Jacob's Covenant with God

Jacob's covenant with God teaches us that our relationships with God must not be conditional, but rather should be built on trust.

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Provided by KOLEL--The Adult Centre for Liberal Jewish Learning, which is affiliated with Canada's Reform movement.

In this week's parashah, Jacob begins his long journey, both physically and spiritually, from his home and family. Shortly after he leaves home, God appears to Jacob in a dream, presenting the image of the ladder from heaven to Earth. God speaks to Jacob and promises him protection, offspring, and the land on which he lay.

Jacob then travels on to Haran, where he meets and falls in love with his cousin Rachel, the daughter of his mother's brother Laban. Jacob arranges with Laban to work seven years to marry Rachel. However Laban, who has something of a shady reputation, substitutes his older daughter Leah for Rachel on her wedding night. Jacob confronts Laban, but is told, ironically, that the older has precedent over the younger. Jacob agrees to work seven more years for Rachel as well.

Years pass and the sisters, as well as their servants who are given to Jacob as concubines, bear Jacob twelve sons and a daughter. These sons will become the ancestors of the 12 tribes of Israel. At the end of the portion, Jacob and his family depart from Haran and from Laban, and begin their journey back to Canaan.

In Focus

Jacob made a vow, saying, "If God remains with me, if He protects me on this journey that I am making, and gives me bread to eat and clothing to wear, and if I return safe to my father's house--the Eternal shall be my God." (Genesis 28:20-22)


This passage seems to be conditional. Jacob, fleeing from the wrath of his brother Esau and embarking out on his own for the first time, is a solitary man in the wilderness. Bedding down for the first night of this new chapter in his life, Jacob has a bizarre dream. God speaks to him from the dream and assures Jacob that he is not alone; God will be with him, will take care of him, will return him to his home, and will bless him and his descendants.

Jacob, awaking from his dream-filled sleep, perceives that something important has happened, but he does not seem entirely sure. And so Jacob responds cautiously. IF, in fact, God does do everything that was promised in the dream, THEN Jacob will be faithful to God.


Out on his own for the first time, embarking on a journey which, like his grandfather Abraham's journey before him, is both spiritual as well as physical, Jacob must establish his own relationship with God. At this point, the Brit--the covenant established at first with Abraham--is individual, and must be reaffirmed by each generation.

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Rabbi Jordan D. Cohen

Jordan D. Cohen is the rabbi of Temple Anshe Sholom in Hamilton, Ontario. Previously, he worked as Associate Director of KOLEL - The Adult Centre for Liberal Jewish Learning in Toronto, Canada. Prior to his return to Canada, Rabbi Cohen served as Rabbi of the United Jewish Congregation of Hong Kong, and Associate Rabbi of the North Shore Temple Emanuel in Sydney, Australia.