Hostility: Out of Plagues to Exodus

No one is a born story-teller. With words, in translations, there is such a long learning curve that cut into you.  In words and borders and getting across time.  With power and dominion.  And BONDS which came from stories.

I am this descendant of island people. People who lived in one place, mostly in rural areas, for hundreds and hundreds of years. My blood is all Irish.  I am reading Richard White’s book, Remembering Ahanagran: A History of Stories.  White explains in this book what a homeland means, when you burnt the peat and ate only local produce.  And saved the produce.  For hundreds of years, before refrigeration and before imports.  He is the son of an Irish mother and a Jewish father, after exodus.

Richard White writes about memoirs and history, about belief or disbelief, in dealing with loss, as your own world was coming to an end, in exodus.  After all the lateral moves, but still the connections.  Settling down, marrying outside the tribe.

When you are born into something: what had a homeland meant as a place you burnt the peat and ate only local produce?  And, living within the tribe, learning the mystery, you had to save something.

In exodus.  The movement in the stories was not so much to change the world, but only the people in it.  Note the outsiders, exiled from the world of theory, living at some point with now only memories but somehow wanting to make them your own.  In immigration, like Jacob’s.

In exodus. Like Rebekah’s. Jacob’s mother, living within a tribe, learning the mystery, as an outsider.  Did you feel a hostility as an outsider?  The holiness, either within or not.  Crime and punishment, and stolen birthright.  It is the outsider in the story – Rebekah – who was involved in the stolen birthright (but a birthright from only one side of the family) which would so much involve the future.  What had been the birthright from Rebekah’s family?  What she had been born into? She was the sister of hoodwinking Laban, the ultimate of hoodwinkers. So what had been this inheritance from Rebekah who was from a family of hoodwinkers, which Jacob would later come to so intimately know.  So was it Rebekah who wondered what could be wrong with stealing a misunderstood birthright?

Note the future in the story, in this marriage, arranged by Abraham. Like the project of becoming a wife, there was the known and the unknown; the visible and invisible; the practical and the impractical. Speaking of choosing and of the chosen. There was a theme of “knowing” or not knowing, the birthright. One oh so very personal experience, about the right way, like in any relationship. Living in captivity, in an arrangement of the times, what had been Rebekah’s experience of the God of Isaac, before any idea about how to raise two kids? What was her personal experience of – based upon scarcity, limits, and human needs — sacrifice. When you lived under a dominant culture, like Rebekah.  From one side of the family, would there have been some lingering hostility to the special attention given to the God of Abraham, with Isaac’s post traumatic stress since the moment on Mount Moriah? Rebekah, coming from a different family, with a different concrete examples of marriage — one visible, the other invisible. And her fertility as the outsider was what needed by all the descendants of Abraham.

 Private and public lives: the inheritance of Jacob from his mother was as the outsider — after his forced immigration to just survive? Just as Richard White writes about memoirs and history, about belief or disbelief, in dealing with loss, so the stories of people to whom I was related – or maybe over what it meant to be chosen, and to live with birth right. If you had figured out what Isaac’s birthright had been, which would be passed on to Jacob.

 Stories of drought and birthright and barren women, after the flood, as outsiders in the world. Like from the emergence from the rectangle that Noah lived in for forty days. The movement in the stories: Exodus. Freedom. Numbers. Like the twenty years that Jacob had gone away — if it had been twenty years, living in a different culture with his stolen birthright? And in these stories about the book of numbers, there was always the threat of outsiders to Chosen People, if not the earth. So in stories about insiders and outsiders, as a descendant of immigrants, I was so much like Rebekah or Jacob. When the twenty years signified the years of Jacob’s fertility which had come to an end. And then the movement in the story, again, long after mother and son collaborated over this stolen birthright.

 From the emergence from the rectangle that Noah lived in for forty days, note the forty in the story. Or the twenty years that Jacob spent with Rachel’s father, living in another culture, with a climate change. Did he feel a hostility as an outsider? Would there be a loss of spiritual power learned by marrying into an outside culture? Jacob, circumcised as his father, living away from the kosher type-rules? Living as outsiders, living with birthright, which of his own sons had been circumcised? How, if circumcised, had these boys felt living in a world of public baths? Would they always feel to be outsiders? Were the two sons of Rachel better than the sons of the other women whom Jacob fathered children with? And which of the twelve tribes of Israel was most pure, most really Jewish?

Chosen? Jacob with this undeserved birthright. Trying to hang on to an undeserved birthright. In words and borders and getting across time, with power and dominion, and BONDS which came from stories. With favored sons, if not real favorites. With the strangeness in this Living God of Abraham. Did Jacob think in only one dimension, with his multiple wives, about the meaning of his birthright every day? Over his different way of life, when his grandfather was still alive?

Insider or outsider? The gestation period of forty. Darkness and light. When did Rebekah feel used over her forty weeks of gestation, living amid the strangeness of the family of Abraham, with his God? The pride in fertility: like Rebekah’s in the story, there was the deep emotion in the story for every woman on earth, when my God is perceived to be threatened, along with the excitement when God is with us – now.

So which of her two twin sons was most like Rebekah? And is not a mother allowed to have favorites, and bestow a birthright? In the outside world, feeling so shut out -– maybe feeling so much like Cain had?  Did you feel a hostility which grew from the pride of either outsiders or insiders?

Inheritance. Chosen. Feel the hostility as an outsider, to the holiness -– either within or not -–so much like fertility. Crime and punishment, and stolen birthrights. When mothers had favorite sons, before fathers had favorites, like Joseph. With a shame in these stories. Learning the mystery, as outsiders. Feel the hostility as an outsider, learning the mystery only at home.

