In Breisheet 25:27, Yaakov is described as “ish tam yoshev ohalim”, “a plain man dwelling in tents”.
Rashi comments that “dwelling in tents” refers to Yaakov being a scholar who studied in the tents (yeshivot) of Shem and Ever. Radak and Rav Saadiah Gaon also interpret the phrase to mean scholar.
There is also another interpretation. According to Chizkuni, Ibn Ezra, Rashbam and Bechor Shor the plain meaning of the text is that Yaakov tended his father’s sheep. This makes sense since as soon as he got to Lavan’s house, Yaakov began to work for him, taking care of his sheep as an experienced shepherd.
In Breisheet 29:15 “Lavan said to Yaakov, ‘Just because you are my relative, must you work for me without pay? Tell me what I should pay you.’”
Ramban explains that the unidentified “work” here means the tending of the sheep, for this is what was needed and this was the subject of their conversation.
Yaakov worked as a shepherd for seven years in order to marry Rachel but instead Lavan gave him Leah, so he had to work another seven years for Rachel. After the fourteen years, he continued working for Lavan for six more years without compensation. When enough was enough, Yaakov said that as compensation, he would keep any new flock born spotted and speckled as well as any new dark brown sheep. Lavan agreed to this. With God’s help, Yaakov figured out a way for the sheep to reproduce spotted and speckled and he became prosperous. Lavan was not happy and tried to change the terms of the agreement again until Yaakov had enough and decided to take his family and go back home (based on a dream where the angel of God told him that it was time to return to the land of his birth, the Land of Cnaan).
After Yaakov tried to sneak away with his family and was caught by Lavan, they finally made peace and with Lavan’s blessing, Yaakov took his wives, children and flocks back to the Land of Cnaan.
In Parshat Vayishlach, which took place about 3000 years ago, Yaakov prepared a peace offering gift for Esav (who was preparing to kill him the last time that they met) which included 200 female goats, twenty male goats, 200 ewes and twenty rams.
Yaakov’s flocks and their descendents remained in Israel for 1000 years until the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash where they went into exile along with the Jewish people and did not return.
This past week, the flocks began to come back. An organization called Friends of Jacob’s Sheep began to bring 119 spotted and speckled sheep to Israel from Canada.
Once all of the sheep have arrived and settled, visitors will be able to see the sheep and get a glimpse into the life of Yaakov and his flocks.