This week, Jacob finally makes it home. Here’s a summary from 2013, followed by 2016 comments:
“In this week’s Torah portion, Jacob, finally on his way home, repeatedly confronts his past. He sends a suitably obsequious message to Esau, relating what he’s been doing for the past 20 years, after which Esau heads out to meet him with 400 armed men. Jacob prays, then tries more diplomacy in the form of a lavish gift of livestock. He tries to protect his household by division into two camps across the river. He remains alone and, that night, wrestles with some “being,” emerging limping but with the promise of a new name, Israel. The interpretations of that incident over the centuries vary – see https://igplotzk.wordpress.com/2012/11/29/wrestling-in-parashat-vayishlach-2007/
– but I believe the main point to be that Jacob has to wrestle to move forward, so that he is damaged physically but spiritually becomes whole.
“The reunion goes very (too?) smoothly, and the brothers part. Jacob comes to Beth El, where he’d slept on a stone pillow and made a vow so many years before, sets up an altar, and is given the name Israel. His wife Rachel dies giving birth to his twelfth son, Benjamin. Jacob finally arrives home, and years later he and Esau come together to bury their father Isaac. The portion ends with a listing of Esau’s descendants.”
There is a nice symmetry to Jacob’s story from the flight from Esau to the burial of Isaac:
|Jacob and Esau break apart over Isaac||Jacob and Esau come together to bury Isaac|
|Jacob flees Esau, penniless||Jacob, now rich, meets Esau and they reconcile|
|Jacob effectively loses Rebecca, never seeing her again||Rebecca’s nurse Deborah dies|
|First comes to Beth El, anointing an altar||Returns to Beth El, offering at the altar|
|Jacob dreams about angels||Jacob dreams of wrestling with an angelic being|
|Jacob meets Rachel||Rachel dies|
There are many parallel structures throughout the Torah. Some of these form intricate sequences of language, events or themes, known as chiastic structures, or chiasms, having the general form A B C D E … E’ D’ C’ B’ A’. For example,
Jacob and Esau quarrel because of Isaac’s blessing.
Jacob flees home, penniless and alone,
Stops at Beth El,
Dreams of angels,
Matures during 20 years with Laban,
Dreams of wrestling an angelic being, and
Returns to Beth El.
Jacob comes home, rich and with a huge household.
Jacob and Esau come together to bury Isaac.
Such structures provide a satisfying symmetry of language, events, and themes, kind of like literary karma.
There are a few disturbing incidents in this portion concerning Jacob’s children. Dinah is raped by a Hivite prince, Shechem, who then declares his love and asks to marry her. His father Hamor is pleased at the thought of a merger with this rich family. But Dinah’s brothers Levi and Shimon plot revenge. They insist that the city’s males all be circumcised and, when they are recovering, massacre them and plunder the city. Jacob only chastises his sons, and not very convincingly, after the fact. The moral muddiness of this story is summarized by the title of Yitzhaq Feder’s essay, “The Defilement of Dina: Uncontrolled Passions, Textual Violence and the Search for Moral Foundations” Later, Reuben, who, as first-born, should be the brothers’ role model, instead decides he has the right to sleep with his father’s concubine/wife Bilhah and does so, to Jacob’s disgust. So none of the three oldest sons of Jacob seem to have the potential to be his successor. Next week, we meet one who does.
Recently visiting my hometown, I ran into Bev, a classmate I had not seen in years. We updated each other on careers, marriages, children, and found common ground discussing the joys and hardships of being the single parent of a teenager.
She admitted the decisions she made and advice she gave as a mother were based on hope and instinct rather than any certainty of what was best. I agreed, but said our parents probably felt the same way—and we hadn’t turned out too badly.
“Yeah,” she replied. “But we had real parents. Our kids just have us.”
I understood exactly what she meant.
—Contributed by John R. Griffin
From 2011, by IGP:
When my daughter was about ten, she was grumbling at the dinner table about how some of her classmates were “sucking up” to their teacher, and remarked how I didn’t have to deal with that at work (as a grown-up). After I stopped laughing and choking on my food, I said that, “sucking up” very much exists in the workplace, and in fact there was this woman who’d come into Human Resources who was doing very well because she was the master at sucking up to the managers. Then I came back to earth and we talked about school.
