Bible Commentator

Messengers of God: A Theological And Psychological Perspective

Moshe Reiss


Jacob's Ladder

Jacob's Ladder by Mark Chagall

Jacob begins this trip into exile by colliding (va’yifga) with a place (Ha’makom) 1 and having a dream of angels going up and down a ladder to heaven (28:12-18). When he awakes he says God is in this place and ‘I (anokhi – not ani 2) did not know myself’. The Zohar translates this ‘have I seen all this without knowing ‘anokhi’, myself.3 Jacob had just deceived his father. His father asked him ‘who are you my son’ Jacob answered ‘I (anokhi) am Esau, your first born’. (27:18-19)  Despite the city being called Luz (28:19) tradition tells us that Jacob stopped at Mt. Moriah, the place where Abraham almost sacrifices his son, Isaac. Rashi suggests that Jacob tried to ignore his father’s sacrifice but he could not proceed with his life until he confronted his father’s sacrifice. So God moved Mt. Moriah to be in front of him. (28:17). He had spend his life with his mother and ignored his father’s development; the holocaust that crippled Isaac. Esau had not, this ‘man’s man’ cared for his sick blind father. God says to Jacob  ‘I am the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac’ (28:13). It is actually Jacob speaking, Jacob desires his father to be Abraham and not Isaac. He will not be like his father, but who he will be is still unknown. Why is Abraham called his father and not Isaac? Is God implying that he will become like his grandfather Abraham rather than his father? 4  One Midrash stated that the angels were ascending and descending on Jacob. 5 He had just deceived his father and they were punishing him. The Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer confirms this by telling us that stones Jacob made for a pillow were the twelve stones of the alter. 6

This is the first of two events that will define Jacob, accepting his father’s infirmity and reconciling with his brother.

He names the site of the dream Beit-El, the House of God. In this his first encounter with God, Jacob says to God ‘If God remains with me and keeps me safe on this journey I am making, if he gives me food to eat and clothes to wear, and if I come home safe to my father’s home, then YHVH shall be my God’ (28:20-21). This is very conditional faith in God. If God takes care of him like his mother did - feed and cloth him and keep his home safe for him  - then that is a God in whom I am prepared to believe in. He does not, have the faith of Abraham. Jacob is not a traumatized being like his father Isaac, but he has not become an Abraham. Abraham was willing as an act of obedience to sacrifice his son.  

His father Isaac, despite having had a barren wife for twenty years does not take a concubine. His grandfather Abraham, indeed took a concubine, Hagar, after his wife’s long standing barrenness. Jacob returns to the same well where years earlier Eliezer had been sent by Abraham, to find a wife for his father Isaac. Jacob surpasses his grandfather Abraham by marrying two wives and then taking two concubines. Jacob has two personalities - he is both Adam One and Adam Two.  He needs and takes both an Adam One wife and an Adam Two wife. He is the fullest, most complex of the Jewish patriarchs and his children become the basis of Jewish people.

Several noteworthy terms appear in the Hebrew text when Jacob first sees Rachel at the well. “When Jacob first saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother, Jacob came and took the stone covering of the well and he made the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother drink (vayashk). Vayishak Jacob to Rachel, he raised his voice and cried.” (29:10-11) Two questions arise from these verses. Why are the words in the verse noted three times - ‘Laban his mother’s brother’ - twice relative to the sheep and once relative to Rachel? What is the connotation of the Hebrew root letters; ‘sh’ ‘yod’ and ‘koof’? Is the repetition in the first verse of ‘Laban his mother’s brother’ a harbinger of future events? Inasmuch as his mother deceived his father, he should be aware that Laban will deceive him, both as regards to Rachel and the sheep.

The first ‘vayashk’ clearly means the sheep drank. The second ‘vayishak’ can mean he helped her drink. Why would Jacob ‘raise his voice and cry’ if he helped her take a drink? However the ‘vayishak’ has always been interpreted by Jewish commentators as he kissed her. He then fell passionately in love with her and consequently ‘he raised his voice and cried’. 7 That would require a letter missing a ‘nun’ - ‘vayinashak’. (And in fact in the next verse Laban ran and - ‘vayinashak’ - kissed Jacob.) The ‘shin’ in ‘vayishak’ is punctuated by a point in the center called in Hebrew a dagesh. This point or dagesh in the center of a letter often indicates that a letter has been dropped. Why in fact is the ‘nun’ missing, why did the scribal writers leave it out. Were they embarrassed by the idea of a man - a not just a man but Jacob - kissing a single woman whom he had just met at a well? Jacob, heretofore not known for his strength, sees a ‘large stone’ (29:2) covering the watering well that normally required several men to lift (29:3) suddenly has the power to lift it himself. Love conquers all. We will see this theme again when Jacob says the seven years he is to work for Rachel is ‘but a few days’ (29:20).

What is the connection between the sheep who were watered by Jacob and the kissing of Rachel? Jacob will ultimately be deceived by Laban with both Rachel, (whose name means little lamb), and the sheep.  Thus the same three letters of the root word (‘sh’ ‘yod’ and ‘koof’) are used for Jacob and Rachel (and us) to know that Laban will deceive him with Rachel and the sheep. Did Rachel bear a physically resemblance to her Aunt Rebekah, did she act like her Aunt and did Jacob recognize that resemblance?

Laban kisses his nephew and calls Jacob his brother (29:15) - thus Jacob escapes from one problematic brother to find another - slips into the clutches of a more wily brother. After a month Jacob volunteers to work for seven years in order to marry Rachel, Laban agrees. Jacob works for seven years as the manager of Laban’s main business. He learns to manage (or subdue) men, do business trading, all the elements of an outward going Adam One. Then at the culmination of the seven years a marriage takes place. It is not Laban who reminds his future son-in-law that the marriage time is approaching but Jacob (29:21). However Laban the deceiver surreptitiously sends his older daughter Leah to Jacob’s bed to consummate the marriage. WE  had previously been told that Rachel was beautiful, while Leah had ‘ratchet’ eyes. The Hebrew ‘rachot’ is difficult to translate. A Midrash tells us she had no eyelashes. 8 According to that Midrash Leah had heard she was destined to marry Esau and so cried until her eyelashes fell off. The importance of this Midrash it that it suggests that Leah was  part of the conspiracy with her father to deceive Jacob. ‘In the evening he took his daughter Leah . . .and he went into her’ (29:23). ‘In the morning and she was Leah’ (29:25). The narrator does not use the usual expression ‘he knew her’ but ‘he went into her’ because Jacob did not have any emotional attachment with this wife – he did not know her or love her. 9 Jacob confronts Laban and receives the following retort. 10 ‘It is not the custom in our country to marry off the younger before the elder” (29:26). The implicit irony of this retort stressing the rights of the elder versus the younger suggests that justice is being done to Jacob for having deceived his father and received the blessing belonging to his older brother Esau. Laban forced on Jacob the rights of the first born.

