Stages of Satire

Stages of Satire

by

Howard Adelman

In the debate over satire, Malcolm Gladwell inevitably re-introduced Northrop Frye, one of the most important and influential teachers I had in graduate school when I audited his course, even though, and perhaps because, I could then only grasp 15% of what he was saying. In Frye’s book, Fearful Symmetry, he wrote that, “tragedy and satire are artistically justifiable only when their finality is paradoxical, and where a subsequent resolution of that paradox is implied.” But, as he made clear in the Anatomy of Criticism, this is the pinnacle of satire, not its exhaustive characterization. Or really the foundation, for the satiric rungs of satire descend rather than rise.

Satire at its best points to an opening from the bleak horror of the current dominant power. That opening is implied, not stated. For satire is open-ended as opposed to that which it satirizes, which is always a closed system. The power of parody at its best, that is, at its lowest, is to reveal the paradox, to unveil it, to show the underlying structure, the anatomy that unites both the closed-system being satirized and the open-system acidly dissolving the appearances of its target. Satire really works best when it unveils both the cultural limitations of the society in which we all live while, if possible in the greatest satire, pointing beyond it. In that sense, unlike its target, it is not just caustic, but moral as well.

Satire in the end is the ultimate in irony. It tries to establish that the established order which promises to deconstruct the world and rebuild it in a new/old vision is the acid; the satire that adopts the caustic disguise is the real poetry. This is the paradox. Satire adopts the caustic position of its target to reveal total destruction as the ultimate and end goal of the system being satirized, but satire leaves a residue, an outline, a sketch, an etching of what can and should follow. Whereas the object of satire is revealed as the devil’s work, satire plays devilish tricks to leave hope, gaiety and delight alive beyond the morbid that is being deconstructed and even destroyed. A fantasy world of delight can be envisioned behind the broken and shattered Black Mirror that the dystopic and myopic would bequeath us in the best form of satire that transforms the normal world, or a logical extension thereof, into a shocking horror show.

But satire must stink if it is to do its work. When one of the greatest works of satire in the history of literature, Jonah, is placed on a reverential pedestal and read every Yom Kippur on the annual replay of atonement, when the laughter is drained entirely from its veins and the rabbis in reading it have lost their sense of humour totally, then its acrid function has been lost. One suspects that those who have elevated Jonah to such a state may be guilty of trying to avoid atonement for their own effort to construct either a closed legal system or a closed sentimental moral one. Unfortunately, the best form of satire has the potential to leave laughter behind so that what is presented is taken as a serious rather than a satiric text.

My son’s criticism of those forms of satire to which he responds negatively is that they destroy a target by simply taking the techniques of the target to the nth degree, and undermining the possibility of effective action, even of heroism to confront and combat the work of the devil. Heraclitus wrote that the essence of life is water, for water symbolizes change, but it is also the eternal instrument of corrosion. (Cf. Duncan McFarlane (2011) “The Universal Literary Solvent: Northrop Frye and the Problem of Satire, 1942 to 1947,” ESC, 153-172) Sooner or later, it washes away the detritus and leaves behind the skeletal structure that allows the body to stand and move forward. Sometimes that water can be very acidic so that we are overwhelmed by the smell of sulphur and fall down laughing without being able to grasp any alternative to a universe of hell.

The following disorganized and dissolute, indiscriminate but very incriminating zingers from Frankie Boyle’s piece in The Guardian (8 February 2017) on Donald Trump fall into this category:

Presidents always enter office with something to prove, it’s just rarely their sanity.

He is a super-villain in a world without heroes, a man so obnoxious and unhappy that karma may see him reincarnated as himself.

You kind of wish he’d get therapy, but at this stage it’s like hiring a window cleaner for a burning building.

He’s not a classic Nazi, but would burn books if his supporters knew how to read.

Being on reality TV is the closest he ever got to reality.

