the place where he talked with him.
Return To The Jews Create Jews Index Page
Return To The Literary Index Page
Return To The Site Index Page