Two questions beg to be addressed by omissions in the text. Who was the woman in bed at night? She was Leah in the evening and Leah in the morning. And secondly did Jacob not say anything to Leah in the night and in the morning? Jewish traditional commentators answer these questions. On his wedding night Jacob was blinded by his passion as his father had been blinded by the akeda. He no doubt addressed his bride as Rachel. And Leah responded, ‘yes it is I’, as Jacob responded to his father’s asking him are you Esau - ‘It is I’ said Jacob. Just as Jacob masqueraded as Esau so did Leah masks herself as Rachel. She wore her sister’s veil. Just as Jacob ‘became’ Esau to his blind father so Leah ‘become’ Rachel to the passionate Jacob.   (11 )

According to Jewish commentators, Rachel and Jacob suspected potential deception on Laban’s behalf. They therefore devised a secret code to ensure recognition of each other. However Leah begged her sister Rachel to cooperate with the deception.  Rachel had pity on her older sister who ‘had sad eyes, while Rachel was shapely and beautiful to look at’ (29:17). Leah was given the secret signs by her sister Rachel.  According to the Midrash Genesis Rabbah, Jacob anguished by the deception said to Leah in the morning ‘Deceiver, daughter of a deceiver! Did I not call you Rachel last night and you answered me?’  She retorted, paying him in kind, ‘Is there a master without students? Did your father not call you Esau and you answered him?’ Is Leah giving Jacob’s a taste of his own medicine. Or in a  more sophisticated reading telling him that just as he needs to be part of Esau’s personality, so she needs to be part of Rachel’s personality. The twin brothers are a whole and the two sisters are a whole. They are two birds of the same feather. 12  Rebekah – the mother - helped re-invent Jacob as Esau; so when he said to his father ‘I am Esau your eldest son’ he was not so much lying as wishing and the wish became a reality for awhile. Laban – the father – helped re-invent Leah as Rachel so when she responded to Jacob (as she must have done) I am Rachel she was not so much lying as wishing and the wish became a reality. The dislike that Jacob had for Leah was they both had the same problem; they both wished to be the other, the shadow self. Jacob wished to be a man’s man and Leah to be beautiful like her sister.

Thus Jacob worked - as Adam Two - for fourteen years for Rachel the woman he passionately loved.  Adam Two worked hard for his Adam One wife - Rachel; whereas his Adam Two wife - Leah - came ‘toil free’. Jacob hates Leah (29:31). Perhaps she was Jacob’s scapegoat always reminded him of his treatment of Esau. Leah does not outwardly complain, and she is rewarded by God with fertility. Her love for Jacob is illustrated by the names chosen by her for her children. They are named: Reuben - ‘He has seen my affliction, now my husband will love me’,  Simon - ‘Because I was hated’ and Levi - ‘This time my husband will love me’. All three of these children names are based on the absence of love between Jacob and Leah. It appears that Leah believed her sole value to her husband lay in her ability to have sons.

However Jacob’s love cannot be coerced, in fact Jacob never loves Leah.  The three children whose names are conflictual in origin are all problematical. The embittered hostility between their mother and father and aunt must have an effect. It is only when the fourth son, Judah is born, and Leah names him  ‘Now I will praise the Lord’ (29:32-34). Not for a hateful relationship between husband and wife.  

Rachel, though passionately loved by Jacob is tragically barren. She feels desperate about having children and blames Jacob. Immediately after Leah’s fourth child is born, the text tell us ‘Rachel envied her sister . . .[and pleads to Jacob] Give me children or I am dead’ (30:1). (Ironically at the birth of her second son, she indeed dies.) Her entire identity appears to be based on her ability to bear children and in particular a son. Her sister’s four male children are a particular source of pain for her. 13 But, of course, Jacob is not the source of her barrenness, he has successfully fathered children. He responds ‘Can I take the place of God, who has denied you fruit of the womb” (30:2)?  Why does Jacob not pray to God as in the tradition of Abraham and Isaac? 14 According to a Midrash, Jacob said to Rachel do what my grandmother Sarah did - give me Bilah. Why not what his father did - pray?  While he loved Rachel, Jacob’s love appears to be independent of Rachel’s ability to have children, he already had children. He seems to be insensitive of the needs of the wife he loved. Rachel, following the model of Sarah, gives Jacob her servant Bilah, to be his concubine in order to have surrogate children. She says ‘let her give birth on my knees; through her, then I too shall have children’ (30:3). The ‘I too’ tells us that Rachel’s need to have children is related to her jealousy for her sister Leah. 15 Rachel named him Dan and said ‘God has done me justice . . .  and given me a son’ (30:6). She feels she deserved God’s justice; and did not feel it as a blessing. Bilah conceived yet again and another son is born.  Rachel named him Naphtali says ‘I have fought a fateful battle with my sister and I have won’ (30:8). Is this conflict similar to Jacob’s later fighting his own angel/brother? 16  Rachel acts as if she had personally born these two sons as if Bilah was simply a rented womb. The naming ceremony is symbolic of Rachel’s conflict with Leah. Rivalry and conflict appear to punctuate the relationship between the two sisters. On what is Rachel’s victory based, her two surrogate children? Leah has born four biological children. What kind of a person would extrapolate her servant’s children as hers to the extent that it enable her to overcome her sister - a narcissist. As we shall see the biological son she finally bears, Joseph, developed a massive narcissistic personality.

After Judah’s birth Leah has stopped having children.  Leah gives her servant Zilpah, as a concubine to sleep with Jacob. Now that Rachel’s servant Bilah has born two children to Jacob, the frenetic competition exacerbates. Zilpah gives birth first to Gad - ‘What good fortune’ and then to Asher - ‘Women will call me blessed’ (30:11-13). 17  Why does Leah who had four of her own children feel a need to compete with her sister’s surrogate children? This sibling rivalry - this fiercely intense competition - seems even more extraordinary and violent than that between Esau and Jacob. What will be the impact of the twelve sons of Jacob? It is worth noting that when Rachel gave Bilah to Jacob and when Leah gave Zilpah to Jacob and when Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham the word used in Hebrew is ‘La’Isha’ always translated as a wife, although the word literally means as a woman. With one exception, to be noted later in the text (37:2) Hagar, Bilah and Zilpah are not considered by Jewish commentators as the wives (and certainly not as matriarchs) of Abraham and of Jacob. They are considered as concubines.

An intriguing incident is recorded about Leah’s son Reuben who found ‘mandrakes’ - a sexually and fertility enhancing fruit - which he presents to his mother. Rachel requests her sister for them.  Leah bitterly responds to this request  ‘is it not enough that you taken my husband’s [love]’. Jacob, it appears, has stopped sleeping with Leah. 18 Rachel offers to have Leah sleep with the husband they share that same night (30:14-16)! Rachel, the Adam One personality, trades mandrakes to allow her sister, Leah to sleep with her own husband.  Leah says to our patriarch Jacob, ‘you must come into me, for I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes’ (30:16).  Jacob does not respond, he simply obeys the sisters and sleeps with Leah. Despite the lack of mandrakes, God blesses this union and Leah once again conceives. One wonders how Rachel reacted to her sister becoming pregnant, as though she - Leah - had eaten the mandrakes. Leah subsequently gives birth to two sons (Issachar and Zebullun) and a daughter (Dinah). This is the only conversation we have heard from Leah and Rachel. There is a similarity between this event and Jacob’s selling his lentils to Esau. Esau gives up his birthright for soup. It is the first part of his losing the blessing. Leah gives up the mandrakes which represent fertility, but she becomes pregnant. Rachel who wins the mandrakes does not become pregnant as a result. (Her pregnancy with Joseph is later.)

