Escape From Haran

Jacob, having now fathered a son, Joseph, *by Rachel*, felt the need to return to his homeland of Canaan, from where he’d fled to Haran (in Mesopotamia) many years ago. Jacob apprised his father-in-law (who was his uncle too), Laban, of his feelings.

“Let me go, please, uncle” said Jacob, “I laboured in your fields for fourteen years as part of the bargain we made so I that I might take Rachel to wife, and Leah too. After helping make you rich, it’s time I made myself rich too.”

“Leave if you must, nephew. I’ll be sorry to see you go for you’ve been a good worker, and have contributed greatly to making me rich. What would you like me to pay you?”

“You needn’t pay me anything, uncle. But, if you wouldn’t mind, could you give me those of your lambs that are black, and those of your goats that are brindled and spotted. I would like to breed them with each other so that I increase my own flocks, and so become more rich that I am now.”

“Please do take my black lambs and brindled and spotted goats, nephew. It’s the least I can do for you,”

As a result of breeding Laban’s black lambs with the brindled and spotted goats, Jacob did indeed became rich. Not only his flocks of newly-bred sheep, but also his slaves camels and donkeys became the envy of Laban and of Laban’s sons – an envy that soon turned into resentment.

Laban and his sons – particularly the sons – began doing nasty things to Jacob, like catching jackals and releasing them among Jacob’s sheep, where they caused mayhem; or they stuck out a leg when walking near Jacob, for Jacob to trip over and fall; or they threw large pebbles against Jacob’s tent as he slept at night. Jacob expressed his frustrations to Rachel and Leah who listened sympathetically.

“We are on your side, not Father’s” they said to Jacob.

“I’m rich enough now” said Jacob, “It’s time now for us to leave Haran for my native Canaan.”

“How about your brother, Esau, the one you had to flee from?” said Rachel and Leah, “If he sees you in Canaan won’t he tear you to pieces and feed your body to the wild animals as you’d told us he’d threatened to do?”

“It’s been twenty years since I saw Esau. I expect he’s not as hot-headed now. However, your father and brothers are making life so difficult for me here, that I’m prepared to risk meeting Esau.”

Jacob went to Laban and told him he was now leaving for Canaan for good.

“Goodbye nephew” said Laban, and stuck out his hand for Jacob to shake.

“Goodbye uncle” said Jacob as he took Laban’s hand, “it just remains for me to fetch Rachel and Leah and the children, and we’ll be on our way.”

“I think there’s a misunderstanding” said Laban, “I understood you were returning to Canaan alone.”

“You understood wrong, uncle. You didn’t really expect me to abandon my wives and children, did you?”

“What I expected you to do is neither here nor there. Rachel, Leah, and the children are staying here with me in Haran. That’s all there is to it.”

“If they can’t come with me, I’m not leaving.”

“Suit yourself.”

***

That night, when everyone was sleeping, Jacob gathered together Rachel, Leah, the children, his slaves, flocks and possessions, and they stole silently away from Haran. Laban, learning the next morning that Jacob had escaped with Rachel and Leah and their children, called his sons and they set off in pursuit. It took several days for them to track Jacob down, which they did in the hill-country of Gilead.

Seeing there could be violence, God, who had never ceased looking out for the welfare of Jacob, visited Laban in a dream, and made it clear that Jacob and his family were not to be harmed, and must be allowed to proceed to Canaan.

The upshot, after some harsh words between Laban and Jacob, followed by a reconciliation of sorts, was that Laban returned to Haran empty-handed, and that Jacob and his family went on to Canaan.

Source: Genesis 30, 25-43; 31, 1-55

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12 Responses to Escape From Haran

  1. Cheri says:

    Clear and readable translation, Philippe. I especially liked the part in which God clarified His position to Laban.

  2. dafna says:

    Bravo Philippe!
    I am going to offer a midrash on your midrash – Jacob may have been more annoyed with Laban than worried about Esau, but I doubt his worries about Esau were set aside.