Trump is at war with Saturday Night Live. He thinks it’s horrible and yet he can’t stop watching. Pretty much the same as how the world feels about him.

At other times, the water is so mild, even if on close reading it is more caustic than sulphuric acid, that it passes over our head, or, more accurately, past our funny bone and we lose both the sense of what to laugh at as well as the ability to laugh. Jonah is a case in point.

What is satire? It is militant irony in Frye’s words. Its instrument is humour; its target in its ultimate form is that which threatens life, Thanatos, the Grim Reaper. Does that mean that satire which merely belittles, which merely engages in a reductio ad absurdum, is bad satire, is unacceptable satire, is satire that is destructive without any constructive intent? Yes and no. And perhaps maybe. For there is a minimalist form of satire that is simply caustic, as illustrated by Frankie Boyle above, that imitates the negativity of its object without pointing to a way out.

That in itself is not a bad thing. The fact that certain forms of satire have severe limitations does not make them worthy of discard. They serve a purpose even when they fail to dissolve adequately and thoroughly, even when caught up more with the stench of the object of their hatred than the stink that engulfs us all. When Jonathan Swift in meticulous detail describes how the Lilliputians tie up Gulliver and immobilize him, how the hero is made impotent and reduced to a powerless state, we do learn how the multitude of small minds can defeat the ideals of a Statue of Liberty, can behead that statue and hold it forth as a trophy of war.

When my son remonstrated me for using putdowns to deal with the absurdity of Donald Trump, he referred me to a podcast by Malcolm Gladwell called “The Satire Paradox.” (http://revisionisthistory.com/episodes/10-the-satire-paradox. Malcolm Gladwell seemed to need satire to tell a moral tale, to establish a larger truth. But the real paradox of satire is that in its greatest expression, the paradox, is not between the “truth” unveiled and the crude means used to unveil it, but the tension between the caustic quality needed to reveal the anatomical structure that has allowed a Donald Trump to take power in the name of a closed order and the ability to point beyond to an alternative open order, to a world of possibility rather than one determined, defined and locked down. There is no truth that prevents a satirical sketch from being interpreted in radically different ways. Malcolm Gladwell wants satire to be didactic when, in its essence, it is not and cannot be. The object of satire is NOT to drive the audience towards TRUTH, but to drive them away from a false vision, a nightmare claimed to be true.

It is a mistake to believe that if we do not get the message, if there is no message to get, then the laughter is toothless and has lost the fearsome quality of the tiger in Blake’s Fearful Symmetry. For even satire, in which mirth overwhelms, frees us from the ropes of the binding vision of a demagogue, though it fails to unveil the platform on which we can stand and confront the beast. Malcolm Gladwell criticizes American satire for focusing on the mannerisms rather than the underlying mechanisms of the destructive order, but the mannerisms are the mechanisms. That is the issue.

The satire may be of such poor quality that this is not entirely made clear so that, consumed with laughter, the viewer or listener is still lost in the clouds of his tears, but insofar as it engages in a fearsome attack, even without redemption, it performs a magnificent function. Even in its weakest form of name-calling, satire with virtually no irony is still a sharp spear to tear open anomalies and injustices, follies and crimes, even if it does not encourage or facilitate an engagement in protest. If it just opens eyes and does not engage our intellect, it is satire nonetheless and can be very funny when done well.

At its highest (really, the lowest) level, satire is as precious as platinum. As McFarlane put it in describing Book 11 of Ovid’s Metamorphoses on the death of Orpheus, it, “involves all of Frye’s ultimate criteria for satire. First, an object of attack: the Maenads are a possible target, since their actions are initially ridiculous and finally deplorable, but Orpheus himself is the definite target of the women’s fury. Second, elements of the grotesque or absurd founded upon fantasy: these are plentifully present, in the rending of Orpheus, the fantastic charms of his music, and the punitive planting of the Maenads…Frye suggests the satirist as an author of effective but unthinking brutality, a mindless hatred of the lyrical arts Orpheus embodies…the poet raises, refines, constructs; the satirist debases, defiles, and destroys.”