Not long after, Roz had lunch at work with me. My co-workers and I were saying how impressed we were with a woman whom we’d heard give a talk recently, and how rapidly she was rising through the ranks. At which Roz piped up innocently, “Did she suck up?” I tried to cover my tracks by saying, “Uh, I think she’s just very good at her work.” [By the way, neither of my children has any desire whatsoever for a career in a corporation. Wonder why.]
I’m the man that made wrestling famous. Hulk Hogan (the first pro wrestler I heard of, from my husband)
Wrestling was like stand-up comedy for me. Dwayne Johnson
Believe it or not, I kind of went into professional wrestling so I could get an avenue into acting. Kurt Angle
Artistic temperament sometimes seems a battleground, a dark angel of destruction and a bright angel of creativity wrestling. Madeleine L’Engle
War has rules, mud wrestling has rules – politics has no rules. Ross Perot
Diplomacy with the police II firstname.lastname@example.org (Dan N Wiebe)
My brother’s psychology professor, a Yankee’s Yankee and a feminist’s feminist, tells the following story on herself to illustrate that doctorates don’t necessarily make you smart.
She was driving to a workshop in Atlanta from her home in Ohio. It was about 10 am, and she’d been driving the entire preceding day and night herself, and she was consequently not in the best of tempers as she searched for a motel in which to crash.
A Georgia state policeman pulled her over, got out of his cruiser, swaggered up to her driver’s window, bent down, and drawled, “Lookie here, darlin’,”–uh oh, everybody duck–“Lookie here, darlin’, nobody blows through Georgia that fast.”
Said the feminist Yankee overtired psychology professor: “Sherman did.”
She says he was not satisfied merely to give her a speeding ticket; he made her follow him fifty miles out of her way to Nowheresburg, GA, and wait at the police station until three in the afternoon for a circuit judge to arrive so that he could explain to her why it wasn’t the best idea in the world to be impolite to policemen, who were after all interested only in creating the safest possible environment for everybody including her, etc. etc. The lecture went on for about two hours, she says, after which she was released to drive the fifty miles back to her route and resume her search for someplace to crash.
A Jewish Tradition of Changing Names (abridged) June 12, 2013
By Royal Young
I changed my name from Hazak Brozgold to Royal Young when I was 20 years old. I was a drunk college drop-out who had moved back into my parent’s Lower East Side apartment. Getting rid of my hard to pronounce Hebrew name felt like a step toward escaping my youth and my disapproving Jewish parents. My moniker had set me apart in classrooms and the ghetto downtown streets I’d grown up in.
They named me Hazak Brozgold. Hazak means “strong” in Hebrew. But I always felt weak. A shy, quiet bookworm I shrank from the rough streets around me, finding escape in making my neuropsychologist mom administer me Rorschach tests instead of going on play dates, or painting crude canvasses with my artist/social worker father in his cluttered studio.
By 20, I wanted to run away from them. Yet, what started out as a pompous challenge — changing my name to Royal Young — strangely allowed me to become closer to my parents and my Hebrew heritage. I took to Royal naturally. I was used to sticking out. I cut down on drinking and started getting published under my new byline. I was more comfortable with a name that people pinned to a profession rather than a religion.
I began to wonder if picking your own persona had less to do with disguising your heritage and more to do with finding a shield to deal with the more unpleasant aspects of making your work public. Countless rejection, hate mail, harsh editing, scrutiny when my pieces were published, Royal took them all in stride. I’m not sure if Hazak would have been able to.
I also relished having a part of me that was private. My parents would never stop calling me Hazak. I loved being able to catch up with my parents over weekly dinners and be reminded, simply by the name they had so lovingly given me, that I had a healthy, whole, strong family to support me when work became overwhelming.
It’s been eight years. Only this year did I change my passport. The change is not about shame, or leaving my roots behind. It’s a decision Hazak made. One he is finally ready to fully be proud of.