Jacob & Sons, Part II
To save a heritage…. or my heritage … when everything seemed threatened again, after one thing led to another.
Did you ever take a lot of time with a story, to savor its meaning ….. like a good wine, to savor its aftermath? Had you ever connected the stories of inheritance in the family of Abraham – mostly the same lives, the same stories, over and over – in the variation of pride and vainglory from unconditional love which was part of the inheritance which developed out of “knowing?”
“There was constant strife between the herdsmen of Abram and Lot, as the complaints reached Abram.” Even among uncles and nephews, over keeping a separation … or over growth … or over the distinctions between their animals — which came out of knowing?
In the movement in the story, toward growth, note the human unrest when leaving again, even for the descendants of nomads. And so the preparation to go on a trip. For a seventeen year old, like his mother at that age, “being a shepherd,” Joseph was with his brothers, with the flocks in what they were born into. Sons of Jacob, living at a time in a generation when a woman’s worth was proven in child bearing. And there was much strife between the brothers over who their mothers were. When it came to the handmaids, Joseph was frequently with the sons of Bilhah, because his [other] brothers would demean the sons of Bilhah, who had been the handmaid of Joseph’s mother who had died; Joseph acted friendly toward these sons of Bilah.
And these were the settlements of the generations of Jacob, from their wanderings. The first cause of their wanderings was their flock, when Joseph was seventeen years old. As Joseph, in a sign of pride and vainglory, as a kid, behaved childishly, writes Rashi, fixing his hair and touching up his eyes so that he would appear handsome. And besides the gift of prophecy, at a young age, Joseph was a handsome tattle-tale. “Any evil he saw in his brothers, the sons of Leah, he would tell his father,” writes Rashi. His tales told to Jacob were about the violations of the norms of the day, by the first born sons of Jacob. And did your ears ring with the question of Cain, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (The better translation was not “keeper” but “watchman,” if you ever studied Hebrew.) Rashi writes that the sons of Leah, now grown men, demeaned the sons of the handmaids by calling them slaves, in a continuation of the story of who was better than whom. In the quiet conversion called family, Joseph suspected that the sons of Leah were engaged in illicit sexual relationships. On issues of giving everything up, on matters of sacrifice, the sons of Leah were also eating the limbs of living animals, on issues of torture, perhaps confusing true sacrifice with animal torture. And for reporting on these three matters, Rashi explains, Joseph was punished. In Genesis 37:31 it is stated that his brothers slaughtered and ate a kid … “When they sold him, and did not eat it alive.”
And so the significance of PLACE in the story, as Joseph came to Shechem: the place where the tribes sinned, where Dinah had been violated in days when Joseph was just a toddler, learning how to walk. And there the brothers, writes Rashi, plotted against him to put him to death.
Yes, before selling him, the brothers had intended to kill Joseph. So why would someone with the gift of prophecy walk into the trap? Could he not have saved himself, or was this a case where Joseph first needed to be saved, if he was to save. Even if he had the gift of prophecy, he had come to know THAT, as he had come to know his God. And Rashi writes, “in expression of modesty and eagerness, [Joseph] went with alacrity to fulfill his father’s command although he knew that his brothers hated him.”
On matters of self-esteem, it is of note that shepherds were considering the lowest of the low in the Egyptian culture. And people from Canaan were not normally even allowed to sit at table of an Egyptian. And so the importance of the first born son, Reuben, and the descendants of Ishmael, in the saving in the story of self-esteem. It was Judah, the fourth born son of Leah and Jacob, who “said to his brothers, ‘What is the gain if we slay our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, but our hand shall not be upon him, for he is our brother, our flesh.’ And his brothers hearkened.”
As Joseph’s life is spared, by caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, so much like Isaac’s life had once been spared, like Jacob’s life had once been saved, and even like Abram had once saved the life of Lot before he spared the life of Isaac. As Joseph’s life is spared so much like ….. somehow the movement in the common stories seem repeated to a people who shared a past — so much like when Abraham had shown up, if you believed the story in the Qoran read at the end of Ramadan, on Eid Al Fitr, at the same PLACE as the same scene later played out, between Abraham and Isaac maybe a generation later, once Ishmael had been banished, like Adam and Eve — like in the beginning. So why not just end it all again, like on Mount Moriah, Noah-like without the ark? And God, if He let Abraham kill his son, then surely understood. About a killing like the physics in a sacrifice.