The steps of satire begin in fragmentation, descend into the epic and then the dramatic, and on rungs four and five to the lyric and saturnalia. Satire at its base is militant irony, irony on the march, founded on fantasy. When the Thracian women, stand-up comics like Boyle, attack Orpheus/Trump with stones, Orpheus may respond with trying to charm the rocks themselves, to neutralize them with a lyre bequeathed to him by his father, Fred. They are impoverished lyrics or, in Donald’s case, tweets. But, as his body is torn asunder by the unremitting attacks, Orpheus descends into the underworld of the epic. There he joins the beautiful Eurydice, Melania Trump, whom Boyle describes as having the “look of a woman frantically trying to unlearn English, appalled to find that this only makes her understand her husband more clearly.”

Trump gives up on Orpheus and falls back on his obsession with gold, his compulsive attachment to wealth. Bacchus transforms Trump into Midas. As Midas, his wish is granted. As president, he can make many more billions than he made as a developer or as a reality star on TV or as a salesman of his own brand. Then, in a dramatic flourish, everything he touches turns to gold, but gold grapes are not only tasteless, they break your teeth even though gold is the softest of metals. Finally, he is even unable to drink a glass of water because, at his touch, it turns into a solid. He asks that his wish for solid gold and the banishment of change, of water, the wish that turned into a curse, be lifted.

That wish is also granted, only to transform Trump into a judge of songs of seduction, lyrical efforts at persuasion. DT goes back to becoming a reality TV star, but one who now occupies the White House. Pan takes on Apollo, the archetype of prudence and wisdom but, in the underworld, Trump’s own father. Orpheus becomes Oedipus. The god of Mount Tmolus had declared Apollo the winner with the most votes, but the rigged system that Trump so vilified now allows Trump to declare Pan, the god of the wild, Dionysius in drag, with hindquarters that can scale mountains and horns on his head that can butt anyone off the mountain he meets. Pan, the classic Pan, not the sweet sentimental Peter who fulfills the fantasies of children, but the ruffian, is the new guise of the victor.

Apollo metes out revenge, turning Trump into a donkey and we are now at the level of saturnalia. Trump travels to Troy, currently called Washington. The parallels now become literal. Using very different devices, Laomedon tricks two gods, both Apollo and Neptune, the Democrats and the Republicans, into building the wall of Troy. But as has been his practice with all sub-contractors, Trump qua Orpheus qua Midas qua Pan, now qua donkey or ass, stiffs them. Washington is punished and flooded with harlequins. In the ultimate irony, the very attempt to stem the flood with a wall, produces the flood itself, not of hardworking immigrants, but of every fraudster and soap salesman from across the land. The attempt to build a wall actually opened the floodgates to inanity. In the final stage of the descent, Hesione, Ivanka Trump, must be sacrificed. Her clothing line is delisted at both Nordstrom and even in the Hudson Bay stores.

Trump now takes on the guise of Hercules. To save Hesione, he must trade in his horses. This time, it is Trump who is double-crossed by no less than the ruler of Zimbabwe. No horses, no Hesione. Debauchery turns into debacle as Ivanka is transformed from a sweet sign of reason and good will into a lioness, and brother kills brother and brother-in-law escapes from the mad apocalyptic world into which all have descended to find a new kingdom. But, in concert with Troy/Washington, Ceyx’s kingdom has also become the very swamp that Trump promised to drain. The dream of turning a desert into a land of milk and honey has become an extension of chaos and self-destruction, where women go mad and are transformed into birds, where wild wolves ravage both farm animals and people.

