Behold The Handmaid
Ecce ancílla! Behold the Handmaid … of the Lord!
In every story of the Hebrew Bible there is, when Abraham’s descendants are involved, the looking back. Like either for Lot’s nameless wife or Noah’s nameless wife. After all of the nameless received names.
Had you watched the news-clips this week from Macedonia or Hungary, and next week from Germany? In times of annihilation, as these sheep are willing to get branded by Church and/or State, in order to be saved. And note the earth in the story, in drought, in famine …. or even in times of plenty, but with winter not that far away. Behold the nameless in the story, carrying the Fear of the Lord with you, like perhaps the descendants of Ishmael these days? With no emotional attachment to you, these Muslims expected to be saved with welcome – maybe like Egypt once extended that kind of hospitality to Jacob & Sons? Only this time in Europe? Did you still feel the themes in these stories as a character is faced with being reduced to utter non-existence? Or just turned away? Would you put some trust going in, in your God? Did you work at knowing your God through stories, in the movement in the story toward growth?
In the story of Jacob, all the characters had names in order to peel away the layers— the essential truth, like in the book, The Boys in the Boat. Note a leaving and the “Looking back.” The moving forward, but coming back to the same themes about leaving again. When what happens in the boat is like “the chase scene” at the end, with suspense? That suspense is the reason to write – in the way of immersion – a book, for the roar of the gathered spectators.
The crowd. When Abraham’s descendants are involved, there is the looking back, like for Lot’s wife … to find not only the meaning, but the connection to the past, with the concern about the missing or a lost inheritance – or just the missing. Looking back, moving forward, but coming back to the same themes about leaving again. And so the focus on The Relationship – The True Relationship – connected to love.
So instead of remembering, the goal was to really come to know. For each of these characters of the Book of Genesis, there is The Call, in relation to Church and/or State. “Not by Might. Not by power.”
In the movement in the story, toward growth, a child doesn’t even KNOW how she/he were formed…or how I was created. So at what age do you explain? And how do you explain to the children of emigrants who left it all behind, living in exile – as a child of exile? Did you ever note until he is no longer heard from, how Reuben worked to stay immersed in what he had been born into? With the Birth Right. When his own father thought he had lost it?
“….by Spirit alone.”
Feel The MOVEMENT in the story, with the conflict, the tension. “There was constant strife between the herdsmen of Abram and Lot…” And now again. For Abram, as for Terah, even as for Lot in stories as over and over a father finds salvation through his son. And so the revised arrangement? Did you note the CALL, in this part of the story …. like the CALL that Abram once had answered, 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, feeling their alienation, while leading his sons to a place where they might belong? Real people have to decide how to rebuild lives, in relationships, after the one you loved the most had died. Or went missing, for a while.
Immigrants. Living with the vow of Covenant every day, with the emotional attachment connected to any living sacrifice, as God has a more recognizable name, to the crowd and so did these people. When Rachel died, did Jacob slight his primary wife left behind in the eyes of Reuben? His mother, Leah? Artlessly, slight her? Reuben’s action with the handmaid of Rachel in the rivalry between two sisters, on issues of closeness to Jacob were meant to challenge his father, with the Birth Right? To only over time, in renewing vows, come to know what the vow really meant.
“God from God, light from light, True God from True God.” Rowing blind into the future, with only a Spiritual guide of the one up front, as Art becomes worth dying for. Like in the book, The Boys in the Boat, this BOAT ends up representing a lot more than their individual lives. Thus after the tear, for what we had become TOGETHER, to take half-measures, again. Or half-wives.
Emigrants. What of the Post Traumatic Stress Disordering of Isaac and his God? What of the authority of a father, Abraham and the God of Abraham? Locate the denial and the fear in the life of Jacob which motivated him to get away again … this time from Laban, as he denied the authority of Laban and his gods over Jacob. Wasn’t that the resentment that Jacob had lived with, between his own mother and his father over what was not perceived to be an equality in the God of Abraham? And Jacob’s real birthright was in leaving, so much like Abram had left his home. And for each of the protagonists of the Book of Genesis, there is The Call, in relation to the Land with the invisible borders of “Church and State,” on issues of power and might.
Settle down! In stories about leaving and coming back, feel the Restlessness. Central to the stories in the Book of Genesis is the theme of barren versus fertile, with the Jewish theme of ENOUGH when compared to the theme of sacrifice, with Joseph – the 12th child. Wasn’t there enough? Jacob with all of these sons, as well as these earthen vessels called handmaids who raised the sons of Jacob. And it had been these sons of Jacob who had elected to sacrifice the first born son of Rachel, the woman Jacob truly loved. And because Joseph as well as Benjamin were raised by a handmaid, who better had a feeling for the land, if the theory held that Bilah, like Hagar, was Egyptian …or her sister, Zilpah, the handmaid of Leah? And especially in such a household, with a greater need for a handmaid than Sarah ever had, you would as a son of Jacob, authentically know these handmaids associated with fertility in the Hebrew Bible; a handmaid is a female slave, enslaved to the wife and mistresses to the husband – in the case of both Abraham and Jacob.
