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The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia
Third patriarch; son of Isaac and Rebekah, and ancestor of the Israelites. Hewas born when his father was sixty years old and after his mother had been barren for twenty years. For the account of his birth and origin of his name see Genesis 25:19,26. The name "Jacob" is explained elsewhere as meaning "supplanter" or "deceiver" (ib. 27:36; Hosea 12:4 [A. V. 3], where there is also an allusion to the struggle before birth between the two brothers). Jacob was the favorite of his mother (Genesis 25:28). He is represented as "a plain man , dwelling in tents," that is to say, pursuing the life of a shepherd (ib. 25:27; comp. ib. 4:20).
Only two important incidents marked the early period of Jacob's life. The first was his obtaining the birthright from his brother Esau. The birth-right being a very important possession, Jacob waited for the opportunity to acquire it, and the opportunity came. Esau, returning one day tired from hunting, and seeing Jacob cooking a mess of lentils, asked Jacob to give him some. Jacob offered to do so in exchange for the birthright, and Esau, feeling faint and ready to die, consented to sell it, an oath confirming the bargain (ib. 25:29-34).
Obtains Isaac's Blessing.
The second incident happened many years later, and with it Jacob's life assumed an entirely new phase. Isaac, having become blind, sent Esau to hunt for some game and to prepare for him a meal in order that he might bless him before his death. Rebekah, hearing of this, instigated Jacob to intercept the blessing by taking his brother's place. At first Jacob objected; but he soon yielded to his mother's persuasion. Having anticipated his brother in the preparation of the meal and having put goatskins upon his hands and neck lest his father should recognize him, Jacob brought the meal to his father, who, after having partaken of it, blessed him and promised him that he should be lord over his brethren and that his mother's sons should bow to him (ib. 27:1-29). This substitution was in agreement with the divine purpose (comp. ib. 25:23); and Isaac, when he learned of Jacob's trick, not only did not revoke his blessing, but even confirmed it (ib. 27:33,37).
Owing to this deceit Esau hated his brother, and resolved to kill him after their father's death. Rebekah found no better means to protect her favorite son from his brother's vengeance than to send him to Haran, to her brother Laban. She advised Jacob to stay with his uncle a short time till his brother should have forgotten his wrongs, and to marry one of his uncle's daughters. Jacob, after having received a further blessing from his father, left the paternal home (ib. 27:42-28:5).
When Jacob was on his way he saw in a prophetical dream a ladder reaching from earth to heaven and angels ascending and descending thereon. Yhwh Himself appeared to him, promising to give the land of Canaan to his descendants, who should be as numerous as the dust of the earth (ib. 28:10-15). Jacob commemorated his dream by setting up a pillar on the spot on which he had slept, calling the name of the place "Beth-el" (= "the house of God"; ib. 28:18-22).
Marriage with Laban's Daughters.
On his arrival at Haran Jacob met Rachel, his uncle's second daughter. Jacob offered to serve Laban seven years for Rachel. Laban, however, deceived him at the end of that period by giving him Leah instead of Rachel, and exacted of him a further service of seven years for Rachel, though he gave her to him immediately after the conclusion of Leah's wedding-feast (ib. 29:1-28). During the second seven years Jacob begat by his two wives and two concubines eleven sons and one daughter, Dinah. By Rachel he had one son only, Joseph (ib. 29:31-30:25). Having finished the second term of seven years, Jacob stayed with Laban six years longer, tending his sheep for pay, which consisted, according to an agreement between them, of all the spotted, speckled, and ring-straked sheep and goats born in the flocks. Jacob, by means of peeled sticks which he set up before them, caused all the strongest of the flocks to bear speckled and spotted offspring. Thus he baffled the plans of Laban, who endeavored to deprive him of his hire (ib. 31:7,8), and Jacob amassed great wealth (ib. 30:26-43).
