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I had talked last week about Ya'akov taking time to take a deep breath before he answered and this week's Parsha has such an example. After his sons "Shimon and Levi, Dinah's brothers, took each man his sword, and came upon the city boldly, and slew all the males" and plundered the city, Ya'akov challenges them about what they have done. They answer him gruffly and Torah ends the story there, on their words. We hear no response, no action from Ya'akov.
For years I have had various opinions about this incident and what it indicated about Ya'akov. Life, which is such an incredible teacher, brought an understanding home to me this past week that was a real "lightbulb" effect and I actually just stopped what I was doing for a minute or two to absorb it.
I had sent out the pledge piece written by Rabbi John Spitzer to this list last week. Most people sent back favorable comments and some even indicated that they would use it in some way. One person sent me back a very angry long email explaining that sending out the pledge showed I was obviously to far to the left to have anything useful to say (and to delete him from this list -- which I did). We exchanged a couple of long emails, partly because he has been a friend for quite a long time.
One of his emails was particularly negative and hateful and angry (at "others" as he defined them) and I was about to do my usual thing of typing out the responses I might "like" to give and then erasing them and answering without the response hormones in play. In fact, I started to answer one of them that way and it hit me that no matter how I answered him, emotional or otherwise, he was not open to hearing anything I had to say. I certainly could not agree to interring thousands of people "like the Japanese after Pearl Harbor" -- but nothing I had to offer would penetrate the anger and hatred in which he was engulfed.
I spend some of my Life Coaching time listening to people work their anger out and come up with constructive plans -- and of course, once they come to a Life Coach for anything, they are ready to do some serious work and move significantly forward with their lives. But he wasn't coming to a coach, he was responding to the email that triggered his anger. It was impressive. It was intense. And I suddenly had a picture of Shimon and Levi that I had not truly seen before.
They were not in a place where logic, reason, anything except revenge was going to be heard. This response to the injury they perceived was personal and deep and Dinah's feelings about it didn't even enter into their clouded self-worlds. They were angry and their lust for revenge consumed them and their perceived enemy. And so, I, like, Ya'akov, said nothing to the seething cauldron of hatred and anger, could not say anything. All we could do was to feel the white fire blazing in the unspoken words, letting it purify from the anger and hatred before us.
1. Parsha details: Gen 32:4-36:43 [Haftorah II Kings 4:1-37 (Seph to 4:23)]
2. Questions and a few observations
Ya'akov returns home, making up with Esav by sending gifts ahead of himself. Ya'akov wrestles with the angel and is renamed Yisra'el. He buys a parcel of land and Dinah, his and Leah's daughter is bedded by Sh'chem, son of Khamor. The Sh'chemites convert but are killed by Shimon and Levi, two of Dinah's brothers. Ya'akov takes the family to Beyt El (a khag?), Rivka's nurse dies, Rachel dies giving birth to Benyamin and then Yitzkhak dies. The Parsha then ends with the generations of Esav (who is Edom).
This Parsha concludes the bulk of the "Ya'akov Story" and parenthetically the Esav story -- although Edom plays major roles in future history as well. In fact, one of the repeating themes (like a running gag in a modern movie, actually) is that Esav is Edom. The relationship between these two is quite interesting and doesn't stop for quite some time. Edom eventually becomes as the Idumeans, as in Herod the Great, the result of forced conversions of the Idumeans, that is Edom, by the Hasmoneons, that is the Maccabees. (Got that?)
Edom shows up about 100 times in TaNaKh and about two thirds that often in Talmud. In David's time, there is a conquering of Edom (and Joab kills off all of the (adult?) males in a six month campaign - 1Kings 11:15 ) and a placement of a governor by David there -- complete with a very young king who is weaned, in fact, in Egypt and returns to throw off the rule of David's offspring. Obviously, what is considered "all of the males" in Kings is not quite accurate, but it must still have been quite a blood bath.
And the forced conversions of the Idumeans by the Priest/Kings of the Maccabees (which was one of the reasons for the Sages' distaste with Chanukah) does lead to Herod being Jewish and thereby eligible for "king" and so it is perhaps not surprising that Talmud starts to use Edom as a code for Rome. In fact, the Sages often look back to texts for clues on the Roman condition. Later, as the Christians became more aware of Talmud, some texts went to coding this further by saying "Aramean" for "Edom" for Christians/Rome. And so the text repeats, Esav, who is Edom, so many times in order to make this first connection in the series clear to the listeners. (There are 9 mentions of Edom in connection with Esav and his descendants in Chapter 36)
And that was in case they didn't get the original line from Gen 25:25 "And the first came out red (ad'moni), all over like a hairy garment (Sey'ar -- a pun for Se'ir, where Edom/Esav lived) ; and they called his name Esav (Hairy)." and from 25:30 where he eats the red, red stuff (ha'adom ha'adom) that Ya'akov cooked and "therefore, he called his name Edom (Red)". So Torah leaves no doubt in the listeners mind about how long and why there has been this relationship between the two peoples.
And there is so much NOT said about the relationship between Ya'akov and Esav -- like how the treaty was worked out that Esav would leave the country and head south (adjacent to the future Benjamin land). This land was guaranteed to Esav and his descendants in the very beginning of Deuteronomy (2:4-6) "And bind the people, saying, You are to pass through the border of your brethren, the sons of Esau, who live in Se'ir; and they will be in awe of you; be very careful therefore; Do not provoke them; for I will not give you of their land, not even as much as a foot width; because I have given Mount Se'ir to Esau for a possession. Food you will buy from them with money, and you will eat; and water you will also buy from them with money, and you will drink." And obviously, the children of Yisra'el were to treat them in a special way -- so as not to provoke them.
