Isaac blessed Jacob and, standing in front of the house, he watched Jacob walk away under the sun until Jacob's shadow merged with the horizon. Seven days later, Jacob arrived at Paddan Aram, a nearby town, and began to look for a job.
When Jacob heard that, Laban, a wealthy farmer with two daughters, was looking for a shepherd to take care of his sheep, he found out where Laban's house was, and went there to introduce himself.
“If I hire you, will you double the number of my sheep within a year?” asked Laban full of suspicion. Jacob nodded. “Yes, but any additional sheep born beyond that number will be mine.” Jacob's answer pleased Laban, but did not fully eliminate his misgivings.
“But if I hire you,” the wealthy farmer insisted, “will you watch my sheep every hour, day and night, never letting them out of your eyes?” Jacob nodded again and, this time, Laban accepted to hire him as a shepherd.
A year later, Jacob returned to Laban's house and asked to see the farmer. “Your flock has doubled in size and, in addition, it has produced seventy-seven sheep, which are mine,” explained Jacob. “As of today, I will be working only for myself.” Laban was pleased with his own gain, but unhappy to see that Jacob had accumulated such a substantial profit for himself.
“Now that you are a wealthy shepherd, it is not time for you to take a wife?” suggested Laban. “My daughter Lea is the most beautiful young woman in Paddan Aram. If you wish, you can have her in exchange for your seventy-seven sheep.”
Jacob laughed at the proposal and shook firmly his head. “No woman is worth seventy-seven sheep,” he replied without hesitation. “Besides, I have never met your daughter.” Laban said that this could be arranged right away and sent a servant to bring Lea to his presence.
When Lea arrived, Jacob had to admit that he had never seen such a beautiful young woman. Lea's delicate white hands and perfect teeth contrasted with her long black hair. Her voice was soft and her perfume sweet, although her eyes were as cold as her jewellery. Jacob hesitated. “But if I give you my seventy-seven sheep,” he said to Laban, “then I will have nothing left for myself.”
At that moment, Laban's youngest daughter, Rachel, entered the room. She stood still in front of her father, turned to Jacob, and examined him from top to bottom. “Your clothes are torn, your sandals broken, and your beard is a mess,” she remarked with a smile. “No wonder that you need a wife.”
Jacob's face became red but, as he heard Laban admonish Rachel for her foolish words, he could not turn his eyes away from her. Rachel's traits were regular, her tunic simple, and her figure unremarkable. On the other hand, reflected Jacob, Rachel's eyes and smile were as warm as fresh milk from a sheep in a winter morning.
“Take Lea as wife,” insisted Laban. “To make up for Rachel's silly words, I will let you have Lea in exchange for only seventy sheep.” Jacob made a quick calculation in his head. Laban's new offer meant that Jacob would be left with seven sheep. Would he be able to survive on such a meagre flock?
While Jacob was still pondering Laban's new proposal, Rachel broke into laughter. “What a fool you are, shepherd! Before you know, you will have to sell your own clothes to pay for my sister's oils and perfumes.”
Rachel's words made Laban so angry that he called in a servant and instructed him to take Rachel away. “Wait,” said Jacob concerned. “Is that true?” Laban reassured Jacob that Rachel's words were pure nonsense, but that, in order to make up for any inconvenience, he was ready to let Jacob have Lea as wife in exchange for only seven sheep.
Undecided, Jacob contemplated Lea's delicate white hands, perfect teeth, and beautiful hair. “What a fool you are, shepherd,” repeated Rachel, this time in a low voice. Suddenly, Jacob turned to Laban and pointed his finger at Rachel. “And for this one, Laban,” he inquired, “how many sheep are you asking for in exchange for this one?”
Laban was taken aback by the question, since no one had ever asked him to have his daughter Rachel as wife. He reflected for a long moment and shook his head. “That one,” he replied reluctantly, “that one, you can have for free.” Then Jacob looked at Rachel, Rachel looked at Jacob and, shortly after, the two became one.
[Image by doug88888 under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]