On Recognition: Vayigash (Genesis 44:18 – 47:27)

On Recognition: Vayigash (Genesis 44:18 – 47:27)

by

Howard Adelman

When is an apple is an apple is an apple, as CNN in its self advertisements insist it always is? In an era when charges of fake news fly about like bats at each twilight, there is a disorienting quality when you cannot recognize what exists that stands right before you. I was reminded of the humiliation and embarrassment of my mild case of prosopagnosia or face blindness, for yesterday I saw someone approaching. He looked like he knew me. As he neared me, he said, “How are you Howard? Bitterly cold, isn’t it?” It was my neighbour. I know him well. He and his wife have been at our cottage. But until he spoke, I had no idea of who he was. He had to have noticed that initially I had not recognized him. And his name did not even pop into my mind until we had passed one another. Had he noticed my bluffing and cover-up in my clichéd response? I felt so em-barr-assed.

Over the years, I have developed a whole system of subterfuges to disguise and hide my disability. My wife helps enormously in dealing with this disability. When we meet others whom she does not know, but I am supposed to, she introduces herself rather than waiting for me to offer an introduction. When I am alone, I look at the floor or appear distracted in thought, which I am often anyway, but often wonder if my being lost in thought has not been a defence mechanism.

However, my failure to recognize is not just a matter of faces. When I was a kid, I could never tell one model of car from another. Among my friends, recognizing different models of cars at the time was a matter of status. I have always insisted ever since that I have little interest in cars and in driving. Where do cover-ups start and interests end?

Yet my difficulties in face recognition, my limitations in object discrimination have never impaired my ability to engage in intellectual analysis or to make decisions. Perhaps those inabilities should have made me wary. Instead, my arrogance about my own intellectual prowess and decisiveness only increased. But I am sure I should have been more chary, more guarded and attentive. This inadequacy, after all, is not simply about the world out there. It affects one’s ability to engage in self-recognition.

We have been watching the TV series, “The Crown,” a Netflix production. In the third episode of season two, called Lisbon, Queen Elizabeth confronts Phillip on the royal yacht and calls on them both to lay “their cards on the table” and examine themselves and their marriage for what it is and has been and, hence, for what it can become. Phillip has been a playboy chafing at the restrictions and daily humiliations, at his behaviour being dictated by the moustachioed watchers of protocol. Elizabeth has been publicly humiliated by the widespread rumours and now evidence of her husband’s infidelities. In this wonderful interweaving of family and national politics, the royal family is presented as far more human with their errors and limitations than the widespread images of the cold queen, her detached spouse and their doltish son, Charles. Beside the political clods and liars, like Prime Ministers Sir Anthony Eden and Sir Harold Macmillan, the members of the royal family come across as simply flawed humans rather than arrogant, pedantic and malevolent graduates of Eton.

“Know thyself.” That was a major dictum of Socrates. But if you cannot even see what is around you, if you cannot even see how others perceive you, how can you know yourself? This is not just about personal relations and mainstream politics. It affects what we see and how we deal with everyday life and even nature. Just this past week, we saw what we believed was a wolf in the backyard. It was not behaving as a dog. With its arched back, with its wary pauses as it dug into a hole where a small critter had its home, capturing and devouring it, we were sure that this was not an Alsatian dog.

It turned out to be a coyote. Coyotes evidently now live among us in the city, not nearly as plentiful as the squirrels and racoons, but no longer a rare sighting. Further, as one of my former students wrote, coyotes and Algonquin wolves have interbred and perhaps a new species of wolf has emerged. My student wrote: “For some time, it has been a matter of dispute whether Algonquin wolves are a population of eastern wolves or a separate species, which is of practical importance because the extent to which they’re protected legally depends on how they’re categorized –  in 2016 the Ontario government reclassified them as a separate species and changed their status from ‘special concern’ to ‘threatened’ (i.e., from two steps away from ‘endangered’ to one step away). But one way or another they are heavily hybridized with coyotes.”

The question of whether an apple is an apple is an apple, whether a rose is a rose is a rose, can be a matter of some significance, especially to the apple or the rose. Was that a peregrine falcon I saw for the first time this fall or a sharp-shinned or Cooper’s hawk? Given my terrible record in object as well as face recognition, I cannot be trusted. However, my wife is extremely discerning. But she too thought that what we observed a few days ago had been a wolf.

So, even the best of us can be fooled. But we are also often foolish as well as fooled. This week the UN General Assembly rejected the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel by an overwhelming majority of 128-9. Canada abstained though, as some commentators opined, our country might have voted in support of the Americans had Trump been a bit more diplomatic and less confrontational in his approach. After all, every country is free to locate its embassy where it wishes. Every country is free to recognize the capital of another country. No other country is denied recognition of its capital. And the recognition came with a caveat that this did not predetermine in any way the borders of that Jerusalem. Jerusalem, certainly West Jerusalem, is and has been the capital for seventy years and there is almost no likelihood that it will not continue to be so.

In the UN vote that Obama (generally an admirable president in my eyes) failed to veto last December, perhaps in an understandable fit of pique against Netanyahu (who competes with Trump and Erdogan for being a diplomatic fool even as he fails miserably to come close to their stratospheric absurdities), the UN de facto declared Jerusalem to be the Palestinian capital and did more to pre-empt the results of peace negotiations, and thereby undermine them, than anything Trump did or say. The vote further carried far more weight – because it was a Security Council vote which carried with it obligations rather than a General Assembly vote which could never be more than a recommendation and a sense of general support. Ostensibly, the motion was a condemnation of continuing Israeli settlement activity. But the vote called allthe territory on which Israel had built Palestinian and not just disputed territory, which was certainly the case of Jerusalem, which had not been allocated to either side. The resolution, in effect, re-wrote the 1947 partition resolution.

Against all my own caution when it comes to initiating steps in international diplomacy that can have incalculable repercussions, counter to my huge antipathy to a lying and narcissistic president such as Trump,  in the aftermath of what has happened since, I am even tempted to cheer Trump for his boldness and for his willingness to call a spade a spade, much as my heart warmed when Queen Elizabeth told Eden to his face that he was a liar and told Macmillan that he was even worse, for Macmillan was a duplicitous liar, denying that he had even supported Eden in the Suez fiasco in 1956 when he clearly did. South Africa may downgrade its embassy in Israel to a “liaison office” as a symbol of support for the Palestinians, but that merely sends a message that the whole international process is not about objective evidence or fair negotiations, but about whose side one is on.

It is through such layers on my lenses that I read the story in this week’s portion of Torah when Joseph, now the vizier of Egypt, meets his brothers once again after a long hiatus after they had thrown him into a pit many years ago and they do not recognize him. At the “re-union,” Joseph plays with them, insisting that they bring their youngest brother, Benjamin, back as surety for the food he is giving them, and, when they return, planting a gold goblet among their things when they depart so that, when his men search their packs on the way out of Egypt, they find the royal goblet and the brothers are accused of theft. Then the central confrontation takes place. Judah, who had assured his father Isaac that he would return with Benjamin, comes literally face to face with Joseph and asks that he, Judah, be held as a slave and Benjamin be permitted to return to his father.

Joseph cries, perhaps in response to seeing this brother’s devotion to Benjamin, and, even more, to their father, a devotion absent when he himself had been thrown into a pit, for Judah had urged that he be sold into slavery so the brothers would not have Joseph’s blood on their hands. Perhaps Joseph’s emotional response is because he sees that the brothers have changed and are no longer the young, irresponsible and cruel youth of yesteryear. Perhaps Joseph is simply tired of the ruse, of hiding both his identity and his guile from them. Whatever the reason, Joseph owns up to who he is and rejoices in his reunion with his brothers as Jacob never did with his brother, Esau.

What is the significance of this self-revelation and subsequent recognition? Why had Joseph been able to recognize his brothers after all those years, but they had not been able to recognize Joseph in all his royal finery and in a totally incredulous political position? The description answers itself – recognition is a matter of both context and expectations. Certainly, Joseph had taken advantage of his brothers’ non-recognition, arrogantly grilling them as if they were potential spies and now confronting their presumed lack of honesty when it was now Joseph who was not being honest with them.

Did this take place, as many moralist interpreters opine, so that Joseph would make his brothers recognize their past mistakes? Were the brothers carrying around with them, not only the sacks of grain that they had purchased in Egypt, not only the goblet Joseph had planted in Benjamin’s sack, but the guilt of their actions, not only against their brother, but, and perhaps more importantly, for their treatment of their father for whom Joseph was the favourite? Had that hidden guilt percolated to the surface now that their father might lose his youngest son, Benjamin, believed by him to be the only surviving offspring of his late beloved wife, Rachel? After all, Judah pleaded with Joseph begging the vizier to take him as his slave rather than Benjamin. Was this out of guilt for his past treatment of Joseph or guilt about the consequences to their father or, perhaps, both? Or was it because he felt honour-bound by the guarantee that he had given his father?

“So now, please let your servant remain as my lord’s slave in place of the lad, and let the lad go home with his brothers: for how can I go home to my father without the lad, and thus see the harm my father will suffer”? (44:33-34)

Joseph could not contain himself any longer. He bawled like a baby – right in front of his brothers, right there and then. “I am Joseph – is my father [really] alive?” (45:3) But he had known his father was still alive. His brothers had told him. Had he thought that they were lying? In his arrogance, did he think that his father had really died grieving over the loss of his favourite son?

Maimonides thought that the story was all about repentance – the brothers’ repentance for what they had done to Joseph many years ago, as well as Joseph’s repentance concerning his cruel and possibly vengeful treatment of his brothers, not only currently, but in the past when he told his father malicious tales about his brothers. Maimonides wrote:

“What constitutes complete repentance? He who confronts an identical occurrence in which he previously transgressed, when (at another time) it is within his power to repeat the same wrongdoing, nevertheless restrains himself and does not succumb to temptation because of a wish to repent and not out of fear of authority … this is true penitence.” (Mishneh TorahT‘shuvah 2.1)

I don’t buy it. I do not accept Maimonides’ theory of repentance when an event recurs that reminds one of the original one over which a continuing guilt has remained. Such an effort at interpretation tries to reconcile Hebraic concepts with Aristotelian theory, which was always more concerned with a heroic life in which the virtues are cultivated rather than celebrating a life in which humans follow the covenant and the rule of law. In Hebraic thought, t‘shuva, return, or revisiting an old error, and hence repentance, is a result of recognizing a failure to observe obligations, not a failure to be an exemplar of virtue. For Aristotle, only bad men without virtue feel repentance.

Maimonides tried, and, I believe, failed, to reconcile Aristotelian and Hebraic ethics. Instead on making a mishmash of the two by inverting Aristotle and marrying the inversion to Jewish precepts, why not recognize that the Joseph story is not about repentance at all, but about recognition, recognition about who another really is and recognizing and owning up to one’s own responsibility for what has occurred in the past.

Dena Weiss has written that the issue in this story is not about the repetition in memory of a previous occurrence and, hence, exposing one’s guilt, but about presence and absence, about proximity versus distance. Joseph was viscerally moved because Judah confronted him face-to-face and spoke directly to him. The days of deceit, of misdirection, of distraction, of deception, of distortion, were over. Reconciliation was not a matter of making oneself over into an exemplar of virtue, but of recognizing another and, through that recognition, recognizing oneself and one’s obligations both to oneself and to that other.

The writer of “The Crown” recognized that essential character when Queen Elizabeth confronted her husband about reality and asked where they go from there. The answer comes in Phillip’s speech at their tenth anniversary party when he publicly and openly recognizes Elizabeth for the woman she is, a woman of loyalty, a woman of honesty and directness, a perceptive woman, a woman to whom he is now happy that he married despite all the trammels and troubles of living as a royal couple.

Recognition of who the other is and self-recognition go hand-in-hand.  As Weiss wrote, bodily proximity in recognition is far more important than ethical remorse in a crisis of the superego. The issue is not to beat oneself up and lash oneself on the backside, but to own up, to take responsibility, to be accountable and, thereby, change who we are and our relations with another. T’shuva is the meaning of the good life, not becoming a new person with heroic virtues, but becoming an older and more mature person who recognizes and admits to his or her own shortcomings and recognizes but does not hold over the other a Sword of Damocles for how the other behaved in the past.