There is a similarity between this event and Jacob’s selling his lentils to Esau. Esau gives up his birthright for soup. It is the first part of his losing the blessing. Leah gives up the mandrakes which represent fertility, but she becomes pregnant. Rachel who wins the mandrakes does not become pregnant as a result. (Her pregnancy with Joseph is later.)

Leah’s  children grow up in a home where Papa hates Mama - where Mama is tantamount to a single parent mother. Jacob is always busy working for Grandpa Laban and trying to satisfy their Aunt Rachel who though successful helping Papa in the family business remains barren despite Papa’s passionate love. Rachel needs to have a child, feeling unfulfilled in her ‘business career’ and typical of her personality blames Papa. Do they know that Grandpa Laban masqueraded Mama as Aunt Rachel and deceitfully got Papa to marry Mama? It would be difficult to hide such a family secret. Despite Papa’s being deceived by Grandpa they can not be happy that Papa hates Mama. Mama is the sole homemaker in the family. The first four children are born within four years of each other.  They grow up in a hostile environment. Is it a surprise that Reuben, Simon and Levi become particularly aggressive? Did they feel conflicted and have divided loyalty between their parents? They probably bonded with their mother who had no one else in which to invest her love. Their father was too busy and hated their mother - did that hatred fall on them as well?

Rachel is concerned, her childbearing years are coming to a close. A mid-life crisis seems to be approaching.. She has given her servant Bilah to Jacob. Then, finally God heard Rachel prayers and grants her a child, Joseph. It does not appear that the mandrakes helped her, God helped her. Twenty years have elapsed since Jacob met Rachel and fell in love with her and they have been married for thirteen when she gives birth to a son. The true wife, the one beloved, finally gives birth to a son. What does Rachel name him? Joseph - ‘may God add another son for me’ (30:24).  He may be the family prince, yet his name clearly indicates to him an insufficiency - his mother announces that he is an insufficient prince. He will dream about being a sufficient Prince and accomplish it, but at enormous costs to him and the family. When the second son (Benjamin) is born his mother dies! What a confused identity for this second child to bear. We are told later that Benjamin was the father of ten children (46:21). Their odd names are all variations of Joseph and his being lost. 19 Joseph has two children -is it a coincidence that Rachel has twelve grandchildren, the exact amount of Jacob’s children?  Or has she finally defeated her sister, by equaling the number of her husband’s children?

Joseph’s  birth embodies the arrival of a prince for his mother and father and equally important for his half brothers. It seems inevitable that the seeds had long ago been sown for a conflict between the six brothers of the unloved wife and four of the concubines. In those days a wife who is fertile was no doubt thought of as beloved and an infertile wife as unloved. For Jacob to obviously love his infertile wife and think of her as his true wife and not love the mother of six children could not help but cause problems. It is likely that even during Rachel’s pregnancy, Leah and her four older children (aged 10-13 years old) already foresaw the problem. After all these years Jacob must have been overjoyed and very careful to protect Rachel’s health and the unborn child. They would have guessed that if Rachel had a son, he would get the `blessing’.

When it is time for Jacob to leave Laban he agrees with Laban that as payment for his work will receive all the spotted and speckled sheep. Laban, however, hides away all the spotted and speckled sheep, leaving only the white sheep. But Jacob managed, with God’s help, to create spotted and speckled sheep which were particularly strong. God then tells Jacob ‘return to your land’ (31:3). He surprisingly calls his two wives to request permission to leave Laban’s house and return to his father and mother’s home. They answer positively together, a rare exception of unity and agreement.

Jacob and his family and his property leave Laban and his household. Jacob has out-Labaned Laban and become a successful Esau. Arriving penniless he departs rich with family and cattle. His blessing and wiles have worked and of course God helped him.

Laban chases them and accuses Jacob of stealing his daughters, his grandchildren and his teraphim - his idols. But Laban was told by God not to harm Jacob. Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen her father’s teraphim. The teraphim are the symbols of the head of the family. So Rachel was symbolically stealing her father’s family jewels, replacing his power for her husband’s, just as her husband did to his father. It is also possible that the teraphim represented a symbol of inheritance - was Rachel, the daughter seeking the inheritance that rightfully belonged to the sons? Certainly we understand that the family will continue with Jacob and not with Laban. But will it continue with Rachel (and her son Joseph) who associates herself with her father and his gods or with Leah who does not? Despite the standard of primogeniture (more often breached than honored in the Book of Genesis) and more specifically that the oldest of the (hated) wife inherits over the oldest of the beloved wife (Deut. 21:15-16) Rachel hopes that the teraphim will protect Joseph, her son. Jacob indignant at being accused of theft says impulsively anyone who stole your teraphim shall die (Gen. 31:32). Does Rachel die giving birth to Benjamin as a result of Jacob’s curse? 20  Did Jacob, still the ‘man of faith’, foolishly assume no one in his camp would steal? (Why he should assume this given that he stole from his brother and his father is unclear.) Rachel, an Adam One, deceives her father as Rebekah previously deceived her husband. Laban feels in the tent for his ‘teraphim’ as Isaac feeled Jacob’s skin.21  Fortunately for Jacob Rachel using a female guise told her father she was menstruating and thus could not get up (as Isaac could not get up because of his blindness). She hid the Teraphim under her skirt. (She can be seen as polluting her father with her menstrual blood.) She was guilty of theft of her father’s property but escapes justice. 22 Later on, her son Benjamin will be accused of a theft (his brother Joseph’s cup). Benjamin is innocent, but his entire family almost suffers. Could Rachel instead of menstruating have been pregnant with Benjamin? 23  And thus Rachel dies giving birth to Benjamin, in his mother’s womb as a result of Jacob’s curse. The last part of his father’s blessing that Jacob stole stated ‘cursed be those that curse you and blessed be those that bless you. Is there a relationship between the stolen blessing and stolen ‘teraphim’? With the possible exception of King David and his family this is the most unhappy and disturbed family in the whole Bible.


Longing to return home Jacob dispatches Esau a message offering to meet, informing him of his riches and sending servants to offer a large gift, perhaps to appease for the theft. Esau decides to meet his brother and traveled a great distance. Jacob offered his brother ‘200 she-goats, 20 he-goats, 200 ewes, 20 rams, 20 camels rich in milk and their calves, 40 cows, 10 bulls, 20 female donkeys and 10 male donkeys - a veritable fortune - a gift begging  forgiveness - an admission of guilt.

Jacob is on the verge of meeting his estranged brother Esau whom he has not seen for twenty one years. He who has long sought to be an Adam One; will confront Esau, who was born an Adam One. He recognizes the implicit danger, in this encounter, to himself and his family. His brother may try to kill him, as his mother told him he had intended many years earlier. Jacob sends a conciliatory message to his brother and learned that the latter was now coming to meet him all the way from his home. He cannot know his brother’s motivations.

