“Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran.” (Genesis 28:10)
Last week, in Parasha Toldot, Rebekah and Isaac had twin sons, Jacob whom Rebekah favored, and Esau, whom Isaac favored.
This week’s Torah Portion begins with Jacob leaving Be’er Sheva (Beersheba) and fleeing to Haran, the land of his mother’s family.
Along the way, he stops for a night’s sleep, using a stone for a pillow. In a dream, he sees a ladder reaching from earth to heaven with the angels of God ascending and descending on it.
The angels are first mentioned in this passage as ascending the ladder, which may indicate that they have been accompanying Jacob on his journey all along.
When we walk in the fear of the Lord, we can expect angels to protect us from evil.
We may not see them, but by faith we can be confident that even if we are without human friends on the journey, we have unseen angelic beings with us to protect and help us along the way.
But Jacob’s dream doesn’t end with angels; God Himself appears to Jacob and identifies Himself as the Lord, God of Abraham and Isaac—Jacob’s father and grandfather—since it was to these two that God made the original promise.
Now, by divine promise, the covenantal inheritance is passed on to Jacob:
“I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying.” (Genesis 28:13)
Those of us who are descendants of Jacob can claim this Land as our inheritance, not by our own will, but by divine decree.
Beit El (Bethel): The House of God
“He was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God [Beit Elohim]; this is the gate of heaven.’” (Genesis 28:17)
When Jacob awakes from his dream, he marks the spot by erecting the stone on which his head was resting. He calls the place Beit-El (Bethel), which means the House of God (Genesis 28:19).
We usually think of the House of God as a place of worship inside a building, but here we see that God is not contained within or limited to physical structures.
Any place can be made sacred by the Presence of God.
When Moses stood before the burning bush, God instructed him to take off his sandals because he was standing on holy ground. The word for holy is kadosh, which means set apart for a special purpose.
Any place or space that is set apart by God and His holy presence can become a ‘Beit-El’ in our lives.
The Tithe: The Holy Portion
“Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey… 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 28:20–22)
Jacob made a vow to devote a tenth to God’s service. This is the first time a vow is mentioned in the Bible, and it’s interesting that this vow to give the tithe is in response to God’s provision.
Every good and perfect gift comes from above. Everything we have comes from God. He is our true source of provision – not man, not our skills or our intelligence, not our job or our investments.
It’s God who provides all of our needs according to His riches in Messiah Yeshua (Philippians 4:19).
The only thing He asks for (with a promise of a multiplied return) is the first 10 percent of the prosperity He blesses us with.
Giving the tithe protects us from the tendency of the flesh toward greed. It also says that we acknowledge God as our true source and give back what is kadosh (holy) – the set apart portion of our finances – which He has given us in the first place.
“A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the LORD; it is holy to the LORD.” (Leviticus 27:30)
But why a 10th of our income? Why not 2 percent or 15 percent?
Numbers are important in Judaism, and we can look to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah for a clue.
When Abraham interceded for the salvation of the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, it came down to the number 10. God said that for the sake of 10, He would hold back the destroyer.
It works the same way in our finances. For the sake of a tenth of our finances, God promises to hold back the destroyer from our material goods.
“‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have enough room for it.’” (Malachi 3:10)
Those who do make the commitment to tithe, and who follow through on their vow faithfully, will find that God is also faithful to rebuke the devourer for our sakes and to bless and prosper us in return.
“Honor the Lord with your possession, and with the first fruits of all your increase, so your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine.” (Proverbs 3:9–10)
Love at First Sight
“Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, ‘I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.’” (Genesis 29:18)
In Genesis 29, Jacob meets Rachel, and it’s love at first sight. As soon as Jacob sees Rachel, he kisses her, and lifts up his voice and weeps, telling her he is a relative of her father.
Jacob agrees to work for his uncle Laban seven years in return for Rachel’s hand in marriage, but it seems like only a few days, because of his great love for her.
However, the plot thickens when Laban tricks Jacob into marrying his firstborn daughter, Leah, instead of Rachel.
Thus, until today, we have a Jewish custom that continues called ‘bedeken kalah,’ which means the checking of the bride.
Before each Jewish wedding ceremony, the men bring in the bridegroom to lift the veil of his intended bride so he can check that she is the right bride and that no one has pulled a ‘Laban’ on him.
Sowing and Reaping
“What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?” (Genesis 29:25)
While we can cast Jacob in the role of the poor, duped victim, we can also recognize that a spiritual law is in action. Jacob, whose very name can mean ‘a deceiver,’ duped Isaac, his father, into thinking he was Esau so he could receive the blessing of the firstborn.
And in a similar way, Laban dupes Jacob by substituting Leah for Rachel during the marriage ceremony.
It seems that Jacob was reaping what he sowed. He deceived and was deceived.
Our actions are like seeds that we sow. As surely as apples grow from apple seeds, we reap whatever we sow—whether for good or for evil.
Whatever we do to others, we reap a harvest of that action. It comes back on us, whether for good or for evil. It’s a law—the law of sowing and reaping.