The Website for Book Lovers

Legands of the Jews > Volume 1 >

Prev | Next | Contents


At the break of day the angel left off from wrestling with Jacob. The dawn on that day was of particularly short duration. The sun rose two hours before his time, by way of compensation for having set early, on the day on which Jacob passed Mount Moriah on his journey to Haran, to induce him to turn aside and lodge for a night on the future Temple place.[255] Indeed, the power of the sun on this same day was altogether remarkable. He shone with the brilliance and ardor with which he was invested during the six days of the creation, and as he will shine at the end of days, to make whole the halt and the blind among the Jews and to consume the heathen. This same healing and devastating property he had on that day, too, for Jacob was cured, while Esau and his princes were all but burnt up by his terrible heat.[256]

Jacob was in dire need of healing lotions for the injury he had sustained in the encounter with the angel. The combat between them had been grim, the dust whirled up by the scuffle rose to the very throne of God.[257] Though Jacob prevailed against his huge opponent, as big as one-third of the whole world, throwing him to the ground and keeping him pinned down, yet the angel had injured him by clutching at the sinew of the hip which is upon the hollow of the thigh, so that it was dislocated, and Jacob halted upon his thigh.[258] The healing power of the sun restored him, nevertheless his children took it upon themselves not to eat the sinew of the hip which is upon the hollow of the thigh, for they reproached themselves with having been the cause of his mishap, they should not have left him alone in that night.[259]

Now, although Jacob had prepared for the worst, for open hostilities even, yet when he saw Esau and his men, he thought it discreet to make separate divisions of the households of Leah, Rachel, and the handmaids, and divide the children unto each of them. And he put the handmaids and their children foremost, and Leah and her children after, and Rachel and Joseph hindermost. It was the stratagem which the fox used with the lion. Once upon a time the king of beasts was wroth with his subjects, and they looked hither and thither for a spokesman who mastered the art of appeasing their ruler. The fox offered himself for the undertaking, saying, "I know three hundred fables which will allay his fury." His offer was accepted with joy. On the way to the lion, the fox suddenly stood still, and in reply to the questions put to him, he said, "I have forgotten one hundred of the three hundred fables." "Never mind," said those accompanying him, "two hundred will serve the purpose." A little way further on the fox again stopped suddenly, and, questioned again, he confessed that he had forgotten half of the two hundred remaining fables. The animals with him still consoled him that the hundred he knew would suffice. But the fox halted a third time, and then he admitted that his memory had failed him entirely, and he had forgotten all the fables he knew, and he advised that every animal approach the king on his own account and endeavor to appease his anger. At first Jacob had had courage enough to enter the lists with Esau in behalf of all with him. Now he came to the conclusion to let each one try to do what he could for himself.

However, Jacob was too fond a father to expose his family to the first brunt of the danger. He himself passed over before all the rest, saying, "It is better that they attack me than my children."[260] After him came the handmaids and their children. His reason for placing them there was that, if Esau should be overcome by passion for the women, and try to violate them, he would thus meet the handmaids first, and in the meantime Jacob would have the chance of preparing for more determined resistance in the defense of the honor of his wives.[261] Joseph and Rachel came last, and Joseph walked in front of his mother, though Jacob had ordered the reverse. But the son knew both the beauty of his mother and the lustfulness of his uncle, and therefore he tried to hide Rachel from the sight of Esau.[262]

In the vehemence of his rage against Jacob, Esau vowed that he would not slay him with bow and arrow, but would bite him dead with his mouth, and suck his blood. But he was doomed to bitter disappointment, for Jacob's neck turned as hard as ivory, and in his helpless fury Esau could but gnash his teeth.[263] The two brothers were like the ram and the wolf. A wolf wanted to tear a ram in pieces, and the ram defended himself with his horns, striking them deep into the flesh of the wolf. Both began to howl, the wolf because he could not secure his prey, and the ram from fear that the wolf renew his attacks. Esau bawled because his teeth were hurt by the ivory-like flesh of Jacob's neck, and Jacob feared that his brother would make a second attempt to bite him.[264]

Esau addressed a question to his brother. "Tell me," he said, "what was the army I met?" for on his march against Jacob he had had a most peculiar experience with a great host of forty thousand warriors. It consisted of various kinds of troops, armor-clad soldiers walking on foot, mounted on horses, and seated in chariots, and they all threw themselves upon Esau when they met. He demanded to know whence they came, and the strange soldiers hardly interrupted their savage onslaught to reply that they belonged to Jacob. Only when Esau told them that Jacob was his brother did they leave off, saying, "Woe to us if our master hears that we did thee harm." This was the army and the encounter Esau inquired about as soon as he met his brother. But the army was a host of angels, who had the appearance of warriors to Esau and his men.[265] Also the messengers sent by Jacob to Esau had been angels, for no mere human being could be induced to go forth and face the recreant.[266]

Jacob now gave Esau the presents intended for him, a tenth of all his cattle,[267] and also pearls and precious stones,[268] and, besides, a falcon for the chase.[269] But even the animals refused to give up their gentle master Jacob and become the property of the villain Esau. They all ran away when Jacob wanted to hand them over to his brother, and the result was that the only ones that reached Esau were the feeble and the lame, all that could not make good their escape.[270]