Jacob fearing that he and his family might be in danger separated his family and servants into two groups. He crossed the River Jabbok, a word play on his name Jacob, with his family. As we will see momentarily Jacob’s name is key to what will occur. Jacob then returned across the river to be alone. On the banks of the river Jabbok he wrestles with a ‘man/angel’ all night (32:25). The man/angel cannot break away and escape from Jacob. Where does Jacob get the power and strength to fight all night? Does he have Esau’s power? But the man/angel damaged the sinew of his hip and Jacob limped for the remainder of his life. 24 As dawn breaks the ‘man/angel said ’let me go, for dawn is breaking’, but Jacob answered “I will not let you go unless you bless me’ (32:25-27). What does it mean that the man/angel needs to go ‘for the dawn is breaking’? Jacob stole the blessing of Power from his blind father who was in the darkness all the time. Does he know wish to get a blessing honestly? Can the man/angel be fearful of light? One set of Jewish Midrashim tell us the ‘man/angel’ represents Esau. The idea of personal combat with a divine being is a very unusual event in the Bible. 25   This entire conflict between Jacob and his brother Esau can only take place at night.  Jacob needs a blessing of forgiveness from Esau. The Hebrew word ‘vayeyaveyk’ is usually translated as wrestling but also means in traditional commentaries to embrace and to intimately conflict.

Another set of Midrashim claim it was Jacob’s own angel confronting him As a youth he was dominated by his mother and the last twenty years by his father-in-law. His grandfather Abraham, whose blessing he carries, was a monumental Man of Faith. His father is the equivalent of a holocaust survivor who preferred his brother Esau. Where does that leave Jacob? Who is he? Am I worthy of this blessing I deceived my father to receive? Did it indeed rightfully belong to my brother? The struggle with the angel seems to indicate a struggle for self-identification.

The ‘man/angel’ demands of Jacob what is your name? Since he knows whom he is fighting is he really asking Jacob who do you think you are? He does not allow Jacob to answer but continues  ‘Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel since you have striven with god and men and have prevailed’ (32:29). 26  His name Jacob represents his living in the tent of his mother. Israel which can be translated as ‘God-fighter’ is his name comparable to his brother – the Majestic man. Jacob is thus informed that he has achieved his life long objective. He has attained the power he had always sought, he had become Adam One - a man of Power. Jacob, in turn inquires of the man/angel his name, a reversal of the ‘man/angle’s’ question.  The ‘man/angel’ offers a blessing (32:29-30) as Jacob had earlier requested. But the blessing is not stated. Is it Esau’s forgiveness of his Jacob’s stealing their father’s blessing. Or is it the blessing of Abraham, deceptively stolen from Isaac? Does Jacob now get a blessing that he deserved as opposed to the one he stole from his father? Jacob then calls the place ‘Peniel’ ‘because I have seen the face of God face to face’ (32:30).  The next verse says ‘as the new day dawned Jacob left ‘Penual’ and limped on his thigh’. What is the difference between ‘Peniel’ and ‘Penual’?  (The correct term for ‘the face of God’ would be ‘Pna-el.) ‘Peni’ is singular (feminine) of face. and ‘penu’ is the plural –  faces. The Plural may that Jacob/Israel recognizes that he and Esau are intricately connected and are the shadow of each other. And that his double name represents that he recognized and joined his shadow.

Is his wounding is a wreath of victory instead of an injury of failure? Welfeld notes that Jacob no longer had any children after this encounter. 27  Was the term thigh a metaphor for a more serious and more permanent injury, crushing Jacob’s testicles? One cannot be chosen without being wounded. Surviving a confrontation with god is a victory. 28 Jacob fought the angel and more than survived, he grew from the experience.

Isaac saw the power of God and was permanently damaged and needed Rebekah to help him survive. When Isaac’s mother sent his brother Ishmael – another majestic man - away and overprotected him he had no one from whom to learn. Jacob grew up with a twin brother – a man’s man, but one who took care of his sick father – he had a different model of behavior aside from his mother. When he fought the man/angel he learnt this behavior from Esau. The conflict between two brothers – shadows of each other – resulted from their each parent adopting one son and the two parents not accepting the dual responsibility of raising their children.   

Jacob is granted confirmation of his name change to Israel by God himself.  But Jacob does not accept changing his name from Jacob to Israel - the name of Power. He adds his Adam Two name, Jacob, to Israel, his new Adam One name. (32:29).  As Jacob neither brother can trust each other ‘for every brother deceives’ (in Hebrew Akov Yaacov) (Jer. 9:3). When he is renamed Israel – his power name - he can contest with Esau and both can trust each other.

Despite being instructed by both the angel and God that he will have a new name ‘you will be called not Jacob but Israel’ (35:10) Jacob refused to be only Israel, the ‘Majestic Man’; he will be both the subduer and the servant; the man of the present and the redeemed man of the future. He combines both names. (In the Books of Prophets and the Books of Writings both names - Jacob and Israel are used interchangeably.)  

As Jacob approaches his brother he bows seven times to the ground, until he reached his brother. When ‘Esau saw Jacob he ran ‘to meet him, took him in his arms, threw himself on his neck and wept as he kissed him’ (33:4). Esau was overcome with emotions at seeing his brother Jacob.  The servants and their children bowed low, and then Leah and her children bowed low and finally Rachel and Joseph bowed low before Esau. 29  Esau was baffled by all the gifts and asked what they were? Jacob responded.  ‘To win my Lords favor’ replied Jacob. Esau responds to his brother ‘I have more than enough, my brother, Let what you have remain yours’ (33:8-9).

Esau responded by forgiving his brother. Jacob’s whose emotions included the expectation of violence at his brother’s hand, is amazed that his brother can forgive him. He views this forgiveness as almost god-like. Esau who had ‘more than enough’ (33:9) forgave Jacob who now had ‘everything’ (33:11).  Jacob who had previously described the numerous animals he had intended to give his brother as a ‘minkhati’ (33:10) a gift, now offers his brother his  ‘birkhati’, (33:11) a word that means both birthright and blessing.

 This all seems remarkable: a play first on Jacob and Jabbok and crossing back and forth, then fighting an unknown angel who changes Jacob’s name to Israel which Jacob then rejects, choosing instead to add it to his own given name and then seeing ‘God face to face’ and seeing God in Esau’s face. When Jacob is wounded by the angel he limps - the word in Hebrew is ‘va’tentzal’ from the root word ‘tzela’ - the rib which Adam gave up to receive Eve (Gen 3:22). 30 We must surely be asked to understand that there is an intrinsic connection between these two brothers - twins - growing up in the same womb, sons of the same mother and father that seem to have forgotten by many. It is really possible to think that one has a touch of the divine and one does not? Does Jacob not recognize the divinity in the angel whose name may be Esau and then specifically in his brother? Jacob having fought all his life to achieve his brother’s power, finally achieves his own.

Jacob finally understands that he needs the combination of Power and Thought. Jacob born as an Adam Two who always desired to be an Adam One finally integrates both aspects into himself, the combination of Power and Thought . Now Jacob/Israel can give up the ‘birkhati’ the blessing he stole from his father because he is now in possession of God’s blessing, the blessing of Abraham bestowed on him by the Man/angel.