Jacob, seeing that Laban was no longer friendly toward him, resolved upon returning to his parents. His resolution was approved by Yhwh; and, encouraged by his two wives, he departed without acquainting his uncle and father-in-law (ib. 31:1-21). Laban, however, three days later learned of Jacob's flight, and, after pursuing him for seven days,overtook him on Mount Gilead. They at first quarreled, but were finally reconciled and made a covenant, building, in commemoration of their compact, a cairn which Jacob called "Galeed" (= "a heap as witness"; ib. 31:22-54).
Wrestles with the Angel.
Immediately after this Jacob was informed that his brother Esau was coming to meet him, accompanied by 400 men. Jacob, fearing Esau, sent him very rich presents, but at the same time made plans to escape from his brother's fury in case the latter should reject them. At night Jacob sent his family and all his possessions over the brook Jabbok, he himself remaining alone on the other side, where an angel wrestled with him all night till the breaking of the day. While wrestling, the angel touched the hollow of Jacob's thigh, causing him to limp; but the angel was overpowered by Jacob, who would not let him go until blessed by him. The angel then changed Jacob's name to "Israel" (, apparently shortened from = "he overpowered Elohim"). Jacob gave to the place at which this event occurred the name "Peniel" ("for I have seen Elohim face to face"). The Israelites commemorate the event to this day by not eating "the sinew which shrank which is upon the hollow of the thigh" (ib. 32:32). Hosea alludes to Jacob's wrestling with the angel, whom he calls once "Elohim" and once "Mal'ak," adding that the angel wept and implored Jacob to let him go (Hosea 12:4).
After his meeting with Esau, at which the brothers were reconciled (Genesis 33:1-16), Jacob went to Shechem, where he bought from the children of see see HAMOR, for a hundred pieces of money, a field in which he erected an altar (ib. 33:17-20). The abduction of Dinah, which occasioned the destruction of Shechem by her brothers, caused Jacob much apprehension; but God allayed his fears, and he arrived peacefully at Beth-el, where God appeared again to him, confirming the name "Israel" which had previously been given to him by the angel, and repeating the promise that his children should possess the land of Canaan. While Jacob was on his way home Rachel gave birth to Benjamin, his last son. Jacob, with his twelve sons, the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel, then arrived at Hebron, where his parents lived (ib. 35:9-27).
Journey to Egypt.
At the end of ten years (comp. ib. 37:2) Jacob's favorite son, JOSEPH (2), was sold to a company of Ishmaelites by his brothers, who led their father to think that he had been devoured by a wild beast. While Jacob was still mourning for Joseph, Isaac died, and at his funeral Jacob again met his brother Esau (ib. 35:29). Later, when the famine grew severe in Canaan, Jacob sent his sons into Egypt to buy corn, but kept with him Benjamin, Rachel's second son. Jacob was, however, at last compelled to let Benjamin go with his brothers to Egypt, through Joseph's refusal otherwise to release Simeon, whom he held as hostage until Benjamin should be brought to him. When, on the second return of his sons from Egypt, Jacob heard that Joseph was alive and was ruler over Egypt, he decided to go there to see him (ib. 45:26-28). Before doing so he journeyed to Beer-sheba, where his resolution to go to Egypt was approved by God. He went to Egypt with his eleven sons and their children, numbering altogether sixty-six, Joseph meeting him in Goshen (ib. 46:1-30). Afterward Jacob was honorably received by Pharaoh, who assigned him and his sons a residence "in the best part of the land, in the land of Rameses." Jacob was at that time 130 years old (ib. 47:5-11).
When about to die, Jacob made Joseph swear that he would not bury him in Egypt, but in the sepulcher of his fathers in Canaan. Jacob then adopted Joseph's two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, placing them on the same footing as his own children. While blessing them he gave the first place to the younger son, Ephraim. To Joseph himself he gave one portion more than his brothers (ib. 48:22).
Jacob assembled his sons in order to bless them (JACOB, BLESSING OF), after which, having pronounced his last will, he died, being 147 years old (ib. ). His body was embalmed according to the Egyptian custom; a great funeral procession, which included all the servants of Pharaoh and all the elders of Egypt, accompanied it to Canaan; and there Jacob was buried in his family grave in the cave of Machpelah at Hebron (ib. 1-13). The name "Jacob" as well as that of "Israel," though to a lesser degree, was used by the Prophets to designate the whole nation of Israel (comp. Isaiah 9:7, 27:6, 27).