“Yehudah came close to him and said, “If it pleases my master, may your servant speak in the ears of my master and do not be furious at your servant, for you are like Pharaoh.” (48:18)

After all, one of the major themes of the Torah is moving from a culture of shame to a culture of guilt, not guilt from failure to be the best and most virtuous, but failing to be oneself. Israelites move not only physically but from a culture of revenge to a culture of forgiveness. Only then can we overcome stereotypes of the other and blindness about oneself. In the end, this is why sex in a marriage is so important.

“Yosef said to his brothers, ‘I am Yosef. Is my father still alive?’  And they were unable to respond to him because they were overwhelmed by his presence. Yosef said to them, ‘Please, come close to me.’  And they came close.  He said, ‘I am your brother Yosef whom you sold down to Egypt.  Now, don’t be distraught or angry that you sold me here, for God sent me before you for sustenance’.” (45:3-5)

Don’t feel guilt. Don’t feel shame. Just come close. Just be close. Do not promise that you will become who you are not, but be who you are, near and close to others, to your family and friends. Do not betray Eden as Macmillan did so treacherously, do not lie as Eden did to his Queen and to the Americans, do not be mendacious as Trump is, for if Trump had a record of integrity, then recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital might be viewed by others as an act of honesty rather than one of domestic political self-serving. Be close and do not be a manipulator from afar. To be dishonest is to be crooked. The categorical imperative of recognition is: Be straight. Let others know of your handicap. They will forgive you. They will compensate for you. You can depend on others.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Burying Fathers and Blessing Children

Blessing Your Children and Burying Your Dad: Vayechi Genesis 47:28 – 50:26

by

Howard Adelman

I never buried my father. When he died, he left his body to medicine. It was not only a snub to Judaism, for which he had little use in his hedonistic life. It was akin to a last act of irresponsibility towards his children whom he had deserted at a fairly young age.

My oldest brother was a cardiologist and helped my father end his life long before the assisted dying law was promulgated in Canada. Unlike myself, my brother always treated my father kindly. My father was then near the end. His kidneys had failed or were failing, a likely consequence of his long love of Seagram’s Canadian Rye. He would not have been eligible for kidney transplants. And his heart kept signalling that the pump needed extensive repairs. He was going to die and asked that my brother grant him one last blessing, that he be spared further pain. A hedonist to the end, when he was no longer able to pursue pleasure, he could still seek to avoid suffering. And you had to give him credit; he went with a smile on his lips. He was sixty-two years old.

That was over forty years ago. My brother was only a year older than I. He would also die at sixty-two years of age. He has been a terrific doctor. He really wanted to be an engineer. But I was a dominating younger brother and insisted that he apply to medical school. We had gone through high school together; we should also be together in university, went my illogical argument. In medical school, when we did rounds, he would quickly come up with a diagnosis. I would resist and insist that there were too many options possible with that set of symptoms. We could not possibly draw a definitive conclusion. His reply was always the same: “Don’t worry, my answer is correct.” And it was. Always.

He introduced the procedure known as angioplasty to Canada. The very procedure would kill not only him but another doctor and nurse who worked on the same apparatus. They all died of neuroblastomas. It was a vicious and vengeful form of cancer, attacking the precursor cells, the very embryonic material from which our bodies are derived. The death dragged out over almost eighteen months and was horrific. My mother suffered so much watching him die. He could save my father from pain lasting weeks and even months. But he could not save himself.

After my father died, my older and younger brothers left for a canoe trip and I was left to make the arrangements for the transfer of my dad’s body to the University of Toronto Medical School. But I do not remember doing a thing. I do remember walking all night through the streets of Toronto in total distress. Why was I so upset when I had detested my father for years? Why was I not home with my wife and four children?

Is there anything more important than how and where you bury your father and the very act of blessing your children?

The Parshat Vayechi ends the Book of Genesis. Chapter 47, verse 28 begins with a recounting of Jacob’s long life to the age of 147. I have always estimated that any one year in biblical accounting was 2 years in the way we measure a year, so Jacob had lived to almost 74 years of age. When Jacob was about to die, he made his sons pledge not to bury him in Egypt, but to swear by all that they stood for that he would be buried with his forefathers in the Land of Canaan. He was. Some of the verses of this section are taken up with the most elaborate funeral procession and depiction of a burial ritual in the whole of the Bible and stand in stark contrast with the one verse depicting Joseph’s funeral.

The Parshat and the whole Book of Genesis end with chapter 50, verse 26, “And Joseph died at the age of hundred and ten years [at only 55 in my calculation], and they embalmed him and he was placed in a coffin in Egypt.” (my italics) What an ending! What a beginning! The whole foundation story of the Israelites and their creation as a nation ends with the first diaspora Jew being buried, not according to Jewish custom, but in accordance with Egyptian practice.

Jewish tradition, as I understand it, prohibits embalming. If you embalm someone, you drain out that person’s blood and replace it with embalming fluid. That means that blood, the life circulating system of the body, is not buried with the corpse. What a contrast with watching Jewish religious figures after a terrorist attack in Israel gathering up every last hair and every last speck of blood to be buried with the body. When I read this section, I think of the corpse of Joseph, as the great Vizier of Egypt, being put on display as Egyptians march past by the thousands. But there is no depiction of the funeral and disposition of Joseph’s body. The depiction is extremely terse, in stark contrast to the elaborate description of Jacob’s funeral procession and burial, though Joseph ordered that his father be embalmed as well, presumably in preparation for the long trip and in acknowledgement of local customs, but not at Jacob’s request.

If your parents die, you owe them, more importantly, you owe yourself, you owe life, a proper goodbye. There is no worship of death. The focus is on the living, on dealing with loss even when a parent is despised, even if that relative was not a loved one. There is no more important function of a rabbi that presiding at a funeral. But Joseph was embalmed.

The major part of this section is taken up with the blessing of children. We had already read how important not only the birthright but, even more significantly, the blessing was to our forefathers. Jacob literally cheated his brother out of that blessing. And Jacob’s father, Isaac, had even been blessed directly by God. My oldest son named after the Prophet of Peace, Jeremiah, was, at my request, literally blessed by Linus Pauling in a small living room of our apartment located on Spadina Avenue just opposite the University of Toronto. Pauling was one of the few figures in history to win two Nobel prizes. And that son has been a great blessing to the academic world. I always thank Linus.

Most people, as I understand them, think a blessing is intended for the one blessed, to favour and protect them, to guarantee them a long and beneficial life. After all, if you asked for a daughter’s hand in marriage traditionally, you first asked her parents for their blessing, for their endorsement of the match, for their well wishes for their daughter’s well-being and happiness. And when we say the blessing for wine and bread on Friday evenings when we welcome shabat as a wife once more into our lives, the English translation of the prayer goes as follows:

Praise to You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the universe,
Creator of the fruit of the vine.

Praise to You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the universe
who finding favuor with us, sanctified us with mitzvot.
In love and favor, You made the holy Shabat our heritage
as a reminder of the work of Creation.
As first among our sacred days, it recalls the Exodus from Egypt.
You chose us and set us apart from the peoples.
In love and favour You have given us Your holy Shabbat as an inheritance.
Praise to You, Adonai, who sanctifies Shabbat.

Baruch atah, Adonai
Eloheinu, Melech Haolam,
borei p’ri hagafen.

Baruch atah, Adonai
Eloheinu, Melech haolam,
asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’ratzah vanu,
v’Shabbat kodsho
b’ahavah uv’ratzon hinchilanu,
zikaron l’maaseih v’reishit.
Ki hu yom t’chilah l’mikra-ei kodesh,
zecher litziat Mitzrayim.
Ki vanu vacharta, v’otanu kidashta,
mikol haamim.
V’Shabbat kodsh’cha
b’ahavah uv’ratzon hinchaltanu.
Baruch atah, Adonai, m’kadeish HaShabbat.

A blessing is intended primarily, not to protect us, not to defend ourselves against trouble and tribulation, but to allow us to go forth and do good in the world, to perform mitzvot, to be part of the process of creation rather than destruction. And in so doing, we do not recall our own coming into being as a nation living in Egypt, we do not recall the splendour and the glories and the pleasures and the power the Israelites had in Egypt. Instead, we recall the Exodus, the leaving and the return to the land of promise. We recall the Exodus from Egypt, the exodus from being embalmed and glorified by the masses but instead the burial by our children.

It is not as if Jacob wished the best for his children. Instead he claimed to know who they are and what the character of each of them was and how each would or would not contribute to the well-being of the world. He did not offer them protection and well-being, but asked of them to contribute to the protection and well-being of others in the best way their personalities allowed.

Look at the blessings Jacob offered his various children. Reuben, his firstborn, whom he said should have been superior in strength and power and rank, instead was characterized by restlessness, the restlessness of water. That meant he could not become what he was supposed to become. Instead he profaned his father’s bed. And, though he would regret it, he was not there to direct his brothers when they decided to kill their brother Jacob and it was left to Judah to negotiate on behalf of Joseph’s life. Reuben was the epitome of that basic element of life, water, that Heraclitus of Ephesus declared embodied the essence of living – flux and change, a lack of stability and incapable of serving as a point of reference, as a guide to the people, to his people. He lacked, as the speaker, a Deputy Minister said at lunch yesterday, a North Pole as a reference. Jacob, in blessing Reuben, was not offering him God’s well-being and protection, but measuring him against the standards of well-being and protection.

“Simeon and Levi are brothers, stolen instruments are their weapons.” (49:5) It is they who betrayed the men of Shechem and slaughtered them all after they had agreed to become circumcised and join the Israelites, while they were still in pain and suffering for that ordeal undergone in adult life. Did Jacob mean to say that those who live by the sword will die by the sword? At the very least, his blessing was a rejection of the doctrine that might is right. He, and his name, would not be associated with forbidden actions. So the children of Simeon and Levi were scattered among the Israelites and could not live together in their own province lest they use the doctrine of might is right to prevail over the people and the land of Israel.

And what about Judah? What about the archetypal negotiator and mediator, the man not of pure ideals, but of practical politics, the man washed in the art of the possible? “Judah, [as for] you, your brothers will acknowledge you. Your hand will be at the nape of your enemies, [and] your father’s sons will prostrate themselves to you.” (49:8) One might have thought that this is a blessing that would go to Joseph, for at the time were not Joseph’s own brothers bowing down to him just as Joseph had once dreamed? Was it not Joseph who held his countryman, indeed, all of Egypt and all of the surrounding peoples, by the nape of their necks?

Precisely because Judah was destined to only hold enemies by the napes of their necks, was Judah to be blessed with a leadership role, a leadership role not bestowed by nature and primogeniture nor by physical force, but by diplomacy and negotiating skills. “A cub [and] a grown lion is Judah. From the prey, my son, you withdrew. He crouched, rested like a lion, and like a lion, who will rouse him?” (49:9) A negotiator watches and waits for opportunities and then springs into action. And he does so, not to demand the prey for himself, but to ensure that the prey is available for all of the pride. The lion is a watcher, an observer, a protector – of both territory and of those under its charge.

That requires courageous, not rash action, the ability to choose when and where to spring into action with the most force and effectiveness. Unlike Simeon and Levi, Judah did not pick fights but sought to avoid them, even by offering his own life as a pledge. He was chosen by history to negotiate out of an impasse when his own brothers wanted to kill another of their own kind. And behind the willingness to bargain and even fight if necessary, was a willingness to die for what he believed. An animal lion is a hunter of prey seeking to take advantage of the weak. A human lion protects the weak and prevents the strong from feeding off them. This does not mean that he does not retain his scepter at his side; it does mean that he will always be “a student of the law between his feet” (49:10) that will constitute the ground on which he walks. He does not contribute to the divisions among peoples, but to their reconciliation and collaboration.

Judah “binds his foal to a vine, and to a tendril [he binds] his young donkey. [He launders] his garment with wine, and with the blood of grapes binds his raiment.” (49:11) What does it mean to wash your clothes in wine and bind your vestments in the blood of grapes? What does it mean to tether your ass to a tendril of a vine? The latter is usually associated with a positive evaluation of acquiring wealth, of acquiring abundance and not with idealizing poverty or self-sacrifice. As a colleague in Torah study insists, look at the root. The three-letter root of a donkey or an ass – chamor – is the same used in reference to the material nature of the world. But why bathe your clothes in wine and bind your vestments in the blood of the grape?

