God now tells Jacob he should fulfil his early promise and return to build an altar at Beit El. Jacob prepares his household, stripping members of vestiges of idolatry and burying them in Shechem. The family then travels unmolested towards Beit El, as God has extended His protection over them.
God then appears again to Jacob and blesses him, also changing his name from Jacob to Israel. He tells him that a congregation of nations shall descend from him, and the land which He has promised to Abraham and to Isaac shall belong to Jacob and his offspring. Jacob, for his part, made libation offerings to God at the site.
From there, Jacob continues journeying towards Efrat. Along the way, Rachel goes into labor, and is in great distress. She gives birth to a second son, calling him Ben Oni, or “son of my suffering”, and then dies. Jacob renames his youngest son Benjamin, meaning “son of my right hand”. Jacob then buries his beloved Rachel on the road.
The Israel Bible explains why, according to the Sages, Jacob did not bury Rachel in the family tomb in the Cave of the Patriarchs (it is Leah who is buried there alongside Jacob). Rachel’s tomb lies on the road leading out of Israel, and throughout the generations, when the Jews were exiled from their lands, they were led past her tomb. Her presence offered comfort and hope to the exiles that she would plead for them before the Throne of God. According to tradition, it was Rachel’s own son, Joseph, who first found comfort at his mother’s grave, as he escaped his captors briefly on his way down to Egypt and sought out her resting place. The Tomb of Rachel remains a popular destination for prayer today.
Jacob continues his meandering journey back towards his father, and during one stop, Reuben interferes with his father’s marital bed. Jacob finds out, though the text is mum on his response at this point (on his deathbed, in Genesis 49:4, Jacob alludes to this event when he chastises Reuben).
The portion ends with an overview of Esau’s family tree, including the houses of Seir into which he married and the princes and kings he begat. Included in the list are those kings who reigned before any Jewish king ever sat on a throne in Israel.
The Torah states that Esau moved to Seir on account of Jacob’s presence in the land. The Israel Bible points out that in so doing, he acknowledged Jacob’s rightful claim to the birthright that includes the Land of Israel.
Virtual Classroom Discussion
Why do you think God renames Jacob the same name the angel already gave him?