When Yaakov awoke, he understood that this was more than a dream. Yaakov exclaimed, “What an amazing vision! I had no idea that this is the Gateway to Heaven! How could I have slept on such holy ground?” Indeed, the Beis HaMikdash (Holy Temple) would someday be built on that very same spot.
Yaakov made a promise to HaShem, “If You will protect me while I am in Charan, return me safely to my father’s house, and give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, I will give plenty of Tzedakah (charity) from everything I earn.”
Yaakov continued his journey, and arrived at the well near Charan. He noticed a huge stone covering its opening. Because the stone was too heavy for one person to lift, the shepherds waited until everyone had gathered so together they could lift the massive stone.
“Where are you from?” Yaakov asked the shepherds.
“We’re from here… from Charan,” they replied.
“Great! Do you know Lavan?” asked Yaakov.
“Lavan? Sure, we know him! Look, here comes his daughter, Rachel!” answered the shepherds.
It was true! Rachel was a shepherdess, and she was coming towards the well with her flock of sheep. Yaakov had a strong feeling that she was to be his intended wife. So he stepped forward to help and with ease Yaakov single-handedly lifted the huge stone off the well! He then proceeded to give water to Rachel’s sheep.
With tears in his eyes, Yaakov introduced himself to Rachel, “I am your cousin, Yaakov. My mother, Rivkah, is your father’s sister. I have come here from the faraway land of Cana’an.”
Rachel ran off to tell her father, Lavan, the exciting news. “Father, you won’t believe this. I met this man at the well and he lifted the rock all by himself. And there is so much more to tell you!”
Lavan immediately ran to greet Yaakov and gave him a big hug and kiss.
Wasn’t that sweet? Well, not really. Lavan actually hugged him so that he could check Yaakov’s money belt. He remembered how Avraham’s servant, Eliezer, had come to Charan with 10 camels stacked high with jewels and riches. So he thought, “If the servants of that family bring such expensive gifts, imagine what Yitzchak’s own son must have with him!”
Yaakov sadly proceeded to tell Lavan how he was forced to give away all the gifts and money to his nephew Elifaz.
Disappointed, Lavan told Yaakov, “Well, what are relatives for? Stay in my house for a month and take care of my sheep. Of course, I can’t expect you to work for free, Yaakov, so let’s discuss your salary.”
Lavan had 2 daughters. Rachel was beautiful, and her older sister, Leah, was also beautiful, but her eyes were red and swollen from crying.
Yaakov said to Lavan, “What I really want as a “salary” for my work is to marry Rachel, your daughter, the younger one. I’ll work 7 years for her!”
Lavan happily agreed to Yaakov’s request. “Ha Ha Ha! I am so very smart… a genius!”
True to his promise, Yaakov cared for Lavan’s flocks for 7 years. Year after year, he faithfully tended to the sheep, in the scorching hot summer days and in the freezing winter nights. Lavan’s sheep grew and multiplied under Yaakov’s steady hand.
And Lavan? He just took it easy and enjoyed counting all the money he made… thanks to Yaakov!
But sly Lavan had another trick up his sleeve (no wonder he always wore long sleeve shirts). He understood that as long as Yaakov would be working for him, HaShem would shower him with a lot of blessings and success. But once Yaakov would marry Rachel at the end of the seven years, he would be gone! Oh no! How would Lavan keep Yaakov working for him for another seven years?
At the end of the seven years, soon before Yaakov and Rachel’s wedding came closer, Lavan was ready to play his nasty trick.
The day of the wedding was approaching. Yaakov wanted to make sure that he wouldn’t be tricked by the sly Lavan into marrying the wrong woman, so he told Rachel, “Just to be on the safe side, here is a secret code. Under the Chupah, (wedding canopy) your face will be covered with a veil and I won’t be able to see who you are. You’ll tell me the secret code and I will know for sure that it’s you, Rachel.”
Finally, it was the day of the grand wedding! Lavan invited everyone in town to the festivities. But he had a little trick up his sleeve. He had secretly done a bride-swap. Now Leah is the bride!
Lavan was hoping that Yaakov would not discover the identity of his bride until the next morning long after the guests had left.
But Rachel knew that Leah didn’t know the secret code and realized that Yaakov would soon find out that he was being fooled!
How embarrassing it would be for Leah when everyone would realize that Yaakov was being “forced” to marry her against his will!
So right before the wedding ceremony, she approached her sister and whispered, “My dear sister Leah, this is the secret code, pssssss…psss.”
