GENESIS 28:10 – 32:3


The Torah reading for this week presents us with a very fine example of what we call inclusio, a literary structure which serves as a kind of set of bookends, a beginning and an end which mean to include everything in between. The inclusio here, based on the word "angels," begins with Genesis 28:12 – "He dreamed and behold, a ladder standing on the ground and reaching heavenward and angels of God ascending and descending upon it." The inclusio ends with Genesis 32:2 – "Then Jacob went on his way and angels of God met him."

Jacob leaves home at the urging of his mother and with the blessing of his father. Jacob must avoid the wrath of his brother Esau and he must leave his birthplace for alien territory. Although he is fleeing to take up residence with family (his father-in-law Laban), he is concerned, as he might well be, about what will become of him. He has no idea what he will encounter, he does not know whether he will even live to see his parents again. He runs from all that is familiar and dependable into a great unknown and uncertainty. In this state of mind and spirit, Jacob needs God's reassurance that all will go well with him (even though the reassurance was already given, he was too upset to really hear it [28:13-15]) and he makes a vow "...if God will be with me...and if I return safely...and if the Lord will be my God...then I will designate this place as The House of God..." (28:20-22).

From that point, Jacob enters Aram and spends the next twenty years making a life for himself. He is deceived and taken advantage of by Laban. He marries Leah and Rachel and, through them and their concubines Bilhah and Zilpah, he becomes the father of many children. Despite the trickery and underhandedness of Laban, Jacob prospers and accumulates much wealth. Jacob must continually argue for what is justly his and he must maintain a steady awareness in his dealings with Laban lest he be exploited. Finally, Jacob prepares to leave Aram and return home despite the reluctance and interference of a possessive and conniving Laban. But Jacob is equal to the task. He perseveres and he succeeds. Once having fled for fear of Esau, Jacob is now ready to pick up where he left off. Once having left home with not much more than the clothes on his back, Jacob now returns with wives, children, servants and wealth. After having grown up in a protected environment, as his mother's favorite, Jacob now knows the real world. This is the Jacob who is ready to become the next Patriarch.
And the
inclusio places it before our eyes. The vision of the ladder was only a vision – he saw angels and heard God only in a dream, in potential. But now, as he returns safely after many arduous years, he knows for a certainty that God has been with him – the angels he now meets are not figments of his imagination, they are not figures in a dream – they are the manifest emblem of God's ongoing protective care. Jacob's life has been the proof of what he now sees and knows. Jacob will be called Israel and we, his latter-day odffspring are called Israel and our ancestral home is called Israel and we, Jacob's sons and daughters know for a certainty that God's promises are true and real – "...and you shall spread west and east and north and south and all the families of the world will be blessed through you and your descendants. Indeed, I am with you and I will protect you and I will return you to this land and I will not leave you... ." (28:14-15)

Ronald A. Brauner is Profesor of Judaic Studies at Siegal College, Cleveland, OH