"Jacob's Ladder" by Wenceslas Hollar. (1607-1677)

Who Was Jacob?

The father of the children of Israel.

Jacob (Ya’akov in Hebrew) is one of Judaism’s three patriarchs, and appears throughout many chapters of the Book of Genesis. He is the son of Isaac and Rebecca, the grandson of Abraham and Sarah, and the father of 12 sons, the progenitors of the 12 tribes of Israel. He is also the father of Dinah, whose rape prompts a brutal act of family vengeance.

Jacob first appears in the Torah portion Parashat Toldot (Genesis 25:19 – 28:9), when Rebecca is pregnant and feels Jacob and his twin brother, Esau, struggling with each other in utero. The twins’ struggle continues after birth, with Jacob becoming his mother’s favorite, while Esau, the firstborn, becomes Isaac’s favorite. Jacob forces Esau, a hunter, into selling him his birthright for a bowl of lentil soup. Years later, at Rebecca’s urging, Jacob pretends to be Esau and tricks Isaac into giving him Esau’s firstborn blessing — then flees to live with his uncle Laban before Esau can respond.

On his journey, Jacob has a dream in which angels go up and down a ladder connecting earth to heaven. God appears before Jacob and renews the covenant that God had made with Abraham.

At Laban’s, Jacob goes from deceiver to deceived. In another case of one sibling posing as another, Laban promises that after seven years of labor Jacob can marry Laban’s daughter Rachel. Instead, Laban hides his other daughter, Leah, under the bridal veil, thus tricking Jacob into marrying the wrong sister. Laban then makes Jacob work another seven years before letting him marry Rachel. Jacob also acquires two handmaids, sometimes referred to as concubines, who bear some of his children.

Years later, Jacob peacefully reunites with Esau after wrestling with an angel and having his name changed to Israel, a name that means “wrestle with God.”

However, the sibling conflict in Jacob’s relationship to Esau (as well at the conflict in Rachel’s relationship to Leah) is echoed in the relationships among Jacob’s own children: Jacob favors his son Joseph, making the other sons so jealous that they sell Joseph into slavery and lie to Jacob about it. Joseph’s own adventures in Egypt, in which he ultimately succeeds in becoming the Pharaoh’s prime minister and forgiving the brothers, conclude with his reunion with Jacob, who blesses Joseph’s sons, but dies soon afterward. Joseph and his brothers have Jacob buried in Hebron, at his request.

Learn more about Jacob in the commentaries below:

Jacob and Esau (Parashat Toldot)

John Wayne Meets Jacob 
Isaac and Rebecca’s Dysfunctional Family
Change Is Possible
Why Rebecca Pushed Jacob to Get Esau’s Blessing
Did Esau Have ADD/ADHD?
Sharing the Blessing
How Jacob Defied Destiny
Isaac Loved Esau, But Rebecca Loved Jacob

Jacob Leaves Home (Parashat Vayetzei)

The Place With No Name
Jacob’s Covenant with God 
Good Deeds, Bad Consequences
Jacob’s Anxiety
Jacob Out in the World 
Jacob and His Wives

Jacob Wrestles with the Angel and Reunites with Esau (Parashat Vayishlach)

A Tale of Two Jacobs
Confronting Our Dark Sides
Why the Angel Asks Jacob His Name
Overcoming Envy
When Jacob Reconciled with Esau
The Path to Reconciliation
Exile and Survival: Jacob’s Legacy
Truly Present to God and People

Jacob As a Father (Vayishlach and Vayeshev)

A Lack of Empathy 
The Challenge of Changing 

Jacob Goes to Egypt (Parashat Vayigash)

Jacob Meets Pharaoh

Jacob’s Death (Parashat Vayechi)

Abundant Love: The Wisdom of Jacob 
Jacob’s Diverse Family 
Feeling the Presence of God

All in the Family 
What Is Your Blessing?

Discover More

Rebecca (Rivkah)

Isaac's wife was known for her kindness and beauty — and deception.

Who Was Rachel?

The last of the matriarchs was Jacob's true love.

The Story of Joseph

All about the famous biblical dreamer who inspired a musical.