By Rabbi Ariel Abel
When Jacob fled home under parental instruction to seek refuge from his own brother, he was frightened for his life. God reassured him in a dream that all would be well, and that his angels would accompany him to and from his exile. Jacob promised a tenth of all his possessions to charity if only he were to return home in peace. Jacob’s dream happened at a location known as Bet-El.
Our sages identify the place as the Temple Mount. Places of prayer are houses of God, they should be respected by all as refuges of peace and protection from violence. The Temple Mount itself should be the symbol of joint prayer before God, but is used as a reason to separate people from each other before God. The recent attack on worshippers in a Jerusalem synagogue while at prayer is one more horrific example of how children of the same Abrahamic heritage harbour jealousy and hatred in our shared homeland.
The ideal of togetherness of God’s children is an ideal willed by God, but sadly violated in our times. After praying for basic sustenance and to return to his father’s home in peace, Jacob left for a two-decade journey, isolating him from his roots while he set up home under the scrutiny of his father-in-law, Laban in Aram. Jacob became singularly successful breeding sheep, fulfilling Laban’s constantly changing orders to breed sheep with different coats, reassigning Jacob a new pattern. Each time, Jacob came out with the highest quota belonging to him.
This aroused the fury of Laban’s sons and resulted in their sisters, Jacob’s wives, asking Jacob to plan a hasty exit. Yet, again Jacob had to flee, this time with a full travelling company of wives, children and travelling cattle. When Laban found out that Jacob had departed unceremoniously, he was furious.
When Laban caught up with Jacob, he accused him of stealing his icons. This effectively severed the last bond of trust between them as business partners. From here on, Laban was obliged to relate to Jacob as an equal with a longstanding claim for damages for breach of contractual terms.
Laban took advantage of Jacob’s desire to dissolve their partnership to affect a mutual agreement at a stone monument, which they set up together. Jacob was now free of all bonds tying him to his Aramean relations.
• Rabbi Ariel Abel is a consultant to For Life Projects, a multi-faith ethics programme
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