Yossi Feintuch

Jacob did not fear wild animals

Last week we read in the Torah portion, Toldot, about Rebecca sending off her son Jacob ”for several days” (ah…she will never see him again) to her brother Laban. Rebecca, a meticulously detailed-oriented individual, didn’t find it necessary to equip her beloved Jacob even with a personal knife, let alone to orient him as to the behavioral patterns of predatory animals, not to mention that having a companion like a servant, even deep in animal natural habitats, would likely prevent an assault. (One day Kish would send his son Saul, the future king of Israel, with a servant to look jointly for his strayed jennies.)

Hence, alone, Jacob had left his home in Beersheba for Haran – a veritable long distance — and indeed he encountered no danger from animals. Rebecca sent him off on such a major journey for she feared for his life by the hands of his twin-brother, Esau, whose birthright Jacob stole, but not from wild animals.

On his first night away from home Jacob parked in ‘’a certain place’’ (Luz, later Beth-el). He then ‘’took from the stones of the place’’ putting them ‘’at his head and he lay down in that place’’.  Rashi explains that Jacob feared ‘’vicious animals’’, so he gathered some stones for protection. Namely, Jacob trusted that merely throwing stones at such animals would be sufficient to frighten them off and recoil from attacking him. But at the end Jacob did not need those stones for protection and his journey to Haran was devoid of any such encounters.

In two weeks, we will similarly read about Jacob sending young Joseph alone on his way from home in Hebron to look for his brothers in Shechem, some 60 miles away; here too it’s clear that Jacob did not anticipate, let alone fear a perilous encounter between his son and a wild animal; indeed, the menace to Joseph’s life was not from animals but from his vengeance-seeking brothers.

It’s likely that in the twenty years of working as a shepherd for Laban (his father-in-law and uncle to boot) Jacob experienced the effects of predators on his flocks as he reminds Laban his employer: “These twenty years I have been with you… what was torn up [by mauling animals] I brought not to you; I bore the loss”.  Yes, he is sure to mention the ‘’parching heat” that scorched him up in the day “and frost in the night”, and his chronic and abject lack of sleep, but he does not even allude to any personal fear for his life in encountering those animals that snatched and carried off some individuals of the flocks that he shepherded.

One day, another shepherd, David the son of Jessy will pitch to King Saul his exploits with predatory animals in order to be the warrior who should fight the Philistine Goliath; after all, ”when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb out pf the flock, I went out after him, and struck him, and delivered it out of his mouth; and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and struck him , and slew him.” In a nutshell, wild animals are prone to stay away from humans, and neither Jacob (nor Joseph, Saul or David) feared them when they traveled by foot in country land.

About the Author
Ordained a Rabbi by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1994; in 2019 this institution accorded me the degree of Doctor of Divinity, honoris causa. Following ordination I served congregations on the island of Curacao, in Columbia, MO. Currently serving a congregation in Bend, Or. I received academic degrees from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem (B.A. in International Relations and History), New York University (M.A. in History), and Emory University (Ph.D. in U.S. History). I am the author of U.S. Policy on Jerusalem (Greenwood Press), and numerous articles on biblical themes in various print and digital publications. I have taught in several academic institutions, including Ben-Gurion University (Beersheba, Israel), and the University of Missouri (Columbia, MO). A native of Afula, Israel. A veteran of the IDF.
Related Topics
Related Posts