Part of me wonders if there is an early concept here of "red" temper to go along with everything else red? After all, Ya'akov makes it very clear that while they may cry on each other's shoulders (although we do not hear that Ya'akov returned this behavior....), Ya'akov certainly arranges carefully and firmly to spend minimal contact between the two groups. An interesting parallel to the arrangement he made with Laban just a Parsha ago.
3. Some Observations
The silence of the commentaries about the hiding of the idols by Ya'akov is most interesting. But maybe that is a most basic rendering of truth -- we cannot give up the idolatries of our lives completely. It would be nice to think we could be so holy, so totally given to the One that we have no other thoughts, no other motives, no other weaknesses. It would be nice, but that in itself would be an idolatry -- for to think you are so pious would be haughty.
We cannot abandon the baser parts of ourselves at all times. And so the concept here is critical to our understanding of the relationship we have with the One. We can, for a limited period of time make our service, our work, be fully dedicated to the One. But the time we can give to that effort is limited, just as we are limited. We cannot, much as we might want to, live in pure isolation and only do the highest things -- in fact, to do so would be a violation of what we are here to do -- and that is to live and breathe and be a part of the everyday world -- the world of doing and manipulating and all that.
And idolatries come with that world -- they are all around us. We look at a painting that we do and we think -- hey, I did a great job there and we forget for a moment to recognize how much that beautiful painting took a partnership, how much our "gift" for painting is really a gift. A gift and not earned, not something we merited.
What about that great stock deal we managed to swing or the track meet we just won. All of these are easy chances to slip out of wholeness and become idolatrous.
And so Ya'akov makes a big deal, a conscious effort to put away all of the things that might make him or his family think, even for a moment, that perhaps they were the source of their good fortune. Or maybe part of the effort is to remind the family that they are not better than the people of Sh'chem that Shimon and Levi just killed and the brothers plundered. Perhaps Ya'akov is trying to find a way to both help the brothers heal from their anger that led to this act and also to point out to them that we all come from the One Source.
In any event, these baser, man-made things are put away and hidden and the family makes themselves Tahor (ritually pure) and they go to God. And the going to God is not for God, it is for Ya'akov and his family. For the act of going allows them to shed more and more of the day-to-day life and the baser things. As the trip progresses, the talk will shift to where they are going and what they will do once they get there and less and less about someone they had done business with or what they needed to do the next week at home.
So we see the steps of approaching -- put away the day-to-day and cleanse yourself and move toward the One. And there are only two steps to come back to the day-to-day -- namely moving in that direction and retrieving the day-to-day parts of our lives. We do not "uncleanse" ourselves, and so we are just a bit more tahor (pure) after the Divine encounter than before, even though we have gone back to mundane tasks and activities.
4. Contracting Expansion
Contracting Expansion, what a concept. The restraint of the giving, the flowing without bound. Not the blending of the extremes, but the joint existence of the two. Ya'akov wrestles with his two selves -- the part that restrains both himself and others and the overflowing of kindness and giving. Somehow, in the struggle, he find the balance in himself between Khesed and Gevura, between Mercy and Power.
But this Parsha is about the Mercy that is within the Power. About the part of Power that is its own extreme. So is it the mercy we can show from a position of Power or is it the Mercy that must be shown, even in Power lest the power become absolute? Fear and anger are among the most powerful emotions we experience. Both emotions tend to chase us into a place of extreme contraction. And it is through recognizing the Divine mercy and the mercy within us and others that we can venture back out of that constrained place and go on with our daily lives.
1. Altar: Every day we choose to build within our Self an altar to the Holy One or not to build it. Examine your altar for today. Is it made of rough stone or smooth? Is it tall, squat, thin, round, square? Is the area around it clear of debris or is it cluttered with the stuff of daily life? What have you placed on the altar today? What care have you taken in the arrangement of your offering? What does it smell like? What does it feel like? What does it sound like?
2. Trees: Around us there are trees now bare of their summer leaves. They reach into the winter sky in stark brown-black contrast to the grayness around them. They appear lifeless and unmoving in their silence, tall and quite gaunt. And yet them teem with life. There is movement both inside them and within them. Can you hear the animals that live within scurrying about to make their last preparations for coldest cold this winter will hold for them? Can you listen even harder to the very flow of life of the tree itself? Can you hear next spring's leaves starting to grow?
3. Wrestling: When you wrestle with yourself, with whom do you wrestle? Do the parts have faces? Do they have voices? Do you fight fairly with yourself? Does one part grab your neck and the other your thigh? What does it feel like? What does it take out of you? What does it give you? After the fight, who arises victorious?
ADS: ALEPH -- the Alliance for Jewish renewal. www.aleph.org If you aren't a member yet, please give very serious consideration to joining. The magazine, New Menorah, alone, is worth whatever you give. (Plus it helps pay for the rabbinic program where I am studying!)
You can order the Torah Cards and my jewelry through Mercaz at (216)595-0707 -- ask for Larry)
There are many traditional interpretations of the parsha that I neither talk about nor mention. That is done from a position of space. I trust that the average reader is either familiar with these or can find many of them easily in other commentaries readily available.
Thanks for reading this. If I have offended you, please forgive me -- that was not my intention. If you found some joy or happiness in reading this, thank you for allowing me to be a part. If you found a reason to think about something more deeply - kol hakavod and thank you!
And to the people giving me feedback thank you so much! I enjoy all of it. (Including the typos) You have made this weekly practice wonderful.
(c) 2002 Candy Lobb All rights reserved