âIn Rabbinical Literature:
Even before their birth the struggle between the two brothers Esau and Jacob commenced. Each of them wished to be born first, and it was only after Esau threatened to kill Rebekah, his mother, if he was not permitted to be born first that Jacob acceded (Midrash ha-Gadol [ed. Schechter, Cambridge, 1902] on Genesis 25:22; comp. Pesiá¸³. R. [ed. Friedmann, Vienna, 1880], p. 48a). The respective characters of the two brothers were thus revealed before they were born. Whenever Rebekah passed a pagan house of worship Esau moved within her; and whenever she passed a synagogue or bet ha-midrash Jacob moved (Gen. R. 63:6; Yalá¸³., Gen. 110). There was also a conflict between them as to who should inherit this world, and who the world to come. In the conflict the angel Samael was about to kill Jacob, when Michael intervened; and the struggle between the two angels was settled by a court which God Himself convened for that purpose (Yalá¸³., Gen. 110, from Midrash Abkir). All these legends are based upon the word "wa-yitroáºeáºu" (= "and they struggled"; Genesis 25:22).
Sale of Birthright.
Jacob was born circumcised (Ab. R. N. 2:5; Gen. R. 63:7). Until the age of thirteen both he and Esau attended school; but later Esau became a hunter, while Jacob continued his studies under various tutorsâAbraham, Methuselah, Shem, and Eber (ib.; Gen. R. c.). The sale of the birthright occurred after Esau had slain Nimrod and two of his associates and fled from his pursuers. Jacob did not desire the material benefits of the birthright as much as the spiritual prerogatives attendant upon it. According to one opinion, this transaction was the final settlement of the quarrel which the brothers had had before they were born; and Esau thus sold to Jacob his portion in the world to come. Another opinion is that Jacob wished for the birthright because the first-born was the forerunner of the priest who offered the family sacrifices; and he thought that Esau was not fit to bring offerings to God (Yalá¸³., Gen. 111; comp. Zeb. 112b). With the purchase of the birthright Jacob came into possession of the garments which Esau had inherited from Adam and which were the official robes of the officiating minister (Midr. Tan. 67b).
The Rabbis attempted to explain that Jacob did not intend to deceive his father in the words, "I am Esau thy first-born" (Genesis 27:19), but meant by them: "I am the one whose children will accept the Decalogue which begins with I ("anoki"); but Esau is thy first-born" (Gen. R. 65:14; Yalá¸³., Gen. 115). By confirming the blessing before Jacob's departure (Genesis 28:1-4), Isaac established the fact that the blessing really belonged to Jacob (Gen. R. 67:10).
Furthermore, it was only to please his mother that Jacob allowed himself to be disguised; and he brought the venison to Rebekah in a very distressed frame of mind and crying (Gen. R. 65:11). The goodly raiment which Rebekah put upon Jacob was that which Esau had taken from Nimrod when he murdered him (ib. 12). Rebekah accompanied Jacob to his father's door, and then said, "Thus far I was obliged to go with you, but now may thy Maker assist you." When Jacob entered and Isaac said, "Come near, I pray thee, that I may feel thee" (Genesis 27:21), Jacob felt his heart melting like wax; but two angels supported him (Gen. R. 65:13,15). He then came near to his father, who said unto him, "See, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field which the Lord hath blessed"; that is, according to the Rabbis, the fragrance of paradise came with him (ib. 18).
When Jacob left the presence of his father he, by reason of the blessing he had received, came out crowned like a bridegroom, and the dew which is to revive the dead descended upon him from heaven; his bones became stronger, and he himself was turned into a mighty man (Pirá¸³e R. El. ). Jacob then fled from Esau, and went to the school of Shem and Eber, devoting himself to the study of the Torah. There he was hidden for fourteen years, and then returned to his father. He found that his brother was still purposing to kill him; whereupon he accepted the advice of his mother to go to Padanaram, (Gen. R. 68:5; see also "Sefer ha-Yashar").