At first Esau declined the presents offered to him. Naturally, that was a mere pretense. While refusing the gifts with words, he held his hand outstretched ready to receive them.[271] Jacob took the hint, and insisted that he accept them, saying: "Nay, I pray thee, if now I have found grace in thy sight, then receive my present at my hand, forasmuch as I have seen thy face, as I have seen the face of angels, and thou art pleased with me." The closing words were chosen with well-calculated purpose. Jacob wanted Esau to derive the meaning that he had intercourse with angels, and to be inspired with awe. Jacob was like the man invited to a banquet by his mortal enemy who has been seeking an opportunity to slay him. When the guest divines the purpose for which he has been brought thither, he says to the host: "What a magnificent and delicious meal this is! But once before in my life did I partake of one like it, and that was when I was bidden by the king to his table"--enough to drive terror to the heart of the would-be slayer. He takes good care not to harm a man on such intimate terms with the king as to be invited to his table![272]

Jacob had valid reason for recalling his encounter with the angel, for it was the angel of Esau who had measured his strength with Jacob's, and had been overcome.[273]

As Esau accepted the presents of Jacob willingly on this first occasion, so he continued to accept them for a whole year; daily Jacob gave him presents as on the day of their meeting, for, he said, " 'A gift doth blind the eyes of the wise,' and how much more doth it blind the wicked! Therefore will I give him presents upon presents, perhaps he will let me alone." Besides, he did not attach much value to the possessions he had acquired outside of the Holy Land. Such possessions are not a blessing, and he did not hesitate to part with them.

Beside the presents which Jacob gave Esau, he also paid out a large sum of money to him for the Cave of Machpelah. Immediately upon his arrival in the Holy Land he sold all he had brought with him from Haran, and a pile of gold was the proceeds of the sale. He spoke to Esau, saying: "Like me thou hast a share in the Cave of Machpelah, wilt thou take this pile of gold for thy portion therein?" "What care I for the Cave?" returned Esau. "Gold is what I want," and for his share in Machpelah he took the gold realized from the sale of the possessions Jacob had accumulated outside of the Holy Land. But God "filled the vacuum without delay," and Jacob was as rich as before.[274]

Wealth was not an object of desire to Jacob. He would have been well content, in his own behalf and in behalf of his family, to resign all earthly treasures in favor of Esau and his family. He said to Esau: "I foresee that in future days suffering will be inflicted by thy children upon mine. But I do not demur, thou mayest exercise thy dominion and wear thy crown until the time when the Messiah springs from my loins, and receives the rule from thee." These words spoken by Jacob will be realized in days to come, when all the nations will rise up against the kingdom of Edom, and take away one city after another from him, one realm after another, until they reach Bet-Gubrin, and then the Messiah will appear and assume his kingship. The angel of Edom will flee for refuge to Bozrah, but God will appear there, and slay him, for though Bozrah is one of the cities of refuge, yet will the Lord exercise the right of the avenger therein. He will seize the angel by his hair, and Elijah will slaughter him, letting the blood spatter the garments of God.[275] All this Jacob had in mind when he said to Esau, "Let my lord, I pray thee, pass over before his servant, until I come unto my lord unto Seir." Jacob himself never went to Seir. What he meant was the Messianic time when Israel shall go to Seir, and take possession thereof.[276]

Jacob tarried in Succoth a whole year, and he opened a house of learning there.[277] Then he journeyed on to Shechem, while Esau betook himself to Seir, saying to himself, "How long shall I be a burden to my brother?" for it was during Jacob's sojourn at Succoth that Esau received daily presents from Jacob.[278]

And Jacob, after abiding these many years in a strange land, came to Shechem in peace, unimpaired in mind and body. He had forgotten none of the knowledge he had acquired before; the gifts he gave to Esau did not encroach upon his wealth; the injury inflicted by the angel that wrestled with him had been healed, and likewise his children were sound and healthy.[279]

Jacob entered Shechem on a Friday, late in the afternoon, and his first concern was to lay out the boundaries of the city, that the laws of the Sabbath might not be transgressed. As soon as he was settled in the place, he sent presents to the notables. A man must be grateful to a city from which he derives benefits. No less did the common people enjoy his bounty. For them he opened a market where he sold all wares at low prices.[280]

Also he lost no time in buying a parcel of ground, for it is the duty of every man of substance who comes to the Holy Land from outside to make himself the possessor of land there.[281] He gave a hundred lambs for his estate, a hundred yearling sheep, and a hundred pieces of money, and received in return a bill of sale, to which he attached his signature, using the letters Yod-He for it. And then he erected an altar to God upon his land, and he said, "Thou art the Lord of all celestial things, and I am the lord of all earthly things." But God said, "Not even the overseer of the synagogue arrogates privileges in the synagogue, and thou assumest lordship with a high hand? Forsooth, on the morrow thy daughter will go abroad, and she shall be humbled."[282]

Prev | Next | Contents

The Heptameron: The Very Naughty Book By Margueritte de Navarre

Princess Belle Etoile
The Beautiful Illustrations of a Dark Fairy Tale

WW1 Poster
World War One Propaganda Posters

Charles Dickens Mistress
A Victorian Scandal: Charles Dickens and The Actress

Art of Albrecht Durer
The Art of Albrecht Durer