Jacob Reforms

(Quick Comment, Parashat Va-yetze (Genesis 28:10-32:3)

What was Jacob thinking in those dark cold hours when hours when sleep “fled from his eyes”? (Genesis 31:40)

Clearly he was a changed man from the self centered and venal child who cheated his brother twice. When he left home and the protection of his mother, he beheld the Eternal One for the first time, and realized, “Surely God is in this place, but I had no idea!” (Genesis 28: 16-17)

After the first seven years, which flew by because of his love for Rachel (Genesis 29:15), his time with Laban was like a prison sentence, but Jacob learned the lessons prison is supposed to teach.

Laban was the perfect warden

First he tricked Jacob just the way Jacob tricked his father Genesis 29:23-28). He frequently took from Jacob, just as Jacob took from Esau, what was rightfully his. (Genesis 31:38 ff)

Jacob knew that Esau hated him and vowed to kill him.

But with each succeeding cold, lonely desert night, his desire to make things right with his brother grew even stronger than his fear.

Despite Laban’s attempts to cheat him, Jacob grew wealthy in sheep and cattle. So in his mind he prepared the offering he would send to his brother.

One night, Jacob made up his mind. He is going home to face Esau. He trusts God’s promise of protection—indeed he clings to it—but he knows that he too must do his part.

He does not stint. He sends droves and droves of cattle, sheep and donkeys to his brother, more than enough to make up for the value of the birthright he stole.

The blessing, though, he will keep. He will become Yisrael, the name we call ourselves to this day. After his twenty-year sentence in the Prison of Laban, Jacob is ready to fulfill his destiny.


7 thoughts on “Jacob Reforms

  1. I can imagine he was a little afraid? Especially sending all the cattle and presents ahead of him. I was just studying this. I was thinking how the scriptures never speak of how they all must have felt. I think in all of this are so many lessons. Plus they were on foot so it probably took for what must have seemed like forever to get there. Wonderful lesson.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. While Jacob payment or I Compensate His Brother With flocks and herds of cattle, sheep and donkeys to His Brother..okay .. but stealing a legitimate right.Esau will have been happy,  He was used to a destination that was not his.Thanks Rabbi S. Fush

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Very thought provoking. What are the lessons that prison is supposed to teach? Is it typical for Jacob’s time spent with Leah and Rachel, working for Laban, becoming wealthy and learning to guard his wealth — it it typical that this period be called being in prison?


  4. Mary Beth, thank you for your comment and these three thoughtful questions. I don’t think I can answer the second. I would only say that he did learn how to look out for himelf in a system that was stacked against him.
    As to the third, I am the first one I know of to compare Jacob’s time with Laban to a prison sentence.
    As to the first question concerning the lessons Jacob learned, he learned that he could not just steal or extort without serious consequences. The Jacob who (after his prison sentence) wanted to give back to his brother is very different than the Jacob we meet as a youth.


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