06. The renaming of Jacob

Abiding by the warning that God gave to him, Laban did no harm to Jacob. He did, however catch hold of him and inquired about the missing deity idol. Totally unaware of this matter, Jacob allowed Laban to conduct a search on his people and also cursed the perpetrator with death, whoever he be.

The search did not yield any result and Laban did not find the idol. For after all, it was well hidden, Rachel had hidden it in a safe and secure place. Irritated, Laban left and Jacob and his kindred proceeded with their journey.

Laban was certainly not going to let go. His next ploy was ready. Aware of the vengeance that Esau had been nursing against Jacob, he informed him of Jacob’s arrival.

The news reignited Esau’s hatred for Jacob, who he thought was dead. He set about preparing to attack Jacob.

Meanwhile, aware of Esau’s hatred for himself, Jacob sent to him, messengers carrying precious and choicest gifts, all with the intention of extending a hand of friendship. Esau however, was not to be pacified and the messengers returned to Jacob leaving behind the gifts and presents with Esau. They also informed Jacob that Esau was on his way to attack him with his men. Left with no option, Jacob started to prepare for the aggression. Already at the river Jabbok by then, (modern day Zarqa River in Jordan), Jacob transported to safety, his family, flocks and possession across the river that very night. But resolved to bury the hatchet, he did not give up on his attempts at making peace with Esau. Once again he sent his emissaries with many precious and choicest of gifts, presents and flocks for Esau. He also kept praying to God to bless Esau with good sense and to wipe out the hatred in his mind. Of course, along with his prayers he continued preparing to face Esau’s looming aggression.

Having ferried his kindred and possessions across the river, Jacob returned to the other side of the river. It was at this moment that a miracle happened, so it is said. All alone now, as he walked in the pitch darkness of the night, he met an angel. Blocking his way, the angel challenged him to wrestle with him. Jacob realized that the being was the guardian angel of Esau and pleaded to him to let him go. But in vain! Hence Jacob was forced to wrestle with the angel. During the fight, Jacob overpowered the angel and clasping his arms around him, held him down for the entire night! The angel had to concede defeat and gave in to Jacob’s massive strength. What he could manage is to only injure Jacob’s sinew of the thigh. (In remembrance of this the Jews do not eat the sinew of the thigh).

Renaming

As the dawn approached, the angel pleaded to Jacob to set him free. Jacob agreed to free him in return of a blessing. On this the angel asked Jacob his name. When Jacob revealed his name the angel blessed him saying that in the future, Jacob would be known by the name ‘Israel‘ (the one, who is capable of fighting an angel). The angel then left.

In the meantime, Esau had reached this spot along with his men but his anger had subsided – be it due to the precious and choicest of gifts sent by Jacob or be it due to his prayers to God, Esau had indeed had a change of heart. His anger had subsided and his hatred of Jacob too had died down. The brothers hugged each other and wept. They had reunited after so many years! The hatchet had been buried. Esau returned while Jacob continued his journey to Canaan.

Jacob reached Bethel in his journey. 20 years ago it was here that God had given him a vision. Hence on returning to Bethel, Jacob, in keeping with his word, got a memorial built of the stone on which he had slept during his vision. They then proceeded with the return journey.

Rachel’s delivery was now due any moment. During their journey from Bethel to Bethlehem, Rachel went into labour and gave birth to a baby boy who was named ‘Benjamin’. But Rachel passed away on delivering Benjamin. Many scholars attribute Rachel’s sudden death to the curse Jacob had uttered addressing the person responsible for the missing deity idol.

Jacob planned to bury Rachel in the Cave of Machpelah, the very cave where Abraham and Sarah were buried. But again, God appeared to Jacob in a vision and commanded him to bury Rachel at the place where she died. Hence Jacob buried Rachel near Bethlehem and in her remembrance, had an obelisk erected at her grave which was raised as her monument. Even to this day, thousands of Jewish pilgrims regularly visit the Rachel’s Tomb.

Jacob had now reached Canaan along with his kindred. On reaching, he learnt the sad news of his mother, Rebecca’s death. Rebecca too was buried at the same place where Abraham and Sara were buried – The Cave of Machpelah.

In all Jacob had 12 sons. The Jews believe that Jacob’s 12 sons, each of whom later went on to father a tribe of the nation of Israel (‘the twelve tribes of Israel’). But Joseph, the eldest son of Rachel was the one to take responsibilities and rewards of ‘Abraham-Isaac-Jacob’ further. But yet there were a few hundred years left for these people to take shape as ‘A nation’. (To be continued…)

– Shulamith Penkar-Nigrekar

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