by Louis Ginzberg

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The Legends of the Jews
by Louis Ginzberg

Volume I

Bible Times and Characters from the Creation to Jacob


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Isaac was the counterpart of his father in body and soul. He resembled him in every particular--"in beauty, wisdom, strength, wealth, and noble deeds."[1] It was, therefore, as great an honor for Isaac to be called the son of his father as for Abraham to be called the father of his son, and though Abraham was the progenitor of thirty nations, he is always designated as the father of Isaac.[2]

Despite his many excellent qualities, Isaac married late in life. God permitted him to meet the wife suitable to him only after he had successfully disproved the mocking charges of Ishmael, who was in the habit of taunting him with having been circumcised at the early age of eight days, while Ishmael had submitted himself voluntarily to the operation when be was thirteen years old. For this reason God demanded Isaac as a sacrifice when he had attained to full manhood, at the age of thirty-seven, and Isaac was ready to give up his life. Ishmael's jibes were thus robbed of their sting, and Isaac was permitted to marry. But another delay occurred before his marriage could take place. Directly after the sacrifice on Mount Moriah, his mother died, and he mourned her for three years.[3] Finally he married Rebekah, who was then a maiden of fourteen.[4]

Rebekah was "a rose between thorns." Her father was the Aramean Bethuel, and her brother was Laban, but she did not walk in their ways.[5] Her piety was equal to Isaac's.[6] Nevertheless their marriage was not entirely happy, for they lived together no less than twenty years without begetting children.[7] Rebekah besought her husband to entreat God for the gift of children, as his father Abraham had done. At first Isaac would not do her bidding. God had promised Abraham a numerous progeny, and he thought their childlessness was probably Rebekah's fault, and it was her duty to supplicate God, and not his. But Rebekah would not desist, and husband and wife repaired to Mount Moriah together to pray to God there. And Isaac said: "O Lord God of heaven and earth, whose goodness and mercies fill the earth, Thou who didst take my father from his father's house and from his birthplace, and didst bring him unto this land, and didst say unto him, To thee and thy seed will I give the land, and didst promise him and declare unto him, I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven and as the sand of the sea, now may Thy words be verified which Thou didst speak unto my father. For Thou art the Lord our God, our eyes are toward Thee, to give us seed of men as Thou didst promise us, for Thou art the Lord our God, and our eyes are upon Thee."[8] Isaac prayed furthermore that all children destined for him might be born unto him from this pious wife of his, and Rebekah made the same petition regarding her husband Isaac and the children destined for her.

Their united prayer was heard.[9] Yet it was chiefly for the sake of Isaac that God gave them children. It is true, Rebekah's piety equalled her husband's, but the prayer of a pious man who is the son of a pious man is far more efficacious than the prayer of one who, though pious himself, is descended from a godless father.

The prayer wrought a great miracle, for Isaac's physique was such that he could not have been expected to beget children, and equally it was not in the course of nature that Rebekah should bear children.[10]

When Rebekah had been pregnant seven months,[11] she began to wish that the curse of childlessness had not been removed from her.[12] She suffered torturous pain, because her twin sons began their lifelong quarrels in her womb. They strove to kill each other. If Rebekah walked in the vicinity of a temple erected to idols, Esau moved in her body, and if she passed a synagogue or a Bet ha-Midrash, Jacob essayed to break forth from her womb.[13] The quarrels of the children turned upon such differences as these. Esau would insist that there was no life except the earthly life of material pleasures, and Jacob would reply: "My brother, there are two worlds before us, this world and the world to come. In this world, men eat and drink, and traffic and marry, and bring up sons and daughters, but all this does not take place in the world to come. If it please thee, do thou take this world, and I will take the other."[14] Esau had Samael as his ally, who desired to slay Jacob in his mother's womb. But the archangel Michael hastened to Jacob's aid. He tried to burn Samael, and the Lord saw it was necessary to constitute a heavenly court for the purpose of arbitrating the case of Michael and Samael.[15] Even the quarrel between the two brothers regarding the birthright had its beginning before they emerged from the womb of their mother. Each desired to be the first to come into the world. It was only when Esau threatened to carry his point at the expense of his mother's life that Jacob gave way.[16]

Rebekah asked other women whether they, too, had suffered such pain during their pregnancy, and when they told her they had not heard of a case like hers, except the pregnancy of Nimrod's mother, she betook herself to Mount Moriah, whereon Shem and Eber had their Bet ha-Midrash. She requested them as well as Abraham to inquire of God what the cause of her dire suffering was.[17] And Shem replied: "My daughter, I confide a secret to thee. See to it that none finds it out. Two nations are in thy womb, and how should thy body contain them, seeing that the whole world will not be large enough for them to exist in it together peaceably? Two nations they are, each owning a world of its own, the one the Torah, the other sin. From the one will spring Solomon, the builder of the Temple, from the other Vespasian, the destroyer thereof. These two are what are needed to raise the number of nations to seventy. They will never be in the same estate. Esau will vaunt lords, while Jacob will bring forth prophets, and if Esau has princes, Jacob will have kings.[18] They, Israel and Rome, are the two nations destined to be hated by all the world.[19] One will exceed the other in strength. First Esau will subjugate the whole world, but in the end Jacob will rule over all.[20] The older of the two will serve the younger, provided this one is pure of heart, otherwise the younger will be enslaved by the older."[21]

The circumstances connected with the birth of her twin sons were as remarkable as those during the period of Rebekah's pregnancy. Esau was the first to see the light, and with him all impurity came from the womb;[22] Jacob was born clean and sweet of body. Esau was brought forth with hair, beard, and teeth, both front and back,[23] and he was blood-red, a sign of his future sanguinary nature.[24] On account of his ruddy appearance he remained uncircumcised. Isaac, his father, feared that it was due to poor circulation of the blood, and he hesitated to perform the circumcision. He decided to wait until Esau should attain his thirteenth year, the age at which Ishmael had received the sign of the covenant. But when Esau grew up, he refused to give heed to his father's wish, and so he was left uncircumcised.[25] The opposite of his brother in this as in all respects, Jacob was born with the sign of the covenant upon his body, a rare distinction.[26] But Esau also bore a mark upon him at birth, the figure of a serpent, the symbol of all that is wicked and hated of God.[27]

The names conferred upon the brothers are pregnant with meaning. The older was called Esau, because he was 'Asui, fully developed when he was born, and the name of the younger was given to him by God, to point to some important events in the future of Israel by the numerical value of each letter. The first letter in Ya'akob, Yod, with the value of ten, stands for the decalogue; the second, 'Ayin, equal to seventy, for the seventy elders, the leaders of Israel; the third, Kof, a hundred, for the Temple, a hundred ells in height; and the last, Bet, for the two tables of stone.[28]


While Esau and Jacob were little, their characters could not be judged properly. They were like the myrtle and the thorn-bush, which look alike in the early stages of their growth. After they have attained full size, the myrtle is known by its fragrance, and the thorn-bush by its thorns.