Jacob/Israel will have Power not only at night from his father but during the day from Esau’s ‘man/angel’. At the beginning of the journey the sun sets (28:11) at the end the sun rises (32:32). With the rising sun Jacob/Israel overcomes his father who lived in the evening of his father Abraham. Having achieved his objective he can now reconcile himself with his brother Esau. His life can now begin anew.

This is the psychological turning point of Jacob/Israel’s life. He now reconciles himself with his brother and is expiated for the guilt of having stolen the blessing from his brother and father. His grandfather and father had overcome and survived, he in turn had to fight his own battle for his identity.

This extraordinary reconciliation completes Jacob’s identity crisis. Yet it is Esau whose personal growth and development is so extraordinary. What has enabled Esau to gracefully forgive Jacob?  What has effected this transformation from a man earlier described as a boor to becoming such a gentleman? One wishes one could understand how this man loving and caring for his ill father, hating his brother for stealing his birthright and his blessing managed to achieve that extraordinary psychological growth. It seems from the text that Esau has forgotten about Jacob and gotten on with his life; Jacob however never forgot his desire to be Esau. Unfortunately we know little about Esau’s life in the previous twenty years that changed his personality. 31  Esau is the son of Isaac and the grandson of Abraham, whose God is image-less but Jacob can see Him at Jabbok and in his brother’s face. 32

The brothers understand that they both have achieved their goals, both have been blessed by God and no longer need to resent each other. They are reconciled to each other. Jacob has been motivated predominately by quiet thought throughout this entire episode out of the guilt he felt. His actions are consistent with his life of calculation and manipulation. Early in his life he had bought his brother’s birthright when he was starved, stole his blessing, made an elaborate gift, strategically divided his family into camps to minimize his losses in case of a surprise attack by his bother. Jacob’s actions seemed like a scripted play.  Esau’s actions are also consistent with his prior behavior. He is open, emotional, nonjudgmental and short sighted. He sells his birthright, cries at the lost blessing, vows to kill his brother and ends up kissing him. He acted chivalrously, generously and with forgiveness toward his brother.

Emmanuel Levinas States that God speaks through His face, ‘the beginning of language in is the face. . .  You could not speak without a face’. 33 The face represents both authority and the Love of God. In the akeda Levinas sees the angel as a metaphor for the face of Isaac. God appears in the face of Isaac. The face of Isaac proclaims ‘Thou shalt not kill’. The face of Isaac overcomes the voice of God. Abraham encounters God in the face of his child.  34 Thus instead of Kierkegaard famous ‘suspension of the ethical’, Abraham discovers the ethical in the face of his son.  In the famous painting of the akeda by Rembrandt (seen at the beginning of the chapter on Abraham) the painter intentionally has Abraham hiding his son’s face with his own hand. He understood that Abraham could slaughter his son while looking into his face. As he hides his face the angel appears.

When Jacob deceived his father and received the blessing, his father smelled him and touched him to determine which son had come to him. His father could not see his face – which was undisguised – because he was blind.  

When Jacob fought the man/angel he said ‘I have seen the face of God face to face’ (32:30). Later when Jacob sees Esau he said to him ‘seeing your face is like seeing the face of God’ (33:10). This confirms that the man/angel represented Esau and Jacob understood it. Can the face of God, Jacob and Esau be the same? This is the last time God’s face (the imminent God) appears in the Bible. God in the future is more transcendent, less touchable. Was God disappointed with his chosen family? His friendship with Abraham and his children and Jacob and his children has not been successful for their families. In Exodus God chooses again – Moses and his siblings – but chooses to be less friendly and less touchable. When Moses sees God’s face he is behind a rock – a different kind of seeing. Being touched by God even if it brings redemption and salvation in another world (or in the future as Rabbi Soloveitchik suggested 35) has enormous dangers in this world.  If as the Bible suggests Ishmael and Esau are less touched by God, they and their children are also less psychically damaged. God is a difficult Father and God intoxicated people like Abraham and Jacob (and Rebekah) are not good family men.  


The difficulty of combining both the ‘Majestic Man’ and the ‘Man of Faith’ is further emphasized in the text as seen by Jewish commentators in the incident immediately following.

En route Jacob, on his way home constructs an altar and says ‘And he called Him, El God of Israel’ (33:20). The Midrash Bereshit Rabbah says Jacob said ‘You are the God of the upper worlds, and I am the god of the lower worlds’. 36 This is an extraordinary reading (or misreading) of this text. Perhaps Jacob is trying to overcome his father’s passivity, his father’s willingness to be an akeda, his father as ‘the Fear of Isaac’ (31:42). And Jacob/Israel has become the synthesis of Adam One and Adam Two.

Immediately after the reconciliation of Esau and Jacob an incident occurs at Shechem. The prince of Shechem apparently rapes Jacob’s daughter Dinah, but then requests from Jacob and his son’s her hand in marriage.  Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi intervene telling Hamor, the king, of their conditions for a marriage, the entire tribe is to be circumcised.  Jacob’s position is not noted. But the Pentateuch tells that the young man named after the city of Shechem, was more honorable than anyone else is his father’s house (Gen. 34:19). Hamor agrees to this condition and it is fulfilled. When the men of Shechem are recovering from the circumcision Simon and Levi violently attack and slaughter all the males and enslave the women and children.

Dinah is never consulted about her preferences and she disappears from Jewish history. 37  Was she in fact raped or agree to the liaison with Shechem? The text tells us he took her and slept with her, and shamed or dishonored her, possibly defiled her, not that he raped her. Defiled presumably because he did not have permission of her father. Whether she felt shamed or dishonored is unknown. In the other incident of a rape in the Bible when Amnon raped his half-sister Tamar we are told he used his strength to overcome her. After the fact Shechem soul cleaved to her, he loved and he spoke tenderly to Dinah, while Amnon after the fact hated his half sister. In mid-eastern culture, then and now sleeping with a virgin is shame and dishonor, punishable by death. But Jacob may have realized that other than finding one of Ishmael’ or Esau’s descendents, there were no circumcised men for Dinah to marry. Is she expected to marry one of her brothers. Or to remain a virgin all of her life? Who is Dinah supposed to marry if not a forbidden man - one of her brothers? 38 Did not great grandfather Abraham marry Hagar, the Egyptian and did not brother Judah twice marry a Canaanite? Why are her brothers permitted to marry foreign and strange woman, she a woman is not permitted. Suppose Jacob  gave Dinah permission to visit the daughters of Shechem – ‘Dinah . . . went out to see the daughters of the land’ (33:1) for the purpose of finding a husband. Did this young virgin simply go out without her father’s permission?

 Jacob angrily reacts to the actions of Simeon and Levi. Jacob responds that his two sons ‘have done me an ill turn’ (34:30) by turning all the people of the region against us. He is not responding on moral grounds but its public relations aspect. They angrily react to their father ‘should he treat our sister as a whore’? (34:31) The usual interpretation is the ‘he’ is the Prince who slept with their sister. Is it possible that they believe that their father did not care about Dinah, being a daughter of Leah? And the brothers are talking to each other saying ‘he’ our father treats Dinah as a whore? Is the anger between the father and sons related to the sons knowledge of the poor relationship between Jacob and Leah? Were they fully cognizant of the meanings of their own names? Many years later at the time of his death, Jacob is still angry at them. ‘May my soul not enter their council nor my heart join their company for in their rage they have killed men and hamstrung oxen at their whim’ (49:6).

