Avraham and Yaakov

This topic has not yet undergone editorial review


Avraham is the founding father of the nation, while Yaakov is the patriarch whose offspring literally constituted the "Children of Israel" ("בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל").‎1  It is, thus, perhaps unsurprising that the life journeys of the two share several common features.  The tables below compare some of the more prominent parallels, highlighting both the similarities and the differences between grandfather and grandson.  A number of linguistic parallels serve to reinforce the plot comparisons.

Content Parallels and Contrasts

Parallels Contrasts
Leaving Home
Uprooting Avraham and Yaakov each leave their family and migrate to a different country.

Avraham migrates from Charan to Canaan, while Yaakov makes the opposite trek, from Canaan to Charan. While Avraham uproots upon the command of Hashem, Yaakov's departure is motivated by Esav's hatred and desire to kill him.

Blessing Their departures are accompanied by Hashem's initial revelation to each of them and a promise of blessings.2 Avraham is blessed before he leaves, while Yaakov receives Hashem's reassurance only en route.
Success Avraham and Yaakov are each very successful in their new abodes.3 Avraham's success earns him respect from his neighbors,4 while Yaakov's shepherding success leads to the enmity of Lavan.
Coming to Canaan
Route taken Upon arrival in Canaan, Avraham stops first in Shekhem and then in Beit El, eventually making his way to Chevron.  When Yaakov returns to Canaan, he takes the same route.5 While Avraham merely passed through Shekhem, Yaakov buys a plot of land there.
Altars Both grandfather and grandson build altars for Hashem in each of Shekhem and Beit El. ---
No room The "land could not contain" each of the pairs of Avraham – Lot and Esav – Yaakov, and they decide to part.6 The text suggests that it is Avraham's initiative in one case, and Esav's in the other.
Barren wife Sarah and Rachel are each described as both beautiful and barren. ---
Giving of maidservants Both of Sarah and Rachel / Leah give their maidservants in marriage to their husbands so that they can bear children in their stead. While Avraham ends up banishing Hagar (Sarah's servant), Bilhah and Zilpah remain married to Yaakov.
Source of strife The multiple wives are a source of conflict in the family. In Avraham's case the enmity is between real wife and servant, while in Yaakov's family, it is the two full wives who struggle.
Children In each family, one son (Yitzchak / Yosef) is favored over the others. By Avraham, this leads to the expulsion of Yishmael, whereas in Yaakov's story, all the sons are chosen in the end.
Potential loss Avraham thinks his beloved Yitzchak is to die, and Yaakov believes his favorite, Yosef, is dead. While Avraham willingly brings Yitzchak to be sacrificed, Yaakov is not part of the plot to kill Yosef.7
Death and Burial Both Avraham and Yaakov are buried by their children in Me'arat HaMachpelah. While Avraham is described as dying "בְּשֵׂיבָה טוֹבָה", no such description accompanies Yaakov.8
Lavan and Paroh
Wife-sister trick Avraham pretends that Sarah is his sister rather than his wife, while Lavan passes off Rachel's sister as Yaakov's wife. Avraham plots with Sarah's consent, while Lavan acts without Yaakov's knowledge.
Complaint In reaction to the trickery, Paroh and Yaakov both cry "what have you done to me?" ---
Wife taken Avraham fears that Paroh / Avimelekh will take Sarah, and Yaakov fears that Lavan will "steal" his wives. Whereas Sarah is in fact taken, Rachel and Leah are not.
Hashem's warning Hashem appears in a dream to Avimelekh / Lavan warning them not to harm Avraham / Yaakov. In reaction, Avimelekh bestows gifts upon Avraham and offers him to live in his land.  Lavan, in contrast, gives nothing and sets up a border between the families.
Covenant Avraham and Yaakov each make a covenant with the other side. ---
Change of Name
New names Both Avraham and Yaakov are given new names.  Avram becomes Avraham, and Yaakov becomes Yisrael. Whereas Avraham is never again called by his old name, Yaakov's names become interchangeable.
Role of the thigh The name change is associated with a physical act connected to the thigh.9 In Avraham's case, this is the positive act of circumcision.  By Yaakov, in contrast, it is an injury inflicted in his struggle with the "איש".
Blessing The new name is accompanied by a blessing of progeny. ---

