Today, I write in honor of our veterans on Veterans Day.
This week, in parasha Vayeitzei, a lot happens to Jacob. And we meet some very important people we will mention continually throughout the rest of the Torah.
Last week, Isaac told his son, Jacob, not to marry a Canaanite woman, but to go to Haran and marry a woman from his mother’s family. Jacob follows his father’s advice and, in Haran, meets a beautiful girl by a spring where the sheep drink water (just like how Eliezer found Rebecca for Isaac). The girl is Rachel.
Rachel takes Jacob home where he is greeted by Rachel’s father Laban. Laban is Rebecca’s brother. Laban is shrewd and selfish. In order to permit Jacob to marry Rachel, Laban requires that Jacob work for him for seven years. At the end of that time, just before the wedding, Laban switches brides on Jacob – Laban arranges for Rachel’s older sister, Leah, to be married to Jacob. Jacob cannot tell which sister is which because the bride wears a thick veil over her face.
After the wedding, when Jacob finds he has been tricked and complains to Laban, Laban says Jacob can have Rachel as a wife also, but has to work another seven years. Jacob does this, but has very little to support his family. Jacob has been tending Laban’s sheep, and Laban now allows Jacob to keep some of the sheep as wages. Over the next six years Jacob grows his flock to a large number. Jacob has now worked for Laban 20 years.
Throughout this time, Jacob has also been growing his family. His beloved Rachel has not had a child, but Leah has had several. As was the custom then, Rachel has Jacob marry her servant, Bilhah, to have children that Rachel can help raise. (Remember that when Sarah could not have children, she urged Abraham to marry her servant, Hagar). Bilhah has children. Then Leah stops having children, and has Jacob marry her servant Zilpah, who had children. Finally, Rachel has a son. In all, Rachel, Leah, Bilhah and Zilpah have 12 sons and a daughter.
The 12 sons of Jacob (whose name is later changed to Israel, as we learn in next week’s parasha) are the fathers of the 12 tribes of the Jewish people, and the descendants of these 12 sons become the Children of Israel whom God will redeem from Egypt and bring to the land promised to the Patriarchs that we now know as Israel.
So, we see that the Patriarchs and Matriarchs were not only busy with living their own lives, they were busy creating the Jewish people – you and me.