In the conflict over belonging, with too much independence, seemingly returning to the Promise Land, from where Jacob had come, to this place where a man had one wife and one God, note the very real relationship part of the story, when over time you had started to so privately reveal something about Yourself, from one generation to the next. As God tried to assimilate with His people, as the descendants of Abraham tried to assimilate into the New Creation after leaving the place of their birth behind. And that was the cause of hostility, for all the brothers?
Note that Joseph would not be as shaken as much as Isaac had been when Isaac really was the lamb that Abraham had planned to surrender now so long past. In another of these stories of betrayal over and over since Abraham really had betrayed Isaac in the Akedah, attempting to show how separate he was from all other men, just as Noah once had been, Joseph has acquired — with his epiphysis, in the invisible growth center, like within a bone, called soul — an inner strength.
In stories about identity, the missing connection for the sons of Leah is WHY they had been circumcised in the first place, indicative that they did not know God, since the time their sister Dinah, the daughter of Leah, had been violated? And that had occurred before the death of Rachel. And in retribution, the sons of Jacob, led by the second-born and third-born sons of Jacob and Leah, attempted to show their dominion over place after the sons of Jacob had rejected the proposal for an arranged marriage to Shechem. And their concern, fifteen or sixteen years before, had been about illicit relationships.
Where had Jacob been, with such a large family, for the past fifteen or sixteen years in his relationships with his sons? What had Jacob figured out about his birthright? The reporting that Joseph told him about the sons of Leah concerned still the illicit sexual relationships; “his master’s wife lifted her eyes, etc.” (Genesis 39:7).
As real people have to decide how to rebuild lives, in relationships, after the spouse you loved the most had died. Why had Jacob been called back to Canaan at the time his eldest sons were of the age for arranged marriages, with his pregnant wife Rachel? Who would these sons marry? Did you note the CALL, in this part of the story? Like the CALL that Abram once had answered? And in the CALL in the story of Jacob, did you look around at this part of the story for an answer to the “Where is the lamb?” question? As Jacob, like any nomad, wanted to go back to a place where he had been once known – for the arranged marriages …. so at least for the younger sons, living surrounded by his kinsmen . . . where at least the sons of Rachel would be able to marry suitable women through some form of arrangement, on issues over who was most pure.
Living with exception to these kinsmen, when Joseph to his family had allegedly become the outsider – or not. Did you note the obsessions in the family … over who was “chosen” or who had the birth right, as the sons of Leah, now grown men, demeaned the sons of the handmaids by calling them slaves – what ultimately leads to the demise. Of Joseph. For twenty-some years, in the perspective of Jacob (who had also left home for twenty years.) And what happens to those who obsess, who are not open to amending their lives — as a son reflects the father.
Yes, how the sons humbled Jacob, per these stories. The suggestion passed along was if you were to dwell in the house of Laban, just as Lot had dwelled in Sodom, couldn’t you engage in licentious behavior .. With your handmaids? When you did not know anyone else there, when your hope in relationships with your true love was blocked by the system, when the order of fathers involved the marriage of firstborn daughters, and you couldn’t do anything about that world you had moved into. (And so the perspective of Jacob’s sons in the dénouement of one story, into what they had been born into.)
What is the sacrifice, in the mores of the sons of Jacob who had been formed by their different mothers, or by the handmaids of their mothers? Note the separation in the story, involving the sons of Jacob, in the movement in the story of nomads. Where is the lamb now, for the grandsons of Isaac? I think that the story in this relationship between Joseph and his brothers and with their father is about what happens concerning the relationship AFTER the betrayal. Or what would happen to the bond, in the twenty-two years that transpired, before Jacob traveled to Egypt to find his son, to find salvation. After the sons of Jacob had betrayed Joseph …. after the sons of Jacob had betrayed their father.