What a special woman Rachel was. She was willing to give up marrying Yaakov, just so Leah wouldn’t be embarrassed in public!
The Chupah was set, with the bride covered by the veil and the groom standing next to her.“The password please,” said Yaakov to the bride. And the bride whispered the secret code.
Yaakov was now convinced that his bride was Rachel, and the wedding began. It was an amazing celebration. Just one “slight” problem, Yaakov actually married Leah, and not Rachel!
The next morning, when Yaakov found out the truth, he ran to his father-in-law. “Lavan!” he shouted. “What have you done?! I had worked for Rachel all these years. Why did you trick me?!”
Lavan answered, “Well, around here, nobody marries off a younger daughter before her older sister. But all right. In a week you can marry Rachel too, if you will work for me for another 7 years.”
Without any hesitation, Yaakov agreed. He married Rachel the very next week. He kept his word to Lavan, and worked hard tending his sheep for another 7 years.
Soon after their marriage, Leah began having children: four sons in a row. She named them Reuven, Shimon, Levi, and Yehudah.
Meanwhile, Rachel had no children at all, which made her very unhappy, and also quite jealous. “Yaakov, pray for me that I shall have children,” begged Rachel. “Without children life is meaningless!”
“It is not up to me, Rachel. HaShem will choose whether to bless you with a child,” answered Yaakov.
“Fine Yaakov,” Rachel said, “but then I want you to marry my maidservant, Bilhah. Perhaps HaShem will then have mercy on me and I will merit to have a family of my own.”
Just as Rachel had advised, Yaakov married Bilhah, and she gave birth to 2 sons. Rachel named them Dan and Naftali.
Leah also gave her maidservant, Zilpah, to Yaakov as a wife. Zilpah gave birth to 2 sons, whom Leah named Gad and Asher.
After that, Leah had another 2 sons, Yissachar and Zevulun, and finally, a daughter by the name of Dinah.
Still, Rachel was childless! How much longer could she possibly wait, while everyone else was blessed with children? Finally, after so many years of waiting, Rachel had a son! She was a mother at last! She named her son Yosef. (Eventually, she would also have a second son, named Binyamin.)
By now, Yaakov had quite a large family: four wives, 11 sons, and one daughter. He had established his family in Charan, but they would soon be moving on.
Yaakov was now ready to go back home, so he approached his boss, Lavan the Cheater, and said, “It’s time for me to move on. Let me take my wives and children and go back home.”
Lavan replied, “All right. Let’s figure out how much I owe you. Let’s see, you worked here for 14 years so you could marry my 2 daughters. How much do I now owe you?”
Yaakov thought, “Rather than gold or silver, I will request just a few sheep and with HaShem’s help I can still make a profit.
So Yaakov replied, “I’ll take all of the spotted goats and brown sheep that will be born this season.”
Lavan thought, “Heh, heh! Sounds like a great deal for me. That means he will get just a few goats and sheep. I can’t believe how terrible a businessman that son-in-law of mine is.”
“It’s a deal!” replied Lavan as he smiled his cunning smile.
But, to Lavan’s surprise, that season many of the newborn goats indeed had spots and almost all of the baby sheep were brown!
When Yaakov was ready to claim his payment, the wicked Lavan panicked and cried, “Hold it, I’m the one who’s supposed to get these brown and spotted animals. You picked something else!”
Although Yaakov knew that Lavan was playing tricks with him, he went along with it anyway.
“OK, I’ll take the animals with stripes instead,” Yaakov said.
“You got it,” exclaimed Lavan.
Soon enough, all the newborn animals came out with stripes!
Lavan was beside himself. “Huh?! What’s going on? I must have made a mistake. Let’s make a new agreement.”
So it went, on and on and on. In the end, Lavan changed his mind 100 times! In spite of the cheater Lavan, and of course with plenty of help from HaShem, Yaakov was blessed and he became a very, very wealthy man.
Yaakov continued to faithfully tend to Lavan’s sheep, day in, and day out – in the scorching hot sun during the day and the freezing wind and rain at night. But Lavan was meaner than ever.
One day HaShem called out to Yaakov, “Return to the house of your parents – to your birthplace. I will protect you.”
Yaakov started to make plans for his grand exit from Lavan’s place. BUT HOW? It seemed that Lavan would never willingly let Yaakov’s family leave.
There was only one solution. The family would have to sneak away when Lavan wasn’t looking.