“And Jacob went out from Beersheba.” (Genesis 28:10)
Last week, in Parasha Toldot, Isaac’s wife Rebecca had a difficult pregnancy as the twin boys jostled within her. When she inquired of the Lord, He told her that two nations were in her womb and the elder (Esau) would serve the younger (Jacob).
This week, Parasha Vayetze (וַיֵּצֵא) describes Jacob’s travels to and his life in Harran, the homeland of his mother, to find a wife and to flee the murderous anger of his brother Esau. It ends with his return to the Land of his fathers, Abraham and Isaac.
Jacob Leaves His Comfort Zone
We may recall that Jacob was not a rough and tough adventurer like his brother, Esau. He had a quiet personality from birth, preferring to be at home with his mother rather than out in the woods hunting for game.
So, the call to leave his home for another land (like his grandfather Abraham, and his father Isaac) may have given him much anxiety—perhaps doubly so since he was running to save his life, at his mother’s insistence.
On the other hand, Jacob had just received an extraordinary blessing from his father Isaac of “heaven’s dew and earth’s richness, an abundance of grain and new wine” with a promise of nations serving and bowing down to him (Genesis 27:28–29).
So Jacob set out for Harran, much blessed. Even so, instead of his comfortable bed or a warm inn at the side of the road, he spent his first night sleeping on the cold, hard ground, without any kind of physical shelter and only stones for a pillow.
Jacob Receives His Spiritual Inheritance
“And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.” (Genesis 28:12)
Any anxiety Jacob had that night must have fled the scene when the Lord appeared to Jacob in a dream. Standing at the top of a ladder reaching into the heavens, with angels flowing up and down it, God promised to give him the same inheritance He gave Abraham and Isaac—the land upon which he lay:
“And, behold, the LORD (YHVH) stood beside him, and said: ‘I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac. The land upon which you lie, to you will I give it, and to your seed.” (Genesis 28:13)
It is clear through this Scripture that the Divine title deed to this land belongs to the seed of Jacob (Israel) and not the seed of his brother, Esau, who is the forefather of many of the Arabic people currently living in the Land.
It’s easy to see that some of these descendants of Esau still hate their “brother Jacob” and seek to kill his descendants—the Jewish People.
Jacob awoke from his dream filled with awe, delighting in the presence of the One True God; and for that reason, he called the place Bethel or Beit–El (House of God).
The ancient Jewish rabbis viewed this pivotal encounter with God as Jacob’s spiritual awakening. It is here that he entered the role of spiritual forefather, moving forward in the promises given to his grandfather, Abraham—not only to receive the land, but also to bear fruit and bring blessing to generation after generation of all peoples of the earth:
“Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.” (Genesis 28:14)
What perhaps began as a journey of obedience to His father and mother now became a journey with God Himself:
“I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (Genesis 28:15)
While Abraham and Isaac had their own very personal encounters with God, until this time, it seems that Jacob had none such as this. Perhaps for him, God may have seemed somewhat distant or even theoretical, like He is to the children of many Godly men and women—that is, until God reveals Himself to them in a very personal way. Then they know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is real, and they make Him Lord over their lives.
“If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God.” (Genesis 28:20–21)
In accepting the Lordship of Adonai over his life, Jacob also made a commitment to Him:
“This stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will give You a tenth.” (Genesis 28:22)
When we honor the Lord’s real presence in our lives and reinvest our resources back into His work through tithing and serving, we acknowledge that He is Lord over our lives, that He provides us protection, food, clothing, and shelter and that He alone is worthy of adoration and praise all the time, everywhere.
Jacob Encounters Living Water
“And it came to pass, when Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother, that Jacob went near, and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of Laban his mother’s brother.” (Genesis 29:10)
By the time that Jacob arrived at his uncle Laban’s land, it seems that he had undergone a remarkable transformation. Earlier on, he had been described as a tent-dweller, in contrast to his rugged brother Esau who was an outdoorsman.
Traditionally in Judaism, Jacob is described as a scholar.
Yet, suddenly it seems that he actually possesses remarkable strength. He is able to single-handedly move the heavy stone off of a community well in order to water his uncle’s sheep.
Either he possessed this strength all along, or it developed as he journeyed in faith and obedience.
If the first is true, then he is a remarkable example of someone who led a balanced life, not neglecting the need to develop his external strength as he developed his internal strength.
If the second is true, then he is an example to all of us how we can be transformed in our walk with Adonai.
Still, if we keep in mind that moving the stone single-handedly was a feat fit for Samson, there is room for both to be true.
Much is made of this meeting at the well in Judaism’s oral tradition, and there are several interpretations, each perhaps building on the other.
Among them, the well is thought to represent Zion, and the three flocks Babylon, Persia, and Greece, imperial powers that drew from the well the wealth of Israel and the Holy Temple.