When Jacob arrived in Haran he bethought himself that he had passed without offering any prayer the place where his ancestors had prayed (Pes. 84a). He therefore decided to turn back to Beth-el; but to his surprise the place came to him, and he recited there the evening service (Ber. 26b). After this he wished to proceed on his journey, but God said, "This pious man came to My house: shall I permit him to depart before night?" So the sun set before its time, and Jacob remained in Beth-el overnight. The contradiction in the text, where it says first that Jacob took "of the stones" (Genesis 28:11), and then that he took "the stone (ib. verse 18), is variously explained. Some think that he took twelve stones, corresponding to the number of the tribes; others, that he took three stones, corresponding to the number of the Patriarchs; others, again, that he took two stones; but all agree that the stones were later merged into one. Some of the rabbis say that he took a number of stones and placed them all round him for protection; that the stones began to quarrel, each one wishing that Jacob should lay his head upon it; and that, in order to settle the quarrel, God made all the stones into one (Gen. R. 68:13; Yalá¸³., Gen. 118-119; á¸¤ul. 91a; Sanh. 95b).
The angels that had accompanied Jacob thus far on his journey ascended the ladder, and other angels descended to accompany him farther. When the angels saw Jacob's likeness engraved on the throne of glory, they became jealous and desired to injure him; but God Himself came down and watched over him. When God promised to give him the land whereon he was lying, the whole land of Palestine folded up and placed itself under Jacob's head, so that it should be easier later for his children to conquer it. The angels ascending and descending the ladder are also interpreted to have represented the tutelary genii of the various nations to whom the Jews in later times were to be subjected. When Jacob's turn came to ascend he refused, fearing that, like the others, he, too, would have to come down. Then God said unto him, "If thou hadst had faith and hadst ascended thou wouldest not have come down; but since thou didst not believe, thy children shall be subjected to many nations.Nevertheless this shall not be forever, for I will redeem them from all the lands of their exile."
When Jacob left his father's house he had with him much silver and gold which his father had given him. Esau, on learning of Jacob's intention to depart, summoned his thirteen-year-old son, Eliphaz, and told him to encounter Jacob on his way and to kill him. Eliphaz with a company of ten men lay in wait for Jacob by the road, but, being of a more gentle disposition (Deut. R. 2:13), he had pity on him and did not injure him. He, however, took from Jacob all his possessions, so that when the latter came to Laban he had nothing with him ("Sefer ha-Yashar," end of "Toledot").
Leah and Rachel.
From the very first Jacob suspected that Laban would deceive him, and he therefore gave Rachel a sign by which she might cause him to recognize her; but she sacrificed her own love for the sake of her sister, and before the marriage revealed Jacob's plan to Leah. When Jacob discovered that Leah instead of Rachel had been given to him he became very angry; but Leah reminded him that he had been guilty of a similar deceit when he obtained the blessing from his father by assuming his brother's disguise (Gen. R. 70:17; Midr. ha-Gadol to Genesis 29:23; comp. B. B. 123a). In his machinations to obtain sheep from Laban's flock, Jacob was assisted by angels who brought sheep to him from Laban's herds. There are several estimates of the number of Jacob's flock, ranging from 200 to 2,207,100 (Gen. R. 73:8; comp. commentary to Gen. R.). These sheep Jacob gave to his children to watch, for he would not take any time that belonged to his employer Laban (Midr. ha-Gadol to Genesis 30:40).
The encounter between Jacob and the angel who subsequently injured his thigh is explained in the following manner: When Jacob had transported a part of his belongings over the Jabbok, he met an angel who appeared to him as a shepherd; and when Jacob returned to gather up the rest of his belongings the angel accused him of stealing from his flock, and the encounter ensued. Others think that it was the tutelary angel of Esau whom Jacob met; while still others identify him with the angel Michael, who came to reproach Jacob for neglecting to give a tithe of his possessions to God, as he had promised (Yalá¸³., Gen. 132; Pirá¸³e R. El.; Tan., Gen. 87b). The angel, although defeated by Jacob, injured the latter's thigh; and when the sun rose he begged Jacob to let him go (comp. Hosea 12:5), as the time for adoration had arrived, and if he, who was to begin the service, was away, the adoration of the angels could not take place. Jacob, however, eager for a blessing, would not let him go until he blessed him. The angel was compelled to submit; and in changing his name from "Jacob" to "Israel" he promised him that his children should be as righteous as he. The wound inflicted by the angel was cured when the sun appeared (Gen. R. 79:5; Yalá¸³., Gen. 133).