When a father finds salvation through his son. Had there been a threat that the sons of Jacob would be disowned? What was their fears in the story over their own personal recognized illicit sexual relationships? Or had it been over eating the limbs of living animals, maybe like other members of Laban’s clan had done? What did this failure to keep kosher mean in their torture and eating of living animals? Or did this recall the command given to Jacob as he prepared to face off against Esau? That command in chapter 32 of Genesis had been “the children of Israel may not eat the displaced tendon, which is on the socket of the hip, until this day, for he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip, in the hip sinew.” And now their fears when there father heard reports about their behavior? And Jacob not dealing with the issue? When he had been so long immersed into the culture of Laban, which was his own mother’s family. Had you forgotten the moment when the hip injury occurred while wrestling with the angel in the night? Had you forgotten the visible injury …. the disabled in the story of Jacob and sons?
After all of Abram’s concern over purity, after what he had done to Hagar, which one day would result in circumcisions, leading up to the moment of the Akedah, what had become of the post traumatic stress of Isaac, in the conflict over belonging to the God of Abraham, because Abraham himself was so divided in his love, over issues of purity? Did you note the constant strife between the herdsmen — the stories over and over about shepherds — between brothers which always exists in relationships which come out of place, of bloodlines? When at this point in the Book of Genesis, how many of these sons were the bastard sons of Jacob?
So did Abraham disown Hagar and her son when he set them free? What was the perspective in this family of Jacob? Had there been a threat that the sons of Jacob’s handmaids would be disowned, if not set free?
And so the question of birthright. Was this the immaturity of a youngster with a developing inner talent but given no real direction, in this the slow development of the gift of prophecy, using a talent for personal profit to become beloved? “Any evil he saw in his brothers” – the sons of Leah –“he would tell his father.” How did people deal with strangeness, over who were your half-brothers or your full brothers? Sons so much like Eve who felt that she could do anything because she came from the Garden of Eden where God dwelled, or over who your mother was? Contrast the God of Abram and the definition of self-esteem to the concepts of the sons of Jacob with Jacob’s limited sense still of one birth right, no better than any other people, or any one son if the Lord was really with you. In this evolutionary developing story, in the shared God of Abraham, Chosen People who one day come to have their own children if not PLACE.
There is a danger living around your own kinsmen, as we all come to think alike with God before seemingly forced out of the Land of Canaan? So, Joseph suspected that the sons of Leah were engaged in illicit sexual relationships. And for reporting on these three matters, Rashi explains, Joseph was punished … by his brothers.
Behold the sacrifice. In the offense that Joseph could hardly have remembered, Reuben had slept with Bilah. What I believe to be missing in the mystery of the Book of Genesis is that neither Isaac nor Ishmael, in trying to save Abraham – on matters of shame – ever reported what had almost happened to their respective mothers, on Mount Moriah. In a similar coverup, had Reuben, the first born son, ever explained to Joseph how Jacob had tried to take his birth right away like Jacob had with his own brother Esau? When did you discover that Jacob was this flawed hero? Or had this been another “Don’t tell your mother” moment which seemed a part of THE birth right. Much like a journalism major has no idea what they are getting into in a place like Russia or in the Philippines, it is dangerous work to want to be a theologian. So did Reuben love these Egyptian handmaids like he knew his father who engaged in illicit sexual relationships never had? And fifteen or sixteen years later, there is Joseph reporting on the illicit sexual relationships of the firstborn sons of Jacob. And for this, Rashi explains, Joseph – on matters of shame – was punished by his brothers. With all the wars which came out of identity connected to PLACE, there is sacrifice, as fathers over and over are sacrificing their sons. In stories about the seen and the unseen, note how just as a brother saved a brother, like in a reconciliation between Jacob and Esau, as Reuben suggested that Joseph be cast into this pit in the desert, “… do not lay a hand upon him.” So with all all the hoodwinking in between, about whether he had been killed, Reuben unknowingly first sacrificed his birthright out of his unconditional love for Bilah, and now consequently came to save the life of Joseph who was allied with the sons of Bilah.
