Friday, November 9, 2018

Random Musing Before Shabbat - Tol'dot 5779—Redux 5769–Alternate Histories, Alternate Shmishstories

A musing from 2007, just slightly revised.

Alternate histories have become a popular form of fiction these days. As I've already taken the liberty of creating modern midrashim to enhance my understanding of the Torah, why not go that one step further? I was sort of on the cusp of doing this with my recent musing based on the "Diary of Terakh." Imagine, perhaps, a world in which Terakh was the one first called by G"d to go forth, and had completed the journey all the way to the promised land, becoming the progenitor of the Jewish people.

If you can imagine that, why not imagine other scenarios?

Rebekkah, already unhappy with Esav for marrying outside the clan, and clearly favoring Yaakov, overhears her feeble old husband Yitzkhak say to Esav that he wanted to give Esav his blessing, and asked him go out, hunt some game, and prepare his favorite dish, after which time he would give Esav the "blessing of his soul."

She hurries to Yaakov, and instructs him to essentially deceive his father so that he might receive the blessing instead of Esav.

Yaakov may be studious and a mama's boy, but upon hearing this suggestion refuses to do as his mother asks, and even chastises her for being so duplicitous.

Rebekkah's response:

Alternate 1) She tells Yaakov to not be such a hypocrite - after all, he had already tricked his brother out of the birthright! Yaakov is chagrined and decides to go along with his Mother's plan after all.

Alternate 2) Rebekkah recognizes the enormity of what she has asked Yaakov to do, and asks forgiveness from Yaakov and G"d. Esav returns home, prepares a meal for his father, and receives his father's blessing.

OK, now we have a weird situation. Yaakov has the birthright, but Esav has the blessing. So what happens? Maybe G"d invents lawyers?

Let's try another.

Rebekkah holds her tongue and says nothing to Yaakov. Esav returns and receives his father's blessing. OK, we're back to that same weird situation. Call in the lawyers.

And another.

Yaakov agrees to go along with Rebekkah's plan. However, Yitzkhak discovers Yaakov's deception and angrily denounces him. Yaakov says "it was all my mother's idea." Yaakov sends Yitzkhak and Rebekkah away (and they go off to live with Hagar and Yishmael - there's a whole story in itself. Does Hagar at first refuse to take them in and is later persuaded by Yishmael to do so?) Yitzkhak gives his blessing to Esav, and the Jewish people are stillborn. G"d looks for another lineage to carry on (perhaps Yishmael?)

[Note from 2018 - as you may know, the untold story of the time between the akeidah and Yitzchak's return to bury his father, a time I speculate he spent in the company of Hagar and Ishmael, has become a project I've been playing with for some years. I am pleased to say, it is actually starting to take shape! It's not, technically an alternate history - more like midrash to fill in the blanks. Yet I am still drawn to writer about it. I'll note too, in the past few years, we've been treated to two of the most amazing speculative (if not truly alternate) biblical fiction works by Israel author Yochi Brandes, ably translated into English. "The Secret Book of Kings" explores the United Monarchy through the perspective of the northern tribes. "The Orchard" explores the rabbis and personas of the 1st and 2nd century CE, largely through the eyes of Rabbi Akiva's wife, Rachel. I heartily recommend these books to you.]

The possibilities are endless. entire books could be written of alternate biblical histories. (Note to self - see if there's a market for this.) [Note from 2018 - it seems there is - now for me to grab a piece of it.]

In the end, however, all this is just mental self-gratification (I'll use that euphemistic substitute for decorum's sake.) Whatever happened then, whatever happened at Sinai, whatever happened at a thousands other instants in history - none of that changes the fact that we are here, now. The Jewish people survive - mir zenen do, as the Partisaner Leid says. As I've said a thousand times to students, teachers, and others - unless your a literalist fundamentalist, it doesn't really matter if things happened exactly as related in the Torah. If the rabbis could view the Torah's stories of creation as metaphoric, the rest of the text is no less suspect. Speaking for myself, the historical accuracy of the text makes little difference. Whatever really happened, I am here now. I accept that I, as a Jew, have been charged with certain obligations and responsibilities. Our heritage provides me with ethical guidance, suggestions on how to live in this world, how to interact with others, how to build a better world. It also provides me with plenty of examples of how not to do that. Whatever choices my ancestors made, the choices are now mine to make. And if Coca-Cola can use it in a commercial, why can't I. As the knight guarding the grail said to Indiana Jones, "choose wisely."

Hmmm - didn't I read something like that somewhere in the Torah?

This Shabbat, and every Shabbat, the choice is mine, the choice is yours, and the choice is ours. Let us pray that we all choose wisely.

Shabbat Shalom,
Adrian
©2018 (portions ©2007) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha: