This parasha is rich with things to muse upon. I never know what’s going to catch my attention. Perhaps because I have mused many times upon the more significant events in the parasha, I sought out something different. I found it, near the end of the parasha, at the very start of chapter 35 of Bereshit/Genesis:
35:1 G”d said to Jacob, “Arise and go to Bethel and remain there; and build an altar there to the G”d who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.”
Now go back and read that several times. G”d is asking Yaakov to go build an altar to the specific G”d that appeared to Jacob at Bethel. Huh? Is there not only one G”d? why does the text not simply read “go back to Bethel and build an altar to Me?”
Is this all just part of the general confusion in Torah that seems to revolve around the role of malakhim, angels/messengers, who sometimes appear to be stand-ins for G”d. There are several occasions in the Torah when we see transitions from angels/messengers speaking to one of our ancestors to G”d directly speaking and interacting, as if they were somehow interchangeable.
Of course, this could also just be an artifact of the ancient worldview which had G”ds associated with places, and in the transition from a plurality of G”ds to the concept of a single G”d (which clearly passed through a period of monolatry-where the existence of multiple G”ds was accepted but there was a prime of chief G”d that was worshipped,) as well as the change from G”ds for every place to a portable, and ultimately “everywhere” G”d this holdover found its way into the sacred texts.
Or it could be that G”d really does acknowledge the existence of other G”ds. Not just manifestations, but perhaps lesser G”ds operating under G”ds authority. There’s a heresy. However I don’t see how anyone can read the Torah and come away with the idea that monotheism, as we understand it today, was really the theology of our ancestors.
The Hebrew further confounds things (or, perhaps, helps explain them.) Verse 35:1 uses the word “Elohim” at the beginning, but when it refers to the G”d that Yaakov encountered, it is simply “El” (as part of the construct “L’Eil”.) Keeping in mind that “elohim” is effectively a plural form of a noun, and “El” is singular, we have some interesting possibilities. Perhaps the fact that G”d is “Elohim” tells us that G”d has many constituent parts, many different manifestations – all part of the one same G”d. So when G”d, Elohim, refers to “El” perhaps G”d is referring to some constituent part. Perhaps monolatry was prevalent in the time the Torah was written/redacted/rediscovered.
The great rabbis and scholars wouldn’t like this. It borders uncomfortably on the Xtian concept of the Trinity. Yet true biblical scholars have to ask themselves if the Trinitarian idea was solely an invention of the Xtians or if it had roots in Judaism in some form. We’ve already seen lots of discussion about the potential existence of a female consort of the Hebrew G”d, so why not extend that to the concept of multiple instances of the G”dhead – especially since that sort of seems what we have here (and in other places in the Torah.) Heresy? Perhaps. Still worthy of exploration.
I am growing fond of the idea that “Elohim” is plural quite purposefully, and it’s a subject upon which I am going to spend some time studying. If each of us has a little spark of G”d in us, maybe it’s a piece of “El” which, when all taken together as a whole, becomes “Elohim.” E pluribus unum. Who knew?
©2011 by Adrian A. Durlester
Other musings on this parasha:
Vayishlakh 5771/5763 - The Bigger Man
Vayishlakh 5769 - A Fish Called Wonder
Vayishlakh 5768 - No One's in the Kitchen With Dinah
Vayishlakh 5766-Like Deity, Like Deity's Child
Vayishlakh 5765-B'li Mirmah
Vayishlakh 5762-Don't Get Mad--Get Even!
Vayishlakh 5761-No Doubt? No Wonder!