Ahotay was the father of both Bilhah and Zilpah, who had been taken into captivity. In setting this captive free, it is said that Laban (Rebekah’s brother) gave him a wife named Hannah. Their two daughters included the woman Zilpah who was part of the hoodwinking in the marriage of Leah, presented as the younger of the two Ahotay daughters as a handmaid. Zilpah’s older sister was Bihah who had later been given as a handmaid to Rachel by Laban and then given by Rachel to Jacob when she failed to conceive. After Leah had four sons, Zilpah had twin sons conceived with Jacob. Bilhah too had twin sons conceived with Jacob. Leah and Rachel – unlike Sarah – were each to claim the two sons as her own. However, without the wisdom of Sarah, the rivalry between two sisters carried over in the relationships of all of the sons of Jacob, in the “be careful for what you pray” lesson. So based upon the story, could you really ever believe that Laban had set this captive Ahotay free? And so the inheritance for all the sons of Jacob, with the battle over Laban’s notion of what “Set free” meant.
The arrangement. Pilegesh is recognized by some as an Aramaic word meaning “half-wife,” in reference to handmaids. So as a son of Jacob you would know intimately the rivalry between sisters, as developed between rival sons. Compare what was happening to this generation to the previous stories with the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac. When your wife in one perspective, or your mother in another perspective, is gone. So compare Rachel to Hagar, as the mother of these half-slaves. There is all of this holiness associated with the members of the household of Jacob, yet no one knew that a woman born to be a handmaid desired to both love and be loved by one man? Like you might look for One God? And what of the jealousy based on fertility of the two sisters, in the often overlooked theme of barren versus fertile? Or on the issue of ENOUGH?
From age to age, from east to west, WHERE you come to feel a Living G*d, it is story that shapes the way you think, as you come to know in the ritual of seasons, with at least this quasi-religious timetable, where to find a Living G*d. It had been Sarah who asked for the banishment of her handmaid and her son. Why? The real Jewish theme, again and again in the Hebrew Bible, is one of annihilation, with all of these confounded separations in the stories of FIRSTS, in the Book of Genesis. So as Ishmael does get divorced from his father, what about the birth right? And with this separation, note the speed of departure, walking away at godspeed, described for any descendant of a nomad, to be at three miles per hour – not at the pace of a music video with a missing real emotional attachment. There was this lost emotional attachment …. In the perspective of the created. The blessed kids with their fears and the blessed anger which comes out from intimacy. On issues of power, when a divorce was what happened when a partner refused “the other” power over me. Maybe too much like the perspective of a child, as you clearly had made a mistake and you wanted to deny a portion of your past. Or your brothers did? When you were not equal. And the conflict here was between Sarah and her handmaid who were not, in this relationship, equal, as the first born was dispossessed of the Birth Right? In this family that believed in Birth Right. And the perceived inequality in this family was based then upon who their mother was.
The visible and the invisible. Forming the context as God’s Chosen People, did you feel the themes in these stories as a character is faced with being reduced to utter non-existence: 1) Adam and Eve, with their banishment? 2) The rest of the world, except for Noah and his family, at the time of the Great Flood? 3) Isaac on Mount Moriah? 4) And Ishmael in his very same Akedah moment on Mount Moriah thirteen years earlier, per the Qoran. 5) In the story of Reuben, the first born is dispossessed of the Birth Right again. And when your very own existence seems threatened, you turned to God? On matters of Atonement? After you sold someone into slavery?
According to Wikipedia, a pilegesh was recognized among the ancient Hebrews to have the same rights enjoyed in the house as the legitimate wife. But there was the conflict between the internal world and the external one, as far as strife. In who was Truly part of this family. With regard to social and legal standing – in the caste, in a world where shepherds were the lowest of the low – who were these sons of Bilhah? Bilah had been given to Rachel upon the marriage to Jacob, by Rachel’s father. So on issues of saving and being saved, on issues of slavery, what had Bilah taught the young men in their formative years – Dan and Naphtali, to whom she had given birth before Rachel ever did to Joseph?
And in relation to true purity, how can you forget the vexation and deception in the marriage of Leah to Jacob which seemed the inheritance that came from Rebekah’s family, now belonging as much to the sons of Jacob who are made up of the same percentage of blood from Laban that Isaac had had from Abraham? When you always married the eldest daughter off first – in the ordering, in the system within the house of Laban.