Jacob is forced to flee and Rachel giving birth to another son dies in the childbirth.39 Could Rachel’s traveling during the end of her pregnancy have contributed to her death? Did Jacob realize that his ‘true’ wife’s death was due to the actions of Simeon and Levi? As she is dying she says to Jacob name him Ben-oni, the son of my mourning. 40  Did she think Jacob would ever forget her? But Jacob, in his grief, names his son of death Benjamin, the son of my right power. He emphasizes again that Rachel is the true wife, the wife of his Power and he will remember Rachel through naming his son not after her death, but after the power of his love.  What role will Benjamin play in the family? He will be the silent shadow of his older brother Joseph. This will compound the problem Jacob will create with Joseph, his favorite. How does Jacob mourn the death of his only beloved wife - the Queen of the family? Is it possible for Jacob not to resent Benjamin who can be construed as causing Rachel’s death? How does Joseph react when, at the tender age of five, his mother died. This was a devastating blow to his father and himself. And equally relevant, a new brother comes into the home. Is he old enough to realize that Benjamin’s birth is related to his mother’s death? How does Leah mourn her sister’s death? How do Rachel’s stepchildren and the rest of the family mourn Rachel’s death? Is her death an event that warrants mourning in their eyes - or is it an opportunity for Leah to retrieve her position as matriarchal head of the family?

Of the two sisters, Rachel, the shepherdess went out into the world among men and was in charge of an important part of the family property. She was the Adam One wife. It is assumed that Leah’s domain focused primarily on the household.  She appears to comprise the female  counterpart of the ‘mild man who dwells in the tent’.  She obeyed her father and executed his plan of deceiving the bridegroom, Jacob. She was the sole matriarch who (at first) was blessed with fertility, and bore six sons and a daughter. She continued to love Jacob, despite her unrequited love. Leah was the Adam Two wife. Yet, paradoxically she seems to be the least valued of the matriarchs.

In the symbiotic relationship between the sisters after Rachel dies at a young age, Leah in never mentioned again. The sisters’ relationship was complex and punctuated by competition and negotiation. It seems reasonable to assume that the two mothers exercised some degree of control over their children. However after Rachel’s death this control collapsed as evidenced by problematic incident regarding Dinah during Rachel’s pregnancy. We do not know the extent of Leah’s (Dinah’s mother) role in that episode.

After Rachel’s death Jacob appears to have distanced himself away from the family compound. Immediately, following Rachel’s death Reubin, Leah’s eldest son, broke an important taboo and engaged in a sexual relations with his father’s concubine, Bilah (whether by force we do not now) , a blatant incestuous relationship (35:22). Bilah is the servant concubine of Rachel who has just died. It is quite possible that Jacob, in his enormous grief may have transferred his affection over Rachel, his true wife’s to Bilah as his favorite.  Reuben impetuously and aggressively tried to protect his mother Leah by shaming Rachel’s servant-concubine and thus overthrow Rachel’s surrogate power, even in death. Reuben, may have rationalized his behavior as acted in good faith protecting his mother’s position, but with more aggressive power than thought. It is a blatant act of rebellion against his father. It may also have been to denigrate Joseph’s favored position. Bilah, as Rachel’s servant would probably be responsible for Joseph’s childhood. Thus it is also an attempt on Joseph - an attempt to be concluded later on. On his deathbed Jacob curses his ‘uncontrolled’ (49:3) strength and rejects his birthright.

There is a Midrash that states that Jacob had originally presented Reuben the multi colored tunic made of Rachel’s bridal gown as a sign that he would be the recipient of the ‘promise’. One can consider that Jacob gave the tunic to Reuben is that he had despaired that Rachel would ever become pregnant. However after she became pregnant with Joseph, Jacob may have realized he made a mistake. Thus Jacob may have been waiting a propitious moment for Reuben to err and take back the tunic. Reuben on the other hand may have been attempting to not only honor his mother, but take over his father’s patriarchy and the blessing by sleeping with Bilah. Did Reuben do this openly to prove his power as the promised one, making a fait accompli?  Did Joseph tell Jacob of his action? As we will see he was a teller of tales about the brothers. This is the overt beginning of the conflict between the sons of Leah and the sons of Rachel. After this Jacob takes the tunic back and will eventually give it to Joseph.

Leah is buried next to Jacob in the family tomb, the Cave of Michaela, while the wife he truly loves Rachel is buried in Ephrat near Bethlehem where Leah’s descendant David (a descendant of Judah) will begin his dynasty. Jacob asks to be buried with Leah (49:31). This is in a sense a most surprising denouement of the conflict between the sisters. Rachel remains the mother of exile,41 the future dream, perhaps because she died giving birth to Benjamin or because she is buried ‘on the road’, not in the Cave of Makhpalah. Why does Jacob ask to buried next to Leah and not next to his true wife? And why did he not take Rachel to the Cave of Makhpelah, only a few kilometers distance from Bethlehem? Leah is the mother of both Levi and the priesthood and David descending from Judah, the monarchy and Messianism, the faithful wife who carries on the succession. Rachel’s descendants, Joshua ben Nun and Saul, however important, are transient figures. 42 Leah and Rachel were never reconciled as were Esau and Jacob.

Leah is responsive to opportunities as they arise. Her father manipulated her to deceptively marry Jacob - so she obeys. Her sister tells she will arrange for Jacob to sleep with her - so she obeys. Jacob, on the other hand is manipulated by his mother into deceiving his father and brother, is manipulated by his wives, is deceived by his father-in-law and later by his children.  

From the text itself (that is excluding Jewish anti-Esau Midrashim) both Esau and Jacob are heroes. Both transform themselves. Jacob with angels: The first on the ladder when he reconciles himself with his father whom he has just deceived. The second representing Esau he fights and wins the blessing in a fair fight. Esau whom he last saw after the blessing deceit, loses a fair fight with Jacob and they reconcile with Esau kissing his brother Jacob.  

Both women on the other hand have tragic lives. Rachel clearly the ‘chosen one’ sees Jacob first, he instantly falls in loves and proposed marriage. Her father deceives Jacob and he marries Leah first and only second Rachel. Leah, the unloved wife is fertile while Rachel, the loved wife is barren. Leah had hoped that being fertile would change Jacob’s attitude towards her, but to no avail. Rachel’s barrenness makes her envious of her unloved sister (30:1). And when her maid Bilah gives birth she names a son Naphtali because I wrestled with my sister and won (30:8). Her winning’ through her maid’s son is a pathetic victory. Her womb is still closed. Leah at some point cannot even have intimate relations with her husband without her younger sister’s permission.