Look at the blessing for wine printed above. We acquire wealth so that we can clothe ourselves with good deeds, with mitzvot. The material world is not an end in itself. We acquire wealth to do good works, to make the world a better place. This is Judah’s mission. That is why Judah will be red-eyed from wine, not because his eyes are bloodshot, but because they weep and wail at the suffering of mankind, of humanity. And his teeth are “white-toothed from milk.” Because instead of the gristle of meat stuck between his teeth, the teeth of a human lion glisten with the milk of human kindness.

And what of the other brothers? The descendants of Zebulun will be fishermen. Fishers of just fish or fishers of souls? Isasachar will not stand on the law as the ground of his being, but his descendants will carry the law on their backs and become the bearers of the law, the courts, the prosecutors, the judges, the defenders of the accused. It is on their backs that the fulfillment of the rule of law will rest. And law will be made in the bony cleft between the left and right protuberances in case by case by case.

Dan will be an avenger standing always alert on the high ground ready to spill his wrath and blood on those who would injure the children of Israel. But Dan will also be a viper, a serpent on the path ready to bite the horse’s heels, ready to go behind the lines and wreck havoc among those who threaten Israel. Gad will make up the infantry in defence of the people. Asher will provide the food to nourish everyone. Naphtali will be a writer, a poet, a spinner of tales, a wordsmith.

And Joseph, the charmer and the dreamer? What blessing did Jacob bestow upon his favourite? He obviously knew his son well. For he foresaw that a charismatic leader initially brings about a unity of spirit, but it soon disintegrates into bitterness, jealousy and results in a quarrelsome polity riven with bitter strife. For Joseph, as brilliant as he was as a visionary, as efficient as he was as an administrator, was incapable of reconciling or even giving recognition to differences. But he would sustain the rock of Israel through the power and wealth he acquired. He would serve as a conduit from past to a more secure future, as an intermediary between man and God, so that the blessings of the divine can be bestowed on his people. He would be the guarantor of survival, even if he was left embalmed in a foreign land.

Why Jacob blessed Ephraim before Manasseh requires itself a full blog.

Blessed are all of my children. May each in his or her own way, and in accordance with his or her own character, be a blessing unto the world.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Lordship and Bondage: Recognition and Divine Cunning

Vayigash (וַיִּגַּשׁ‎ — he drew near) Genesis 44:18–47:27
Lordship and Bondage: Recognition and Divine Cunning

by

Howard Adelman

Last Shabat, in Torah study, our rabbi said that Hebraism in comparison to Hellenism was relational rather than solipsistic. Everything happens in relation to another, especially the development of self-consciousness. It could be said that the main theme of the Torah is recognition.

In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve recognized that they were naked and were ashamed after they had eaten of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Sexual intercourse introduced mutual recognition of the other even as it also introduced shame of one’s bare self, of one’s material self, of a self propelled by drives and passions. In the Cain and Abel story, the two brothers vie for God’s recognition as they sacrifice the best of their labours, whether the fat of his animals in the case of Abel, or the richness of his crops in the case of Cain, the farmer. God grants recognition to Abel. In envy and rage, for what is a man worth if he is not recognized as being near to God, and a sense of injustice, Cain kills Abel. Cain effaces Abel from the surface of the earth.

Skip ahead, though there is much on recognition in between. Jacob wrestles with a stranger/God and afterwards insists that he had come face to face with the Divine. Jacob is then able to come face to face with his brother Esau whom he had cheated out of his father’s blessing and was meeting him for the first time in twenty years. Esau, instead of having held onto his wrath all those years, embraces his brother in joy and rapture even as his brother comes near to him in fear and trembling.

The three patriarchs did what they were told to do or what they needed to do to come nearer the projection of a family legacy, from dor l’dor, from generation to generation. Joseph is the first of our original set of ancestors that does things for their own sake, for his own sake. Joseph is NOT a patriarch. In his narcissism, in his self-centred behaviour, in his knowledge of himself as a dreamer and an aesthete, he will be the first to become a Lord, the first to achieve true greatness in the world of public affairs. When Joseph had a dream prophesying that his brothers would bow down to him as their Lord, and even his father and mother would do so as well, recognition is once again invoked, but it is not the mutual recognition of a man and a woman, it is not the recognition of the Lord of a supplicant, and it is not the reverse recognition of man of his Lord as his equal as when Jacob wrestled with the stranger. It is recognition that combines all three elements – mutuality, lordship and bondage, and self-recognition of the divine within any human.

First and foremost, came the recognition that they are all brothers in one family, equal in stature in the family, in spite of Jacob’s explicit favouritism for the sons of Rachel. The clear responsibility for this was not the father, but the pact between the two sisters who had become Jacob’s wives and were as different as Cain and Abel, and in as different circumstances within the politics of the family. “We your servants are twelve brethren, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and, behold, the youngest is this day with our father, and one is not.” (Genesis 44:13) And one is not. Not, we are eleven brothers. Not, we are twelve brothers but one died. But an ambiguous reference to a twelfth brother, who ironically stood lording it over them. For Joseph had not been treated with brotherly love. Though initially intended for death, Joseph was cast out. He “was not” because he was no longer among them. Though they could look him in the eye, he “was not” because they did not recognize him. And the irony. He was above not among them.

Thus, second, there is the recognition of the superiority of one over the many, first of Joseph over the other brothers in terms of wealth and power, and, second, the superiority in a very different sense of Judah over the others in taking responsibility for his deeds, for his thoughts and for others. Without being a saintly figure, Judah saved Joseph’s life, sending him into slavery instead of death. It is Judah who recognized that the loss of Benjamin would be the final straw in breaking their father’s heart, while Joseph, in contrast, and almost in sheer selfishness, insisted that his youngest and only full brother be brought to see him, even though that separation might kill his father. Joseph insisted that his half-brothers bring his younger full brother, Benjamin, to Egypt even when Judah warned him that doing so would kill their father, for Jacob’s soul was “bound up” with Benjamin’s. So, it seemed, was Joseph’s. And the loss of Benjamin to his father would kill Jacob because he did not draw Benjamin near to him, but suffocated him with his love.

Third, Judah offers himself as a bondsman as surety for Benjamin. In contrast, Joseph went too far. Lordship had gone to his head. Joseph dreamt that his father would become his servant and bow down to him. That dream too had to be fulfilled. And it was. In contrast, Judah lived in a rough world and adapted well to it. But, unlike Joseph, Judah was a natural giver. He gave of himself. More than that, when he perceived an injustice, he responded, not by taking a position of moral purity. Nothing he did was morally pure. He was the epitome of morality by coming up with a pragmatic solution that would acknowledge and respect others while turning their efforts into a different direction, even if that direction was far from an ideal one.

Compare Judah to Reuben. Reuben felt the responsibilities of his position in the birth chain. He tried to exercise those responsibilities in the midst of a world of jealousy and envy, competition and regard with the honours owed to one’s father. He was much closer to a purely good man than Judah, even though his father gave him no respect or recognition for who he was and what he did for the family. But, on the ground, he was less successful than Judah who knew somehow almost instinctively how to blend his sense of responsibility to the other, not only the other in need, but the other who denied and refused to recognize that need, and combined it with his own willingness to sacrifice.

This is one of the weirdest parts of the Torah. The ostensible hero, the one whom we read about for four weeks – the only one who surpasses him is Moses – is Joseph. But the real hero, the unsung hero, is Judah. Without Judah, there would be no Joseph.

But look at Joseph’s behaviour. I already pointed out that Joseph was willing to sacrifice his father’s life so that he could be reunited with his own full brother. Quite aside from this indifference to a father who favoured him, who had doted upon him, he treated his father with the greatest disrespect. It is one thing to dream of having your father bow down to you. It is quite another to allow, to even expect him to do so when once again they meet after so many years of separation, after such a long period of his father mourning for his loss. But perhaps it was because Jacob, ever the self-centred calculator, mourned for his loss only because Joseph was the child of his dearly and deeply beloved Rachel. Perhaps Joseph felt his father had never loved him for who he was, but simply because he was his mother’s son. Perhaps this was behind Joseph’s ambitious desire for recognition, for power, for lording over an Other.

Look at how the parshah begins. Not with Joseph coming near, but with Judah coming near. “Then Judah approached him and said, ‘Please, my lord, let now your servant speak something into my lord’s ears, and let not your wrath be kindled against your servant, for you are like Pharaoh.’ (Genesis 44:18) Judah begins by asking to come close to Joseph at the same time as he flatters him and says that Joseph is close to Pharaoh and, in effect, Judah is unworthy of coming close to him. Look at Judah’s cleverness in soothing Joseph lest he become uppity and insulted that his office is not being respected and he unleash his anger at the brothers.

Joseph may be Prime Minister or Vizier of all of Egypt. But Judah is the real politician – a person oriented to the Other, oriented to the public good and with the sensibilities and mastery of rhetoric to convince the Other that what they must do is for their own benefit. Further, as Rashi noted, claiming that Joseph was akin to Pharaoh was not only flattery, but an underhanded insult. The Hebrews, after all, did not really have the highest respect for Pharaoh’s lordly ways even as they paid him all the lip service needed to get by. Their Lord was, after all, far superior to His Lordship.

Can you possibly imagine what happens next? Just think of you being a lowly Canadian or American and being introduced to the Prime Minister or the Speaker of the House in Washington and the first question he asked about you is, “Have you a father or a brother?” (44:19) Not, do you have parents? Not, do you have siblings? Given his sensitivity to others, Judah had to clue in that this situation was distinctly abnormal. Judah and his nine other brothers reply in chorus that we have an old father, a very young brother back home and that his full brother is dead. Now the answer is not the ambiguous, “is not” this time. Joseph is pronounced dead even though the brothers knew he had been sold into slavery. Better dead than red, better dead than a life of perpetual enforced service.

Rashi likes to point out how the answers aroused Joseph’s suspicions. But my attention was drawn to Judah and how he was going to handle it. For I cannot believe, as Rashi does, that Joseph suspected that his brothers had gone down (the Israelite perspective) or came up to Egypt (the view of the Egyptian court) for a nefarious purpose. It just does not make sense to me that Joseph is suddenly concerned about their ambitions – to acquire Egyptian wives. But perhaps. It is possible that Joseph projected on his brothers’ motives for glory and honour and wealth and public recognition desires similar to his own. I, personally, do not have such a cynical view of Joseph as Rashi.

Then comes the very revealing and unveiling line uttered by Joseph. “And you said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me, and I will set my eye[s] upon him.’” (44:21) The New Testament is full of allusions to eyes. For Matthew, the eye is the lamp of the body. (6:22) By looking into someone’s eyes, you can read their character. But Joseph was not looking to read Benjamin’s character, but to feast his own eyes upon him. Was he also asserting that he, Joseph, was not concerned to see what Benjamin looked like, but was akin to God in wanting to see what was in Benjamin’s heart? (I Samuel 16:2) Was it, in the end, as black as his own and that no one recognized?

I doubt it. One never gets the idea at this stage of the story that Joseph compared himself or saw himself in God’s light. Rather, he portrayed himself as the reflection of the Pharaoh’s. Joseph was more akin to wanting only the most worthy to appear before him. Though he was a brilliant politician and public servant in not only recognizing but anticipating the needs of the people and how they could and should be filled, he was always even more interested in expanding the wealth and glory of the Pharaoh. Hence Joseph’s brilliant efforts, however morally heinous, to give food to the needy middle class, but only in exchange for their lands, for their cattle and for their perpetual serfdom.

If he, as Psalm 101 commanded, only wanted o appear before him what delighted his own eyes, and what delighted his own eyes was not the inner soul of the Other, surely Judah would have picked this up and become suspicious. For Joseph was not asking for his eyes to be opened so the wonders of the world could be open to him. He, after all, was the dreamer, the seer, the wonder of the Egyptian world. Further, unlike Jesus who aspired to open everyone’s eyes in that way, the Israelites were more concerned with whether their tongues spoke the words of their God. For, in the end, it is really through a man’s words that you can read him. Israelites by and large did not believe that eyes were the window into the soul. And Joseph certainly did not, so caught up was he with that which delighted his eyes. He was truly an aesthete.

It is Judah who tests Joseph about his motives. Was he suspicious that Joseph may not only have been gay, but was a man who loved boys, a pedophile? Judah on behalf of his brothers pleaded with Joseph. If we take Benjamin away from his father, it would kill their father. Judah did not betray his suspicions, only his fears. How did Joseph reply? He gave them an ultimatum. “If your youngest brother does not come down with you, you will not see my face again.” (44:23) Not simply you will not see me. You will not see my face. Joseph was assuming the position of the Hebrew God and saying that he would remain hidden from them. Of course, if he did so, they would not get the food and the provisions that Jacob had sent them down to Egypt to buy. Would they surrendered to Joseph’s blackmail in spite of their, especially Judah’s, suspicions.