“Taking a chance on me.” Was Jacob looking for a place of peace when he left the homestead of his father? The irony was that this disrupted place was where he landed – in the homestead of his mother. Why do you think that in the relationship of Rebekah as an aunt to Rachel, his mother had left there in the first place, while facing the threat of being reduced to utter non-existence?
And with the hoodwinking of Isaac by Jacob, the hoodwinking of Jacob by Laban, what kind of sons did you expect Jacob to have? Having fallen for your mother’s niece like Abram fell for his half-sister …Jacob and so the sons of Jacob, hoodwinking their father for twenty-some years.
When you were raised by your mother’s handmaid, when you heard your half-brothers’ jokes about being slaves, did this rivalry teach you humility? Or did you grasp all of the resentment in the story?
And so another handmaid in the story. Displaced by the Fear of the Lord, Jacob’s two beloved sons of Rachel had to contend in the world, as their mother was gone from their everyday life. So locate the missing in the story, in the lives of Rachel’s sons. What is missing is the mother, with the system substitution of the handmaid raising them – in contrast to how Sarah had banished her own handmaid – with still the ghosts of ingratitude toward Hagar’s sacrifice. So the ghost in this story is the mother of Joseph who neither Benjamin nor Joseph had ever really come to know, except through her handmaid.
Note the missing relation, if the chronology in the movement of the stories representing some form of growth – as a son came to save a father? — the inequality which threatened stability, based upon the PLACE and TIME that the two youngest were born into, with the displaced ghost of Rachel. And so, in their beginning, being sold into slavery, in the early story, a son is faced with being reduced to utter non-existence. Behold Joseph! Were you sensitive enough to the chronology over a lifetime to realize there was a significant period of time when Joseph never knew for sure – with his human doubts – whether he and his brother would survive? Even with his gift of prophecy. Because if your mother had not survived, why would you ever?
The all-knowing story-teller, working for The Academy of Private Detection, before answering the question whether the G*d of Jacob would live through and/or beyond Joseph, had some exploring to do in stories about leaving and coming back. And note the conflict over power in the story, when surrounded by so many of your kinsmen. This was the very same human condition, as seen at Sodom in the threat as everyone comes to think alike, when everyone does something the same way. Even like prayer? So on matters of sacrificing Joseph, what was the big deal, with so many other sons? Banished by his own brothers, into slavery. And then the growing set of circumstances, over twenty-some years, as Jacob and all of his sons are faced with being reduced to utter non-existence by famine, along with all of Egypt. And what had Joseph learned that allowed him to save everyone? Or was it the God of Jacob that saved them all?
And so the story of Joseph, in what preceded him. In the relation of God’s Will to an inheritance which had come down from Abraham, did you feel like half a son when your mother is gone? And the sons of Jacob thought that Joseph was gone for good, like his mother Rachel? So Joseph surely came to understand all the turmoil among his brothers.
Before Joseph had ever reached the age of reason, there had been the rape of Dinah which was followed by the adultery of Reuben with the concubine of Jacob. If, on issues of relationships and ownership and handmaids and slaves, Abraham’s concern had been focused on issues of purity, wasn’t sex with a handmaid either rape of “adultery?” As any rape was the wrongful attempt to show dominion over someone – in times of war, over a place, what if you owned someone? In the transition period, as Jacob’s sons became men is the context, after the sons of Jacob/Leah had rejected the proposal for an arranged marriage to Shechem, with their concern, fifteen or sixteen years before, about illicit relationships? And the focus has changed from Jacob to that of his sons, on issues over who was most pure.
Yes, how the sons humbled Jacob, per these stories, with the missing emotional attachment before recognizing the System Substitutions, with this next generation. What is invisibly carried with the change in creation? In the challenge of modern times, the same unfinished incomplete invisible condition is over the conflict between the affiliated and the unaffiliated. In the quiet conversion called family, among uncles and nephews, over keeping a separation … or over growth … or over the distinctions between their animals — which came out of knowing – note Reuben as the firstborn son, with more than the same rights in this household? And there was an incredible main difference – perhaps like the age difference between Reuben and Joseph … or like between a handmaid in the concubine and a wife — was that the handmaid as concubine did not have an inheritance or a dowry. So this sequel to the story of the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac continued to be one of inheritance. And if, as a reader, you happened to be Muslim, did you note the same basic conflict had been between Hagar and Sarah? And all of these stories passed down since the time of Abraham – including what was to come, as King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines – involved a loving God, in the conflict over issues of who was most pure.
Now if you believed what is said according to Wikipedia – as it was regarded as the highest blessing to have many children, legitimate wives often gave their maids to their husbands to ATONE, at least in part, if they were barren – the main themes here are both somehow atonement and who it was who was able to first have an inheritance or a dowry, and then pass it down to the next generation. So is it the greatest of all irony that the dowry becomes that of slavery? And in the eyes of Ishmael, would you add the word “AGAIN.”?