Lamentations follow in the wake of Bannon’s destructive foul-smelling brew. The ultimate of satire is that it becomes prophetic truth and reveals total devastation.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Jacob and Esau: Part II The Prize and the Deception

Jacob and Esau: Tol’dot – Genesis 25:19-28:9

Part II: The Prize and the Deception

by

Howard Adelman

In the last blog, I described the character of the two brothers. In this blog, I depict how the dynamic of their relationship works out in Jacob obtaining Isaac’s blessing.

Recall, there are three, rather than two blessings. Actually, as we shall see, there are four, for there is even one referred to before the first, but it is given no descriptive content. The first fulsome blessing, as distinct from the one without any content, was ostensibly meant for Esau; Jacob receives it. “May God give you of the dew of heaven and the fat of the earth, Abundance of new grain and wine. Let peoples serve you, And nations bow to you; Be master over your brothers, And let your mother’s sons bow to you. Cursed be they who curse you, Blessed they who bless you.” (Genesis 27: 29-30)

Then there is the one given as a substitute to Esau, as a consolation prize.

“See, your abode shall enjoy the fat of the earth And the dew of heaven above. Yet by your sword you shall live, And you shall serve your brother; But when you grow restive, You shall break his yoke from your neck.” (Genesis 27: 39-40)

In both blessings, each gets rich. But in the first, one emerges as a ruler.  In the second, the individual will live as a samurai, by his wits and by means of his sword. And never remain willing to be a serf to any other. Esau is too much of a free spirit.

Then, in the next chapter, comes the third blessing given directly to Jacob whom Isaac recognizes as Jacob. “You shall not take a wife from among the Canaanite women. Up, go to Paddan-aram, to the house of Bethuel, your mother’s father, and take a wife there from among the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother, May El Shaddai bless you, make you fertile and numerous, so that you become an assembly of peoples. May He grant the blessing of Abraham to you and your offspring, that you may possess the land where you are sojourning, which God assigned to Abraham.” (Genesis 28:1-4)

Look at the difference between the three blessings. Only in the third does Isaac guarantee that Jacob will be the direct heir to the lineage of Abraham, that Jacob will become the don of this family. Like Isaac before him, Jacob is commanded to travel back to the family homestead, to travel back to the equivalent of Sicily as it were where he will both be safe from the wrath of Esau and obtain a wife from his own tribe, by marrying a cousin, a daughter of his mother’s brother, Laban. Then and only then, only on this condition, will El Shaddai, bless him. Not Isaac, but God Almighty Himself will bless Jacob. And the fallout from that blessing – ownership of the promised land assigned to Abraham.

Contrast this with the first blessing. It is not a promise, but a request. “May God give you…” And what does he get if God blesses him – abundant rain, rich crops from the earth. Supremacy and power over other people, including his own brothers. Most of all, it is a blessing for others, not Jacob, for people will be blessed who recognize Jacob’s worth – an irony for the interpretation that Isaac did not recognize who his son really was. Others will be cursed who curse the Hebrews, the direct and rightful heirs of Abraham.

This could not be a blessing intended for Esau. Esau was not a farmer, but a hunter. Why would he want abundant rain and rich soil? Further, as is clear from the rest of the story that follows, neither brother wants the other to bow before him, even when, each in his own way, seeks reconciliation with the other. Esau is not in search of power over others. However, coercion is the only way Esau knows how to survive. He could become a gunslinger, a lone lawman, a Wyatt or Virgil Earp, a Wild Bill Hickok or one of the less known Western marshals such as Johnny Behan. Jacob will get power inadvertently as people come to respect Jacob for who he is, not because he lords over the people with coercive force. Those who respect and comprehend the worth of Jacob and the people descended from him will he be blessed.