Their father was devastated. As far as Jacob was concerned, his soul had become totally wrapped up in Benjamin. It was Jacob, not as a pedophile, who would not detach himself from his son just as once he would not let go of the Lord with whom he had wrestled. But all their lives were at stake. Jacob gave in, especially when Judah pledged his own life as surety for the boy’s return. (44:32) But these same words were first offered up to Joseph. (44:30) Joseph would have none of it. He showed little compassion for the situation into which he had put both his brothers and especially his father. While Joseph had expressed the desire to delight his eyes, Judah wailed, “Let me not see the misery that will befall my father!” Joseph needed and wanted to satisfy his eyes. But Joseph, the deep moralist, the one most concerned for the other, could not stand the anticipation of watching his father wail.

Then in Chapter 45, Joseph suddenly changed course. He revealed who he was to his brothers. Why then? Because it was clear that it was Judah’s gauntlet that had won the day. Joseph had threatened them with sending them home without provisions and never allowing them to come to Egypt again to get food. But even at that, Judah would not give in lest his father’s heart be broken.

The most interesting part is how Joseph revealed himself. He cried. He wailed. He broke down so even his servants who had been sent out of the room could hear. So much for maintaining appearances! Joseph gave in to his inner voice and set aside his preoccupations with seeing and being seen. And Joseph uttered those powerful words with which the parshat began. “”Please come closer to me,” and they drew closer. And he said, “I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.” (45:4) One cannot help but weep when you read this verse.

Here is the epiphany. This is where Joseph once again becomes a Hebrew. For he comes to recognize that it is not his skills, it is not his attributes of seeing into the future, but only that he was an instrument of God’s will. He returns to the beliefs of his forefathers. You are not to blame for selling me into slavery. I am not to be credited for achieving such a high position in the world. It is all part of God’s will and how God reveals himself. It is the cunning of history. It is the cunning of the divine spirit. “God sent me before you to make for you a remnant in the land, and to preserve [it] for you for a great deliverance.” (45:7)

This, in the end, is what Judaism is about. No matter whether you are a lowly serf or someone who has achieved the highest honours, you are but an instrument of history, an instrument of God’s will. The rest of the parshat is but the unpacking of this self-discovery, this self-revelation, this coming to recognize God as the ultimate Other, while, at the same time, working His will through our various hearts.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Joseph

Joseph – Parsha Vayeishev (Genesis 37)

by

Howard Adelman

This parsha is but the first of four (Miketz, Vayigash and Vayeh as well) telling the story of Joseph, a story which Andrew Lloyd Weber told in one musical evening in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. That was not quite the interpretation of the story I would tell. My version is told in the shadow of Jacob wrestling with the stranger, perhaps the same stranger who would redirect Joseph’s search for his brothers from Shechem to Dotham. It is also the story told against the much fainter shadow of the treatment of Dinah, someone also effectively cast out by her brothers. And it is a story that, after this parsha, will be interrupted by the tale of Tamar and Judah.

“This, then, is the line of Jacob,” begins the parsha. But verse 2 which effectively ends the period of the three patriarchs, though Jacob would live many more years after Joseph was sold off to slavery in Egypt, does not, in fact, tell us about the entire lineage of Jacob, only of his twelve sons, including the late-born Benjamin who arrived after Jacob’s return from his uncle Laban. For in addition to the twelve sons that headed the twelve tribes of Israel, there was Dinah. Dinah was the seventh child of Leah after she gave birth to six sons. She was still young, probably a teenager, when the family returned and likely the youngest sibling except for Benjamin. She was probably just a year or two younger than Joseph who was seventeen when this week’s parsha begins.

Further, we are told that Jacob favoured Joseph. Not Benjamin who was indeed the youngest, but also the one Jacob may have partially resented for his beloved wife, Rachel, died in giving birth to him. Not Dinah who was about the same age as Joseph and Jacob’s only daughter. And why not? Don’t fathers usually dote on their daughters? Is it not strange that Jacob does not?

Dinah is clearly adventurous and perhaps a fun-loving teenager. Perhaps she was in search of a father figure. In Shechem, she goes out “to visit the women of the region.” Curiousity? To make friends her own age and get away from the stodgy old adults she felt suffocated her? Or, perhaps, even to get into some hanky-panky, where visiting the women of the region becomes an association with prostitutes rather than the wives and daughters of the local inhabitants. She goes out alone, unchaperoned. That was both dangerous and certainly contrary to standard practice. “Girls out alone are looking for trouble.” So the saying goes, however untrue.

Further, in the next portion, Tamar as a widow plays the role of a prostitute in order to get her father-in-law to sleep with her so she can conceive a child in his line. She does it when he went off to shear his sheep. Tamar is a widow. Judah is a widower. Thus, there is nothing wrong with their having sex. Tamar does not engage in intercourse for money, for bargaining for an ewe in return for sexual favours was a ruse, not the intention of making herself available. The only point here is that Dinah was never an adulteress – adultery was strictly forbidden. Nor was she a prostitute simply for “wanting to have some fun.” She would only have been a prostitute if she exchanged her sexual favours for money.

Dinah finds the “fun” she is looking for in Shechem. The spoiled local prince, used to having his way, espies her. Presumably he tries to woo her. Perhaps she resists. He rapes her. Or did he? The text reads that he took Dinah by force. But the precise Hebrew is that Shechem “saw her, and took her and lay with her by force.” (34:2) The force follows taking (as in taking a bride) and lying with her – וַיִּקַּח אֹתָהּ וַיִּשְׁכַּב אֹתָהּ וַיְעַנֶּהָ. The text does not say he forcefully took her. Further, the root,עָנָה , does not suggest coercion, but a response, a reaction, reciprocity and not that Dinah was taken by force. It suggests that she possibly responded and acceded to Shechem’s seduction.

Shechem was smitten. He not only wanted Dinah sexually. He fell in love with her and wanted to wed. He asked his father, Hamor, to pay the bridal price. Jacob heard that his daughter had been defiled, meaning, perhaps only that she had lost her virginity and not that she had been raped, but she had lost it to a man who was not a member of the tribe. To be defiled is something different than being a prostitute. This is explicitly made clear in reference to the High Priest. He (the high priest) “shall take a wife in her virginity. A widow, or one divorced, or a woman who has been defiled, or a harlot, these he shall not marry; but he shall take to wife a virgin of his own people, that he may not profane his children among his people; for I am the Lord who sanctifies him.” (Leviticus 20:13) Jacob learns that his daughter had lost her virginity to a man who was not a member of the tribe, presumably at the same time as he learned that the supposed “rapist” wanted to marry his daughter, a situation which usually allowed a perpetrator of rape to get off free of any reprimand.

Jacob, ever the cautious calculator, bides his time until his sons return from their shepherding duties. He is then told that the brothers were incensed. Perhaps they adored their little sister. Perhaps they felt guilty that she had been allowed to go off visiting by herself. Perhaps they had adopted a new moral dictum that rape was never forgivable, even if the rapist offered to marry the girl. After all, the text says that Shechem “had committed an outrage in Israel (my italics) by lying with Jacob’s daughter – a thing not to be done.” (Genesis 34:7) The new moral seemed to state that not only is rape a crime, but even sleeping with a shegetz is a crime, and then not just for a High Priest. A shegetz, from the Hebrew, sheketz, applies its connotations of detestable and abominable to non-Jewish young men.

For this transgression, which Shechem and his father probably did not know, not only Shechem, but his father and ALL the males of the tribe were slain. Not only slain. But murdered en mass after they had welcomed the Israelites to share their land, their women and their resources. The men of Shechem even went further. They agreed to be circumcised, but the text does not say that they agreed to adopt the God of Israel as their God. Hamor and Shechem convinced all the men of the city to go along with the deal. And when they were in terrible pain recovering from an adult circumcision, Simeon and Levi, two of Jacob’s sons, full brothers of Dinah, “took each his sword, came upon the city unmolested, and slew all the males.” (34:25) Even worse, the rest of Jacob’s sons, presumably including Joseph, unless the reference was only to full brothers, plundered the town, took all the women and children captive and appropriated all the herds and property.

Jacob was bothered by the action, not because it was heinous, but because his tribe was still relatively small and the local population could unite against the Israelites and destroy them. Jacob did not think of Dinah’s humiliation, which could in part have been redeemed if he had allowed her to marry Shechem. He did not say anything about the deceit and the horror of the crime his sons had committed. His only thought was to remonstrate his sons for putting them all in danger. Jacob had not changed character one whit since he had wrestled with the stranger. And then the brothers offered their lame excuse: “Should our sister be treated like a whore?” (v. 31) even though Hamor’s and Shechem’s offer made it unequivocally clear that she would not be treated like a prostitute. Further, there was never any question until they utter this phrase that their sister had offered herself for money. She was at most taken by force, but more likely cooperated in the seduction.

The plunder and looting never bothered Jacob. Uncalculated murder, mayhem and warfare did. On his death bed, after he had remonstrated Reuben for sleeping with his concubine, Reuben, “unstable as water,” was the one who disgraced his father, the same Reuben who prevented his brothers from murdering Joseph with the intention of saving him before he was sold to slave traders. Jacob did not seem to know or understand who Reuben was and the sense of responsibility he carried. Simeon and Levi were chastised for using weapons as tools of lawlessness and allowing anger to determine their actions, including the murder of men. Those two sons were cursed and were to be “scattered in Israel.” (Genesis 49: 4-6)

What does the Dinah tale have to do with the Joseph story that virtually monopolizes the Torah portion this week and for a month after? I will not repeat the full story. It is all-too-familiar. What I want to first do is set key elements of the story against the backdrop of the “rape” of Dinah.

First, Joseph is portrayed as a snitch. He tells his father that the four sons of his concubines, Bilhah and Zilpah, were engaged in evil, but we do not know what that evil was. Was Joseph, so much an expression of his creative imagination rather than rational calculation, making this accusation up? He is portrayed as a dreamer, not an exaggerator. But even then, was he not a whistle blower? There is no reason offered why he had to inform his father of his brothers’ behavior. But he is not quite the whistle blower, though he took enormous risks in informing on his brothers. Perhaps “snitch” is more accurate. We also learn that Joseph’s brothers despised him, presumably because he was his father’s favourite. They also treated him uncivilly, but this might have been more because he was a dandy and wore a coat of many colours. As Jacob was to Esau, so Joseph was to all his brothers. But also a snitch. A dandy. And his father’s favourite. We know where the detestation and rude treatment of Joseph by his brothers, however itself detestable, came from.

The brothers’ treatment of Joseph was adumbrated in their treatment of Dinah. Though the deplorable act of her two natural brothers killing all the men of Shechem and Haror’s town enormously overshadowed their treatment of Dinah, the way they thought of, discussed and referred to Dinah was horrific, though not nearly as great a crime as mass murder. Admittedly, they did not engage in honour killing just as they decided to fake Joseph’s death and instead sold him into slavery. The fact remains, Dinah, like Joseph, also had been terribly mistreated. Not only was she called a whore by her brothers, presumably attempting to defend their own honour more than hers. They never asked what Dinah wanted. They never gave any consideration of her feelings, her wishes, her desires or her persona.

They were not nice guys. And they became even worse.

There was a big difference between Dinah and Joseph. Dinah was an adventurer. Joseph was a dreamer, a dreamer who easily surpassed the reputation of his father’s. But Joseph as a youth lacked his father’s diplomacy. Tell it as it is without conniving or manipulation. Hence his dream of the sheaves in which the sheaves of his brothers bow down to those of Joseph. Joseph even had the gall to tell his brothers his dream. They despised the arrogant snitch and dandy even more. Even more troubling, he had a second dream of eleven stars, the sun and the moon all bowing down to him no longer disguised as a sheaf of wheat. Even his father and mother would eventually bow down to him. Can you imagine Jacob dreaming not only that Esau prostrated himself before him, but so did Isaac and Rebecca? That suggests how outlandish and inconsiderate Joseph’s behaviour was in telling both his father and his brothers of his dream.

