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Jacob, Our Father

by Nissan Mindel

Talks and tales


Library » History » Patriarchs, 12 Tribes | Subscribe | What is RSS?


Among the Three Patriarchs of our people, Jacob (Yaakov) takes a special place. He was the "favorite" of our Patriarch, our Sages say (Ber. Rabbah 76). When G-d named him "Israel," after he wrestled successfully with the angel, "Israel" became the name of our Jewish people. More than Abraham and Isaac, Jacob is exclusively our father. For, Abraham also had a son Ishmael, the father of the Arab nations, so that the Arabs can also claim Abraham as their father. Abraham was also the father of Midian and other nations (the children of Keturah), so that the Midianites, and others, could also claim Abraham as their father. Of course, these were not the children of Sarah, and Abraham had sent them away during his lifetime, for he recognized only Isaac as his true son and heir, in accordance with G-d's promise and covenant. The others did not follow in Abraham's footsteps; they were Abraham's children only in a limited sense, whereas we, the Jewish people, are truly Abraham's children in the fullest sense.

Isaac, too, had a son Esau, the father of the Edomites, the Amalekites, and other nations. These nations, far from following in the footsteps of Isaac and Abraham, were the most bitter opponents of the ideals of Abraham and Isaac and the arch enemies of our people.

More than Abraham and Isaac, Jacob is exclusively our father
Jacob, however, was the father of twelve sons, all of whom were good; all of them carried on the traditions of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They were the twelve tribes of our people, the "tribes of G-d," from whom our Jewish people descends.

Thus, Jacob is exclusively our own; none but our Jewish people can call him "father." We, the Jewish people, are the only "children of Israel."

Our Sages declare that it was for the sake of Jacob that Abraham was saved from the fiery furnace, and Isaac was spared on the altar (Akedah). it was G-d's design that Abraham should give birth to Isaac, and Isaac to Jacob, so that the people of Israel should come into being. This is the people that has been destined to be G-d's "instrument" in the history of mankind; the people chosen to receive the Torah at Sinai in order to be the living "witnesses" of the One G-d, the Creator of the world.

The life-story of Jacob is well-known to every Jewish boy and girl who has learned Chumash. However, the Torah is not a book of history or biography, and therefore we find in Chumash only some of the main highlights of Jacob's life. Many additional details of Jacob's life have been transmitted by word of mouth from generation to generation, until they were recorded by our Sages in the Talmud and Midrash. It is especially some of these details that we wish to tell you here.

Jacob was fifteen years old when his grandfather Abraham passed on. Jacob prepared the customary mourner's dish, a pottage of lentils, for his father, in order to comfort him in his sorrow. But that was also the day when Jacob's twin-brother Esau chose to break openly with the traditions of his father and grandfather. Esau, the "man of the field," went wild that day and committed some terrible crimes on that very day. When Esau came home from the field, Jacob offered to buy the birthright from his older twin-brother. Esau was glad to get rid of the duties of the birthright, which he despised and degraded. What was scorned by Esau was cherished by Jacob.


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Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
First Jew, and first of our three Patriarchs. Born into a pagan society in Mesepotamia in 1812 BCE, he discovered monethieism on his own. He was told by G-d to journey to the Land of Canaan where he and his wife Sarah would give birth to the Jewish People.
(Pl. Midrashim). Non-legal material of anecdotal or allegorical nature, designed either to clarify historical material, or to teach a moral point. The Midrashim were compiled by the sages who authored the Mishna and Talmud (200 BCE-500 CE).
First Jewess, first of the four Jewish Matriarchs, wife of Abraham--the first Jew. Lived in Mesopotamia, and then Canaan, in the 19th century BCE.
Third of the three Patriarchs and father of the Twelve Tribes. Lived most his life in Canaan and died in Egypt in 1505 BCE. Also known by the name of "Israel."
Second of the three Jewish Patriarchs, son of Abraham and Sarah. Lived in Canaan (Israel); b. 1712 BCE, d. 1532 BCE.
Rogue son of Patriarch Isaac and Matriarch Rebecca. Elder twin of Patriarch Jacob.
Son of the Patriarch Abraham and half-brother of Patriarch Isaac. Ancestor of many Arab tribes.
Tenth generation from Adam. Of all humankind, only he and his family survived the Flood which destroyed all civilization in the year 2106 BCE.
Rebecca's brother and father of Rachel and Leah. He deceived Jacob into marrying both of his daughters for the price of fourteen years of labor.
The Five Books of Moses.
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.