This Shabbat we begin the great adventure of Jacob. As soon as he leaves mother Rebecca’s managerial control, Jacob is on his own. Thus commences his maturation process. He runs away for fear of brother Esau, from whom he “stole” the special blessing of papa Isaac. The first night alone, God appears to Jacob in a dream of angels ascending and descending upon a ladder. God repeats the terms of the original covenant to Abraham: there will be great progeny, the inheritance of the land of Canaan, and many blessings. In this story the well known town of Beth-El is given its original name. Jacob names this place the ‘house of God’ because of his nocturnal encounter there with the angel of God.
The rest of this Torah story takes place in Mesopotamia. Thither did Jacob flee because his Mother’s family came from that area. He meets his first cousins, Rachel and Leah. Uncle Laban tricks him into working twenty years for him during which time Jacob marries the two sisters and two concubines, from whom are born eleven sons and one daughter (Dinah). The mothers name each son at birth, and in this chapter the names of the future twelve tribes of Israel are given.
A notable rabbinic comment: In chapter 28 Jacob promises God at Beth-El that if God lets him return safely to Canaan, “I will surely give a tenth unto Thee.” From this is derived the law of tithing in Judaism. In Hebrew, “ma-aser,” equals one tenth, and one must not give more than that!