In their childhood, both brothers went to school, but when they reached their thirteenth year, and were of age, their ways parted. Jacob continued his studies in the Bet ha Midrash of Shem and Eber, and Esau abandoned himself to idolatry and an immoral life.[29] Both were hunters of men, Esau tried to capture them in order to turn them away from God, and Jacob, to turn them toward God.[30] In spite of his impious deeds, Esau possessed the art of winning his father's love. His hypocritical conduct made Isaac believe that his first-born son was extremely pious. "Father," he would ask Isaac, "what is the tithe on straw and salt?" The question made him appear God-fearing in the eyes of his father, because these two products are the very ones that are exempt from tithing.[31] Isaac failed to notice, too, that his older son gave him forbidden food to eat. What he took for the flesh of young goats was dog's meat.[32]

Rebekah was more clear-sighted. She knew her sons as they really were, and therefore her love for Jacob was exceeding great. The oftener she heard his voice, the deeper grew her affection for him.[33] Abraham agreed with her. He also loved his grandson Jacob, for he knew that in him his name and his seed would be called. And he said unto Rebekah, "My daughter, watch over my son Jacob, for he shall be in my stead on the earth and for a blessing in the midst of the children of men, and for the glory of the whole seed of Shem." Having admonished Rebekah thus to keep guard over Jacob, who was destined to be the bearer of the blessing given to Abraham by God, he called for his grandson, and in the presence of Rebekah he blessed him, and said: "Jacob, my beloved son, whom my soul loveth, may God bless thee from above the firmament, and may He give thee all the blessing wherewith He blessed Adam, and Enoch, and Noah, and Shem, and all the things of which He told me, and all the things which He promised to give me may He cause to cleave to thee and to thy seed forever, according to the days of the heavens above the earth. And the spirit of Mastema shall not rule over thee or over thy seed, to turn thee from the Lord, who is thy God from henceforth and forever. And may the Lord God be a father to thee, and mayest thou be His first-born son, and may He be a father to thy people always. Go in peace, my son."[34]

And Abraham had good reason to be particularly fond of Jacob, for it was due to the merits of his grandson that he had been rescued from the fiery furnace.[35]

Isaac and Rebekah, knowing of Abraham's love for their young son, sent their father a meal by Jacob on the last Feast of Pentecost which Abraham was permitted to celebrate on earth, that he might eat and bless the Creator of all things before he died. Abraham knew that his end was approaching, and he thanked the Lord for all the good He had granted him during the days of his life, and blessed Jacob and bade him walk in the ways of the Lord, and especially he was not to marry a daughter of the Canaanites. Then Abraham prepared for death. He placed two of Jacob's fingers upon his eyes, and thus holding them closed he fell into his eternal sleep, while Jacob lay beside him on the bed. The lad did not know of his grandfather's death, until he called him, on awakening next morning, "Father, father," and received no answer.[36]


Though Abraham reached a good old age, beyond the limit of years vouchsafed later generations, he yet died five years before his allotted time. The intention was to let him live to be one hundred and eighty years old, the same age as Isaac's at his death, but on account of Esau God brought his life to an abrupt close. For some time Esau had been pursuing his evil inclinations in secret. Finally he dropped his mask, and on the day of Abraham's death he was guilty of five crimes: he ravished a betrothed maiden, committed murder, doubted the resurrection of the dead, scorned the birthright, and denied God. Then the Lord said: "I promised Abraham that he should go to his fathers in peace. Can I now permit him to be a witness of his grandson's rebellion against God, his violation of the laws of chastity, and his shedding of blood? It is better for him to die now in peace."[37]

The men slain by Esau on this day were Nimrod and two of his adjutants. A long-standing feud had existed between Esau and Nimrod, because the mighty hunter before the Lord was jealous of Esau, who also devoted himself assiduously to the chase. Once when he was hunting it happened that Nimrod was separated from his people, only two men were with him. Esau, who lay in ambush, noticed his isolation, and waited until he should pass his covert. Then he threw himself upon Nimrod suddenly, and felled him and his two companions, who hastened to his succor. The outcries of the latter brought the attendants of Nimrod to the spot where he lay dead, but not before Esau had stripped him of his garments, and fled to the city with them.[38]

These garments of Nimrod had an extraordinary effect upon cattle, beasts, and birds. Of their own accord they would come and prostrate themselves before him who was arrayed in them. Thus Nimrod and Esau after him were able to rule over men and beasts.[39]

After slaying Nimrod, Esau hastened cityward in great fear of his victim's followers. Tired and exhausted he arrived at home to find Jacob busy preparing a dish of lentils. Numerous male and female slaves were in Isaac's household. Nevertheless Jacob was so simple and modest in his demeanor that, if he came home late from the Bet ha-Midrash, he would disturb none to prepare his meal, but would do it himself.[40] On this occasion he was cooking lentils for his father, to serve to him as his mourner's meal after the death of Abraham. Adam and Eve had eaten lentils after the murder of Abel, and so had the parents of Haran, when he perished in the fiery furnace. The reason they are used for the mourner's meal is that the round lentil symbolizes death: as the lentil rolls, so death, sorrow, and mourning constantly roll about among men, from one to the other.[41]

Esau accosted Jacob thus, "Why art thou preparing lentils?"

Jacob: "Because our grandfather passed away; they shall be a sign of my grief and mourning, that he may love me in the days to come."

Esau: "Thou fool! Dost thou really think it possible that man should come to life again after he has been dead and has mouldered in the grave?"[42] He continued to taunt Jacob. "Why dost thou give thyself so much trouble?" he said. "Lift up thine eyes, and thou wilt see that all men eat whatever comes to hand--fish, creeping and crawling creatures, swine's flesh, and all sorts of things like these, and thou vexest thyself about a dish of lentils."

Jacob: "If we act like other men, what shall we do on the day of the Lord, the day on which the pious will receive their reward, when a herald will proclaim: Where is He that weigheth the deeds of men, where is He that counteth?"

Esau: "Is there a future world? Or will the dead be called back to life? If it were so, why hath not Adam returned? Hast thou heard that Noah, through whom the world was raised anew, hath reappeared? Yea, Abraham, the friend of God, more beloved of Him than any man, hath he come to life again?"

