Jacob Leaves Laban

Laban’s sons envied Jacob because of his good luck and wealth, and Laban too, seeing all his evil plans to deprive Jacob of the just reward for his services foiled, became unfriendly towards his son-in-law.

Then G‑d spoke to Jacob: “Return to the land of your fathers, and I shall be with you.” Jacob asked his wives to come out to the field where he was with his herds, and said to them: “You know that I have served your father with all my strength. Yet he has deceived me so often and changed my wages ten times. But G‑d did not permit him to do me evil. Now G‑d has ordered me to return to the land of my birth.” Rachel and Leah replied: “Whatever G‑d told you to do, do!”

Assured of his wives’ approval, Jacob prepared everything necessary for the long and difficult journey. He did not reveal his intentions to Laban, knowing that his uncle would not let him go. One day, when Laban was away, Jacob left for Canaan with his wives, children, and everything that belonged to him. As soon as Laban heard of Jacob’s secret departure, he gathered his men and pursued him.

Catching up with Jacob on the border of the Land of Canaan, Laban planned to attack his son-in-law the following morning. However, that night Laban had a strange dream in which G‑d warned him not to do any harm to Jacob. On the following morning, Laban met Jacob and complained of his secret flight, which had not given him an opportunity to bid farewell to his daughters and grandchildren. But Jacob answered that the bad treatment he had been given at Laban’s house made him afraid that Laban would take his daughters away from him. Said he: “Already twenty years have I been with you, and your ewes and she goats have not aborted, neither have I eaten the rams of your flocks. I have not brought home to you anything torn [by other animals]; I would suffer its loss; from my hand you would demand it, what was stolen by day and what was stolen at night. I was [in the field] by day when the heat consumed me, and the frost at night, and my sleep wandered from my eyes. This is twenty years that I have spent in your house. I served you fourteen years for your two daughters and six years for your animals, and you changed my wages ten times ten times. Had not the G‑d of my father, the G‑d of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, been for me, you would now have sent me away empty handed. G‑d has seen my affliction and the toil of my hands, and He reproved [you] last night.”

Finally, Laban made a covenant with Jacob, and then kissed his daughters and grandchildren, blessed them, and returned home. Jacob, too, continued his trip, and the angels of G‑d were with him wherever he went.

Laban Instigates Esau to Make War on His Brother

As soon as Laban had departed from Jacob, he sent his son Beor to Esau, in the hills of Seir, to inform him about the great wealth Jacob had amassed during the years of service in his, Laban’s, house. “Now would be the right time for you to take revenge for the injustice Jacob had done to you, and to take away all of Jacob’s possessions,” Laban told him. Esau did not need any more coaxing to reawaken his old hatred and whet his appetite for Jacob’s wealth. He gathered four hundred able-bodied and well-trained and equipped men and moved against Jacob, whose caravan by that time had reached the river Yabok.

Jacob’s Strategy

Jacob heard of Esau’s approaching army and sent messengers of peace and good will to his brother. He asked him to forget the old grievances since Isaac’s blessings apparently had been without effect. He had experienced great hardship during these twenty years, whereas Esau was a great chieftain.

The messengers returned with disappointment. They had failed in their mission, and reported that Esau with four hundred men seemed to be in the mood to fight and to kill.

There was nothing left for Jacob to do but to prepare for the battle against his brother. He divided his camp into two, so that the one would be able to escape if the other group were defeated. And then, feeling that safety and deliverance were in the hands of G‑d alone, he prayed to G‑d that He be with him to help him in this uneven fight against the troops of Esau.

But, although preparing for the fight, Jacob did not abandon hope for a friendly settlement with his brother. He sent groups of servants, each bearing rich presents, to meet Esau on the way and to try that way to arouse his compassion. At the same time he ardently prayed to G‑d to turn Esau’s anger into a feeling of brotherhood.

Jacob Wrestles with an Angel

Crossing back to the other bank of the river to make sure he had for gotten nothing, Jacob came face to face with an angel who began to wrestle with him. It was Esau’s guardian angel, who tried to defeat Jacob and have him at his mercy. But try as he might, the angel could not overcome Jacob. Nor could he shake off Jacob’s firm grip. All the angel succeeded in doing was to dislocate Jacob’s thigh. Morning broke, and Jacob still held on to his opponent. The angel said (32:27)): “Let me go, for dawn is breaking,” Jacob replied: “I will not let you go unless you have blessed me.” And the angel said unto him: “What is your name?” And he said: “Jacob.” And the angel said: “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, because you have commanding power with [an angel of] God and with men, and you have prevailed.” And the angel blessed him there.

Jacob’s Reconciliation with Esau

Soon Esau arrived with his men. He had been duly impressed by the rich presents Jacob had offered him, and he abandoned his evil intentions. When Jacob, followed by his wives and children, went out to meet him, Esau embraced him and kissed him, and both cried with emotion. At first Esau refused to accept the riches which Jacob had offered him. Finally, however, he accepted them and returned to Seir.

Jacob’s Arrival in Canaan

Jacob continued on his way to Canaan. In Beth-El he erected an altar at the place where G‑d had appeared to him when he fled from Esau. Again, G‑d appeared to him there, blessed him, and said: “The land I promised to Abraham and Isaac, I shall give to you and your children.”

Rachel’s Death

On the way from Beth-El to Beth-Lechem Rachel died after she had given birth to Benjamin. Jacob wanted to take her along and bury her in the Cave of Machpelah, but G‑d ordered him to bury her by the wayside, on the heights of Beth-Lechem. She was to rest there, so that many years later, when her children were led into exile by the Babylonians, they would find solace and courage at her grave, knowing that Mother Rachel was imploring G‑d for them.