Friday, November 8, 2013

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Vayeitzei 5774–Terms and Conditions Revisited

I’m fond of writing little midrashic playlets in my weekly musings. As I was preparing to write a musing for parashat Vayeitzei this year, I was reviewing, as I always do, what I had written for this parasha in years past. (You’d be amazed at how many times I thought I had a new take, twist, or insight on a  parasha, only to discover that I had already written about it! Sometimes, I discover that what I had written was worth re-sharing as it was, though, more often, I find myself revising, editing, updating, and adding to it. Sometimes I discover unconscious connections between musings from different years – threads that I continue to pull at from all directions. Sometimes, I am simply bereft of new ideas and approaches, and rely on my stable of previous ideas.

As I noted at the start of last year’s musing for Vayeitzei, some that I have written for this parasha are among my favorites, and I commend them all to you. Ten years ago, I wrote a musing for Vayeitzei entitled “Terms and Conditions.” I’d like to share it now, with a few minor revisions, tweaks, and additions for 5774.

How like a human being. Yaakov has an incredible dream, and upon awakening, declares that G”d must be in that place. (We'll save for another time the discussion as to why Yaakov's place-specific declaration is really not as universalistic as we often try to make it.) And then, what does he proceed to do? He strikes a conditional bargain with G”d. If G”d will do this, and if G”d will do that, then this G”d shall be Yaakov's G”d. (see Gen. 28:20-21)

One would hope that a revelatory experience, even in a dream, would yield more faith than that. Yaakov is a skeptic. He wants proof. The dream wasn't enough.

Then why utter his declaration at all that G”d is in that place? Turnabout would be fair play, and G”d should get to sing Eliza Doolittle's words "show me!" However, Yaakov beats G”d to the punch, and makes his conditional bargain. And G”d remains silent.

I can imagine G”d's frustration at this point. Luckily, G”d is learning to be more patient by this time (cough, cough.) Still, imagine the missing text.

G"d: Hey, you just said that this place is my abode. You said it was awesome! And then you hedge your bet. What gives?

Yaakov: Well, I...

G"d: Look, buddy. When I said to Noah, build an ark, he built it. When I said to your grandfather Avraham to pick up and move to a new land, he went.

Yaakov: Yeah, and when you asked him to kill my dad...

G"d: (interrupting) I'm not going to talk about that right now. Quit changing the subject.

Yaakov: Well, too bad. Because I want to talk about it. Grandpa Abe was ready to kill Dad just because you said so. I don't think that was very nice of you.

G"d: Since when is nice part of my job description?

Yaakov: (to himself) You can say that again.

G"d: Why you little...... (to G”dself--Relax. Count to ten. Get a hold of yourself. I will not smite. I will not smite. I will not smite.)

Yaakov: You were going to smite me just then, weren't you?

G"d: Well, I didn't, did I?

Yaakov: That's not the point. Now maybe you can see why I might want this to be more of a two-way street.

G"d: Well, you have a point. Still [crosses metaphorically anthropomorphic fingers behind metaphorically anthropomorphic back.], I am the Master of All Things, and you can trust me to keep my promises.  So I will take care of you.

Yaakov: Never hurts to have a little insurance.

G"d: You've got a point there.

Yaakov. Yeah. See how it works? It's mutual. I offer you something, and in return you offer me something. Isn't that better than just a one-sided demanding on your part? You catch more flies with d’vash. We humans down here have figured that out. We make treaties and covenants with each other all the time like that.

G"d: Hmmm. This covenant idea is intriguing. I'll have to mull it over for a few centuries and see if I like it.

Yaakov: Happy to share my smarts with my Creator. They are, after all, Your smarts, aren't they?

G"d: Now you're just trying to sweet talk me.

Yaakov: Caught me. But remember-You made me as I am!

G"d: Don't pull that line on me. There's this little matter of free will I gave all of you (to G"dself-and I may be beginning to regret it.) OK, have it your way. You put that rock up there, and I'll make sure you get back home safely. But if I do that, then you have to obey me and love me and worship me, alright?

Yaakov: You got a deal, big guy. Well, I'm gonna be off now.

G"d: Have a great time. We'll talk again later.

G"d: (to G"d's self) Thinks he put one over on me, does he? Well, wait until he sees all that's going to happen to him over the next few decades. At our next encounter, I'll show him who's boss, and wrestle his hip right out of its socket! Maybe that'll teach him some humility. Maybe not. He's a stubborn one, not quiet like his father. Clever, too, though he sometimes uses that cleverness for the wrong things. Well, after all, only I am perfect, and even I have made a few mistakes. Ooh, I hope I didn't say that out loud.

G"d wanders off, muttering to G"d's self: …now let's see. How would this covenant thing work? They worship me, I make the rains fall in their time....

Modern midrash or complete fiction? You decide.

That’s where I ended in 2003. I was thinking about what Yaakov might have been saying to himself as he wandered off.

Yaakov: Well, I hope that oil wasn’t wasted on that rock. This G”d better come through for me. Seems a little, I dunno, not entirely trustworthy. Manipulative, even. I mean, I was tired and all, but whatever made my decide to use a rock as a pillow? Maybe the G”d put that idea into my head, just like the dream. Eh, whatever, I’ve got places to go and wives to find. They’ll make for much nicer places to rest my head. Maybe I’ll dream about them tonight. That could be a revelation of a different kind altogether.

[Sidebar: Did you know that the stone of Yaakov developed its own mythology? Some scholars believe that the stone’s presence is what made Bet-El the cultic center of the northern Kingdom until it’s fall in 722 BCE. Then there are those in Scotland who believe the Stone of Scone is actually Yaakov’s stone, brought there from the holy land. The believers of British Israelism continue to perpetuate that particular story to bolster their case that the the British and the monarchy are descendants of the lost tribes. I don’t know about you, but swallowing that tale would be like eating some scones that really tasted like a stone!]

Yaakov continues on his journey, gets some wives, a bunch of kids, one of whom he likes better than the others, and that causes no end of trouble. (But when his daughter gets raped, he thinks only of himself.)

Meanwhile, G”d is off contemplating this covenant idea, discussing it with some friends and other deities, when G”d hears this incessant whining and complaining coming from somewhere. G”d ignores it for a while, still intrigued with this covenant idea. Finally G”d cannot stand the noise anymore and goes to investigate. What G”d finds are numerous descendants of Yaakov laboring under harsh burdens as slaves in this country called Egypt, which seems to have a lot of competing gods of its own.

“My goodness,” (literally,) says G”d. “look at the time. Have I really been distracted for that long? What have I missed? How did they wind up in Egypt, of all places? Is that where that Yoseif kid I’d been chatting with was? How long have they been crying out for my attention? Oy. This isn’t gonna look good. I’ve gotta watch my time on this Facebook thingie.” Turning back to the keyboard, G”d types into the chat box “Gotta go free some people of mine, and strike a deal with them. CU gods L8a!”

Shabbat Shalom,

©2013 (portions ©2003) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha

Vayeitze 5773 - Mandrakes and More
Vayeitze 5772 - Stumbling on Smooth Paths
Vayeitzei 5771 - Luz is No Loser
Vayeitzei 5769 - Going Down and Loving It!
Vayeitzei 5768 - Encounters
Vayeitzei 5767-Hapax On All Your Hapaxes
Vayetze 5766-Pakhad HaShem?
Vayetze 5765-Cows and Cranberries
Vayetze 5764-Terms and Conditions
Vayetze 5763-Now and Then
Vayetze 5762-Change in Perspective
Vayetze 5760-Taking Gd's Place

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