Jacob: "If thou art of opinion that there is no future world, and that the dead do not rise to new life, then why dost thou want thy birthright? Sell it to me, now, while it is yet possible to do so. Once the Torah is revealed, it cannot be done. Verily, there is a future world, in which the righteous receive their reward. I tell thee this, lest thou say later I deceived thee."[43]

Jacob was little concerned about the double share of the inheritance that went with the birthright. What he thought of was the priestly service, which was the prerogative of the first-born in ancient times, and Jacob was loth to have his impious brother Esau play the priest, he who despised all Divine service.[44]

The scorn manifested by Esau for the resurrection of the dead he felt also for the promise of God to give the Holy Land to the seed of Abraham. He did not believe in it, and therefore he was willing to cede his birthright and the blessing attached thereto in exchange for a mess of pottage.[45] In addition, Jacob paid him in coin,[46] and, besides, he gave him what was more than money, the wonderful sword of Methuselah, which Isaac had inherited from Abraham and bestowed upon Jacob.[47]

Esau made game of Jacob. He invited his associates to feast at his brother's table, saying, "Know ye what I did to this Jacob? I ate his lentils, drank his wine, amused myself at his expense, and sold my birthright to him." All that Jacob replied was, "Eat and may it do thee good!" But the Lord said, "Thou despisest the birthright, therefore I shall make thee despised in all generations." And by way of punishment for denying God and the resurrection of the dead, the descendants of Esau were cut off from the world.[48]

As naught was holy to Esau, Jacob made him swear, concerning the birthright, by the life of their father, for he knew Esau's love for Isaac, that it was strong.[49] Nor did he fail to have a document made out, duly signed by witnesses, setting forth that Esau had sold him the birthright together with his claim upon a place in the Cave of Machpelah.[50]

Though no blame can attach to Jacob for all this, yet he secured the birthright from him by cunning, and therefore the descendants of Jacob had to serve the descendants of Esau.[51]


The life of Isaac was a faithful reflex of the life of his father. Abraham had to leave his birthplace; so also Isaac. Abraham was exposed to the risk of losing his wife; so also Isaac. The Philistines were envious of Abraham; so also of Isaac. Abraham long remained childless; so also Isaac. Abraham begot one pious son and one wicked son; so also Isaac. And, finally, as in the time of Abraham, so also in the time of Isaac, a famine came upon the land.[52]

At first Isaac intended to follow the example of his father and remove to Egypt, but God appeared unto him, and spake: "Thou art a perfect sacrifice, without a blemish, and as a burnt offering is made unfit if it is taken outside of the sanctuary, so thou wouldst be profaned if thou shouldst happen outside of the Holy Land. Remain in the land, and endeavor to cultivate it. In this land dwells the Shekinah, and in days to come I will give unto thy children the realms possessed by mighty rulers, first a part thereof, and the whole in the Messianic time."[53]

Isaac obeyed the command of God, and he settled in Gerar. When he noticed that the inhabitants of the place began to have designs upon his wife, he followed the example of Abraham, and pretended she was his sister.[54] The report of Rebekah's beauty reached the king himself, but he was mindful of the great danger to which he had once exposed himself on a similar occasion, and he left Isaac and his wife unmolested.[55] After they had been in Gerar for three months, Abimelech noticed that the manner of Isaac, who lived in the outer court of the royal palace, was that of a husband toward Rebekah.[56] He called him to account, saying, "It might have happened to the king himself to take the woman thou didst call thy sister."[57] Indeed, Isaac lay under the suspicion of having illicit intercourse with Rebekah, for at first the people of the place would not believe that she was his wife. When Isaac persisted in his statement,[58] Abimelech sent his grandees for them, ordered them to be arrayed in royal vestments, and had it proclaimed before them, as they rode through the city: "These two are man and wife. He that toucheth this man or his wife shall surely be put to death."

Thereafter the king invited Isaac to settle in his domains, and he assigned fields and vineyards to him for cultivation, the best the land afforded.[59] But Isaac was not self-interested. The tithe of all he possessed he gave to the poor of Gerar. Thus he was the first to introduce the law of tithing for the poor, as his father Abraham had been the first to separate the priests' portion from his fortune.[60] Isaac was rewarded by abundant harvests; the land yielded a hundred times more than was expected, though the soil was barren and the year unfruitful. He grew so rich that people wished to have "the dung from Isaac's she-mules rather than Abimelech's gold and silver."[61] But his wealth called forth the envy of the Philistines, for it is characteristic of the wicked that they begrudge their fellow-men the good, and rejoice when they see evil descend upon them, and envy brings hatred in its wake, and so the Philistines first envied Isaac, and then hated him. In their enmity toward him, they stopped the wells which Abraham had had his servants dig. Thus they broke their covenant with Abraham and were faithless, and they have only themselves to blame if they were exterminated later on by the Israelites.

Isaac departed from Gerar, and began to dig again the wells of water which they had digged in the days of Abraham his father, and which the Philistines had stopped. His reverence for his father was so great that he even restored the names by which Abraham had called the wells. To reward him for his filial respect, the Lord left the name of Isaac unchanged, while his father and his son had to submit to new names.[62]

After four attempts to secure water, Isaac was successful; he found the well of water that followed the Patriarchs. Abraham had obtained it after three diggings. Hence the name of the well, Beer-sheba, "the well of seven diggings," the same well that will supply water to Jerusalem and its environs in the Messianic time.[63]

Isaac's success with his wells but served to increase the envy of the Philistines, for he had come upon water in a most unlikely spot and, besides, in a year of drouth. But "the Lord fulfils the desire of them that fear Him." As Isaac executed the will of his Creator, so God accomplished his desire.[64] And Abimelech, the king of Gerar, speedily came to see that God was on the side of Isaac, for, to chastise him for having instigated Isaac's removal from Gerar, his house was ravaged by robbers in the night, and he himself was stricken with leprosy.[65] The wells of the Philistines ran dry as soon as Isaac left Gerar, and also the trees failed to yield their fruit. None could be in doubt but that these things were the castigation for their unkindness.

Now Abimelech entreated his friends, especially the administrator of his kingdom, to accompany him to Isaac and help him win back his friendship.[66] Abimelech and the Philistines spake thus to Isaac: "We have convinced ourselves that the Shekinah is with thee, and therefore we desire thee to renew the covenant which thy father made with us, that thou wilt do us no hurt, as we also did not touch thee." Isaac consented. It illustrates the character of the Philistines strikingly that they took credit unto themselves for having done him no hurt. It shows that they would have been glad to inflict harm upon him, for "the soul of the wicked desireth evil."