When Laban returned to his place (Genesis 32:1) he was not reconciled to Jacob's departure. He then, with the purpose of avenging himself, sent his son Beor, aged seventeen, and Abiharof, son of Uz, son of Nahor, with an escort of ten men, to Esau, saying unto him, "Have you heard what your brother has done unto us? He who came unto me poor and forsaken, that I went to meet, and brought up, and to whom I gave my two daughters and their maids, and whom God blessed for my sake, so that he became mighty and had sons and daughters and female slaves, and sheep and oxen and camels and asses, and much gold and silverâwhen he saw that his fortune was great he left me, and stole my gods and ran away. Now, behold, I left him in the valley of Jabbok. If thou intendest to go to him, thou wilt find him there, where thou mayest deal with him as thy heart willeth." When Esau heard this he recalled his hatred, and his wrath kindled, and he took his sons and sixty others and gathered all the 340 male descendants of Seir. He divided these into seven parties; placing sixty men under Eliphaz, his first-born, and the other six parties under the sons of Seir. But the messengers of Laban, on leaving Esau, went to the land of Canaan to the house of Rebekah, and said, "Behold thy son Esau is preparing to attack Jacob with 400 men because he has heard that he is coming." Rebekah therefore hastened and took seventy-two men from among the servants of Isaac to meet Jacob before his arrival, because she thought that Esau would give battle on the way. When Jacob saw them he said, "This host comes unto me from God"; and he called the place "Mahanaim" ("Sefer ha-Yashar," section "Wayesheb"). According to others (Gen. R. 74:16), the host consisted of 120 myriads of angels.
When the messengers of Rebekah met Jacob they said unto him in her name, "My son, I have heard that Esau, thy brother, comes to meet thee with men from the sons of Seir. And now, my son, listen to my voice and consider what shall be done. Do not speak hard words unto him; pray for his mercy and give him from thy fortunes as much as thou canst afford; and when he shall ask thee about thy affairs, conceal from him nothing. Perhaps he will be induced to forget his great anger, so that thou and all depending upon thee will be saved; for it is thy duty to respect him, seeing that he is thy elder brother."
Meeting with Esau.
When the brothers again met and Esau fell on Jacob's neck, it was his intention to bite him; but Jacob's neck became hard as marble, so that Esau's teeth were injured by the contact. This explanation is derived from the fact that the word "wa-yishshaá¸³ehu" ("and kissed him"; Genesis 33:4) has dots on the top of each letter.
Although Jacob's gifts were accepted, he still feared the anger of his brother; and during the eighteen months that he lived in Succoth he sent presents to his brother, which, however, his descendants, the nations, will return to the Messiah (comp. Psalms 72:10). Jacob's fears were well grounded; for in the year that Leah died, when Jacob least expected him, and had only 200 slaves with him, Esau returned with a large and formidable army. Jacob pleaded with Esau from the wall of the fortress; but Esau would not listen. Then Judah took his bow and shot Admon the Edomite, and also hit Esau in his right loin with an arrow which later caused his death (Yalá¸³., Gen. 133). Jacob entered Shechem"perfect" ("shalem") in every respect, both spiritually and materially (Shab. 33b).