Israel, not called Jacob here, sent Joseph to go out and look at how his brothers were taking care of his father’s sheep in Shechem. We know that something momentous is about to happen when Joseph responds to his father’s request with the phrase, “Hineni,” here I am. Jacob then adds: יד וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ, לֶךְ-נָא רְאֵה אֶת-שְׁלוֹם אַחֶיךָ וְאֶת-שְׁלוֹם הַצֹּאן, וַהֲשִׁבֵנִי, דָּבָר “Go now, see whether it is well with thy brethren, and well with the flock.” His first instruction is to report back on how they were fulfilling their responsibilities. Perhaps, remembering his favourite son’s reputation as a snitch, his follow up instruction, as if it was a second thought, was to report back also on the well-being of his brothers.

Was Joseph responding like his great-grandfather, Abraham, and stating that he was offering himself to the other, God in Abraham’s case, in complete dedication and commitment? If so, why would he have a dream where the sun, the symbol of his father, prostrates before him? The daylight of reason and calculation bows down to the night of dreams and fantasies, whereas, in the case of his mother, were she alive, the light of the night would bow down to the bright shine of the day. Joseph stood before Jacob in a very different way than Abraham stood before his God.

When Joseph went out to report on his brothers – one might ask why he was not out in the fields tending the sheep himself – he meets a stranger. He does not wrestle with him until dawn. Instead, the stranger – the man – asks him what or whom he was looking for since Joseph seemed lost. Not lost in the sense of not knowing where he was. But lost in the sense of bewildered when he could not find his brothers where they were supposed to be. They were not in the place where Abraham offered his sacrifice, where Joseph’s half-brothers killed all the adult males and conquered the city, but in a city nearby occupied by the Habiru who did not attack the Israelites, as Jacob feared, when the latter ravished Shechem, for the Habiru had always stood in rebellion against the overlordship of Shechem and his father.

Did Jacob send Joseph out to espy on his brothers because he feared their insensitivity to others and was worried that his sons might arouse the local populace because they resented the Israelites feeding their flocks on the rich pastures not rightfully belonging to them? For when Joseph told the stranger of his mission, the stranger told him that his brothers were not in Shechem, but were now in Dothan (דתין or דתן). They were not where they were supposed to be, but in the lush vale in Dothan. They were halfway between Shechem, now a holy place conquered by the Israelites, and Megiddo, that ancient fortress. Dothan was halfway between the symbol of both betrayal and promise and the fortress standing for the rule of might. Did its inhabitants fear the Israelites who had a powerful god or were they eager to prove they were bolder and stronger than these recent intruders who were now trespassing on their pasture land?

The brothers spied Joseph coming after them. They knew Joseph was a snitch and they were not where they had been told to be. So they conspired to kill their brother whom they always resented. Why then? Why there? Why were the brothers not in Shechem? Did it matter that they were not? Shechem is the first city Abraham entered when he reached the land of Canaan (Genesis 12:6) and where God proclaimed his promise to give the land to Abraham and his descendants. Jacob, when he returned from his uncle Laban in Padan-Aram, stopped in Shechem. Shechem is where he wrestled with the stranger or the angel. Shechem is where Jacob was renamed Israel. Shechem is the place where the rape or seduction of Dinah took place. So Shechem is both a very holy place as well as a place of defilement.

דת (dat), the first letters of Dothan, is a feminine noun. It means edict. It means law. It also means elect. Joseph was elected to lead his brothers. Israelites were elected to be a light unto the nations. “Dat” also refers to both a doorway and well, an entry point and a rich source of the abundance of the earth. It is the turning point where the Israelites will fulfill the promise made to Abraham and go down to Egypt, to the wealth of Egypt, where they would eventually become slaves and then gain their freedom and acquire their Torah and book of laws in their return to Canaan. Jacob was placed in the pit by his brothers when Reuben, the eldest, told his younger siblings not to get blood on their hands, but leave Jacob to be killed by the wild animals thereabout, though Reuben, carrying the responsibilities of the eldest, planned to come back and rescue Joseph.

The land, that will be Israel, was never forgotten as a promise. Although his brothers did not kill him and sold him as a slave to a group of Ishmaelite traders on route to Egypt, Joseph never forgot the land that he was promised to inherit and rule and, in his will, instructed that his bones be carried back and buried in that land. (Genesis 50:25) And it would be at Shechem that God repeated the promise and ordered Israel to return, both blessing and cursing the narrative of the nation’s tribulations. So Joshua split the nation, just as Jacob had once done, placing half in front of Mount Gerizim and half before Mount Ebal to confirm that, on the one hand, they would be blessed if they obeyed the law, and the other half to confirm that they would be cursed if they did not. Thus, Shechem, which was such a symbol of treachery and betrayal to both the goyim and by Jacob’s sons even their own father, was the place that finally and ironically would lead a cluster of rivalling tribes of one family into becoming a nation under the rule of law. But the Israelites were not yet ready. They had to be sent down to Egypt via Gothan for 400 years.

What role did Joseph’s dreams play in that trajectory and what role did the earlier treatment of Dinah? Though Joseph is carried off to Egypt in slavery, the crux of the narrative turns around the polarity of loyalty versus treachery. Shechem was where the sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh, buried the bones of their father on the very spot that Jacob bought initially from the family of Hamor. And Shechem became not only a symbol of both loyalty and betrayal, but a city that would stand for the rule of law. Further, it became, like Philadelphia, a city of brotherly love, a city of refuge, a city to which refugees from tyranny and the miscarriages of justice could flee and receive protection. However, it was at Gothan that Joseph was cast out as a refugee, placed into slavery and taken to Egypt.

In the process, a version of the trick that Jacob played on his father, Isaac, would be played on him. But instead of Jacob wearing the skin of a goat on his arm to appear hairy like Esau, his sons had soaked Joseph’s many-coloured coat in goat’s blood, suggesting that he was killed and eaten by wild animals. Dinah will disappear from history, the fate of an adventurer taking risks in an unknown land. Joseph will loom even larger in history than even Jacob as he becomes the vehicle for saving both the Egyptians and the Israelites from famine. For Jacob bends and uses his fantasies and dreams rather than deceit and manipulation to assume and wield power. Joseph is the progenitor of a very different kind of politics than the politics of might is right or the calculating politics of a Kissinger (Jacob) who uses positions of power to advance self-interests. Joseph will lead because he is a visionary of a global political landscape where helping one’s own and helping the other are synergistic and not oppositional. Joseph, the hero of the story, stands in contrast to Dinah who was treated as a prostitute by her brothers.

But it is well not to forget that Jacob was a whistleblower or a snitch, with all the problems of discerning whether what is leaked is false news or profound revelations.