The place in which the covenant was made between Isaac and the Philistines was called Shib'ah, for two reasons, because an oath was "sworn" there, and as a memorial of the fact that even the heathen are bound to observe the "seven" Noachian laws.[67]

For all the wonders executed by God for Isaac, and all the good he enjoyed throughout his life, he is indebted to the merits of his father. For his own merits he will be rewarded in future.[68] On the great day of judgment it will be Isaac who will redeem his descendants from Gehenna. On that day the Lord will speak to Abraham, "Thy children have sinned," and Abraham will make reply, "Then let them be wiped out, that Thy Name be sanctified." The Lord will turn to Jacob, thinking that he who had suffered so much in bringing his sons to manhood's estate would display more love for his posterity. But Jacob will give the same answer as Abraham. Then God will say: "The old have no understanding, and the young no counsel. I will now go to Isaac. Isaac," God will address him, "thy children have sinned," and Isaac will reply: "O Lord of the world, sayest Thou my children, and not THINE? When they stood at Mount Sinai and declared themselves ready to execute all Thy bidding before even they heard it, Thou didst call Israel 'My first-born,' and now they are MY children, and not THINE! Let us consider. The years of a man are seventy. From these twenty are to be deducted, for Thou inflictest no punishment upon those under twenty. Of the fifty years that are left, one-half are to be deducted for the nights passed in sleep. There remain only twenty-five years, and these are to be diminished by twelve and a half, the time spent in praying, eating, and attending to other needs in life, during which men commit no sins. That leaves only twelve years and a half. If Thou wilt take these upon Thyself, well and good. If not, do Thou take one-half thereof, and I will take the other half." The descendants of Isaac will then say, "Verily, thou art our true father!" But he will point to God, and admonish them, "Nay, give not your praises to me, but to God alone," and Israel, with eyes directed heavenward, will say, "Thou, O Lord, art our Father; our Redeemer from everlasting is Thy name."[69]

It was Isaac, or, as he is sometimes called, Elihu the son of Barachel, who revealed the wonderful mysteries of nature in his arguments with Job.[70]

At the end of the years of famine, God appeared unto Isaac, and bade him return to Canaan. Isaac did as he was commanded, and he settled in Hebron. At this time he sent his younger son Jacob to the Bet ha-Midrash of Shem and Eber, to study the law of the Lord. Jacob remained there thirty-two years. As for Esau, he refused to learn, and he remained in the house of his father. The chase was his only occupation, and as he pursued beasts, so he pursued men, seeking to capture them with cunning and deceit.

On one of his hunting expeditions, Esau came to Mount Seir, where he became acquainted with Judith, of the family of Ham, and he took her unto himself as his wife, and brought her to his father at Hebron.

Ten years later, when Shem his teacher died, Jacob returned home, at the age of fifty. Another six years passed, and Rebekah received the joyful news that her sister-in-law 'Adinah, the wife of Laban, who, like all the women of his house, had been childless until then, had given birth to twin daughters, Leah and Rachel.[71] Rebekah, weary of her life on account of the woman chosen by her older son, exhorted Jacob not to marry one of the daughters of Canaan, but a maiden of the family of Abraham. He assured his mother that the words of Abraham, bidding him to marry no woman of the Canaanites, were graven upon his memory, and for this reason he was still unmarried, though he had attained the age of sixty-two, and Esau had been urging him for twenty-two years past to follow his example and wed a daughter of the people of the land in which they lived. He had heard that his uncle Laban had daughters, and he was resolved to choose one of them as his wife. Deeply moved by the words of her son, Rebekah thanked him and gave praise unto God with the words: "Blessed be the Lord God, and may His Holy Name be blessed for ever and ever, who hath given me Jacob as a pure son and a holy seed; for he is Thine, and Thine shall his seed be continually and throughout all the generations for evermore. Bless him, O Lord, and place in my mouth the blessing of righteousness, that I may bless him."

And when the spirit of the Lord came over her, she laid her hands upon the head of Jacob and gave him her maternal blessing. It ended with the words, "May the Lord of the world love thee, as the heart of thy affectionate mother rejoices in thee, and may He bless thee."[72]


Esau's marriage with the daughters of the Canaanites was an abomination not only in the eyes of his mother, but also in the eyes of his father. He suffered even more than Rebekah through the idolatrous practices of his daughters in-law. It is the nature of man to oppose less resistance than woman to disagreeable circumstances. A bone is not harmed by a collision that would shiver an earthen pot in pieces. Man, who is created out of the dust of the ground, has not the endurance of woman formed out of bone. Isaac was made prematurely old by the conduct of his daughters-in-law, and he lost the sight of his eyes. Rebekah had been accustomed in the home of her childhood to the incense burnt before idols, and she could therefore bear it under her own roof-tree. Unlike her, Isaac had never had any such experience while he abode with his parents, and he was stung by the smoke arising from the sacrifices offered to their idols by his daughters-in-law in his own house.[73] Isaac's eyes had suffered earlier in life, too. When he lay bound upon the altar, about to be sacrificed by his father, the angels wept, and their tears fell upon his eyes, and there they remained and weakened his sight.

At the same time he had brought the scourge of blindness down upon himself by his love for Esau. He justified the wicked for a bribe, the bribe of Esau's filial love, and loss of vision is the punishment that follows the taking of bribes. "A gift," it is said, "blinds the eyes of the wise."

Nevertheless his blindness proved a benefit for Isaac as well as Jacob. In consequence of his physical ailments, Isaac had to keep at home, and so he was spared the pain of being pointed out by the people as the father of the wicked Esau.[74] And, again, if his power of vision had been unimpaired, he would not have blessed Jacob. As it was, God treated him as a physician treats a sick man who is forbidden to drink wine, for which, however, he has a strong desire. To placate him, the physician orders that warm water be given him in the dark, and he be told that it is wine.[75]

When Isaac reached the age of one hundred and twenty three, and was thus approaching the years attained by his mother, he began to meditate upon his end. It is proper that a man should prepare for death when he comes close to the age at which either of his parents passed out of life. Isaac reflected that he did not know whether the age allotted to him was his mother's or his father's, and he therefore resolved to bestow his blessing upon his older son, Esau, before death should overtake him.[76] He summoned Esau, and he said, "My son," and Esau replied, "Here am I," but the holy spirit interposed: "Though he disguises his voice and makes it sound sweet, put no confidence in him. There are seven abominations in his heart. He will destroy seven holy places--the Tabernacle, the sanctuaries at Gilgal, Shiloh, Nob, and Gibeon, and the first and the second Temple."

Gently though Esau continued to speak to his father, he yet longed for his end to come.[77] But Isaac was stricken with spiritual as well as physical blindness. The holy spirit deserted him, and he could not discern the wickedness of his older son. He bade him sharpen his slaughtering knives and beware of bringing him the flesh of an animal that had died of itself, or had been torn by a beast, and he was to guard also against putting an animal before Isaac that had been stolen from its rightful owner. "Then," continued Isaac, "will I bless him who is worthy of being blessed."[78]

This charge was laid upon Esau on the eve of the Passover, and Isaac said to him: "To-night the whole world will sing the Hallel unto God. It is the night when the storehouses of dew are unlocked. Therefore prepare dainties for me, that my soul may bless thee before I die." But the holy spirit interposed, "Eat not the bread of him that hath an evil eye."[79] Isaac's longing for tidbits was due to his blindness. As the sightless cannot behold the food they eat, they do not enjoy it with full relish, and their appetite must be tempted with particularly palatable morsels.

Esau sallied forth to procure what his father desired, little recking the whence or how, whether by robbery or theft.[80] To hinder the quick execution of his father's order, God sent Satan on the chase with Esau. He was to delay him as long as possible. Esau would catch a deer and leave him lying bound, while he pursued other game. Immediately Satan would come and liberate the deer, and when Esau returned to the spot, his victim was not to be found. This was repeated several times. Again and again the quarry was run down, and bound, and liberated, so that Jacob was able meanwhile to carry out the plan of Rebekah whereby he would be blessed instead of Esau.

Though Rebekah had not heard the words that had passed between Isaac and Esau, they nevertheless were revealed to her through the holy spirit,[81] and she resolved to restrain her husband from taking a false step. She was not actuated by love for Jacob, but by the wish of keeping Isaac from committing a detestable act.[82] Rebekah said to Jacob: "This night the storehouses of dew are unlocked; it is the night during which the celestial beings chant the Hallel unto God, the night set apart for the deliverance of thy children from Egypt, on which they, too, will sing the Hallel. Go now and prepare savory meat for thy father, that he may bless thee before his death.[83] Do as I bid thee, obey me as thou art wont, for thou art my son whose children, every one, will be good and God-fearing--not one shall be graceless."

In spite of his great respect for his mother,[84] Jacob refused at first to heed her command. He feared he might commit a sin,[85] especially as he might thus bring his father's curse down upon him. As it was, Isaac might still have a blessing for him, after giving Esau his. But Rebekah allayed his anxieties, with the words: "When Adam was cursed, the malediction fell upon his mother, the earth, and so shall I, thy mother, bear the imprecation, if thy father curses thee. Moreover, if the worst comes to the worst, I am prepared to step before thy father and tell him, 'Esau is a villain, and Jacob is a righteous man.' "

Thus constrained by his mother, Jacob, in tears and with body bowed, went off to execute the plan made by Rebekah.[86] As he was to provide a Passover meal, she bade him get two kids, one for the Passover sacrifice and one for the festival sacrifice.[87] To soothe Jacob's conscience, she added that her marriage contract entitled her to two kids daily. "And," she continued, "these two kids will bring good unto thee, the blessing of thy father, and they will bring good unto thy children, for two kids will be the atoning sacrifice offered on the Day of Atonement."

Jacob's hesitation was not yet removed. His father, he feared, would touch him and convince himself that he was not hairy, and therefore not his son Esau. Accordingly, Rebekah tore the skins of the two kids into strips and sewed them together, for Jacob was so tall a giant that otherwise they would not have sufficed to cover his hands.[88] To make Jacob's disguise complete, Rebekah felt justified in putting Esau's wonderful garments on him. They were the high priestly raiment in which God had clothed Adam, "the first-born of the world," for in the days before the erection of the Tabernacle all the first-born males officiated as priests. From Adam these garments descended to Noah, who transmitted them to Shem, and Shem bequeathed them to Abraham, and Abraham to his son Isaac, from whom they reached Esau as the older of his two sons. It was the opinion of Rebekah that as Jacob had bought the birthright from his brother, he had thereby come into possession of the garments as well.[89] There was no need for her to go and fetch them from the house of Esau. He knew his wives far too well to entrust so precious a treasure to them; they were in the safe-keeping of his mother. Besides, he used them most frequently in the house of his parents. As a rule, he did not lay much stress upon decent apparel. He was willing to appear on the street clad in rags, but he considered it his duty to wait upon his father arrayed in his best. "My father," Esau was in the habit of saying, "is a king in my sight, and it would ill become me to serve before him in any thing but royal apparel." To the great respect he manifested toward his father, the descendants of Esau owe all their good fortune on earth. Thus doth God reward a good deed.

Rebekah led Jacob equipped and arrayed in this way to the door of Isaac's chamber. There she parted from him with the words, "Henceforward may thy Creator assist thee."[90] Jacob entered, addressing Isaac with "Father," and receiving the response, "Here am I! Who art thou, my son?" he replied equivocally, "It is I, thy first-born son is Esau." He sought to avoid a falsehood, and yet not betray that he was Jacob.[91] Isaac then said: "Thou art greatly in haste to secure thy blessing. Thy father Abraham was seventy-five years old when he was blessed, and thou art but sixty-three." Jacob replied awkwardly, "Because the Lord thy God sent me good speed." Isaac concluded at once that this was not Esau, for he would not have mentioned the name of God, and he made up his mind to feel the son before him and make sure who he was. Terror seized upon Jacob at the words of Isaac, "Come near, I pray thee, that I may feel thee, my son." A cold sweat covered his body, and his heart melted like wax. Then God caused the archangels Michael and Gabriel to descend. The one seized his right hand, the other his left hand, while the Lord God Himself supported him, that his courage might not fail him. Isaac felt him, and, finding his hands hairy, he said, "The voice is Jacob's voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau," words in which he conveyed the prophecy that so long as the voice of Jacob is heard in the houses of prayer and of learning, the hands of Esau will not be able to prevail against him. "Yes," he continued, "it is the voice of Jacob, the voice that imposes silence upon those on earth and in heaven," for even the angels may not raise their voices in praise of God until Israel has finished his prayers.

Isaac's scruples about blessing the son before him were not yet removed, for with his prophetical eye he foresaw that this one would have descendants who would vex the Lord. At the same time, it was revealed to him that even the sinners in Israel would turn penitents, and then he was ready to bless Jacob. He bade him come near and kiss him, to indicate that it would be Jacob who would imprint the last kiss upon Isaac before he was consigned to the grave- he and none other. When Jacob stood close to him, he discerned the fragrance of Paradise clinging to him, and he exclaimed, "See, the smell of my son is as the smell of the field which the Lord hath blessed."[92]

