Jacob’s Arrival in Haran

Jacob continued his trip eastward. It was afternoon when he reached the outskirts of Haran. He found shepherds resting near a well, watching their flocks. Jacob greeted them and asked them about the town and his uncle Laban. Just then, Rachel, Laban’s daughter, arrived with her father’s herds. Jacob inquired why the shepherds did not water their flocks while it was still day. He was told that only the concerted efforts of all the shepherds could remove the rock that covered the mouth of the well. Hearing this, Jacob walked over to the well and single-handed rolled the stone from its place. Then he watered the herds of his uncle. Rachel, who with all the others had watched this astonishing feat of Jacob’s strength, was overjoyed to hear that this outstanding visitor was none other than her own cousin, the son of her father’s sister. She hurried home to tell her father about Jacob’s arrival, and Laban went out to the well to greet his nephew and welcome him into his home.

The Price of a Wife

Jacob had spent a month in Laban’s house, tending his uncle’s sheep. Laban, very much satisfied with his nephew’s excellent service, and aware of the blessing that his nephew’s arrival seemed to have brought to his house, wanted to make sure that he would not lose him too soon. He therefore said to him: “You shall not serve me for nothing because you are my relative. Tell me, what shall be your reward?” Jacob replied that he was willing to serve Laban seven years for the hand of his younger daughter Rachel. Laban was satisfied with this proposition, for he could hardly find a better son-in-law, and it had always been his wish that his daughters should be married to his sister’s sons.

Jacob served him seven years faithfully, giving up sleep and rest in tender care of his uncle’s flocks. And G‑d’s blessing was with him.

When the day arrived on which Rachel was to be wedded to him, Laban substituted Leah, his older daughter. Having foreseen such a possibility, Jacob had arranged with Rachel a series of signals by which she was to make her identity known to him when she was a heavily veiled bride. The good and self-effacing Rachel, however, wishing to spare her sister embarrassment and shame, revealed the secret code to Leah, and Jacob did not discover the ruse until it was too late. When Jacob, discovering that his uncle had tricked him, demanded an explanation, Laban told him that it was not the custom of the land to marry off the younger daughter before the older one. If Jacob wished to get Rachel as his wife, he would have to serve him another seven years. There was nothing left for Jacob but to agree to do so, and he served Laban for an additional period for seven years.

Jacob’s Children

In addition to Leah and Rachel, Jacob married Silpa and Bilha, two members of Laban’s household. Leah bore him seven children: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and a girl, Dinah. Rachel, who was childless till the seventh year of their marriage, finally was blessed with a son, Joseph, and shortly before her death with another boy, called Benjamin. Jacob’s two other wives also bore him children; Bilha gave him Dan and Naphtali, and Silpa, Gad and Asher. The twelve sons of Jacob were to become the progenitors of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Jacob’s Wealth

After the birth of Joseph, Jacob planned to return to Canaan. During the fourteen years he had lived with his kinsman, the house of the latter had been blessed and had prospered, and his wealth and possessions had increased. Jacob now felt that the time had come for him to return to Beer Sheba; he was ninety-one years of age and still an exile and a servant. So he entreated Laban to let him depart; but Laban could not bear the thought of losing him, knowing of the divine blessing that rested on everything Jacob touched. Therefore, he promised him part of his flocks as reward for his services, so that Jacob could make his own fortune. Jacob stayed on for an additional six years. However, Laban tried all kinds of tricks and ruses to cheat Jacob out of the payment due him by their agreement. But G‑d blessed Jacob, and his flocks multiplied rapidly, until he became a rich man. In fact, Jacob’s flocks thrived so well that he became the object of much admiration all over the country, and sheep breeders from far and wide came to deal with Jacob. Thus his wealth was increased many times, and his household was augmented with many servants and slaves.