With the help of Alex Zysman

Genesis Chapter 37 בְּרֵאשִׁית
א וַיֵּשֶׁב יַעֲקֹב, בְּאֶרֶץ מְגוּרֵי אָבִיו–בְּאֶרֶץ, כְּנָעַן. 1 And Jacob dwelt in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan.
ב אֵלֶּה תֹּלְדוֹת יַעֲקֹב, יוֹסֵף בֶּן-שְׁבַע-עֶשְׂרֵה שָׁנָה הָיָה רֹעֶה אֶת-אֶחָיו בַּצֹּאן, וְהוּא נַעַר אֶת-בְּנֵי בִלְהָה וְאֶת-בְּנֵי זִלְפָּה, נְשֵׁי אָבִיו; וַיָּבֵא יוֹסֵף אֶת-דִּבָּתָם רָעָה, אֶל-אֲבִיהֶם. 2 These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brethren, being still a lad even with the sons of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought evil report of them unto their father.
ג וְיִשְׂרָאֵל, אָהַב אֶת-יוֹסֵף מִכָּל-בָּנָיו–כִּי-בֶן-זְקֻנִים הוּא, לוֹ; וְעָשָׂה לוֹ, כְּתֹנֶת פַּסִּים. 3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a coat of many colours.
ד וַיִּרְאוּ אֶחָיו, כִּי-אֹתוֹ אָהַב אֲבִיהֶם מִכָּל-אֶחָיו–וַיִּשְׂנְאוּ, אֹתוֹ; וְלֹא יָכְלוּ, דַּבְּרוֹ לְשָׁלֹם. 4 And when his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him.
ה וַיַּחֲלֹם יוֹסֵף חֲלוֹם, וַיַּגֵּד לְאֶחָיו; וַיּוֹסִפוּ עוֹד, שְׂנֹא אֹתוֹ. 5 And Joseph dreamed a dream, and he told it to his brethren; and they hated him yet the more.
ו וַיֹּאמֶר, אֲלֵיהֶם: שִׁמְעוּ-נָא, הַחֲלוֹם הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר חָלָמְתִּי. 6 And he said unto them: ‘Hear, I pray you, this dream which I have dreamed:
ז וְהִנֵּה אֲנַחְנוּ מְאַלְּמִים אֲלֻמִּים, בְּתוֹךְ הַשָּׂדֶה, וְהִנֵּה קָמָה אֲלֻמָּתִי, וְגַם-נִצָּבָה; וְהִנֵּה תְסֻבֶּינָה אֲלֻמֹּתֵיכֶם, וַתִּשְׁתַּחֲוֶיןָ לַאֲלֻמָּתִי. 7 for, behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and, lo, my sheaf arose, and also stood upright; and, behold, your sheaves came round about, and bowed down to my sheaf.’
ח וַיֹּאמְרוּ לוֹ, אֶחָיו, הֲמָלֹךְ תִּמְלֹךְ עָלֵינוּ, אִם-מָשׁוֹל תִּמְשֹׁל בָּנוּ; וַיּוֹסִפוּ עוֹד שְׂנֹא אֹתוֹ, עַל-חֲלֹמֹתָיו וְעַל-דְּבָרָיו. 8 And his brethren said to him: ‘Shalt thou indeed reign over us? or shalt thou indeed have dominion over us?’ And they hated him yet the more for his dreams, and for his words.
ט וַיַּחֲלֹם עוֹד חֲלוֹם אַחֵר, וַיְסַפֵּר אֹתוֹ לְאֶחָיו; וַיֹּאמֶר, הִנֵּה חָלַמְתִּי חֲלוֹם עוֹד, וְהִנֵּה הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ וְהַיָּרֵחַ וְאַחַד עָשָׂר כּוֹכָבִים, מִשְׁתַּחֲוִים לִי. 9 And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it to his brethren, and said: ‘Behold, I have dreamed yet a dream: and, behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars bowed down to me.’
י וַיְסַפֵּר אֶל-אָבִיו, וְאֶל-אֶחָיו, וַיִּגְעַר-בּוֹ אָבִיו, וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ מָה הַחֲלוֹם הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר חָלָמְתָּ: הֲבוֹא נָבוֹא, אֲנִי וְאִמְּךָ וְאַחֶיךָ, לְהִשְׁתַּחֲו‍ֹת לְךָ, אָרְצָה. 10 And he told it to his father, and to his brethren; and his father rebuked him, and said unto him: ‘What is this dream that thou hast dreamed? Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down to thee to the earth?’
יא וַיְקַנְאוּ-בוֹ, אֶחָיו; וְאָבִיו, שָׁמַר אֶת-הַדָּבָר. 11 And his brethren envied him; but his father kept the saying in mind.
יב וַיֵּלְכוּ, אֶחָיו, לִרְעוֹת אֶת-צֹאן אֲבִיהֶם, בִּשְׁכֶם. 12 And his brethren went to feed their father’s flock in Shechem.
יג וַיֹּאמֶר יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל-יוֹסֵף, הֲלוֹא אַחֶיךָ רֹעִים בִּשְׁכֶם–לְכָה, וְאֶשְׁלָחֲךָ אֲלֵיהֶם; וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ, הִנֵּנִי. 13 And Israel said unto Joseph: ‘Do not thy brethren feed the flock in Shechem? come, and I will send thee unto them.’ And he said to him: ‘Here am I.’
יד וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ, לֶךְ-נָא רְאֵה אֶת-שְׁלוֹם אַחֶיךָ וְאֶת-שְׁלוֹם הַצֹּאן, וַהֲשִׁבֵנִי, דָּבָר; וַיִּשְׁלָחֵהוּ מֵעֵמֶק חֶבְרוֹן, וַיָּבֹא שְׁכֶמָה. 14 And he said to him: ‘Go now, see whether it is well with thy brethren, and well with the flock; and bring me back word.’ So he sent him out of the vale of Hebron, and he came to Shechem.
טו וַיִּמְצָאֵהוּ אִישׁ, וְהִנֵּה תֹעֶה בַּשָּׂדֶה; וַיִּשְׁאָלֵהוּ הָאִישׁ לֵאמֹר, מַה-תְּבַקֵּשׁ. 15 And a certain man found him, and, behold, he was wandering in the field. And the man asked him, saying: ‘What seekest thou?’
טז וַיֹּאמֶר, אֶת-אַחַי אָנֹכִי מְבַקֵּשׁ; הַגִּידָה-נָּא לִי, אֵיפֹה הֵם רֹעִים. 16 And he said: ‘I seek my brethren. Tell me, I pray thee, where they are feeding the flock.’
יז וַיֹּאמֶר הָאִישׁ, נָסְעוּ מִזֶּה–כִּי שָׁמַעְתִּי אֹמְרִים, נֵלְכָה דֹּתָיְנָה; וַיֵּלֶךְ יוֹסֵף אַחַר אֶחָיו, וַיִּמְצָאֵם בְּדֹתָן. 17 And the man said: ‘They are departed hence; for I heard them say: Let us go to Dothan.’ And Joseph went after his brethren, and found them in Dothan.
יח וַיִּרְאוּ אֹתוֹ, מֵרָחֹק; וּבְטֶרֶם יִקְרַב אֲלֵיהֶם, וַיִּתְנַכְּלוּ אֹתוֹ לַהֲמִיתוֹ. 18 And they saw him afar off, and before he came near unto them, they conspired against him to slay him.
יט וַיֹּאמְרוּ, אִישׁ אֶל-אָחִיו: הִנֵּה, בַּעַל הַחֲלֹמוֹת הַלָּזֶה–בָּא. 19 And they said one to another: ‘Behold, this dreamer cometh.
כ וְעַתָּה לְכוּ וְנַהַרְגֵהוּ, וְנַשְׁלִכֵהוּ בְּאַחַד הַבֹּרוֹת, וְאָמַרְנוּ, חַיָּה רָעָה אֲכָלָתְהוּ; וְנִרְאֶה, מַה-יִּהְיוּ חֲלֹמֹתָיו. 20 Come now therefore, and let us slay him, and cast him into one of the pits, and we will say: An evil beast hath devoured him; and we shall see what will become of his dreams.’
כא וַיִּשְׁמַע רְאוּבֵן, וַיַּצִּלֵהוּ מִיָּדָם; וַיֹּאמֶר, לֹא נַכֶּנּוּ נָפֶשׁ. 21 And Reuben heard it, and delivered him out of their hand; and said: ‘Let us not take his life.’
כב וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם רְאוּבֵן, אַל-תִּשְׁפְּכוּ-דָם–הַשְׁלִיכוּ אֹתוֹ אֶל-הַבּוֹר הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר בַּמִּדְבָּר, וְיָד אַל-תִּשְׁלְחוּ-בוֹ: לְמַעַן, הַצִּיל אֹתוֹ מִיָּדָם, לַהֲשִׁיבוֹ, אֶל-אָבִיו. 22 And Reuben said unto them: ‘Shed no blood; cast him into this pit that is in the wilderness, but lay no hand upon him’–that he might deliver him out of their hand, to restore him to his father.
כג וַיְהִי, כַּאֲשֶׁר-בָּא יוֹסֵף אֶל-אֶחָיו; וַיַּפְשִׁיטוּ אֶת-יוֹסֵף אֶת-כֻּתָּנְתּוֹ, אֶת-כְּתֹנֶת הַפַּסִּים אֲשֶׁר עָלָיו. 23 And it came to pass, when Joseph was come unto his brethren, that they stripped Joseph of his coat, the coat of many colours that was on him;
כד וַיִּקָּחֻהוּ–וַיַּשְׁלִכוּ אֹתוֹ, הַבֹּרָה; וְהַבּוֹר רֵק, אֵין בּוֹ מָיִם. 24 and they took him, and cast him into the pit–and the pit was empty, there was no water in it.
כה וַיֵּשְׁבוּ, לֶאֱכָל-לֶחֶם, וַיִּשְׂאוּ עֵינֵיהֶם וַיִּרְאוּ, וְהִנֵּה אֹרְחַת יִשְׁמְעֵאלִים בָּאָה מִגִּלְעָד; וּגְמַלֵּיהֶם נֹשְׂאִים, נְכֹאת וּצְרִי וָלֹט–הוֹלְכִים, לְהוֹרִיד מִצְרָיְמָה. 25 And they sat down to eat bread; and they lifted up their eyes and looked, and, behold, a caravan of Ishmaelites came from Gilead, with their camels bearing spicery and balm and ladanum, going to carry it down to Egypt.
כו וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוּדָה, אֶל-אֶחָיו: מַה-בֶּצַע, כִּי נַהֲרֹג אֶת-אָחִינוּ, וְכִסִּינוּ, אֶת-דָּמוֹ. 26 And Judah said unto his brethren: ‘What profit is it if we slay our brother and conceal his blood?
כז לְכוּ וְנִמְכְּרֶנּוּ לַיִּשְׁמְעֵאלִים, וְיָדֵנוּ אַל-תְּהִי-בוֹ, כִּי-אָחִינוּ בְשָׂרֵנוּ, הוּא; וַיִּשְׁמְעוּ, אֶחָיו. 27 Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him; for he is our brother, our flesh.’ And his brethren hearkened unto him.
כח וַיַּעַבְרוּ אֲנָשִׁים מִדְיָנִים סֹחֲרִים, וַיִּמְשְׁכוּ וַיַּעֲלוּ אֶת-יוֹסֵף מִן-הַבּוֹר, וַיִּמְכְּרוּ אֶת-יוֹסֵף לַיִּשְׁמְעֵאלִים, בְּעֶשְׂרִים כָּסֶף; וַיָּבִיאוּ אֶת-יוֹסֵף, מִצְרָיְמָה. 28 And there passed by Midianites, merchantmen; and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. And they brought Joseph into Egypt.
כט וַיָּשָׁב רְאוּבֵן אֶל-הַבּוֹר, וְהִנֵּה אֵין-יוֹסֵף בַּבּוֹר; וַיִּקְרַע, אֶת-בְּגָדָיו. 29 And Reuben returned unto the pit; and, behold, Joseph was not in the pit; and he rent his clothes.
ל וַיָּשָׁב אֶל-אֶחָיו, וַיֹּאמַר: הַיֶּלֶד אֵינֶנּוּ, וַאֲנִי אָנָה אֲנִי-בָא. 30 And he returned unto his brethren, and said: ‘The child is not; and as for me, whither shall I go?’
לא וַיִּקְחוּ, אֶת-כְּתֹנֶת יוֹסֵף; וַיִּשְׁחֲטוּ שְׂעִיר עִזִּים, וַיִּטְבְּלוּ אֶת-הַכֻּתֹּנֶת בַּדָּם. 31 And they took Joseph’s coat, and killed a he-goat, and dipped the coat in the blood;
לב וַיְשַׁלְּחוּ אֶת-כְּתֹנֶת הַפַּסִּים, וַיָּבִיאוּ אֶל-אֲבִיהֶם, וַיֹּאמְרוּ, זֹאת מָצָאנוּ: הַכֶּר-נָא, הַכְּתֹנֶת בִּנְךָ הִוא–אִם-לֹא. 32 and they sent the coat of many colours, and they brought it to their father; and said: ‘This have we found. Know now whether it is thy son’s coat or not.’
לג וַיַּכִּירָהּ וַיֹּאמֶר כְּתֹנֶת בְּנִי, חַיָּה רָעָה אֲכָלָתְהוּ; טָרֹף טֹרַף, יוֹסֵף. 33 And he knew it, and said: ‘It is my son’s coat; an evil beast hath devoured him; Joseph is without doubt torn in pieces.’
לד וַיִּקְרַע יַעֲקֹב שִׂמְלֹתָיו, וַיָּשֶׂם שַׂק בְּמָתְנָיו; וַיִּתְאַבֵּל עַל-בְּנוֹ, יָמִים רַבִּים. 34 And Jacob rent his garments, and put sackcloth upon his loins, and mourned for his son many days.
לה וַיָּקֻמוּ כָל-בָּנָיו וְכָל-בְּנֹתָיו לְנַחֲמוֹ, וַיְמָאֵן לְהִתְנַחֵם, וַיֹּאמֶר, כִּי-אֵרֵד אֶל-בְּנִי אָבֵל שְׁאֹלָה; וַיֵּבְךְּ אֹתוֹ, אָבִיו. 35 And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted; and he said: ‘Nay, but I will go down to the grave to my son mourning.’ And his father wept for him.
לו וְהַמְּדָנִים–מָכְרוּ אֹתוֹ, אֶל-מִצְרָיִם: לְפוֹטִיפַר סְרִיס פַּרְעֹה, שַׂר הַטַּבָּחִים. {פ} 36 And the Midianites sold him into Egypt unto Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh’s, the captain of the guard. {P}

Female Siblings – Leah and Rachel

Female Siblings – Leah and Rachel in Vayeitzei: Genesis 28:10 – 32:3

by

Howard Adelman

This is the seventh Torah reading of the Jewish calendar year. On the seventh day we rest. What about the seventh week? However, “no rest for the wicked,” as the saying goes. And I have not been resting the last two days. The blogs are piling up. Somehow, I have been blocked from sending out any bulk mailing, even though I do so in small batches. Hence, the tedious method used of one at a time until I get to the source of the problem.

This morning, I will also cheat and borrow a great deal from my daughter who happens also to be called Rachel. Rachel Adelman is an Assistant Professor of Hebrew Bible in the rabbinical program at Hebrew College in Boston. Her most recent book was, The Female Ruse — Women’s Deception and Divine Sanction in the Hebrew Bible (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2015). She is also a poet. With her permission, I begin my commentary this week with her poem on Leah and Rachel. This is the signal that I will not be dealing with the usual topics in this portion of the Torah, such as Jacob’s dream, his wrestling with the angel and his encounter with God, his relations with Laban, the birth of his sons nor, finally, his departure from Haran and return to the land in which Abraham and Isaac had settled.

Sisters Entwined

She is the crimson cord, I the blue.
Leah-of-the-weak-eyes stole my bed that night,
wrapped round his sinewy thighs like a wick.
No candle light but the faceless flame of love-making.

I am the blue thread, she the red.
After a night in my tent, I trip down to the River to bathe
away the life-seed. Monthly, the death-void
washes away in the stream, crimson diluted in blue.

She is the red cord, I the blue.
Leah, despised—roots throttled in desire, stunted as a bonsai.
I, barren—a leafless tree exposed against the sky.
Leah fruitful but bent, I beautiful and shapely, ever slim, ever empty.

I am the blue of water and sky, she, red of the earth.
At dusk, I cross the River Jabbok, wending through Gilead.
A clay-woman, a dibbuk, assails me, thrusts me to the ground.
We wrestle in the dust until daybreak.

She is the red thread, I the blue.
Intertwined, she torques my elbow behind my back.
How to break the torturous embrace? The dying embryos? The flaccid breast?
Will maidservant-stand-ins or mandrakes do?

Both caught in the stranglehold of desire—
sisters and mothers, rivals and lovers—for the same
man-hire: Jacob. Our hearts tripped up
by the heel-wrestler, Ya‘aqov: she for love, I for child.

I pray: O God, untangle me from her.
Or let the entwined wicks ignite the light of flame as in Havdalah
that I might discern between the crimson
her and the blue-hue of me and You.

Then God remembered Rachel, and God heard her and opened her womb. (Gen. 30:22)

When I read this poem, I personally cannot help but think of the United States where recently red and blue states seem to have developed into an eternal wrestling match for power. The north-south divide has been displaced. The conflict between the coastal states on both the eastern and western seaboards of the United States and the interior heartland is usually cast in terms of a masculine metaphor about power to make sense of the controversial results of the last election. The struggle is usually represented in terms of rivalry and male metaphors.

I sketched that male rivalry in relationship to birth order in reflecting on the relationship of Esau and Jacob. I contrasted a character who was adventurous, more impetuous and “instinct” driven, even when his academic achievements were higher, and, ironically given his propensity for risk-taking, more conscientious, more dutiful and more respectful of paternal authority, versus a more cautious, more cerebral and more conniving younger sibling who had better developed communication and social skills. Admittedly, the analogy is a stretch, but insightful nevertheless.