Literary Allusions

סיפורי אברהם סיפורי יעקב
(יב:א) לֶךְ לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ. (לא:ג) וַיֹּאמֶר י"י אֶל יַעֲקֹב שׁוּב אֶל אֶרֶץ אֲבוֹתֶיךָ וּלְמוֹלַדְתֶּךָ
(יב:ב) וְאֶעֶשְׂךָ לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל... וְנִבְרְכוּ בְךָ כֹּל מִשְׁפְּחֹת הָאֲדָמָה (כח:יד) וְהָיָה זַרְעֲךָ כַּעֲפַר הָאָרֶץ... וְנִבְרְכוּ בְךָ כׇּל מִשְׁפְּחֹת הָאֲדָמָה וּבְזַרְעֶךָ.
(יב:יח) וַיִּקְרָא פַרְעֹה לְאַבְרָם וַיֹּאמֶר מַה זֹּאת עָשִׂיתָ לִּי (כט:כה) וַיְהִי בַבֹּקֶר וְהִנֵּה הִוא לֵאָה וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל לָבָן מַה זֹּאת עָשִׂיתָ לִּי
(יג:ו)  וְלֹא נָשָׂא אֹתָם הָאָרֶץ לָשֶׁבֶת יַחְדָּו כִּי הָיָה רְכוּשָׁם רָב וְלֹא יָכְלוּ לָשֶׁבֶת יַחְדָּו.... (לו:ז) כִּי הָיָה רְכוּשָׁם רָב מִשֶּׁבֶת יַחְדָּו וְלֹא יָכְלָה אֶרֶץ מְגוּרֵיהֶם לָשֵׂאת אֹתָם מִפְּנֵי מִקְנֵיהֶם.
(טז:ב-ג) וַתֹּאמֶר שָׂרַי... הִנֵּה נָא עֲצָרַנִי י"י מִלֶּדֶת בֹּא נָא אֶל שִׁפְחָתִי אוּלַי אִבָּנֶה מִמֶּנָּה...  וַתִּקַּח שָׂרַי...  אֶת הָגָר הַמִּצְרִית שִׁפְחָתָהּ... וַתִּתֵּן אֹתָהּ לְאַבְרָם אִישָׁהּ לוֹ לְאִשָּׁה (ל:א-ד) וַתֵּרֶא רָחֵל כִּי לֹא יָלְדָה לְיַעֲקֹב... וַתֹּאמֶר הִנֵּה אֲמָתִי בִלְהָה בֹּא אֵלֶיהָ וְתֵלֵד עַל בִּרְכַּי וְאִבָּנֶה גַם אָנֹכִי מִמֶּנָּה.  וַתִּתֶּן לוֹ אֶת בִּלְהָה שִׁפְחָתָהּ לְאִשָּׁה וַיָּבֹא אֵלֶיהָ יַעֲקֹב
(יז:א) וַיֵּרָא י"י אֶל אַבְרָם וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו אֲנִי אֵל שַׁדַּי ... (ה) וְלֹא יִקָּרֵא עוֹד אֶת שִׁמְךָ אַבְרָם וְהָיָה שִׁמְךָ אַבְרָהָם כִּי אַב הֲמוֹן גּוֹיִם נְתַתִּיך (ו) וְהִפְרֵתִי אֹתְךָ בִּמְאֹד מְאֹד וּנְתַתִּיךָ לְגוֹיִם וּמְלָכִים מִמְּךָ יֵצֵאוּ.... (כב) וַיְכַל לְדַבֵּר אִתּוֹ וַיַּעַל אֱלֹהִים מֵעַל אַבְרָהָם. (לה:י) וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ אֱלֹהִים שִׁמְךָ יַעֲקֹב לֹא יִקָּרֵא שִׁמְךָ עוֹד יַעֲקֹב כִּי אִם יִשְׂרָאֵל יִהְיֶה שְׁמֶךָ וַיִּקְרָא אֶת שְׁמוֹ יִשְׂרָאֵל. (יא) וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ אֱלֹהִים אֲנִי אֵל שַׁדַּי פְּרֵה וּרְבֵה גּוֹי וּקְהַל גּוֹיִם יִהְיֶה מִמֶּךָּ וּמְלָכִים מֵחֲלָצֶיךָ יֵצֵאוּ....10 (יג) וַיַּעַל מֵעָלָיו אֱלֹהִים בַּמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר אִתּוֹ.
(כ:ג) וַיָּבֹא אֱלֹהִים אֶל אֲבִימֶלֶךְ בַּחֲלוֹם הַלָּיְלָה וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ הִנְּךָ מֵת עַל הָאִשָּׁה אֲשֶׁר לָקַחְתָּ וְהִוא בְּעֻלַת בָּעַל (לא:כד) וַיָּבֹא אֱלֹהִים אֶל לָבָן הָאֲרַמִּי בַּחֲלֹם הַלָּיְלָה וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ פֶּן תְּדַבֵּר עִם יַעֲקֹב מִטּוֹב עַד רָע
(כב:א) וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו אַבְרָהָם וַיֹּאמֶר הִנֵּנִי... (ד) וַיַּרְא אֶת הַמָּקוֹם מֵרָחֹק...(יב) וַיֹּאמֶר אַל תִּשְׁלַח יָדְךָ אֶל הַנַּעַר וְאַל תַּעַשׂ לוֹ מְאוּמָה (לז:יג) וַיֹּאמֶר יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל יוֹסֵף... וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ הִנֵּנִי... (יח) וַיִּרְאוּ אֹתוֹ מֵרָחֹק... (כב) וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם רְאוּבֵן אַל תִּשְׁפְּכוּ דָם ...וְיָד אַל תִּשְׁלְחוּ בוֹ...