“And He Went Out”
Genesis 28:10 – 32:3
By M.H. Boli
In this passage Jacob, fleeing from the struggle in his home against his brother, is engaged in a second struggle with his uncle. The cause is not a birthright, but a beautiful daughter.
Jacob sees his cousin Rachel for the first time at the well, rolls away the stone at the mouth and gives water to her sheep in an event that recompenses Rebekah’s act of servitude to Abraham’s servant earlier in Genesis. Laban charges Jacob seven years of work as the bride price. He then gives his older daughter, Leah, to Jacob who does not notice in the dark who he is laying with. When he woke up Jacob was outraged. Laban defends himself saying, “It must not be done so in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn.” Now Jacob, who deceived a blind Isaac into altering the firstborn status, is deceived by Laban into honoring the firstborn status in the darkness of the night. The parallel is emphasized by the verb rimah, to deceive, which is used by Isaac to accuse Jacob of deceit and is now used again by Jacob to accuse Laban of deceit.
Seven years of work later Jacob marries Rachel. His favoritism towards Rachel creates a rivalry between the two sisters. God will have mercy on Leah and she will bear children while Rachel remains barren, but Leah continues to despair for Jacob’s attention. Rachel who has done nothing wrong, has no children. Similarly, Esau who had done nothing wrong was cheated out of his birthright. The text creates sympathy for Jacob and Leah whom God favors for no less than their status as the lesser or the unloved. God’s love makes up for the world’s mistreatment.
The stories in this parasha are woven with the story of Jacob and Esau as to create an ongoing parallel in Jacob’s life with themes of deception, struggle, and escape. These themes come to a climax in Jacob’s hand to hand struggle with God.