The fragrance emanating from Jacob was not the only thing about him derived from Paradise. The archangel Michael had fetched thence the wine which Jacob gave his father to drink,[93] that an exalted mood might descend upon him, for only when a man is joyously excited the Shekinah rests upon him.[94] The holy spirit filled Isaac, and he gave Jacob his tenfold blessing: "God give thee of the dew of heaven," the celestial dew wherewith God will awaken the pious to new life in days to come; "and of the fatness of the earth," the goods of this world; "and plenty of corn and wine," the Torah and the commandments which bestow the same joy upon man as abundant harvests;[95] "peoples shall serve thee," the Japhethites and the Hamites; "nations shall bow down to thee," the Shemite nations; "thou wilt be lord over thy brethren," the Ishmaelites and the descendants of Keturah; "thy mother's sons will bow down to thee," Esau and his princes; "cursed be every one that curseth thee," like Balaam; "and blessed be every one that blesseth thee," like Moses.[96]

For each blessing invoked upon Jacob by his father Isaac, a similar blessing was bestowed upon him by God Himself in the same words. As Isaac blessed him with dew, so also God: "And the remnant of Jacob shall be in the midst of many peoples as dew from the Lord." Isaac blessed him with the fatness of the earth, so also God: "And he shall give the rain of thy seed, that thou shalt sow the ground withal; and bread of the increase of the ground, and it shall be fat and plenteous." Isaac blessed him with plenty of corn and wine, so also God: "I will send you corn and wine." Isaac said, "Peoples shall serve thee," so also God: "Kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers; they shall bow down to thee with their faces to the earth, and lick the dust of thy feet." Isaac said, "Nations shall bow down to thee," so also God: "And He will make thee high above all nations which He hath made, in praise, and in name, and in honor."

To this double blessing his mother Rebekah joined hers: "For He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy feet against a stone. Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder; the young lion and the serpent shalt thou trample under feet. Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him; I will set him on high, because he hath known my name."

The holy spirit added in turn: "He shall call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him, and show him my salvation."[97]

Jacob left the presence of his father crowned like a bridegroom, adorned like a bride, and bathed in celestial dew, which filled his bones with marrow, and transformed him into a hero and a giant.[98]

Of a miracle done for him at that very moment Jacob himself was not aware. Had he tarried with his father an instant longer, Esau would have met him there, and would surely have slain him. It happened that exactly as Jacob was on the point of leaving the tent of his father, carrying in his hands the plates off which Isaac had eaten, he noticed Esau approaching, and he concealed himself behind the door. Fortunately, it was a revolving door, so that though he could see Esau, he could not be seen by him.


Esau arrived after a delay of four hours.[99] In spite of all the efforts he had put forth, he had not succeeded in catching any game, and he was compelled to kill a dog and prepare its flesh for his father's meal.[100] All this had made Esau ill-humored, and when he bade his father partake of the meal, the invitation sounded harsh. "Let my father arise," he said, "and eat of his son's venison." Jacob had spoken differently; he had said, "Arise, I pray thee, sit and eat of my venison." The words of Esau terrified Isaac greatly. His fright exceeded that which he had felt when his father was about to offer him as a sacrifice, and he cried out, "Who then is he that hath been the mediator between me and the Lord, to make the blessing reach Jacob?"- words meant to imply that he suspected Rebekah of having instigated Jacob's act.

Isaac's alarm was caused by his seeing hell at the feet of Esau. Scarcely had he entered the house when the walls thereof began to get hot on account of the nearness of hell, which he brought along with him. Isaac could not but exclaim, "Who will be burnt down yonder, I or my son Jacob?" and the Lord answered him, "Neither thou nor Jacob, but the hunter."

Isaac told Esau that the meat set before him by Jacob had had marvellous qualities. Any savor that one desired it possessed, it was even endowed with the taste of the food that God will grant the pious in the world to come. "I know not," he said, "what the meat was. But I had only to wish for bread, and it tasted like bread, or fish, or locusts, or flesh of animals, in short, it had the taste of any dainty one could wish for." When Esau heard the word "flesh," he began to weep, and he said: "To me Jacob gave no more than a dish of lentils, and in payment for it he took my birthright. What must he have taken from thee for flesh of animals?" Hitherto Isaac had been in great anguish on account of the thought that he had committed a wrong in giving his blessing to his younger son instead of the firstborn, to whom it belonged by law and custom. But when he heard that Jacob had acquired the birthright from Esau, he said, "I gave my blessing to the right one!"

In his dismay, Isaac had had the intention of cursing Jacob for having wrested the blessing from him through cunning. God prevented him from carrying out his plan. He reminded him that he would but curse himself, seeing that his blessing contained the words, "Cursed be every one that curseth thee." But Isaac was not willing to acknowledge his blessing valid as applied to Jacob, until he was informed that his second son was the possessor of the birthright. Only then did he say, "Yea, he shall be blessed," whereat Esau cried with an exceeding great and bitter cry. By way of punishment for having been the cause of such distress, a descendant of Jacob, Mordecai, was also made to cry with a loud and bitter cry, and his grief was brought forth by the Amalekite Haman, the descendant of Esau. At the words of Isaac, "Thy brother came with wisdom, and hath taken away thy blessing," Esau spat out in vexation, and said, "He took away my birthright, and I kept silence, and now that he takes away my blessing, should I also keep silence?[101] Is not he rightly named Jacob? for he hath supplanted me these two times."[102]

Isaac continued to speak to Esau: "Behold, I have made him thy lord, he is thy king, and do what thou wilt, thy blessings will still belong to him; all his brethren have I given to him for slaves, and what slaves possess belongs to their owner. There is nothing for it, thou must be content that thou wilt receive thy bread baked from thy master." The Lord took it ill of Isaac that he cheered him with such kind words. "To Mine enemy," He reproached him, "thou sayest, 'What shall I do for thee, my son?' " Isaac replied, "O that he might find grace with Thee!" God: "He is a recreant." Isaac: "Doth he not act righteously when he honors his parents?" God: "In the land of uprightness will he deal wrongfully, he will stretch his hand forth in days to come against the Temple." Isaac: "Then let him enjoy much good in this world, that he may not behold the abiding-place of the Lord in the world to come."[103]

When it became plain to Esau that he could not induce his father to annul the blessing bestowed upon Jacob, he tried to force a blessing for himself by an underhand trick. He said: "Hast thou but one blessing, my father? bless me, even me also, O my father, else it will be said thou hast but one blessing to bestow. Suppose both Jacob and I had been righteous men, had not then thy God had two blessings, one for each?" The Lord Himself made reply: "Silence! Jacob will bless the twelve tribes, and each blessing will be different from every other." But Isaac felt great pity for his older son, and he wanted to bless him, but the Shekinah forsook him, and he could not carry out what he purposed. Thereupon Esau began to weep. He shed three tears--one ran from his right eye, the second from his left eye, and the third remained hanging from his eyelash. God said, "This villain cries for his very life, and should I let him depart empty-handed?" and then He bade Isaac bless his older son.[104]

