This week’s parsha re-introduces us to Lavan, Yaakov’s father-in-law and uncle (he is Rivka’s brother, which is how we met him for the first time). We read the famous story of Lavan switching Rachel, his younger and prettier daughter, whom Yaakov loves, for Leah, the eldest daughter, whom Yaakov does not pine for in the same way. Yaakov works for twenty years with his father-in-law, and then they part, though not on the best of terms. As part of the description of their parting, the Torah tells of Yaakov’s request for payment, the spotted and speckled and brown sheep (Bereishit / Genesis 30:32-34). After Lavan agrees to this request, the text goes into great detail explaining the miraculous way in which Yaakov multiplies the types of sheep that will become his. Despite there being detailed literature on the subject (see Yehuda Feliks – Jacob’s Sheep), this episode continues to elude my comprehension. What struck me, however, was how different this story is from the closest parallel in the life of Yaakov’s father Yitzchak. Yitzchak also experiences a period of rapid wealth acquisition, but it is told in one verse: “And Yitzchak planted in that very land, and he found in that very year a 100-fold increase, and Hashem blessed him” (26:12, translation mine). We are told nothing else about how Yitzchak amassed such wealth, and yet our parsha spends the next ten verses after the agreement between Yaakov and Lavan explaining how the sheep came to multiply. Why go to such lengths to describe Yaakov’s acquisition of livestock?
My first thought was that the Torah wants to show that, unlike the miraculous way Yitzchak gained his wealth, this was Yaakov’s own doing (to the extent that any human plan, from the Torah’s perspective, can be accomplished without Hashem’s involvement). However, in retelling the episode to his wives later, Yaakov seems to say that this all came to him in a dream from Hashem (31:9-12)! Why, then, go to such great lengths? I think that this is another way in which Yaakov differentiated himself from his father and grandfather. Yitzchak famously followed the general life path of his father Avraham, even re-digging the same wells his father dug (26:18-25). Yaakov lived his own life, having thirteen children as opposed to the two that Avraham and Yitzchak had, only going down to Egypt due to famine at the end of his life, etc. Here too, the text is emphasizing that Yaakov made his wealth in a unique way, ostensibly by working hard for twenty years and then availing himself of Hashem’s help in leaving his conniving master’s house with a fair payment for that work.
With God’s help; but still
Different from Dad