4 December 1994
In the land of Canaan lives Isaac, son of Abraham, with his clever, strong-willed wife Rebekah and his twin sons Esau and Jacob. The first-born, Esau, is a strong and fearless hunter with a voracious appetite for sensual pleasures. Jacob is a shepherd, more tender and compassionate than Esau. Just as Esau is the pride of his father, so is Jacob the apple of his mother's eye. Rebekah is convinced that Jacob, though the second born son, is the chosen one and the rightful heir of Isaac and Abraham. And she tells him that when she was with child, God announced to her: "Two nations are within thy womb. Two manner of men shall be delivered to you. The one shall be stronger than the other and the elder shall serve the younger". One day Esau returns from a hunt to find Jacob preparing a lentil porridge. Famished, he asks Jacob for some food. Jacob agrees, but on one condition: that Esau sell him his birthright. Since Esau ascribes little value to its meaning, he readily agrees and they conclude the pact. Time has passed. Isaac has grown old and nearly blind. It is time to pass on his paternal blessing to the firstborn. He asks Esau to hunt and prepare some game for him, after which he will give him his blessing. Rebekah knows she must act now. Cornering Jacob, she pressures him into deceiving Isaac so that he obtains the blessing instead of Esau. Jacob resists, but when Rebekah vows to take the blame for this ploy, he finally consents. And thus does Jacob trick his father. When Esau returns from the hunt and appears before his father, he explodes in anger when he learns of the scheme. Having obtained only a lesser blessing from Isaac, he vows to kill Jacob as soon as his father passes away. Isaac, following Rebekah's suggestion, advises Jacob to flee to Harran, to the home of Laban - Rebekah's brother, and to ask him to marry one of his daughters. Laden with gold, silver, skins, spices and oils, Jacob sadly leaves his home and his loved ones. Soon, however, he realizes that he is being followed: a Canaanite, one of Esau's brothers-in-law, robs him of the treasure that was to be his dowry. One night, as he is asleep, Jacob has a vision of a stairway with angel-like figures on it. During this vision God promises him protection and prosperity. The next morning, Jacob swears to remain faithful and devoted to God. After an arduous journey, Jacob arrives in Harran. Haggard and drained of his strength, he immediately forgets his fatigue when he sees a pretty young girl at the fountain. The girl is Rachel, the youngest daughter of his uncle Laban. And Jacob falls head over heels in love with her. Though Laban greets his nephew heartily, he cannot conceal his disappointment that Jacob has arrived without any gifts. Laban's two sons, Morash and Be'or, are less delighted by Jacob's arrival. Jacob soon asks Laban to let him marry Rachel, and he even accepts Laban's rigorous conditions: that Jacob become his indentured servant for a full seven years. Jacob proves to be a singularly successful herdsman and contributes mightily to the welfare of Laban's people. Thus after seven years, Laban is unwilling to let him leave and devises a cunning scheme... When Jacob awakens on the morning following the consummation of his marriage with Rachel, he is horrified to discover that he has slept with Rachel's older sister Leah instead. Laban forced Leah to take her sister's place in the dark tent. As Jacob rages, Laban claims that according to the law of the land, a father must marry off his older daughter first. He is willing, however, to make Jacob another offer: for another seven years in his service, he can take Rachel as his wife in one week's time. And again, Laban and his people enjoy seven more years of rich harvests and expanding flocks, all thanks to Jacob's superior abilities. But while the unloved Leah bears Jacob many children, Rachel, his one and only love, remains barren for many years, until Joseph finally sees the light of day. After his second period of indenture is over, Jacob strikes another deal with Laban, whereby he is allowed to assemble his own herd. His prosperity soon sparks the envy of Laban's sons Morash and Be'or, who accuse Jacob of deceiving them and of stealing their property. Jacob decides it is time to move back to Canaan, and flees with his wives, children and servants. As soon as Laban hears about their escape, he rounds up his sons and his men and gives chase. He finally meets up with Jacob on Mount Gilead. But before he can reach Jacob, God appears to Laban and warns him not to harm Jacob or his people. Jacob's most grueling ordeal, however, still awaits him: his meeting with his brother Esau. Fearing that Esau still intends to kill him, Jacob sends messengers with gifts to his brother to announce his coming. The messengers return sooner than expected, reporting that Esau is already on his way to meet him - with 400 armed men. Jacob sets up camp on the banks of the river Jabbok. That night, while his people await Esau with fear and trembling, Jacob withdraws to collect himself on the other side of the river. There Jacob is attacked by a mysterious being whom he cannot identify. It is an angel. As the struggle intensifies and the angel realizes that he cannot subdue Jacob, he strikes him fiercely on the hip. But Jacob, who gradually realizes who his adversary is, continues to grapple with him and refuses to relinquish his hold until the angel has blessed him. Ultimately the angel yields and gives Jacob the blessing together with the new name of "Israel". He thus confirms Jacob's right to the blessing which he originally obtained by deceit. The following morning, as Esau's army approaches, Jacob gathers his people behind him and awaits his brother. As Esau arrives at the head of his troops, Jacob humbly throws himself at his brother's feet. Esau breaks the tension by coming towards Jacob with open arms and welcoming him home. Reconciling their past differences, Jacob and Esau embrace.
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