The blessing of Isaac ran thus: "Behold, of the fat of the earth shall be thy dwelling," by which he meant Greater Greece, in Italy; "and of the dew of heaven from above," referring to Bet-Gubrin; "and by thy sword shalt thou live, and thou shalt serve thy brother," but when he casts off the yoke of the Lord, then shalt thou "shake his yoke from off thy neck," and thou wilt be his master.[105]

The blessing which Isaac gave to his older son was bound to no condition whatsoever. Whether he deserved them or not, Esau was to enjoy the goods of this world. Jacob's blessing, however, depended upon his pious deeds; through them he would have a just claim upon earthly prosperity. Isaac thought: "Jacob is a righteous man, he will not murmur against God, though it should come to pass that suffering be inflicted upon him in spite of his upright life. But that reprobate Esau, if he should do a good deed, or pray to God and not be heard, he would say, 'As I pray to the idols for naught, so it is in vain to pray to God.' " For this reason did Isaac bestow an unconditional blessing upon Esau.[106]


Esau hated his brother Jacob on account of the blessing that his father had given him, and Jacob was very much afraid of his brother Esau, and he fled to the house of Eber, the son of Shem, and he concealed himself there fourteen years on account of his brother Esau, and he continued there to learn the ways of the Lord and His commandments. When Esau saw that Jacob had fled and escaped from him, and Jacob had cunningly obtained the blessing, then Esau grieved exceedingly, and he was also vexed at his father and mother. He also rose up and took his wife, and went away from his father and mother to the land of Seir. There he married his second wife, Basemath, the daughter of Elon the Hittite, and he called her name Adah, saying that the blessing had in that time passed from him. After dwelling in Seir for six months, Esau returned to the land of Canaan, and placed his two wives in his father's house in Hebron. And the wives of Esau vexed and provoked Isaac and Rebekah with their works, for they walked not in the ways of the Lord, but served their fathers' gods of wood and stone, as their fathers had taught them, and they were more wicked than their fathers. They sacrificed and burnt incense to the Baalim, and Isaac and Rebekah became weary of them. And at the end of fourteen years of Jacob's residing in the house of Eber, Jacob desired to see his father and his mother, and he returned home. Esau had forgotten in those days what Jacob had done to him, in having taken the blessing from him, but when Esau saw Jacob returning to his parents, he remembered what Jacob had done to him, and he was greatly incensed against him, and he sought to slay him.[107]

But Esau would not kill Jacob while his father was yet alive, lest Isaac beget another son. He wanted to be sure of being the only heir.[108] However, his hatred against Jacob was so great that he determined to hasten the death of his father and then dispatch Jacob. Such murderous plans Esau cherished in his heart, though he denied that he was harboring them. But God spoke, "Probably thou knowest not that I examine the hearts of men, for I am the Lord that searcheth the heart." And not God alone knew the secret desires of Esau. Rebekah, like all the Mothers, was a prophetess, and she delayed not to warn Jacob of the danger that hung over him. "Thy brother," she said to him, "is as sure of accomplishing his wicked purpose as though thou wert dead. Now therefore, my son, obey my voice, and arise, flee thou to Laban my brother, to Haran, and tarry with him for seven years, until thy brother's fury turn away." In the goodness of her heart, Rebekah could not but believe that the anger of Esau was only a fleeting passion, and would disappear in the course of time. But she was mistaken, his hate persisted until the end of his life.[109]

Courageous as he was, Jacob would not run away from danger. He said to his mother, "I am not afraid; if he wishes to kill me, I will kill him," to which she replied, "Let me not be bereaved of both my sons in one day."[110] By words Rebekah again showed her prophetic gift. As she spoke, so it happened--when their time came, Esau was slain while the burial of Jacob was taking place.[111]

And Jacob said to Rebekah: "Behold, thou knowest that my father has become old and does not see, and if I leave him and go away, he will be angry and will curse me. I will not go; if he sends me, only then will I go."[112]

Accordingly, Rebekah went to Isaac, and amid tears she spoke to him thus: "If Jacob take a wife of the daughters of Heth, what good shall my life do me?"[113] And Isaac called Jacob, and charged him, and said unto him: "Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan, for thus did our father Abraham command us according to the word of the Lord, which He had commanded him, saying, 'Unto thy seed will I give the land; if thy children keep My covenant that I have made with thee, then will I also perform to thy children that which I have spoken unto thee, and I will not forsake them.' Now therefore, my son, hearken to my voice, to all that I shall command thee, and refrain from taking a wife from amongst the daughters of Canaan. Arise, go to Haran, to the house of Bethuel, thy mother's father, and take thee a wife from thence of the daughters of Laban, thy mother's brother. Take heed lest thou shouldst forget the Lord thy God and all His ways in the land to which thou goest, and shouldst join thyself to the people of the land, and pursue vanity, and forsake the Lord thy God. But when thou comest to the land, serve the Lord. Do not turn to the right or to the left from the way which I commanded thee, and which thou didst learn. And may the Almighty God grant thee favor before the people of the land, that thou mayest take a wife there according to thy choice, one who is good and upright in the way of the Lord. And may God give unto thee and thy seed the blessing of thy father Abraham and make thee fruitful and multiply thee, and mayest thou become a multitude of people in the land whither thou goest, and may God cause thee to return to thy land, the land of thy father's dwelling, with children and with great riches, with joy and with pleasure."[114]

As the value of a document is attested by its concluding words, the signature of the witnesses, so Isaac confirmed the blessing he had bestowed upon Jacob.[116] That none might say Jacob had secured it by intrigue and cunning, he blessed him again with three blessings, in these words, "In so far as I am endowed with the power of blessing, I bestow blessing upon thee. May God, with whom there is endless blessing, give thee His, and also the blessing wherewith Abraham desired to bless me, desisting only in order not to provoke the jealousy of Ishmael."[116]

Seeing with his prophetic eye that the seed of Jacob would once be compelled to go into exile, Isaac offered up one more petition, that God would bring the exiles back again. He said, "He shall deliver thee in six troubles, and in the seventh there shall no evil touch thee." And also Rebekah prayed to God in behalf of Jacob: "O Lord of the world, let not the purpose prosper which Esau harbors against Jacob. Put a bridle upon him, that he accomplish not all he wills to do."[117]

When Esau observed that even his father's love had passed from him to Jacob, he went away, to Ishmael, and he addressed him as follows: "Lo, as thy father gave all his possessions to thy brother Isaac, and dismissed thee with empty hands, so my father purposeth to do to me. Make thyself ready then, go forth and slay thy brother, and I will slay mine, and then we two shall divide the whole world between us." And Ishmael replied: "Why dost thou want me to slay thy father? thou canst do it thyself." Esau said: "It hath happened aforetime that a man killed his brother- Cain murdered Abel. But that a son should kill his father is unheard of."