    You are spot on to mention these animals, they come up again soon.

    Thank you for writing these, although these stories are read year round, last time I read them (in English) was in my childhood. I find myself fact checking on wikipedia ;0

    Cheri,
    please stick around! i think Philippe is picking up the pace at special request .

    we’re so close to Jacob’s encounter with Esau which is my Jacob’s torah portion!!! It would be fun to have everyone commenting on that post. a group midrash would produce some ideas even the rabbis may not have thought about, hehehe.

    as long as Philippe does not mind the traffic!

    for instance on vayishlach:
    one midrash asks, “why didn’t Jacob simply avoid Esau?”
    another focus is on, “with who or what was Jacob wrestling?”
    another, “what was all the fuss about?”

  3. Cheri says:

    thanks dafna.
    I’m here and waiting for Jacob’s encounter with Esau.

  4. Philippe says:

    @Cheri, Dafna – I fear I may collapse under the weight of your expectations.

  5. dafna says:

    oh silly philippe!

    we adore your imagination. don’t forget my Jacob chose philippe as his name also πŸ˜‰ – if my philippe can do it so can you (it’s required for his bar mitzvah)

    “Midrash is a way of interpreting biblical stories that goes beyond simple distillation of religious, legal or moral teachings. It fills in many gaps left in the biblical narrative regarding events and personalities that are only hinted at” – wiki definition

    for every one who says it was “this way” there is another who says no “it must have been so” – your interpretations are priceless and expand the mind and heart.

    keep up the good work. you are amongst friends.

  6. Cheri says:

    No pressure, Philippe.
    Remember, this is not a yoga studio and dafna and I are not in tights.

    πŸ™‚

  7. Richard says:

    God gave Laban free will and then stopped him chasing Jacob.
    I don’t get it.

  8. Philippe says:

    Would you rather that Laban had succeeded in stopping Jacob escaping?

  9. dafna says:

    Richard, of course you don’t get it, that’s the point.
    you’re supposed to fill in the blanks.
    perhaps we should all wear tights! maybe it will squeeze the blood to our brains and make us as creative as Philippe?

  10. Richard says:

    Philippe – from what you have taught me so far, it does seem that God is a bit of an interfering busybody. Just because he moved on the face of the waters, separated the light from the dark etc. doesn’t give him the right to tell us what to do. Surely, it’s our choice.

    Dafna – i do wear tights, but it doesn’t make any difference.

    hey: i didn’t think you believed in a personal god. that seems a mighty big blank to fill in, if you ask me. shouldn’t you be excommunicated or something for that?

  11. dafna says:

    Well done Richard, that’s the spirit. What exactly did God say in that dream to stop Laban? Did he tap his nose and say “Jacob’s a made man, mess with him and you’ll have me to deal with”.

    πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ˜‰ probably i would be excommunicated if i gave my midrash!
    look at the “tags”, myth, mythology, history, literature, (i’m in that group).
    even the archeology is just “circumstantial evidence” to support our mythologies. gasp! heresy!

    but this is my Jacob’s midrash and he’s still making up his mind. I’ve encouraged him in my organized religion because when i ask myself what are the traits i like about myself, i can trace them back to Jewish teachings.

    but Jacob is a “free agent”. no one has the right to tell someone what to believe. i believe i’m an “honorary jew” because there are so few jews left that organized religion is happy to count every head. there is a certain peacefulness in the ritual – no matter what other ideas share a spot in my mind.

  12. Philippe says:

    @Dafna “…..the traits i like about myself, i …..trace….back to Jewish teachings……”

    This illustrates that fact that religious teachings nourish because they are the basis of culture and moral order. This is what proselytising atheists like Hitchens and Dawkins don’t get.

    Destroy a culture and the society inevitably collapses. Hence to destroy a society’s gods is ultimately to destroy the society.

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