Leah never develops beyond her role and she never appears again after Rachel’s premature death.  Perhaps it is not surprising that the tragic Rachel is the favorite Jewish matriarch. Even Jacob bemoans his life. ‘The years of my stay on earth add up to 130 years. Few and unhappy my years have been, falling short of my fathers years in their stay on earth’. (47:9)

All of the above should warn Jacob/Israel of the difficulty of achieving his objective of combining Adam One and Adam Two. Jacob insists upon both names and both personalities, a synthesis, the most difficult identity to achieve. And perhaps impossible as a model for children to follow. The text then summarizes the life of Esau. The text notes that kings and chieftains ‘ruled in Edom before any king ruled the children of Israel (36:31) for a total of twelve. When Jacob’s sons are listed they are not called chieftains. But before these are listed Esau left ‘Canaan and went to Seir away from his brother Jacob’ (36:6). They could not live together. There is difficulty with the ‘Majestic Man’ living with the ‘Man of Faith’.

This summary suggests a simplicity in the lives of ‘Majestic Man’ while Jacob’s descendants - this man of synthesis whose children will separate the synthesis - will have a much more difficult life. The ‘Majestic Man’ can accomplish his task in his lifetime. His ‘dignity is discovered at the summit of success’ 43 The ‘Man of Faith’ when looking for redemption can only seek the future.  Those seeking the present will always have difficulty with those who seek the future. That makes it difficult for them to live together. Thus despite the reconciliation ‘Esau went to another land because of his brother Jacob’ (36:6).

Jacob returns to see his father and his father dies (36:27-29). Did Isaac know of the reconciliation between his two sons? The Book of Jubilees tells of Isaac addressing his two sons before his death. ‘Love one another, my sons, you are brothers even as a man who loves his own soul and let each seek in what he may benefit his brother. . . And I shall make you swear a great oath . . . that you will fear Him and worship Him, and that each will love his brother with affection and righteousness’ 44

The Pentateuch tells us Esau and Jacob together bury their father. Esau precedes Jacob in the text. When Abraham died the Pentateuch tells us Isaac and Ishmael buried him (25:9). Having forgiven Jacob and giving more respect to his father, Esau is given  priority in the text. After all he took care of his father not only in Jacob’s presence but perhaps throughout the twenty years during Jacob’s absence. After the stolen blessing incident Rebekah disappears; we do not what happened which her relationship with Isaac or Esau or whether she ever saw Jacob again. She is the most fully developed of the matriarchs. She is the only matriarch to whom God directly speaks. She is in many ways more powerful than her husband Isaac. She is blessed by her family to have many thousands of descendants (Gen. 24:60) a blessing only comparable to Abraham’s. And like Abraham she goes to an unknown country, away from her family and her fathers home.

In Jewish tradition Esau becomes Edom and latter Rome and then Christianity when Rome converted in 352 CE. Jacob, the younger son is the ancestor of the twelve tribes who ultimately become the Jewish people.

We find in the Books of Prophets that Edom, a southern neighbor of Israel is a symbol of alien and hostile nations. Amos, an early prophet (750 BCE) describes Edom as a nation destroyed (Amos 9:11-12) yet Edom reappears around the time of the Babylonian destruction of the first Temple to join Babylon as an arch enemy (Ez. Chapters 6,35,36; Is. Chapters 34,35; Jer. Chapter 49; Lam. 4:21-22). These prophets are the beginning of the conflict between Jacob/Israel and Esau/Edom . In earlier days the brothers can still relate to each other and the blessing seem to go to both brothers. When Laban sees Jacob he calls his nephew his flesh and blood and Jacob immediately becomes Laban’s servant, an interesting reversal of the blessing that the younger will serve the older. By the time of the prophets Edom has become typed as a symbol. They are ‘twinned’ as opposites. 45  Why Edom is chosen as a symbol of a hostile nations is unclear. By the time Edom becomes Rome it is a coded message against Christianity.

While many conflicts arose between Judaism and Rome/Christianity, the Rabbis of the Talmud also respected the Roman civilization.  Rabbi Yehuda, the Prince, the codifier of the Mishnah, (the first book of Rabbinic Judaism and the basis of the Talmud) was according to the Talmud, a friend of the Roman Emperor Antonius. They recognized that each represented a different culture and added something different and important to the world.  Men of nature and men of culture can and need to reconcile. Essentially it can be said that Rome represented Adam One while Judaism is represented by Adam Two. Despite the blessing, Isaac never ruled over Ishmael and Jacob never ruled over Esau. Esau’s blessing itself guaranteed him eventual independence (25:40). In fact Isaac was an invalid traumatized by the akeda and Jacob had to flee from Esau and later bowed down to him (seven times). The entire conflict between Esau and Jacob is about conflicting life styles, the pastoral versus the hunting, the rural versus the urban and the Majestic versus the Faith communities.

Jewish lore views Esau as evil despite the fact that he forgives Jacob and Jacob reconciles himself to Esau. 46 The text may on occasion mock Esau but it never condemns him for any behavioral sin (nor does the text condemn Ishmael). Jacob can easily be condemned for his (and his mother’s) ethical misbehavior. Moses tells us to ‘not to abhor the Edomite, for he is our brother (Deut. 23:8).

There are always prices to be paid for making one an outsider. In Deuteronomy the Bible tells the Israeli’s  ‘Erase the memory of Amalek from under the heaven, you shall not forget’ (Deut. 25:17). Amalek was the son of Eliphaz, son of Esau. A Midrash tells of Esau’s hurt. ‘He cried with a great and exceedingly bitter cry’. The Midrash then cites when the words are repeated: Mordecai when Haman, the Amalekite decrees against Jacob’s children. Amalek’s mother according to another Midrash was Timna. She wished to convert and become a Hebrew, but according to this Midrash 47 she was refused by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. So she went and became the concubine of Eliphaz, to be part of the Abrahamic family. From her and Eliphaz was Amalek born, a father from the rejected Esau and a mother rejected by the patriarchs and a concubine, a second class person. Amalek was thus an outsider, dispossessed  and in anger against his forbearers. That is why his tribe made things difficult for the Hebrews in the desert. The ‘erase and do not forget’ may mean do not forget that when you create antagonism there will be a price to be paid. 48

As we will see again and again in this book the chosen ones of God are not based on moral or physical superiority. The Zohar, the most important book of Jewish mysticism states that redemption can only come if Esau’s tears are dried.49  The Zohar recognizes Jacob’s deception and Jewish tradition which continues to see Esau as evil. It says this perception must change before redemption can come. Redemption as Rabbi Soloveitchik said is the objective of Adam Two. But the objective can only be achieved by the two reconciling with each other and not one overtaking the other. Jacob/Israel achieved this. But Jewish tradition has fallen short of it. Redemption can only come when the Jewish and non Jewish world achieve this objective - the objective of reconciling Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

This conflict fought out between the Fathers and Mothers in the generations of Abraham, Sarah and Ishmael and Isaac and Rebekah and their two sons Esau and Jacob and Jacob with his two wives and two concubines and their using the children as symbols of the conflict is repeated in the next generation. Only now that Ishmael and Esau are dismissed from Jewish history the conflict between Adam One and Adam Two continues amongst Jacob’s children.

Jacob wrestling with the Angel

Jacob wrestling with the Angel by Paul Gauguin


1 Ha’makom is a synonym for God in Jewish tradition. When Abraham was going toward Mt. Moriah he refers to it as ha’makom (22:3).