The irony that Eve and Adam were displaced comes close to that of humor, unless you had some emotional attachment to these people. And in any family there are the differences in age between the eldest and the youngest, as well as the level of emotional attachment. Now according to Wikipedia – I am not Jewish so I have never read this myself – concubines are severely condemned in the Book of Leviticus. The simple truth is a human relationship was going to fail, if the women was not equal to the male. And it is the emotional attachment that I get from reading the Book of Genesis involving real people – people from whom I have descended – that gives my own relationships , human and divine, such depth.
And had it been because what Joseph had come to know through being around Bilah, who he had come to love as a mother? I sent an email to a friend of mine who now lives in New York City that a childhood friend of his lost his mother this week. “You knew my mother.” From St. Mark’s school … and at the Church. The mother who prepared the surviving son for the outside world. Long before she died. And there was a special bond because Bilah and her sons had really come to know Rachel, like Joseph never had the chance to.
Now according to Wikipedia – which I think gets it wrong without distinguishing the differences between the internal world and the external one, as far as strife way beyond legal status – the concubine commanded the same respect and inviolability as the wife, and it was regarded as the deepest dishonor for the man to whom she belonged if hands were laid upon her. But inside the family?
To live with an emotional attachment, did you see the first born son of Leah challenge his father, with the Birth Right, in a challenged based in a resentment that we all now live with. As experienced between Jacob’s own mother and his father, the ideal of a youth had been over what was not perceived to be an equality in the God of Abraham in relation to the spouse’s ideal. There is the resentment of Muslims over their perceived to be either equality or inequality of the God of Ishmael to the God of Isaac. There is the Fear of the Lord where I live over the related resentment of Muslims over their perceived to be inequality. So when it came to the handmaids, and living mostly all alone with the handmaid of Rachel, what had Joseph come to know about this world? And because the mother of Joseph died in childbirth, Bilah had formed Joseph to be who he was, Joseph acted friendly toward these sons of Bilah, the demeaned sons of the handmaids who were being called slaves by the first born sons of Leah, in a continuation of the story of who was better than who.
One of us. To keep a story of a great leader and prophet as written untouched. Were you sensitive enough to the chronology over a lifetime to realize there was at some point a significant invisible splitting that had gone on among the brothers? At some point did a people reverence something – a Land, a language, a story, a love – too much, with too little thinking about reality?
Language is always based based upon the PLACE and TIME. So how else did Joseph come to communicate with Egyptians except through a language taught by someone within his household who might know Egyptian? So the separation among brothers was based upon those who understood Egyptian and the other half who did not? And now reflect back on what had happened in that scene when Joseph was sold into slavery. Did you ever consider divorce and splitting as a form of sacrifice, in a new separation, based upon language with a refinement with a language?
One of us, and more – Joseph, when surrounded by so many of your kinsmen, knowing the language of the handmaids, one day rescued by…. was there any invisible irony that his brothers gave Joseph to Ishmaelites? To ATONE, for a perceived past wrong-doing of Abraham – if you wore blinders from the future that judged the past harshly? A human relationship is going to fail – which seems to be the wisdom of Sarah – if one man is not equal to the other.
As the first born son of Jacob challenges his father with the Birth Right, on the surface, Reuben is dispossessed of the birth right, until the reader comes to see the power of the Birth Right over time. It was with the power of birth right that Reuben saved the beloved son, who one day saved all of the sons.
“Behold the handmaid of the Lord!” It was the handmaid for whom Reuben sacrificed the birth right to challenge the morality of his father on issues of true love! In a world without Ten Commandments, feel the ghosts of the past, of issues of slavery. Examine the handmaids in the story who formed Joseph, which led to the saving of the entire line of Jacob if not Abraham, as you follow the Family Tree responsible for all of this Spiritual power, in a partial answer to the “Where is the lamb?” question, as a son came to save a father. So in a story with many perspectives of salvation, locate the VICTIM, through a betrayal, followed by denial, accompanied by Abandonment. The birth right was in a an act of saving – this so visible Act of Faith. And so, at some point to save someone, in an act of mercy. And so this BIRTH RIGHT, with a justified right to leave, with a lingering question of the degree of emotional attachment to one another, in a house filled with tattle-tales and hood-winkers; and hand-maids? In the end of the Book of Genesis is another evolving story with a theme to save and atone, at the same time. Together.
Copyright © 2015.
You are welcome to follow this blog, along with 21 other people who together are trying to resolve the Greatest Mystery… through story.
Occasionally, some of your visitors may see an advertisement here. But please note that the advertisers did not compensate the writer for the content of his blog. So who was exploiting whom? So …. let my people go!
JesuitEducated. creighton daily reflections calendar
Virgen de Guadalupe