Matriarchs of Israel

Light of truth

Jacob Chanikuzhy

Jacob deceived his family twice. When he was discovered to be a cheat, he had to leave his ancestral home and the promised land for his uncle Laban’s home in Haran. In his uncle’s home he worked just like any labourer. In the meantime Jacob grew so fond of Rachel, the daughter of Laban, that he offered to work seven years to get her as his wife. In those days it was the custom that a lover gives expensive gifts to the would be father-in-law. But, what Jacob offered as a gift – wage of the work of seven years – was enormous. It shows his great affection for Rachel. The day after the wedding night Jacob realizes that the woman who showed up in his wedding chamber was not Rachel but her elder sister Leah. Jacob who deceived his father by disguising as Esau is now deceived in a similar manner. Laban was a master deceiver! Second phase of Laban’s deception of Jacob began as Jacob tried to work for himself and his family.

One cannot miss how Jacob’s life resembled the story of the later Israel in Egypt. Jacob went alone to Haran returned as a big family. The same is true in the case of Israelites. Those who went to Egypt was just one family; but when they returned they were a great multitude. Just as Jacob had to work hard in a foreign land under very unfavourable working conditions under Laban, so too the Israelites had to work under Pharaohs. At the end Jacob leaves Haran with enormous wealth which he acquired from there. So too, the Israelites amassed a great wealth from their Egyptian neighbours as they left for the land of Canaan. On their way to Canaan the army of Pharaoh pursued the Israelites, so also Laban and his people pursued Jacob’s family. Just as Jacob had to reconcile with Esau before living peacefully in Canaan, so too the Israelites had to conquer certain groups in Canaan and some other groups they had to reconcile with before possessing the promised land.

We will not fail to note how strong the women in the family of Jacob are. After the marriage it is the wives of Jacob who virtually control his life. Both Leah and Rachel offer their maids to Jacob so that they can glory in more children. Contrary to the more common practice of the time they themselves name their children. The fact that Jacob discusses with them and explains to them his plans to escape from Laban reveals that he did not consider them as just slaves who are bound to listen and obey. His interaction with them proves that he respected them as dignified persons and appreciated their opinions. His passionate description and interpretation of everything that happened in relation to Laban shows that he considered the position his wives would take as important for him. Both Leah and Rachel rose to the occasion and proved to be intelligent enough to take stock of the situation and taking appropriate decisions. These women were capable of boldly condemning the abuses they suffered in their father’s house. They were not reluctant to express their disgust at their father’s selfishness and greed. Both these women openly confessed that their father had been treating them like slaves. They refused to ignore the injustice done to them in not giving them any dowry. With great sense of justice they judged that the wealth Jacob acquired through his hard work and skill was rightfully theirs. By endorsing the plan of Jacob to escape from Haran in the absence of Laban they appear as women capable of taking risks for a better future. That these women could not be easily intimidated became very clear in that even when Laban confronted them on the way, they did not change their mind. Very interestingly, Laban’s younger daughter Rachel even fools his otherwise crooked father by a very clever act of sitting over the stolen idols claiming to be a menstruant. Her stealing the family gods of Laban was her own way of weakening Laban by devoiding him of any divine help. Her defiance at the face of her own father suggests that a prolonged silence in an adverse situation is not to be interpreted as an acceptance of injustice.

Israel had strong patriarchs and matriarchs in their history to look at in times of crisis. We need strong fathers and mothers for balanced, just and peaceful families, communities and societies.

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