Esau did not really shrink back from parricide, only it chanced not to fit the plan he had hatched. "If Ishmael slays my father," he said to himself, "I am the rightful redeemer, and I shall kill Ishmael to avenge my father, and if, then, I murder Jacob, too, everything will belong to me, as the heir of my father and my uncle."[118] This shows that Esau's marriage with Mahalath, the daughter of Ishmael and grandchild of Abraham, was not concluded out of regard for his parents, who were opposed to his two other wives, daughters of the Canaanites. All he desired was to enter into amicable relations with Ishmael in order to execute his devilish plan.[119]

But Esau reckoned without his host. The night before his wedding with Mahalath Ishmael died, and Nebaioth, the son of Ishmael, stepped into his father's place, and gave away his sister.[120] How little it had been in Esau's mind to make his parents happy by taking a granddaughter of Abraham to wife, appears from the fact that he kept his two other wives, the Canaanitish women. The daughter of Ishmael followed the example of her companions, and thus she but added to the grief caused the parents of Esau by their daughters-in-law.[121] And the opportunity might have been a most favorable one for Esau to turn aside from his godless ways and amend his conduct, for the bridegroom is pardoned on his wedding day for all his sins committed in years gone by.[122]

Scarcely had Jacob left his father's house, when Rebekah began to weep, for she was sorely distressed about him. Isaac comforted her, saying: "Weep not for Jacob! In peace doth he depart, and in peace will he return. The Lord, God Most High, will guard him against all evil and be with him. He will not forsake him all the days of his life. Have no fear for him, for he walketh on the right path, he is a perfect man, and he hath faith in God--he will not perish."[123]


When Jacob went away to go to Haran, Esau called his son Eliphaz, and secretly spoke unto him, saying: "Now hasten, take thy sword in thy hand and pursue Jacob, and pass before him in the road, and lurk for him and slay him with thy sword in one of the mountains, and take all belonging unto him, and come back." And Eliphaz was dexterous and expert with the bow, as his father had taught him, and he was a noted hunter in the field and a valiant man. And Eliphaz did as his father had commanded him. And Eliphaz was at that time thirteen years old, and he arose and went and took ten of his mother's brothers with him, and pursued Jacob. And he followed Jacob closely, and when he overtook him, he lay in ambush for him on the borders of the land of Canaan, opposite to the city of Shechem. And Jacob saw Eliphaz and his men pursuing after him, and Jacob stood in the place in which he was going in order to know what it was, for he did not understand their purpose. Eliphaz drew his sword and went on advancing, he and his men, toward Jacob, and Jacob said unto them, "Wherefore have you come hither, and why do you pursue with your swords?" Eliphaz came near to Jacob, and answered as follows, "Thus did my father command me, and now therefore I will not deviate from the orders which my father gave me." And when Jacob saw that Esau had impressed his command urgently upon Eliphaz, he approached and supplicated Eliphaz and his men, saying, "Behold, all that I have, and that which my father and mother gave unto me, that take unto thee and go from me, and do not slay me, and may this thing that thou wilt do with me be accounted unto thee as righteousness." And the Lord caused Jacob to find favor in the sight of Eliphaz and his men, and they hearkened to the voice of Jacob, and they did not put him to death, but took all his belongings, together with the silver and gold that he had brought with him from Beer-sheba. They left him nothing. When Eliphaz and his men returned to Esau, and told him all that had happened to them with Jacob, he was wroth with his son Eliphaz and with his men, because they had not put Jacob to death. And they answered, and said unto Esau, "Because Jacob supplicated us in this matter, not to slay him, our pity was moved toward him, and we took all belonging to him, and we came back." Esau then took all the silver and gold which Eliphaz had taken from Jacob, and he put them by in his house.[124]

Nevertheless Esau did not give up the hope of intercepting Jacob on his flight and slaying him. He pursued him, and with his men occupied the road along which he had to journey to Haran. There a great miracle happened to Jacob. When he observed what Esau's intention was, he turned off toward the Jordan river, and, with eyes directed to God, he cleft the waters with his wanderer's staff, and succeeded in crossing to the other side. But Esau was not to be deterred. He kept up the pursuit, and reached the hot springs at Baarus before his brother, who had to pass by there. Jacob, not knowing that Esau was on the watch for him, decided to bathe in the spring, saying, "I have neither bread nor other things needful, so I will at least warm my body in the waters of the well." While he was in the bath, Esau occupied every exit, and Jacob would surely have perished in the hot water, if the Lord had not caused a miracle to come to pass. A new opening formed of itself, and through it Jacob escaped. Thus were fulfilled the words, "When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burnt," for Jacob was saved from the waters of the Jordan and from the fire of the hot spring.

At the same time with Jacob, a rider, leaving his horse and his clothes on the shore, had stepped into the river to cool off, but he was overwhelmed by the waves, and he met his death. Jacob put on the dead man's clothes, mounted his horse, and went off. It was a lucky chance, for Eliphaz had stripped him of everything, even his clothes, and the miracle of the river had happened only that he might not be forced to appear naked among men.[125]

Though Jacob was robbed of all his possessions, his courage did not fail him. He said: "Should I lose hope in my Creator? I set my eyes upon the merits of my fathers. For the sake of them the Lord will give me His aid." And God said: "Jacob, thou puttest thy trust in the merits of thy fathers, therefore I will not suffer thy foot to be moved; He that keepeth thee will not slumber. Yea, still more! While a keeper watcheth only by day as a rule, and sleepeth by night, I will guard thee day and night, for, behold, He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord will keep thee from all evil, from Esau as well as Laban; He will keep thy soul, that the Angel of Death do thee no hurt; He will keep thy going out and thy coming in, He will support thee now thou art leaving Canaan, and when thou returnest to Canaan."[126]

Jacob was reluctant to leave the Holy Land before he received direct permission from God. "My parents," he reflected, "bade me go forth and sojourn outside of the land, but who knows whether it be the will of God that I do as they say, and beget children outside of the Holy Land?"[127] Accordingly, he betook himself to Beer-sheba. There, where the Lord had given permission to Isaac to depart from Canaan and go to Philistia, he would learn the will of the Lord concerning himself.

He did not follow the example of his father and grandfather and take refuge with Abimelech, because he feared the king might force also him into a covenant, and make it impossible for his descendants of many generations to take possession of the Philistine land. Nor could he stay at home, because of his fear that Esau might wrest the birthright and the blessing from him, and to that he would not and could not agree.[128] He was as little disposed to take up the combat with Esau, for he knew the truth of the maxim, "He who courts danger will be overcome by it; he who avoids danger will overcome it." Both Abraham and Isaac had lived according to this rule. His grandfather had fled from Nimrod, and his father had gone away from the Philistines.[129]

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