Friday, November 27, 2009

Random Musing Before Shabbat-Va-yetzei 5770 – Misquoted or Misspoke (or “Sometimes a Cigar…”)

In Yaakov’s dream, after he sees angels going up and down that ladder, G”d appears standing over Yaakov and says:

I am Ad”nai, the G”d of Avraham your father, and G”d of Yitzchak…” (28:13 JPS)

It’s interesting to note that G”d says “Avraham, your father” in speaking to Yaakov. Yitzchak, not Avraham, is the father of Yaakov. Now, we can take the easy way out, and use the Bob Newhart subterfuge that “it was all part of a dream.” Yet, can we so easily dismiss what happens in dreams-especially in the important dreams of our Biblical ancestors? We have built entire theological understandings around this dream and Yaakov’s response to it (which was

“Akheyn yeish Ad”nai bamakon hazeh v’anokhi lo yadati – Surely G”d was in this place and I, I did not know.”)

so I do not believe we can so callously dismiss the obvious misstatement of lineage in this pasuk of holy text. So what’s going on here? We could ask the usual “what’s troubling Rashi?” but this doesn’t seem to trouble Rashi enough to even mention it. So instead, we’ll go with what’s troubling Adrian.

Let’s put on a scholarly hat for a moment. Assuming the text of the Torah as we know it has undergone several (perhaps many) redactions, how did so many editors overlook this obvious inconsistency (or why did it not trouble them?) A simple tweak to the text would have eliminated the problem.

Did these many editors simply gloss over it, or read it as the metaphorical “Avraham avinu,” the father of all of Jews?

Perhaps we can play with the vagaries of Hebrew pronouns? The text, in describing the dream, merely says that G”d was standing over him. Only by inference do we assume that the “him” is Yaakov.  However, perhaps not. Farther along in the text, it refers to “the ground upon which you are lying” thus we can clearly, in context, make the reasonable assumption that it is Yaakov that is being addressed by G”d in this dream.

If you’re a regular reader of my musings, you’ll know where I’m likely to go with this. It must have something to do with Yitzchak. Poor, traumatized, suffering from PTSD Yitzchak. Yitzchak, the man who is apparently (though not assuredly) dim enough to be fooled into giving his blessing to his younger son Yaakov, dressed in goat skins to resemble his hirsute brother.

There is a clue that perhaps this does have something to do with Yitzchak after all. Later on in the parsha, near the end, twice we read of G”d being described as “pakhad Yitzchak” the “fear of Isaac.” Though, like the other root meaning fear, yud-resh-alef, this root, pey-khet-dalet, also can mean “awe,” this root is more commonly associated with “dread” than “awe.” Dread, for me, is a step closer to the dark side than simple fear. Dread, I think, requires obvious thought process that leads to a conclusion that there is something to worry about. Fear can simply come from not knowing. Dread, I believe, is by nature anticipatory, and while it may ultimately be illogical or irrational, it stems from a belief or understanding that appears rational at the time. Fear requires no such understanding.

Yitzchak had every good reason to dread both G”d and his father Avraham. G”d called upon Avraham to sacrifice Yitzchak, and Avraham willingly complied.  Sure, in the end, G”d comes riding in on the white stallion to rescue Yitzchak – nevertheless, were I Yitzchak, I’d probably continue to have issues with G”d, perhaps in a Yonah sort of way, as in “why did you put me through this painful charade if you knew in the end the outcome would be merciful?”

Now, if you look ahead to next week’s parsha, you find a spoiler to my entire thesis. Early in the parsha, Yaakov call’s upon G”d:

“O G”d of my father Abraham and my father Isaac….” (Gen. 32:10 JPS)

So perhaps what we hear in Yaakov’s dream is just idiomatic speech after all. It still leaves us wondering, however, why, in the dream, it doesn’t also say “and my father Isaac.” No matter how you slice it, there’s an oddity here. Was G”d misspoken or misquoted?  Did some text get accidentally left out? Is this the text’s subtle way of reminding us that it was all just a dream, by leaving some sign that all was not as it should be? That’s a pretty standard literary device. Is this why, even after this seminal moment, this epiphany for Yaakov, that he still will only admit a conditional acceptance of G”d (see me home safely, and you will be my G”d) ?

This was Yaakov’s dream. Only Yaakov’s subconscious could tell us why, in this dream, he speaks of Avraham as his father, and not Yitzchak. Then again, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

Our understanding of G”d is inevitably bound up in the nature of our relationship with G”d. Of Yitzchak’s relationship with G”d we know little, and can only surmise. Only after Yitzchak had re-dug the wells of his father, lived the repetition with King AviMelekh of what had happened between his father Avraham and a Pharaoh, and acquired great wealth, did Yitzchak speak with G”d and build an altar to G”d (Gen 26:23.) In fact, G”d doesn’t really speak to Yitzchak much until then.

We can only guess what Yitzchak might have related to his sons Yaakov and Esav regarding the little joke that Avraham and G”d played on him. Could some of this be reflected in Yaakov’s subconscious, and play out in this dream, in which G”d does not mention his real father? Might this help explain why, even after such a dream and awakening, that Yaakov continued to only have a conditional relationship with G”d? Had Yitzchak taught him to be a little suspicious, perhaps?

Near the end of the parsha, Laban and Yitzchak settle up. In witness to their agreement, Laban calls upon the G”d of Avraham and Nahor.  In an obvious “dis” of Laban’s choice of G”d to witness this agreement between them, Yaakov

“swore by the fear (pakhad) of his father, Isaac.” (Gen 31:53 JPS)

Yaakov’s relationship with G’d may have been deepening somewhat, but not enough for him to let go of what he knew of his Father Yitzchak’s relationship with G”d. Perhaps, in next week’s parsha, when Yaakov wrestles with the “ish” one of the gremlins he is wrestling with is that “pakhad Yitzchak.” Yitzchak has passed his neuroses down to his offspring. (I think they may have been passed down all the way to us.) If nothing else, our weekly encounter with Torah gives us the chance for more self-analysis. Because sometimes a cigar is not just a cigar…

Shabbat Shalom,

© 2009 by Adrian A. Durlester

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