Chosen? Remembering Ahanagran: A History of Stories. There is this spatial change, in the size of things, as a child grew, in the perspective about size, in both public and private lives. So what was the change in the spiritual direction in the dénouement of the story of Rebekah, in the movement in the story of outsider, as her younger son married into her very same family? What was her shame after her son left with the stolen birthright? And did you recall why Rebekah with Isaac did not like the women that her older twin was bringing home?  So how many years did it take Jacob to discover the meaning in the birthright?

From living outside his tribe, somehow learning the mystery, to ever so slowly discover the shame in this story.  Abraham had married his father’s—but not his mother’s —daughter. Sarah. Oh, those crazy biblical relationships. And Jacob had then married into Rebekah’s family in the same way in a largely pagan world, with nomads migrating in large numbers. In his lateral moves, in exodus. But still somehow connected, settling down, marrying outside his father’s tribe.

Those crazy relationships. And you wanted others to have the same experience. “Mostly they are the same lives. The same stories, over and over,” wrote David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker. When we endow our lives with stories, did you notice the same perceived threat of outsiders to the free worship by Israelite slaves, with a missing hope in the world, when Moses was born. Moses, the descendant of Jacob -– the grandson of Levi? The perceived threat was proved true, generation after generation, leaderless, powerless in the outside world, unless somehow united in belief which came out of stories, in a passed on perspective of spatial change.

So compare the life of Moses to the life of Jacob.  After he had grown, from living outside his tribe, somehow Moses had come to learn the mystery. Children gradually learning to recognize a shame in living unquestioning lives. Like for Isaac, after what had once happened on Mount Moriah to Isaac, or after killing an Egyptian. Truth is not a property of thought which guarantees validity to my thinking, in either politics or religion. In the outside world. As proven, as, one by one, these great prophets had violated the Ten Commandments, before the Ten Commandments were placed on stone.  In words.  In stories about a powerless people.  But since the beginning, in all of human history there were people who felt that they could annihilate other tribes.  Like Abraham thought he could sacrifice his own sons.  And a wife who came from the outside must have had some inner feelings about getting out.  About escape.  In explaining a motivation to write, to “cover” events through people, in stories about leaders, note the fear and anxiety over which human will lead us, or save us, next?  Like Moses.  Jut like Rebekah tried to save her one son?  In stories about powerless people, Moses like Joseph somehow had come to know the Pharaoh.

So what had Moses come to know with his time in the Egyptian world, growing up so close to the Pharaoh, in a world of power, after facing his own extinction, until he was rescued by the Pharaoh’s daughter.  So, in a story about human power structure, what had ever been passed on to Moses of his own culture?  Had Moses even been circumcised?  And what had happened to the birth right by now?

There is holiness which come from story-telling. In the realness of the mystery stories of people to whom I am related even in exile, like in Irish fertility, as written about in Remembering Ahanagran: A History of Stories.  Movement.  The leaving, the coming back informed and engaged in the world.  And the anger and blame which went towards those who left you.

Who could, who would ever believe in Moses – like on one dark Egyptian night when so suddenly the Israelites picked up and left? Like Jacob. All of them this time, to the Promise Land. Who would ever believe so strongly in the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob?  Who would ever so strongly believe in such a Living God?

Truth and story-telling, with words. Feel the BONDS which came from stories. Did you ever realize how personal this all had been -– maybe a lot like the act of reading is -– or even worshiping can be?  Power.  Restlessness.  Shame.  The visible and the invisible.  To take something so private public, in a world of power.  Was that the lesson of the invisible birthright, passed on in the family? From a new inner shame over letting Jacob go?  Everyone’s anger at Jacob, not so much for stealing the birthright as much leaving across the desert – this dry bowl of never ending bitter tears – with the birthright.

There was the personal transformations in the movement in the story, reduplicating Truth, in the dénouement of the story. In the shame of Rebekah, over the lost power at home? The innocent in the story was in Esau, who is lost sight of for twenty years.  How did Rebekah ever reconcile with Esau over what she had done to him, with her collaborations?  Rebekah who had not liked the women that Esau brought home, which resulted in a favoritism toward Jacob.  Or had it been about the gods of the women who Esau had brought home?

Chosen, for the next generation. Note the outsiders in the story. Note the fertility of all the barren women of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Truth and reconciliation: shame could not be inherited -– neither Rebekah’s shame, nor Abraham’s shame, nor the shame of the twelve tribes of Israel could be passed on; nor could the transformation from guilt. There was such emotion which come from collisions of public and private lives, in dealing with life and death and goodness, when you lived under a dominant culture. So was it the genes from Rebekah that allowed Moses, that had allowed Jacob, to sense the hostility either at home or in Egypt, over who was really chosen? Sensing the frozen hostility as an outsider, in the wrongful detention, and asking the others: “Are you ever gonna go?”

Note the movement in the “Let my people go”story.   The  movement in the story is in the power passed on in stories in the long learning curve -– visible and invisible -– about “where are you taking us?” About Who really chose whom.  With a vision of prayer and a better life.  A people set apart, with the first idea of an afterlife. In a Promise Land.  For a place to freely pray.  And to somehow, with a spiritual dimension, with a bond, to just survive.

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Jenna MarblesRabbi Abraham Skorka


1 comment so far

  1. paperlessworld on

     Jacob and Esau storyboard.

    Correction. After my twin sister sent in here DNA sample in late June, I should report that the ancestry of my blood is 95 per cent Irish, including the Norwegian DNA which came down from the north from where the red hair in the family developed that I still carry, perhaps involuntarily.

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