Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Va-Yishlah, or Israel and Edom

+ I find the commentary on Esau in Etz Chayim interesting. Esau is "viewed as the ancestor of the Edomites (36:1) who sided with the Babylonians in destroying the First Temple and as the prototype of later Roman and European anti-Semites." I never knew there was a "model" for the anti-Semite.

+ The divine force (Gen. 32:25). According to the commentary, classic thinkers are "nearly unanimous in seeing him as evil, a malign force." The commentary goes on, though, to say that the text can also be seen as Jacob wrestling with his conscience. "He outgrows his Jacob identity as the trickster and becomes Israel, the one who contends with G-d and people instead of avoiding or manipulating them." So if the divine force with which he wrestles exemplifies his typical "lie and flee" attitude (which is bad), but the outcome is that Jacob becomes something better (Israel, which is good), then how can the divine force be viewed as "evil, a malign force"? I suppose it goes back to the age-old question of whether good can come from an evil act. Anyhow, I disagree with the classic commentaries. 'Nuff said.

+ Ahh, here's the morsel of knowledge for the evening, which I think just about everyone could deserve to hear. It comes from R. Jacob: "G-d answers a person's prayers if the person prays by searching himself, becoming his own opponent." It returns us to the idea that we can beg and plead with G-d ... but it takes so much more than just a prayer.

+ Okay. Either there's a typo or the commentary failed to address why there are two different spellings of the name of the place where Jacob wrestled with the divine force. In Gen. 32:30, it is spelled Peniel (פניאל) and in Gen. 32:32, it is spelled (פנואל). The difference, of course, it the middle letter (yod and sureq, respectively). The transliteration, as such, is Peniel and Penuel, respectively. Not a huge deal, of course, but usually there's simply a stray marking in texts that create discrepancies in the texts over words or places, not completely different letters!

+ Ahh! A biblical precedent for Kosher practices. In the future, I'll point folks to Gen. 32:33. "That is why the children of Israel to this day do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the socket of the hip, since Jacob's hip socket was wrenched at the thigh muscle." As per the commentary, "This biblical verse underlies the requirement in kosher slaughter that "the entire hind quarter of the animal be considered unfit for consumption by Jews (Ashkenazic practice)." This is one other reason I'm sort of glad I consume no beef. I don't even have to think about it!

Note: That is also the first reference to the "children of Israel" in the Bible. Of course, it means not only Jacob's children but all Jews."

+ I admire the commentary on Jacob's decision to order Leah and her children before Rachel and Joseph (which we all know causes a big ruckus later). The commentary addresses favoritism among families and says, "Children long to have their parents recognize their individual strengths and talents, to be treated uniquely, not equally." For a second there I was rethinking the desire of having two children. This is a good parenting strategy, nu?

+ The Dinah/Shechem incident reminds me of Luke and Laura on General Hospital. It's sort of a twisted concept, when you think about it. In the Luke/Laura drama of General Hospital, Luke raped Laura, who then fell in love with him. They got married and lived happily ever after (as much as someone on a soap opera can, that is). In the case of Dinah, though, and her brothers' reaction of slaughter upon the people is defended by Maimonides on the grounds "that they became implicated in the serious crime of the rapist by not punishing him." Is this permission of the death penalty? It sure sounds like it to me. The brothers did not assume that G-d would take care of the matter, and rather took things into their own hands. (Gen. 34:25) Yet it would appear G-d approves of the action, even still (Gen. 35:5).

+ In the Torah, there are several occurrences of El Shaddai (אל שדי), which the commentary says is a reference to G-d that has an unknown meaning. I was curious about this (there has to be an etymology for everything, right), so I decided to Google. According to popular site "Hebrew for Christians," this reference to G-d means "The All Sufficient God" because evidently, Shad means “breast” in Hebrew. This, of course, doesn't really express how one gets from "breast" to "all sufficient."

Now, the root, shadad, means "to destroy" or "to overpower." Now, this instance I'm referencing appears after Jacob's (Israel's) kids go out and pillage the people. G-d appears to Jacob, telling him to book it. So, perhaps it was an ode to G-d as condoning the destruction? El Shaddai as a "G-d who destroys" ...? I find that the "Hebrew for Christians" site is false in its translation. I also like the Midrashic interpretation of shin-dalet-yod as an acronym standing for "Guardian of the Doors of Israel." I love that there are so many instances of interpretation of words as acronyms for profound phrases!

But this makes me wonder why Etz Chayim suggests that the meaning is unknown ...

+ Call me crazy, but this connection of Edom/Esau to the model for antiSemites is fascinating. It is interesting how the two lines split so significantly. It also makes me curious about the idea of the "self-hating Jew." Is there a little bit of Edom in the self-loathing Jew? The haftarah for Va-Yishlah this week is the entirety of Obadiah. Particularly striking are the following lines (Obadiah 1:15-18) which address the House of Edom:
As you did, so shall it be done to you;
Your conduct shall be requited.
Yeah, against all nations
The day of the Lord is at hand.
That same cup that you drank on My
Holy Mount
Shall all nations drink evermore,
Drink till their speech grows thick,
And they become as though they had never
But on Zion's mount a remnant shall
And it shall be holy.
The House of Jacob shall dispossess
Those who dispossessed them.
The House of Jacob shall be fire,
And the House of Joseph a flame,
And the House of Esau shall be straw;
They shall burn it and devour it,
And no survivor shall be left on the House
of Esau
-- for the Lord has spoken.
This is incredibly expressive, and I could probably go on and on about this for hours. I find it fascinating, the striking mood of these statements regarding the fall of the First Temple and the house of Edom's role in it. This is incredibly inspiring, saying that no matter who tries to destroy the House of Israel, they shall be straw and Israel a fire. Edom is the "enemy" of the Jewish people, the destroyer, those who seek the destruction of the Jews. Edom is the Nazis. Edom is the Crusaders. Obadiah captures the essence of the Jewish history long before much of the destruction beset the House of Israel.

Of course, Obadiah left out the most important aspect of Jewish history, and every event of attempted destruction. There's an oft-quipped line that goes something like this: "They tried to kill us, we won, let's eat!" So, Obadiah managed to leave out the eating part. Then again, so did G-d. I'm sure it was the intention though ... :)