For the 25+ years that I have been reading Torah weekly, I have put myself on autopilot when I read the story of Ya’akov’s creative manipulation of sheep so he can get the best of Uncle Lavan. In truth, I’ve never really understood how he pulled it off.
But after seeing this extraordinary story
this week, it’s time to take a closer look at the Torah’s tale of genetic engineering. Ya’akov wants to leave his uncle and, having provide riches for someone else, seeks to create independent wealth. Lavan is not ready to let his cash cow go so easily. So Ya’akov proposes a deal that Lavan thinks is a sucker bet. As Dr. Nahum Sarna explains in his JPS commentary:
“In the Near East, sheep are generally white and goats are dark brown or black. A minority of sheep may have dark patches, and goats white markings. It is these uncommon types to be born in the future that Jacob demands as wages for his unpaid services. Laban readily agrees, believing that he is getting a bargain on account of their rarity” (JPS Bible Commentary: Genesis, p. 212)
Once we figure out how these became “Jacob’s Sheep,” we’ll look at why it’s so important to have them suddenly flocking to come to Israel (with the help, as you saw in the story, from Canada!).