Note the movement in the story of belonging which came out of a displacement in the story of Joseph. It was difficult when you left the PLACE where you grew up to search for a mate who was as pure as Sarah, as Rebekah, as Rachel while living outside the tribe, in the growing world. When it had been Rachel who had been most pure in the story of Joseph. That charley horse of the throat comes on the day that you recognize the part of Joseph in the invisible sacrifice with the birth right, while living outside the tribe – in what he had come to sacrifice, in his role of the lamb. Even when the world comes to adore you… from his own position of awkwardness, after being accused of raping the daughter of the chamberlain, in a family that slaughtered the king’s animals, Joseph is imprisoned. In “the ax to the frozen sea ending”in the dénouement of the story of Joseph, did you ever sense from his displacement the deep feeling like a charley horse of the throat when you recognize his Post Traumatic Stress disordering, about what is lost of the inheritance if not the birthright as TIME replaces PLACE, on issues of identity? Joseph had saved his brothers, but had not saved himself, and in his marriage to the daughter of a priest of the sun-god seemed to have sacrificed a future? In a “be careful for what you pray” story, the sons of Jacob survived as outsiders until their grandchildren’s grandchildren became slaves for the Egyptians, based upon Joseph’s sacrifice of his identity.
When into what they had been born, Joseph’s two sons were half-Egyptian, so Joseph surely came to understand all the turmoil among his brothers on concepts of what it means to be sons of servants, handmaids, slaves, or God’s Chosen — in sitting at table with Hebrews or even shepherds. As the Book of Genesis concludes, Joseph succeeds where Abraham fails, giving up forever whatever he had come to know of God … if Abraham had killed his first born son over issue of purity? Living in the “credentialed” world, in order to make a living there is a need presenting credentials to the proper authorities, in order to be recognized with the right to speak about the meaning of pedigree if not birth right … in the sacrifice of birthright, to start over? When every act of creation, noted Picasso, involves a form of destruction. And so again Abraham’s idea, to sacrifice the future – through a son. Could Jacob ever explain, like ABRAHAM could to his to his son that he had fathered Isaac not for the world — but for Sarah, after he had fathered Ishmael for the world, so that his God would not die? And so this story which reflects all the conflict and turmoil in the lives of Jacob and Sons, on world issues of insiders and outsiders? As Abraham had tried to make a sacrifice of his own purity before God with Sarah for others, few outsiders would ever understand the Akedah. Imagine the reaction of an outsider, if they ever came to understand the continuum ever since the story of Cain, that first born son of Eve and Adam, in the connection of sacrifice to purity and the future of the world. In the stories of real relationship, by the end of the Book of Genesis, the sons of Joseph had forever lost their blood purity, but lived on? And so begins the long period of time with the question, “dead or alive?” About the birthright, like in this story of Joseph – with the long-range repercussion, that the young never saw after what they were born into, so much like the hostility of Rebekah, after Isaac had married this outsider, through the arrangement by a servant of Abraham. To one day FEEL the inner hostility to the age-old institutions, by the servants.
In the Middle East where there still is constant strife between the herdsmen like between Abraham and his nephew Lot, the sons and grandsons of Abraham were still dealing with the post traumatic stress over issues of purity, on the inheritance, over who was better than who – selling their brothers off, contending with betrayal, pretending their prayers reached higher than the prayers of those who had lost their sense of PLACE in the world, in dealing with all their human and divine relationships, in preserving the heritage and somehow passing it on. Locate the innocent in each of the stories: in the story of Noah and in all of the stories concerning Abraham. To save the world? To be put into a position to save the world through his son, like the son of David built THE Temple, this one son of Jacob. To really save all of Israel… for a while. In the focus of salvation, locate the conflict over who was most pure, when a child had no choice over the purity of the world they were born into – when you had so many different mothers living in the Motherland, with a missing peace. In these stories of Identity about Native-born and the aliens, over who was better than who, I have come to learn somehow to pray for peace, even when I, so much like Cain, am no longer among the most pure.
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