Jacob Works for His Wives

Nov 15, 2015

וַיִּשָּׂא יַעֲקֹב רַגְלָיו וַיֵּלֶךְ אַרְצָה בְנֵי־קֶדֶם׃

Yaakov resumed his journey and came to the land of the Easterners.

va-yi-SA ya-a-KOV rag-LAV va-YAY-lekh AR-tzah v'-nay KE-dem

Genesis 29:1

וַיָּבֹא גַּם אֶל־רָחֵל וַיֶּאֱהַב גַּם־אֶת־רָחֵל מִלֵּאָה וַיַּעֲבֹד עִמּוֹ עוֹד שֶׁבַע־שָׁנִים אֲחֵרוֹת׃

And Yaakov cohabited with Rachel also; indeed, he loved Rachel more than Leah. And he served him another seven years.

Genesis 29:30

Jacob turns eastward, towards his uncle’s home-town. There he encounters a group of shepherds gathering to water their sheep. He comments that the day is yet young, asking why they are waiting at the well rather than watering their sheep and moving on. The shepherds answer that they must wait till everyone has gathered to remove the rock from the mouth of the well. The Sages comment that the heavy rock was intended to prevent any shepherd from taking water without the others because they were distrustful of one another.


As Jacob is talking to the shepherds, his cousin Rachel arrives. He is moved by the sight of her, and, in a display of inhuman strength, single-handedly removes the stone from the well and waters her sheep.


Jacob arrives in Laban’s home, having been introduced by Rachel. He tells his uncle his story, and Laban allows him to stay. A month after his arrival, during which time Jacob had worked for Laban as a shepherd, Laban asks his nephew to name his wages. Jacob asks for the hand of his cousin, Rachel, in marriage, and Laban agrees, at the end of seven years of labor. When the time comes, however, Laban deceitfully switches Rachel for her older sister, Leah, a trick Jacob discovers only in the light of the next morning.


When confronted over his deceit, Laban says only that in their community, the younger daughter does not marry before her older sister. He offers Rachel’s hand again, in exchange for an additional seven years of labor. Jacob agrees, and when the week-long wedding celebration for Leah draws to a close, he marries Rachel, too, in exchange for his commitment to work. Laban also gives each daughter a maidservant for her new household — Bilhah for Rachel and Zilpah for Leah.


As the Israel Bible points out, the Bible associates the land with its inhabitants. The “land of the children of the east”, with its jealous shepherds and the unscrupulous Laban, stands in sharp contrast with the Promised Land where Abraham sought to bring Godliness into the world.


Virtual Classroom Discussion

Why do you think God allows Laban’s trickery to succeed? After all, would Jacob not have noticed the switch had God not wanted him to marry Leah?

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