Now look at the second blessing that Esau does receive, the consolation prize. He too shall be a farmer with good rains and abundant soil. Not exactly a prize for a great hunter and adventurer. But Esau is condemned to live by the rule of the sword, through might rather than right. And though condemned to serve his brother, he will grow restive at being a servant and break the yoke that holds him in the position as a military commander and, possibly, a settled farmer. Thus, his energy, his might, his self-assurance, will all be of benefit to him. For Esau will not end up in service. But he is also not destined to win the respect of others, for, unlike Jacob, he will not be recognized as a righteous man, but he will be respected as the fastest gun in the West, a loner in defence of the law. Both Esau and Jacob will receive the blessing that is truest to their character and their role in history, the blessing of liberty, different types of liberty, but, in each case, one favoured by God.

Now I believe we are in a position to understand what happens when Jacob supposedly tricks Esau in receiving the first blessing. Recall who is bestowing the blessing, an old, blind father who was born as a late-life gift to both his parents, but grew up to be a passive character following his father willingly and quietly, ready to be slaughtered simply on the command of God. He was probably most likely traumatized by the effort, a man who weds a beautiful woman who is as wilful as he is not. She falls in love with him at first sight (or, as someone suggested to me, fell off her camel because she was so distraught at the impulsive and wilful (wrong) choice that she made). Isaac follows the pattern of his father and pretends Rebekah is his sister, not his wife, to Abimelech. Isaac is quickly caught and embarrassed, but Abimelech becomes his protector. And Isaac, working hard, makes a go of it and becomes wealthy.

However, when the Philistines challenge him, he does not fight back but moves on to find new wells, or, rather, to restore the wells his father once used. He is clearly not a fighting man; he is passive and perhaps a coward. But Abimelech protects him and God blesses him and promises him many heirs, but not because of who he is and for what he does, but for the sake of his father, Abraham. Isaac, the child born of joy, of laughter, has turned out to be a nebbish. And look who each parent favours. The wilful, independent Rebekah favours the passive, obedient and reflective child. The male parent, the introvert and scholar, favours the elder who is adventurous and can also supply him with wild game to eat.

Suddenly we jump years. Isaac is old. He is blind. He calls to his eldest. Esau replies, “I am here.” Isaac asks Esau to hunt the game he so loves. After that, after he eats the meal prepared from the game, he promises he will give Esau his innermost blessing. Is the promise of abundant rains and rich soil and crops, the supplication of other nations and rule over others, his innermost blessing? Or is the second fulsome blessing the one most suited to Esau, the one innermost in his thoughts, rather than the first, so unsuited to Esau’s personality? Perhaps Esau wanted Esau out of the house and delayed for awhile so he could secretly bestow his blessing on Jacob.

Here, I have to introduce a sidebar on Isaac. Though passive and somewhat of a nebbish, his name is laughter. But we have not seen much of it, certainly in the commentaries or character of Isaac as interpreted by most bookish commentators. They seem oblivious to the lightness of being. But irony and a twinkle even in a blind eye goes a long way to understanding Isaac. Isaac’s character must be read with laughter, with jocundity in mind. One is helped if the story of Jonah is understood as a satire and if one understands Hegel’s or Kierkegaard’s or Northrop Frye’s writings on irony. The misreading of Isaac’s character is akin to Plato’s misreading of Socrates. Aristophanes understood Socrates for he, like Isaac and Jacob, live in The Clouds.

As Kierkegaard wrote:

There is an irony that is only a stimulus for thought, that quickens it when it becomes drowsy, disciplines when it becomes dissolute. There is an irony that is itself the activator and in turn is itself the terminus striven for. There is a dialectic that in perpetual movement continually sees to it that the question does not become entrapped in an incidental understanding, that is never weary and is always prepared to set the issue afloat if it runs aground—in short, that always knows how to keep the issue in suspension and precisely therein and thereby wants to resolve it. There is a dialectic that, proceeding from the most abstract ideas, wants to let these display themselves in more concrete qualifications, a dialectic that wants to construct actuality with the idea. Finally, in Plato there is yet another element that is a necessary supplement to the deficiency in both the great forces. This is the mythical and the metaphorical. The first kind of dialectic corresponds to the first kind of irony, the second kind of dialectic to the second kind of irony; to the first two corresponds the mythical, to the last two the metaphorical—yet in such a way that the mythical is not indispensably related to either the first two or the last two but is more like an anticipation engendered by the one-sidedness of the first two or like a transitional element, a confinium[intervening border], that actually belongs neither to the one nor the other (Kierkegaard, The Concept of Irony, 121).