Simeon and Levi did not ask their father's advice in destroying the inhabitants of Shechem; and Jacob was very angry when he heard of the action of his children. Still, after the act was done, he girded his sword and was ready to meet the enemy (Gen. R. 80:9; comp. ib. 97:9). Although the surrounding nations were afraid to fight them at that time, they did so seven years later, when they saw that Jacob had made Shechem his home and was intent upon inheriting the land. The war lasted six days; and every day witnessed great victories for Jacob and his sons. On the sixth day all the kings of the Amorites made peace with Jacob, agreeing to pay him a certain tribute (Yalá¸³., c.; "Sefer ha-Yashar," section "Wayishlaá¸¥"; comp. Jubilees, 34; AMORITES; See Judah in Rabbinical Literature).
When Jacob was about to rest from the persecutions of Esau and from the wars with the neighboring tribes, the troubles of Joseph came upon him. The Rabbis severely censure Jacob for manifesting his love for Joseph by clothing him with a special garment (Yalá¸³., Gen. 141; comp. Shab. 10b).
Favoritism Toward Joseph.
The grief of Jacob at the loss of his son was much aggravated by the idea that he would now be unable to establish the twelve tribes, since he dared not marry again because of the oath he had made to Laban that he would take no more wives. Isaac knew that Joseph was living; but he did not reveal this to Jacob, because he thought that if God wished him to know, He would reveal it Himself (Gen. R. 84:19; Yalá¸³., Gen. 143). When his children brought him the report that Joseph was still living, and that he was the ruler of all Egypt, Jacob refused to believe it, until they told him in the name of Joseph at what portion of the Law they had suspended their studies twenty-two years before. Then Jacob rejoiced in the thought that Joseph still retained his piety, and immediately prepared for his journey. Before he went to Egypt he stopped at Beer-sheba, and cut down cedars which Abraham had planted and which were later used by the Israelites in the building of the Tabernacle (Gen. R. 94:3, 95:2).
Before his death Jacob wished to reveal to his children the time of the Messiah's advent, but he could not recall it at that moment. When they were all gathered around his death-bed he said to them, "Perhaps there is in your hearts a feeling against God?" (that is to say, an inclination to idolatry). Then they all cried out, "Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One." He replied, "Blessed be the name of the glory of His kingdom forever and ever" (Gen. R. 98:4; Pes. 56a).
Jacob gave three commandments to his children before his death: (1) that they should not worship idols; (2) that they should not blaspheme the name of God; and (3) that they should not permit a pagan to touch his hearse. Three of his sons were to be stationed on each side of the coffin even as the tribes were later stationed in the wilderness. The Rabbis looked with disfavor upon Joseph's order to have his father embalmed; for to them it manifested a lack of faith in the providence of God.
When Jacob's sons reached the cave of Machpelah, they found Esau there prepared to prevent them from interring their father's body in the ancestral cave, and claiming that the place belonged to him. Jacob, however, had foreseen such a complication, and had previously bought the place from Esau; but the deed of sale was in Egypt, and there was nothing to do but to send some one back to Egypt to procure the document. Naphtali, the swift, volunteered to go, but Hushim, the son of Dan, who was hard of hearing, meanwhile inquired about the delay. When told the reason he said angrily, "Shall my grandfather's body lie and wait until the deed is obtained from Egypt?" and threw a missile at Esau so that his eyes fell out on the knees of Jacob, who opened his eyes and smiled. Then it was that Rebekah's words, "Why should I be bereft of both of you in one day?" (Genesis 27:45) were fulfilled (Yalá¸³., Gen. 162; "Sefer ha-Yashar," section "Wayeá¸¥i"; comp. Soá¹ah 13a). Another opinion is that Jacob had not died, although the embalmers and the mourners thought that he was dead (Ta'an. 5b; Rashi and MahrShA, ad loc.; comp. B. B. 17a, 121b). ESAU; JOSEPH (2); Patriarchs.
- Hamburger, R. B. T.;
- Aggadat Bereshit ed. Buber, Vienna, 1894;
- Midr. Leá¸³aá¸¥ á¹¬ob, ed. Buber, Wilna, 1880;
- Peiser, Naá¸¥alat Shime'oni, Wonzibeck, 1728;
- Heilprin, Seder Ha-Dorot, s., Warsaw, 1897.
These files are public domain.
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Jacob'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tje/j/jacob.html. 1901.
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