2 The usual Hebrew for I is ‘ani’, ‘anokhi’ has a dynamic meaning. When God announced the Ten Commandments with ‘Anokhi’ ‘I am God your God’ that God is dynamic and not a static God. Thus the Jewish translation of God’s statement to Moses at the Burning Wish ‘eheh asher eheh’ is not ‘I am what I am’ but I will be what I will be’. God will choose who he is to be in the future.

3 Aviva, Gottleib Zorenberg, lecture November 15, 1999, quoting the Zohar, Vol. II (Soncino Press, London, 1970) pg. 82.

4 Later Jacob talks about ‘the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the fear of Isaac’ (31:42). He refers to Abraham as his father. Isaac is not listed as his father nor of having a relationship with God other than fear Gottleib Zorenberg, Avivah, Genesis, The Beginning of Desire, (Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia, 1995) Pg. 219. In 31:53 Jacob refers to the fear of my father Isaac. Only twice does Jacob/Israel refer to his father 'the God of my father Isaac'. Once just before he fights the 'man/angel' and receives his second name Israel (32:10) and second when 'Israel' is told that Joseph is alive (46:1). Perhaps only after the confirmation of name that befits the blessing of his father can he recognize 'the God of my father Isaac'. The second time is after the rebirth of Joseph.

5 Genesis Rabbah,68:18

6 Aviva, Gottleib Zorenberg, lecture November 21, 2002,1 Chron. xv11,21)

7 Jacob cried for love while his brother cried when he lost the blessing.

8 BT Baba Batra, 123a.

9 Jeansomme, S.P., The Women of Genesis (Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 1990) pg. 73.

10 Avivah Gottlieb Zorenberg, lecture on December 1, 1997.

11 Pardes I., Counter Traditions in the Bible, (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1992)  pg. 62.

12 Zorenberg,  lecture on November 15, 1999.

13 We find the same when Hannah, the wife of Elkanah, is barren, before the birth of Samuel. The idea that woman without children are failures was prevalent in that society (and to some even today). In some societies the marriage, even under the laws of Judaism is purposeless and can be dissolved. But the degree of Rachel’s statement ‘I will die’ is extreme and her reaction to Bilah’s children and Leah’s reaction to Zilpah’s children (seen later) seem very extreme. In the Bible women are mainly remembered for the sons they bear, no women (except Rebekah) carries the blessing. On the other the covenant is carried on through matriarchal lineage.

14 Genesis Rabbah, 70:7, pg. 658.

15 Steinmetz, D., From Father To Son, (John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 1991) pg. 104.

16 Buchmann, C. & Spiegel C., eds. Out of the Garden, (Fawcett, Columbine, N.Y., 1994) pg. 30-31.

17 It is interesting to note that Sarah and Hagar reacted very differently when her servant  became pregnant and gave birth to Ishmael.

18 Did this happen before Leah became barren? If so why did Jacob agree to sleep with Zilpah? And why did Rachel agree to let this occur?

19 Midrash Rabba, Vol. II, pg. 874.

20 One is reminded of the foolish Judge Jephthah who vowed to sacrifice the next ‘thing’ he saw after God helped him defeat his enemies. Tragically his daughter came to him and she was destined to die (Judges 11:31-40).

21 The Hebrew word ‘va’yimashess’ is used when Jacob tells his mother Rebekah of his concern about his father feeling (27:12), when his father says come so I can feel you (27:21) and again when Laban feels through the tent (31:34).

22 Some commentators say her punishment was her death at the birth of Benjamin.

23 Welfeld, Irving, Why Kosher, (Jason Aronson, Northvale, N.J., 1966), pg. 65.

24 Jews do not eat the sinew of the thigh even in kosher animals to this day.

25 The only other example being Moses’ fight with the God who wishes to kill him (Ex. 4:24-26).

26 In Hosea we read ‘In the womb he supplanted his bother, and as a man he contended with god and he contended with an angel and prevailed (12:4-5).

27 Welfeld, pg. 65.

28 Williams, J.G., The Bible, Violence and the Sacred, (Harper, San Francisco, 1991) pg. 44.

29 Jacob divides his children and their mothers in order of their importance to him, Bilah and Zilpah, Leah and then finally Rachel.

30 Cohen, N.J. Self Struggle & Change, (Jewish Lights Publishing, Vermont, 1995), pg.116.

31 We also do not really know if or when he moved to Edom or stayed to take care of his father. It is possible that Rebekah’s machinations lost Isaac both his sons.

32 Can this be compared to Moses’ coming down Mt. Sinai wearing the face of God (Ex. 34:29).

33 T. Wright, P. Highes, A. Ainley, The Paradox of Morality: an Interview with Emmanuel Levinas, in Bernasconi, R. and Wood, D. eds. The Provocation of Levinas, (Routledge, London, 1988) pg. 168, 174.

34 Developed by James Mensch, in a lecture entitled ‘Abraham and Isaac: A Question of Theodicy’ at Saint Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada,  pg. 11 Professor is elaborating on The Paradox of Morality: An Interview with Emmanuel Levinas, ‘T. Wright, P. Hughes, A. Ainsley (interviewers), trans.A. Benjamin and T. Wright, in The Provocation of Levinas: Rethinking the Other, ed. R. Bernasconi and D. Wood (Routledge, London, 1988).

35 Soloveitchik, Joseph, B. The Lonely Man of Faith (Double day, N.Y., 1992) pg. 69, see Introduction.

36 Quoted in Ramban, pg. 413.

37 A Jewish Midrash resurrects her as Job’s second wife. Ginsburg, Legends, pg. 275.

38 Oddly enough according the Midrash Genesis Rabba she actually married Simeon (80:11).

39 Bakon, Shimon, Jacob: Father of a Nation, Jewish Bible Quarterly, Vol. 28, (109) Jan-March 2000, pg. 39.

40 Oni is always translated as mourning or sorrow in this context. When Reuben is blessed by Jacob he is called ‘first of my strength’ the term used is ‘oni’ with a total and almost opposite meaning (49:3). Thus oddly Ben oni could have been meant to son of my strength, but it is likely that Rachel knowing she was dying and meant son of my sorrow.

41 Jer. 31:15-17)

42 Steinsaltz, A., Biblical Images, (Basic Books, N.Y., 1984) pg.60-61.

43 Soloveitchik, Faith,  Pg. 36.

44 Book of Jubilees, chap. 35.

45 Dicou, B.,  Edom, Israel’s Brother and Antagonist, (JSOT 169, Sheffield, 1994) pg. 158.

46 The degree to which Esau is vilified in Jewish Midrashim is quite extraordinary. As an example when Laban had two daughters and Rebekah two sons, they agreed that the elder daughter Leah would marry Esau and the younger daughter Rachel, the younger son Jacob. When Leah grew to adulthood and inquired about her future husband she was told such terrible stories that wept until her eyes weakened. Prior to that she was as beautiful as Rachel. Ginsberg, Pg. 171.

47 BT Sanhedrin

48 Gorenberg, G., Seventy Faces, (Jason Aronson, Northvale, N.J., 1996) Pg. 234-235)

49Zohar, Translated by M. Simon and P.R. Levertoff, (Soncino Press, London, 1976) vol. 2, pg.66.46