The Torah offers three different tales of male sibling rivalry – Cain versus Abel, Ishmael versus Isaac and Esau versus Jacob before introducing female siblings. In the latter, the emphasis is on circumstances rather than inherent character differences even though Leah and Rachel are radically different in their personalities. In comparing sororal rather than fraternal relations, the latter is characterized primarily by rivalry in which the connection between the two brothers in each set was suborned to the implications for a permanent and eons-long divide. In contrast, the Leah-Rachel relationship emphasizes how the two are intertwined rather than separated, how their rivalry is suborned in a larger unity. I contrast feminine sibling “rivalry” with masculine ones and end by exploring the insights into current American politics through a feminist rather than masculine male metaphor.

However, whereas there is a bounty of scientific research on fraternal sibling rivalry, research on sororal relationships is hard to find. Further, in scientific discussions of sisters, however sparse, there is far greater emphasis on sororal or sister solidarity rather than rivalry. Even in this case, where the sisters are married to the same man and where one usually finds an expression of conjugal authority by the older over the younger, this is not the emphasis of this story. In such cases of competition for the favour of a male, cooperation and solidarity still usually trump competition. In other cases at an extreme, when you compare families where all children are female with families where all children are males, female-children families achieve higher incomes on a gross family level – 25-40% higher – than all male children households. This may have implications on theories of competition and capitalism, but that is not the subject today. I begin today, not with science, but with poetry and with that which is indicated by the text and its account of the tension between Leah and Rachel.

If female birth order effects were similar to male birth order personality characteristics, we might expect Leah to be both more conscientious and dutiful while also more adventurous than Rachel and Rachel more agreeable and possessing more social skills while, at the same time, being much more of a non-conformist. We shall not find this to be the case. Further, older sisters are more likely to praise and teach their younger female siblings than is the case in males. Whereas one can expect aggression and dominance from the older male and conniving and a greater sense of initiative and independence from the younger brother, the issue of solidarity emerges as primary in the case of sisters. This is generally true even in polygamous marriages where a man is married to two sisters. Inclusiveness and family cohesion become the dominant norms rather than rivalry. This results in a greater clustering of feeling and affection, even among the step children. However, the discussion of the relationships between all of Jacob’s children of his two wives and two concubines belongs to a separate though related analysis.

In the poem above, Rachel is portrayed as engaged in a wrestling match with her sister, with Rachel deprecating Leah-of-the-weak-eyes who “stole” Rachel’s bed on the first wedding night. The poem appears to be about rivalry. But this is not an ordinary wrestling, but one which is much more akin to Jacob wrestling with God than his rivalry with Esau. So the thread, cord or wick (petl in Hebrew becomes a central metaphor in divine wrestling – elohim niphtalti). In my daughter’s poem, there are two cords like two DNA strands, one blue and one red, that intertwine and tie together though they also divide the two matriarchs. For Rachel is jealous that her sister’s thread and superiority in delivering progeny ties Jacob and her sister together more than the love that unites Rachel and Jacob. In the former, there may be “no candle light but the faceless flame of love-making.” The roots may be “throttled in desire,” but the result is “stunted like a bonsai.” Rachel’s sister’s thread is red, signifying the ability to give birth, whereas Rachel for years remained barren, her life-seed washed down the stream at each menstrual period.

In contrast, the fire of Jacob’s passion is almost totally directed towards Rachel. Yet it is Rachel who burns with jealousy, not simply at her sister’s sexual involvement with Jacob, but mostly at her sister’s ability to give birth even though Rachel is by far the more comely. “Leah fruitful but bent, I beautiful and shapely, ever slim, ever empty.” But the rivalry exists within a context stressing cohesion rather than competition. The latter exhibits itself in both sexual rivalry and deep concern about progeny. However, though Rachel may pray to be disentangled from her sister, her prayer is not answered. The two remain eternally intertwined.

Both caught in the stranglehold of desire—
sisters and mothers, rivals and lovers—for the same
man-hire: Jacob. Our hearts tripped up
by the heel-wrestler, Ya‘aqov: she for love, I for child.

So the portrait focuses on Leah’s jealousy over sex and Rachel’s jealousy about having children. But the dominant desire is not the expression of the rivalry, but the desire to set it aside, to untangle Rachel and Leah and to have sister solidarity trump sister rivalry. For Leah and Rachel initially seem complicit in the initial tricking of Jacob. Rachel recognizes the right of her older sister to marry and have children. And Leah prays that her younger sister will have children. How different is this from the relationship of the brothers thus far depicted! Further, Leah and Rachel bring very different characteristics to the marriage and their dialectical connection says a great deal about the desire for cohesion trumping rivalry.

As Rashi says when he connects the meaning of Leah’s name with the tiredness the Egyptians experience in the famine, Leah of the tired or weak eyes is exhausted. Egyptians worked with little to feed them. Leah cannot feed off Jacob’s love, for that love seems directed entirely to Rachel. But Leah is conscientious, wakes up even before dawn to work at her spinning wheel and make the thread to bind Jacob to her in contrast with Rachel’s natural endowments. Leah is a hard worker, giving and not demanding and dedicated to the well-being of her progeny. She is the mother of Jews as a stiff-necked people, as a people which stands up for its rights even in the face of rejection. She refuses dejection. She is serious and hard working and her rewards will come in her fruitfulness, in what comes out of her rather than in what she takes in. For she gives her virginity to Jacob, not as a sacrifice to love, for hers was a faceless flame of love-making, but as a sacrifice to ensuring the continuity of life. That is what it means to be stiff-necked.

Leah is the salt of the earth or, as my daughter described it avoiding clichés, “red of the earth.” Rachel, in contrast, is the water and the sky. Leah names her first three children, Reuben, Shmuel and Levi, for all three send a message that Leah not only has a right to be married, a right to have children, but even a right to be loved by Jacob for who she is rather than her natural physical endowments. Reuben means, “behold a son,” a triumphal declaration, but the name also comes from ra’ah, my affliction. Reuben was cursed by his father for sleeping with his concubine, Bilah.

In the case of the second-born son, non-Jews rarely name their children Shmu’el or Simeon and usually use its translation as Samuel. For Samuel is the second-born and means either the name of God or “God has heard,” שם האלוהים, shem Elohim. But Shmuel also means that the “Lord heard (shama) that I was unloved.” (Genesis 29:33) Her third son was named Levi. She hoped that finally “my husband will become attached (yillaweh) to me. (Genesis 29:34) Only with the birth of her fourth son, Judah, does Leah come into her own and leave behind her fantasy-driven desire with respect to Jacob. She ignores Jacob and names her son Judah because “this time I will praise (odeh) the Lord.” (Genesis 29:35)

But what about Rachel? Does she exhibit the conniving and the supposedly feminine traits of trickery to achieve mastery and control over the domestic holdings? Not at all. Rachel is giving, suspends having the fruits of her love for her sister. She is the epitome of chesed, of a giving nature. Rachel means sheep because Rachel obeys and follows the larger collective ethos rather than pursuing exclusively her own rights and position. While Leah makes the wool and thread to weave into garments, it is Rachel who sheds her wool to empower her older sister. She gives up the immediate satisfaction of her rights so that Leah can express hers.

The relationship of Leah and Rachel is so opposite to that of Esau and Jacob. Further, whereas Jews are the children of Jacob and not of Esau, and that gives a basic character to the Jewish people, Jews are also the children of both Leah and Rachel and embody determination and commitment combined with chesed, self-sacrifice and service. At the same time, the two strands of personality DNA remain in tension. We inherit that tension in actual power terms. Moses is a descendent of Leah who leads the Israelites from slavery into freedom and to the borders of the Promised Land. Joshua, his military commander and descendent of Rachel, is the calculating strategist who leads the conquest. King Saul descends from Rachel, but David ascends the throne to displace the heirs of Rachel for David’s predecessors trace their lineage to Leah.

We have different leaders for different times, the embodiment of care and responsibility and service to the other and the embodiment of self-interest and survival with weak eyes towards any visionary goal. But it is the children of those weak, tired and tender eyes focussed on determination and self-will, on self-survival and self-interest, that lead the people to the Promised Land. However, one only crosses into that land with concern for the other, with differentiating between strangers with whom one can live and enemies whom one must destroy. In contrast, it is the descendants of Leah who view all outsiders as enemies. After all, Esau, who, according to the Midrash, was to be Leah’s husband, married two Hittite women. In contrast, Jacob was committed to marrying his own and preserving the blood line, but not by rejecting the other, but by including the other, the children of his concubines, within the fold.

In the United States, the rivalry between the red states and the blue, is one between the heartland left behind and the coastland facing outward across the seas on either side of the continent, between those who wallow in nostalgia and long for a leader who comes from the coast but faces inward and backwards in history, versus a leader who, though born on an outer island, comes from the heartland, but faces outward. Red and blue express the value differences between those who embody the vision of a unitary nation versus those who express and respect the values of difference and diversity. The former focus on physical survival and are still of the earth while the latter are of the air and the water, combining innovation with a love of change and focused on what can be versus what has been. Obama marched into the future with eyes aglow, not the tired and weary eyes of Donald Trump, who enters office fantasizing about “being great again.” In this historical dialectical dance, the givers, who are generous in their love and look outward, will also have to look inward and listen to the pain of their sister’s children who constitute the heartland of America.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Shame and Humiliation: Part I of V: Shaming and Shame

Shame and Humiliation

Part I of V: Shaming and Shame

by

Howard Adelman

Is shame a virtue or a vice?

Shame is what you do to yourself. Humiliation is what one person does to another. You humiliate your neighbour when you try to shame him or her. Trying to put a neighbour to shame is one ineffective way of trying to get rid of the shame you feel in yourself. Whether expressed inwards towards oneself or displaced outwards onto another, as the ancient Jewish sages wrote, “Better a man throw himself into a fiery furnace than publicly put his neighbour to shame.”

Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute and got her father-in-law, Judah, to sleep with her so she could conceive. However, even though Judah had broken his promise to provide his other son as a husband for Tamar so she could have a child, even though he publicly denounced her as a prostitute when it became obvious that she was pregnant, Tamar refused to humiliate her father-in-law and the biological father of the foetus she carried in her womb. She revealed the truth only in private to him and not only informed him that he was the father of the child, but gave him clear proof. He decided on his own to acknowledge his guilt in not fulfilling his promise to Tamar and took responsibility as the father.

The story of Joseph, the favourite son of Jacob, and the coat-of-many-colours his father gave him, is also a tale of a refusal by Joseph to shame his brothers before their father. His brothers had pretended that wild animals had killed Joseph when they had sold him into slavery. When, many years later, his brothers, during a drought and famine, traveled down to Egypt for provisions, Joseph had risen to the highest position in the land next to the king. However, he kept his identity secret and made his brothers go back and bring his father. Joseph then revealed himself to them, but adamantly refused to humiliate his brothers by telling his father what happened. He lied. Joseph had not told his father earlier even to relieve the pain at the loss of his favourite son lest Jacob take out his wrath on his brothers. Joseph always made his concern for his brothers’ dignity as human beings primary. He fabricated a story to spare his brothers ignominy, humiliation and the wrath of their father.

If it is wrong to humiliate another and shame him or her in public, is it wrong to feel shame oneself? Carl Jung called shame the swampland of the soul. Steve McQueen recognized this when he directed and co-wrote the part of a sex addict played by Michael Fassbender in the movie, Shame. As it happened, when Shame was given its public release, Fassbender appeared in another movie released at the same time; he played Carl Jung in A Dangerous Method. It is 1904 and Carl Jung is treating a new patient, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), with Sigmund Freud’s new talking cure. Shame was also a theme in that movie for Jung diagnosed his patient as being obsessed with sexual humiliation, in her case, brought on by the abuse of her father.

In the film, Shame, Fassbender stands before the audience in full frontal nudity. What a contrast to being em-barr-assed! In fact, the movie is about the main character, Brandon, who insatiably pursued sex. Sex was not on display in such detail for titillation, but to allow the audience to get inside Brandon’s head and learn to understand a man running away from himself and escaping his deep sense of loneliness through sex. Standing nude before us, not with Fassbender’s usual macho body, we view Brandon as an addict who fuels his addiction with junk food while watching porn and masturbating.

