Among the Three Patriarchs of our people, Jacob (Yaakov) takes a special place. He was the "favorite" of our Patriarch, our Sages say (Ber. Rabba 76). When G‑d named him "Israel," after he wrestled successfully with the angel, "Israel" became the name of our Jewish people. More than Abraham and Isaac, Jacob is exclusively our father. For, Abraham also had a son Ishmael, the father of the Arab nations, so that the Arabs can also claim Abraham as their father. Abraham was also the father of Midian and other nations (the children of Keturah), so that the Midianites, and others, could also claim Abraham as their father. Of course, these were not the children of Sarah, and Abraham had sent them away during his lifetime, for he recognized only Isaac as his true son and heir, in accordance with G‑d's promise and covenant. The others did not follow in Abraham's footsteps; they were Abraham's children only in a limited sense, whereas we, the Jewish people, are truly Abraham's children in the fullest sense.

Isaac, too, had a son Esau, the father of the Edomites, the Amalekites, and other nations. These nations, far from following in the footsteps of Isaac and Abraham, were the most bitter opponents of the ideals of Abraham and Isaac and the arch enemies of our people.

Jacob, however, was the father of twelve sons, all of whom were good; all of them carried on the traditions of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They were the twelve tribes of our people, the "tribes of G‑d," from whom our Jewish people descends.

Thus, Jacob is exclusively our own; none but our Jewish people can call him "father." We, the Jewish people, are the only "children of Israel."

Our Sages declare that it was for the sake of Jacob that Abraham was saved from the fiery furnace, and Isaac was spared on the altar (Akedah). it was G‑d's design that Abraham should give birth to Isaac, and Isaac to Jacob, so that the people of Israel should come into being. This is the people that has been destined to be G‑d's "instrument" in the history of mankind; the people chosen to receive the Torah at Sinai in order to be the living "witnesses" of the One G‑d, the Creator of the world.

The life-story of Jacob is well-known to every Jewish boy and girl who has learned Chumash. However, the Torah is not a book of history or biography, and therefore we find in Chumash only some of the main highlights of Jacob's life. Many additional details of Jacob's life have been transmitted by word of mouth from generation to generation, until they were recorded by our Sages in the Talmud and Midrash. It is especially some of these details that we wish to tell you here.

Jacob was fifteen years old when his grandfather Abraham passed on. Jacob prepared the customary mourner's dish, a pottage of lentils, for his father, in order to comfort him in his sorrow. But that was also the day when Jacob's twin-brother Esau chose to break openly with the traditions of his father and grandfather. Esau, the "man of the field," went wild that day and committed some terrible crimes on that very day. When Esau came home from the field, Jacob offered to buy the birthright from his older twin-brother. Esau was glad to get rid of the duties of the birthright, which he despised and degraded. What was scorned by Esau was cherished by Jacob.

Jacob was fortunate enough to know not only his grandfather Abraham, but also his ancient ancestor Shem Noah's son, who survived Abraham by 35 years. Thus, Jacob was 50 years old when Shem died (in the year 2158 after Creation). Shem headed a school, as also his great-grandson Eber. Jacob had the good fortune to be their disciple. From Shem, Jacob could learn, at first hand, all about the Flood, and from Shem and Eber about the Tower of Babel (1996),

Jacob was 63 years old when, disguised in Esau's clothes, he obtained Isaac's blessings which were meant for the firstborn son. Discovering the plot, when Esau later arrived to claim the blessings, Isaac realized that it was G‑d's Will that Jacob should be his true heir and successor, and he confirmed the blessing and birthright upon Jacob. Esau, however, never one to respect his own word or even oath, refused to recognize his sale of the birthright. He felt cheated by Jacob and swore to kill him. Isaac and Rebeckah had been greatly disappointed in Esau, who had not been particular about the choice of his wife: he married out of the family, the daughter of a Hittite. Jacob was earnestly bidden by his parents not to marry a local Canaanite woman; he was to find himself a wife in his mother's family. Isaac and Rebeckah sent him to Laban, Rebeckah's brother, who lived in Mesopotamia. There, Jacob was to find a wife for himself among Laban's daughters.

Jacob left his parents' house in Beer Sheba and set out for Haran, the birthplace of his mother. After a day's journey, when the sun set, he took time out to pray to G‑d. Thus he introduced evening prayer. (The morning prayer was instituted by Abraham, and the afternoon prayer was instituted by Isaac.)