In the first story of Jacob so easily getting the birthright, seemingly the most important reward, from Esau, we have an example of irony that sets up the action, that serves as a stimulus for reflection, that belongs to the sphere of the mythical, that allows the reader to anticipate and the writer to adumbrate what happens in the seemingly more serious competition for Isaac’s (and God’s) blessing. In the mythical part of the parsha, the action is almost over as soon as it starts. In metaphorical irony, in irony focused and derived from the real interplay of characters, that belongs to plot rather than character portrayal, the stress seems to be on performance, but the meaning is about the suspension of belief, about the suspension of any simple resolution about what is taking place, about preventing any simplistic understanding, and, thereby, about resolving mis-understandings.

Look at how the trickery proceeds. First, it is Rebekah’s idea, not Jacob’s. Second, she tells Jacob that she overheard Isaac tell Esau to fetch him some game. Not a lie. I want, Rebekah says to Jacob, you to take advantage of the long time it will take before Esau hunts down some wild game and prepares a meal to just grab a couple of baby goats and she, Rebekah, will prepare them into a delectable meal. You, Jacob, take it into Isaac to get his blessing.  Did Isaac deliberately send Esau on a task that would take some time? Did Isaac know that Rebekah, just as Sarah overheard God’s messengers in discourse with Abraham, was also standing in the doorway overhearing Isaac’s conversation with Esau? Was Isaac aware or unaware of his wife listening to his conversation with Esau?

However, to understand the second metaphorical irony, we must understand that it consists of negation, of denying what is first put forth on the surface, of the trickery in obtaining the birthright. Getting the blessing, getting the guarantee, not a verbal transfer of a phenomenal prize in exchange for a cup of hot soup, is where we will find the real action. The second tale explicates the meaning of the first.

Jacob objects to Rebekah’s initial proposal. He does not say, “I do not even sound like Esau.” He says, in anticipation of his father feeling his arms, that he lacks Esau’s hairiness. Jacob is smooth-skinned. ‘If my father catches me, I will be revealed as a trickster,’ he tells his mother. Rebekah reassures him that it will work. Anyway, if Isaac finds out, the curse will be on her head for she is the initiator of the ruse, not Jacob. There is no explanation of why the trick will work, why Isaac will be taken in by someone who sounds like Jacob, why simply wearing Esau’s clothes, and hence smelling like Esau, why covering his arms with goat skins, will suffice to trick Isaac.

Initially, it seems that Isaac is onto the trick. Who are you? “Which of my sons stands before me?” (Genesis 27:19) Then Jacob tells an outright lie. “I am Esau, your first-born; I have done as you told me. Pray sit up and eat of my game, that you may give me your innermost blessing.” (Genesis 27:20) It’s unbelievable! Unbelievable that Isaac will be taken in with such a simplistic scam. It is even unbelievable that Jacob would tell an outright lie to his father, even on the direction and command of his mother. Isaac is now even more suspicious. ‘How did you hunt down the game so quickly?’ he asks. Jacob lies a second time. “Because the Lord your [not my or our, but your] God granted me good fortune.” (Genesis 27:21) Even more suspicious, Isaac tells him to approach. He feels his arms and find them to be hairy. He is perplexed. “The voice is the voice of Jacob, yet the hands are the hands of Esau.” (Genesis 27:23)

Why did Isaac not check Jacob out further? Why did he not call on Rebekah or a servant to verify who stood before him? After all, the person before him sounded just like Jacob and any blind person depends on his ears much more than his sense of smell or touch to decide who or what is in front of him. It was not as Isaac he was about to die. He was in no real hurry. He still had lots of time. Even after he blessed Jacob, he retained his doubt. “Are you really my son Esau?” (Genesis 27:25) Jacob lies a third time. “I am,” he replies.