Shame is the product of our loss of self-esteem, our increasing self-doubt and insecurity. When we feel shame, we have set aside any consideration of our self-worth. Shame feeds on self-loathing. That self-loathing, in turn, forms a vicious circle to propel us into behaviour that increases our contempt for ourselves even further. Shame is indeed a “soul-eating emotion” in Jung’s terms. I knew a mother of a grown daughter who obsessively shamed her offspring in public. The mother would directly tell her daughter, “Why can’t you do it as beautifully as ….N?” She asked her daughter rhetorically, “Why can’t your child be as smart as G?” That mother fed on humiliating her closest offspring, yet her daughter had learned to turn the tables and prevent shame from swamping her life and, most importantly, disrespecting herself and showing disrespect to her own mother. The daughter was still never perfect enough, still had to be everywhere exactly on time, still had to perform always at the highest standard. But she did not allow the shame to eat away at her soul as if it were the spiritual equivalent of a flesh-eating disease.

Shame is allowing your self-worth to be determined by how you appear to others. Ironically, shame, so tied with exposure, hides in the deepest recesses of your being, subverting your self-worth in the most devious ways. Fed by self-doubt and a low opinion of oneself, shame is not determined by who you are or what you do, but by the phantom of who you are supposed to be.

Why then is shame defined as a painful feeling that arises from a consciousness of dishonourable or improper behaviour towards another? It is because we project shame onto another and believe it is the other who behaved dishonourably? Tim was a sexist. Rachel was a dissembler, if not a liar, who, to compound her problems, showed no proper respect towards her parents. He or she should feel pain, we insist. He or she should be conscious of his or her misbehaviour. But it is we who cast stones who must become self-conscious of our behaviour. Tim Hunt did not feel that he was disgraceful. But he was disgraced. Rachel Dolenzal pursued her quest to identify with and fight for the rights of Blacks with intelligence and energy. But she was subjected to public shaming as a dissembler and even a liar.

Deborah Blum is not only an American journalist and columnist for The New York Times, but also a Professor of Journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for best reporting for her series entitled, “The Monkey Wars” on the ethical conflict between scientists who use animals in their experiments and animal rights activists opposed to this purported cruelty to animals. As a star science reporter, she gave a parallel lecture to Tim Hunt’s in South Korea at the Ninth World Conference of Science Journalists. She wrote about what happened to Tim in an article for The Daily Beast called “Sexist Scientist: I Was Just Being Honest,” the title of which quickly informed readers about her view of Tim Hunt as well as satirizing rather than explicating and understanding his own account.

Both speakers had given their lectures. At the luncheon afterwards, they were each asked to add a few informal comments. Deborah talked about the way women make science smarter. Tim gave a tribute to women’s contribution to science. He then went astray to talk about his troubles with girls in the lab (supposedly humorously, and suggested perhaps structuring labs on the apartheid principle).

Deborah Blum’s nerves had already been set on edge when Tim referred to female scientists as “girls.” When he made his infamous remarks which I wrote about, Blum, along with two other science journalists, were appalled.  They tweeted simply to put what they had seen and heard on record, and the story went viral. Tim later protested that he had been “hung out to dry” and that he had only been joking, but to no avail. He insisted that no one had called him to ask him to explain what he meant. Blum took umbrage at that for she declared that she had made a point of asking Tim for that very explanation. In that explanation, Tim had evidently said that, “he was only trying to be honest.” But Blum never reports on what that explanation was. She presumes the remark was just a revelation of Tim Hunt’s sexism, though she quotes from his apology to the Korean female scientists and journalists. Most serious of all, in contrast to her award-winning series on the war between lab scientists and animal rights activists, she never even attempts to explore the war of righteous journalists battling for the purity of principle in a number of different fields and the sacrifice of individual human lives and reputations in that crusade.

Hunt had written that he regretted his “stupid and ill-judged remarks.” He added: “I am mortified to have upset my hosts, which was the very last thing I intended. I also fully accept that the sentiments as interpreted have no place in modern science and deeply apologize to all those good friends who fear I have undermined their efforts to put these stereotypes behind us.” Blum acknowledges that this indicated that the event was not entirely an “ill wind,” but not because Hunt’s remarks were not an ill wind, but because Hunt was forced to retreat and retract his sexist remarks – without ever determining whether those remarks were intended to convey a sexist worldview. Blum never tries to reconcile the remark, Tim Hunt’s apology and his behavioural record as a scientist and collaborator with women or to explore why he would offer such a tasteless joke. Instead, Blum went in another direction. She challenged characterizing the firestorm that followed as a “witch-hunt” and, instead, insisted that, although she sympathized with anyone caught is such a media storm, “if we are ever to effect change, sometimes we need the winds to howl, to blow us out of our comfort zones.  Because the real point here isn’t about individuals, isn’t about Tim Hunt or me.”

But that is precisely the nature of a witch-hunt. The individual hunted down and quartered does not count. What counts is the principle. And if Tim Hunt had to be sacrificed on the altar of pure principle, so be it. Further, it was not even worth investigating whether there was any empirical evidence to support her assumption that Hunt was a sexist. That was just a given. The remark was made. He said that he was trying to be honest. Case closed. And that has been the problem with most of the journalism coverage of both Tim Hunt and Rachel Dolezal. The frame determines what the facts are. Disputes over interpretations of so-called facts are set aside and certainly never traced to different frames of interpretation. Nor is her own role in igniting the firestorm critically investigated. After all, Deborah was just tweeting for the record. She had not intended to bring Hunt down. But when the corpse of his reputation lay in tatters, that was just the cost of upholding a principle. Quite aside from never investigating whether such pain was proportionate to the alleged offence, Blum never asks whether her offence might have been far worse than Tim Hunt’s. He apologized. She remained self-righteous.

However, shaming another begins with being made to feel ashamed of oneself. How do we combat shame that somehow has been instilled in us? By self-love. By self-respect. By attending to our actual performance rather than our inadequacies and all the ways we fall short. Shame is a cancer that can only be held at bay by subjecting it to laughter and derision, by forcing it into the light where it has a great deal of trouble thriving. For shame belongs in the shadowland of the soul. It is a saboteur, a terrorist of our spiritual health. It sends the message that we are unworthy and unloved, indeed, unlovable. Shame corrodes. Shame corrupts. Shame paralyzes and induces impotence.

That is why it is wrong to try to hang a scarlet letter of shame on another. If feeling shameful is a process of sickening oneself with the thought of oneself, shaming is often the effort to project that state of being onto another because of what one believes deep down about oneself. To project shame on another is to attempt to relieve oneself of that feeling no matter how we rationalize it. Why do we try to get rid of the feeling by ejecting it onto another? Because we feel deep down that we are not good enough and so try to bring down someone who appears too good, too active in the battle against privilege. Rachel Dolezal is a case in point.

And she was vulnerable. She did not show proper respect for her parents, whether they were her biological forbears or not. She somehow seemed ashamed of them. She stumbled when she tried to articulate who she was and who she was trying to become because she lacked an adequate intellectual framework to articulate her own aspirations within a more universal context. However, as I will later try to show, no matter what she had done, once caught up in a system of shame, there is no escape and no method of throwing off the shame. For it is akin to a Haitian curse, to having an effigy of oneself struck through with a long needle. The pain is excruciating and cannot be avoided. Further, the process, once accepted and dominant in a culture, gives official permission to allow others to portray the shamee, in this case, Rachel, as a dissembler, as someone who deliberately wore a disguise, because there was a grain of truth in it. The world is invited to join the exercise of shoving in pins. But the real truth was that Rachel courageously took on her own self-definition of who she was, and, further, stood up to the abuse and name-calling.

Tim Hunt, in contrast, when he cracked a stupid dumb joke and it backfired, fled the field when the abuse and put-downs poured in. He offered a clearly sincere and heart-felt apology, that, as can be expected when one understands witch hunts, was either ignored or misinterpreted and used against him. But he never joined the media circus. A Nobel Prize winner had been brought low. The institutions that are there to protect intellectuals from their deepest vulnerabilities because they venture to work on the frontiers of ideas, suddenly turned tail and allowed the lions to maul and scratch and bite their own offspring to deflect the public rage against themselves. Tim Hunt could be the most courageous of individuals in pursuing the frontiers of knowledge in a field where he had enormous expertise, but when he inadvertently left his comfort zone, and failed to perform up to scruff, the lions were waiting. Released into the arena of public opinion, Tim Hunt never had a chance. The feeling of inner doubt that he had worked his whole life to overcome through superb performance to insist that he was good enough rather than never being good enough, now escalated into a different domain altogether. “Who do you think you are?” Not satisfied with watching a highly respected man being drawn and quartered, the watchers and gazers, those who cried for more blood, tramped on the torn and shredded body to demonstrate their own disgust with themselves.

Do not get me wrong. Those engaged in humiliating another never experienced their sadistic behaviour, their efforts to humiliate, their desire to bring an esteemed person down, as an engagement in public humiliation. No. They were serving a higher purpose – fighting against sexism or combating a failure at transparency. Like the Puritan witch hunters of old, they were serving a higher calling. “This is who we are!” they shouted from their fountainheads in the media. “Now see where you are.”

But what about Jian Ghomeshi, Evan Solomon and Senator Mike Duffy when they failed in what they actually did, when their hidden selves – their sadism, poor judgement or greed – were exposed to the public glare? Should they not feel shame? Should they not be humiliated and disgraced?  Perhaps the media firestorm was far out of proportion to the slip-up of Rachel Dolezal and even more so of Tim Hunt, but surely those other three should be made to face the guilt for what they did.

Facing guilt and shaming are two radically different enterprises. Ensuring that they face what they did wrong does not require humiliating them. If they erred legally, it is for the courts to judge. If they failed ethically, society will hold them to account and convey what is unacceptable behaviour. There is no necessity to heap on humiliation. They may or may not feel shame. But we fail if we try to transfer our own sense of low worth onto any of them. Humiliating another is unacceptable, not simply or mostly about what is done to them, but about what we are doing to ourselves.

A shaming society is a society of witch hunts and public flogging. It is not a society that tries to raise the level of self-worth of everyone. A society of shaming is a society that says we all have equal value when that can only be done by bringing many of those with great value into the common trough. If they misbehave, they must be found guilty in the eyes of the law or in public valuation. They must be brought face-to-face with their guilt. But rubbing their noses in the trough of greed or a failure in transparency and recognition of what they did wrong, only enhances the difficulty they face in dealing with the truth about themselves. More importantly, it hides and displaces our failure to deal with the truth of who we are. They have done it to themselves by their behaviour. What those guilty of a crime or moral turpitude deserve from us is compassion and a sense of proportion. And it is the latter that is so sorely lacking when we engage in schadenfreude.

A society that respects guilt and allows and encourages confrontation with one’s guilt is a healthy society. A society which indulges itself in humiliation and shaming is a sick society. A communist system is a shame culture par excellence, a culture that undercuts any individual’s capacities to be allowed to feel guilty or grant recognition to another individual.

Shame is not the acknowledgement of guilt. Shaming is not the focus on what you did to harm another. Shame is not an effort to get someone to acknowledge that what was done was bad – though I will later discuss a hybrid that pretends and contends that it does precisely that. Shame is not assisting another to apologize sincerely and to take a punishment proportionate to their deeds. Shame is humiliating the other, is heaping scorn on another. And it is always done in the name, not of a specific legal or moral code, but in the name of a universal abstract principle – anti-sexism, honesty, Puritanism, communism.

Shaming someone because she did not show sufficient or proper respect for her parents is not an effort to allow Rachel to face her failure. For her failure is allegedly misrepresentation. The abandonment of respect for her parents was viewed as the core case of that failure, not the core of  failure in her altogether. For if she was alienated from her parents, that was simply an interpersonal problem between Rachel and her father and mother. But if she disowned her parents for the purpose of lying and dissembling before the public, then Rachel crossed a universal moral principle which we must all uphold –  honesty. And honesty is the demi-god before which all journalists must bow down in an uncritical idolatry.

That god was called Veritas, the goddess of honesty in the ancient Mediterranean world. I will not go into the difference between the parallel Athenian god, Athenaia, which offers a subtle explanation. Instead I will try to offer a mythological explanation of why representatives of the public media seem to take such much pleasure in revealing that a greatly admired or respected person has feet of clay. I will retell the tale about Veritas that can be found in Aesop’s Fables.

Tomorrow: Part II of V: Veritas, Prometheus, Mandacius and Humiliation