JACOB GETS THE BLESSING
The story of Jacob is a very interesting one. Did Jacob really exist? No one knows for sure. We do know that the Hebrews
were nomads and began their wanderings somewhere near Ur and traveled across the desert wilderness to settle in Canaan. In
those days families did not split up each one to go live in their own house. True, Lot had to leave Abraham and Sarah because his
shepherds and Abraham's shepherds got into fights over grazing land, and water, but generally nomadic people stayed near each
The early Hebrews prospered and had many sheep, but they could still not divide up sheep and possessions among children
when they grew up. Instead a custom developed to give "the blessing" or "the birthright" to the oldest first born male. (Girls were
excluded from leading the tribe). The story of Jacob tells us about what trouble you can get into when you follow customs just
because it has always been followed. Esau didn't take being the head of the Hebrews very seriously. In his later years he was to
become an idol worshipper. Jacob was the better choice. But still, just because it was the right thing to do doesn't mean that Jacob
or Rebekah were happy doing it. Jacob had to wrestle his conscience to finally decide that he had done the right thing. Perhaps
this is why in the Jacob legend he was always around angels. The angels may have stood for Jacob's conscience. And Jacob
throughout his life had to put his conscience up against customs and traditions that he thought were harmful. Even though Jacob
was a quiet man he was one of great inner strength. Much like Abraham he questioned things. The message that Jacob has left
subsequent generations of Jewish People is that we should always wrestle with "the angels," our conscience to do what is right.
Suppose we could go back in time to a Talmud Academy in Babylon in the year 450
C.E. The students are debating what Rebekah and Jacob did. Let's listen in.
Simeon: They had no choice. Isaac would not understand that Esau was not the son who should get the birthright. Even so
according to the legend Esau was born only seconds before Jacob. Does it make that much of a difference.
Benjamin: I think that it does. The last thing that Jacob did with his father was tell him a lie.
Simeon: But you have to admit that he was very clever about it. Disguising his voice. Putting sheep coverings on his arms so
that Isaac would think that it was Esau.
Ruth: That was Rebekah's idea.
Simeon: Even so Jacob was a gutsy guy. He knew that Esau would come after him.
Benjamin: And well he should. Esau was robbed of the birthright. What Rebekah and Jacob did was defy tradition. How would
the Jewish People have survived all these years if they didn't have traditions.
Ruth: Benjamin you miss the point. Traditions are a wonderful thing. They help us identify with out past. They help us recognize
that we come from a people who began their march through history 4,000 years ago. But, where traditions are stupid, they should
not be followed.
Benjamin: I don't think the tradition of the birthright is stupid. The ancient Hebrews were not wealthy people. It is not as though
each son could have been given their own sheep and tents and gone off by themselves. Someone had to be put in charge.
Deborah: But think Benjamin. Think of Esau. Even with his great strength and skill as a hunter, he gave up the birthright for some
stew. How important could it have been to him?
Joshua: It is said that in later life Esau was to adopt the ways of the Canaanites. He was to worship idols.
Benjamin: You know that in those times even some Hebrews worshipped idols and also worshipped the one true God of
Abraham. It's not like it was later.
Joshua: Oh come on Benjamin. How can you justify idol worship?
Benjamin: You're right. You're right. What I really find upsetting is that the Ten
Commandments say that children are to honor their fathers and mothers. But look what Jacob did.
Ruth: I want you to think about this. Jacob was honoring his father. To Jacob finding
the inner strength, finding his conscience was the most important part of claiming the birthright. He knew that he could do a better
job than Esau. He valued his father's love and respect more than Esau did. He valued the birthright. In this way he did his father
Benjamin: Well that is a different way of looking at it.
Simeon: What I cannot determine was why is Jacob always meeting up with angels.
Joshua: Oh I think there is an explanation for that. Remember when Jacob first meets the angels climbing to heaven at Bethel?
Simeon: Yes it occurred to him in a dream.
Joshua: That was right after Jacob fled from Esau. Even though he knew that he had to deceive his father to do honor to the
birthright, he had regrets about the way it was handled. He dreamed of what he had done. He had to know he did the right thing.
Ruth: So I know. The Angels and God represented his conscience. The conscience says that he will be a patriarch to a great nation
that will become as numerous as the sands by the Ocean. This was his conscience's way of telling him that everything would turn
Simeon: Now I understand. But later on Jacob also had an occasion to meet an angel.
Deborah: Yes that occurred the night before Jacob was to meet Esau again.
Simeon: When did that happen?
Deborah: Years later when Jacob was a grown man he thought that it was time for him to see Esau again He wanted to talk to
Esau about what happened.
Simeon: What a brave guy.
Deborah: Braver than you would imagine. Jacob had not spoken to Esau in over 20 years. Esau had a band of warriors perhaps as
much as 400 of them. Jacob crossed the Jordan River. He kept his family on the other side and told them they should run away if
Esau attacked him.
Joshua: Jacob did not know what Esau would do. He did not wish to put his family at
risk, but he also wanted to make peace with his brother.
Simeon: So what happened?
Ruth: The night before Jacob had a dream that he wrestled an angel. You see according to Hebrew legend every angel must
assemble each morning in heaven when the sun comes up to face God the Creator.
Deborah: It was early morning and the sun was beginning to come up. The angel tried every move he could think of, but Jacob
pinned the angel to the ground. Finally the angel allowed Jacob a blessing if only Jacob would release him.
Simeon: So what was the blessing? Did he wish for money, or a fast horse?
Joshua: He wished that he and his family would suffer no harm. Remember, he did not
know what Esau would do. Because Jacob put family first the angel said that from then
on he would be called, "Israel." That's probably when the Hebrews were renamed "The
Simeon: So what happened? What happened?
Ruth: Esau approached Jacob at the head of a mean looking group of warriors. He had
his game face on and Jacob thought that perhaps Esau had come to kill him. Then Esau
broke out into a smile and hugged his brother.
Benjamin: The legend is to tell us, that there will be times when we have to do something because it is the right thing to do.
Remember Jacob didn't not know whether he would live through meeting his brother, but just as he knew it was right to take the
birthright he also knew that he had to make peace with his brother.
Simeon: So wrestling with the angel was wrestling with his conscience. Jacob was not
certain what tomorrow would bring, but he knew he had to do it. He was willing to put
himself in danger to do what was right.
Benjamin: I still wish that he and Rebekah could have found a way to work things out with Isaac.
Ruth: Oh, Benjamin aren't there any angels you have had to wrestle with?