Talk about identity theft! Isaac then asks for the food and smells his son’s clothes, really Esau’s clothes, and then offers him the first blessing, which is really the second one for the first is given before he eats, but it does not have any content.

Let me ask a number of questions. When did Jacob become so unscrupulous? It seems totally out of character. He is the good son, the obedient son. Jacob’s eldest son will deceive him about Joseph’s death.  That could be excused, for Jacob’s eldest son wanted both to save his own skin (literally) and spare his father pain at the loss of his favourite. But to lie directly to your father and tell him you are the older brother just to get a blessing! For it is clear that he would get a blessing in any case. And why is Isaac literally so unbelievably naïve? And why does Rebekah concoct such an outlandish and virtually preposterous ruse?

I suggest a possible answer. Jacob is the one really being tricked. For what was it all for? Not to supplant Esau to inherit the right of primogeniture. For the blessing he does get, after the empty vessel of the first one, is one of riches. Nations will bow down in gratitude, as the nations do that go to share in the wealth of Egypt thanks to Joseph’s foresight. But those nations do not bow down in servitude, but in appreciation. The only mastery Jacob, and, via Joseph as well, that Isaac will obtain is mastery over his brother.  And even that will not last. For Esau will break the yoke of servitude.

But no nation will bow down to him and his progeny even in just gratitude unless he smartens up, unless he loses his naiveté, unless he learns somehow to become a Machiavellian. As Rav Kook wrote in a commentary on this parsha, “Even negative character traits have their place in the world. Ultimately, they too will serve the greater good.”  And if Jacob can learn to lie boldly to his father, admittedly under Rebekah’s direction, if Isaac is in on the trick and recognizes that Rebekah is correct in her prescience that Jacob is the only choice for the future of the family, then, like Michael Corleone, Jacob must switch course, or be made to switch course, but not as in the case of the Corleone family, by external circumstances, but through the guidance of the parents, primarily Jacob’s mother. He must, as Michael does, learn to acquire the koyach, the strength, the guts, the determination, the will-power, to become the don. Jacob has to learn to be a heel. Bad ways must be aufgehopt to serve a higher purpose. Isaac has to be in on the trick. He may be blind, but he is not stupid. But Jacob is not in on the trick. There is no indication that he recognizes that he is the true spiritual heir, for all he demonstrates is reluctance and his own father’s passivity under the circumstances. But in the process, he learns to tell three very bold lies.

Isaac knows full well that taste and touch and smell cannot be the primary methods of confirmation. Either hearing or sight is needed, and, as well, we recognize that hearing is often, it not always, a better tool for recognizing another’s identity than sight. Isaac knows full well that Jacob will not supplant Esau, except as the don, but he must do it so that the family can continue and thrive, but do it in his own way consistent with his character, but also through a degree of character transformation.

The irony of the story is Isaac’s self-perception, his critically activist role while appearing as a passive dupe. After all, Abraham cannot pass the baton to Jacob except via Isaac. If the key to such a transfer is understanding the positive role of deception, if it requires understanding how getting a birthright cannot simply be accomplished by blackmail, by trading a cup of hot soup in return for becoming the heir to a nation, but requires connivance of a very serious order, connivance which Jacob clearly has to acquire and which we, as Isaac’s progeny, must understand. If the game was as simple as it first appears, then we are the ones who do not understand the sophistication of trickery and its importance, and therefore how we need to proceed as a light unto the nations, as the expression of the lightness of being, by hiding our light, by being seemingly blind, by appearing as a fool and a dupe and, therefore playing the role as one of the wisest of our forefathers.

We will have to see in future blogs whether this interpretation becomes more plausible as we go forward.