Friday, December 29, 2017

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Vayekhi 5778–Unethical Will? (Revised 5761)

Who is he kidding?

This man conspired with his Mother to steal his older brother's birthright.

Early in his life he told G”d he would only be his G”d if everything worked out alright on his journey. And this after experiencing the majesty of the Divine presence and exclaiming "Achein yesh Ad”nai..."

This man, who, when two of his sons executed the entire male population of a town to avenge the rape of their sister, was more worried about how their actions would affect his reputation.

Then he has the unmitigated gall to offer up the first ethical will in history, chastising his sons and citing all their faults? Sheesh!

If ever a man was inflicted with the curse "may G”d grant you children like yourself" then Yaakov surely was.

It starts with the first born, who sleeps with his father's concubine!

Numbers two and three disgrace themselves in a wanton act of supposedly justifiable mass murder.

Number 4 we'll get back to in a minute.

Five and six did nothing much and could expect the same.

Seven, Eight, Nine and Ten are similarly mundane, though apparently deserving of some good fortune. (Maybe Yaakov was just getting a little less particular with his younger kids?)

Number Eleven is successful-but note that it is only with and because of G”d's help-at least the way Yaakov sees it. Did Yosef succeed on his own merits, or was he only, as he himself indicated, a pawn in G”d's little play? Teleology at its best (well, worst, if you feel about teleological explanations as I do.)

And Number Twelve? Well, he's obviously developed a bit of a temper and youngest child syndrome. No surprise there. I’ll bet that if Benjamin had gotten out of town without that golden cup being discovered, he would have kept it and not have told another soul about it.

At this juncture, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the missing child, Dinah. After the brief episode that involves her, she disappears from the biblical narrative – we don’t know what happens to her (as is the case with far too many women in the Torah.) There’s quite a bit of midrashim on the subject. One says that Simeon and Levi buried her. Another posits that she had a daughter, Asenath/Osnot, who became Joseph’s wife. (There’s just something not quite right in all that.) Yet another says that she later married Job (yes, that Job.) Rashi believes she was “that Canaanite woman” who was the mother of Saul, listed among those of Simeon’s family that went down to Egypt with Jacob and settled in Goshen. Rashi suggests that Dinah was reluctant to leave and insisted that Simeon marry her to remover her shame. (yeah let’s have an incestuous brother/sister marriage to remove the stain of rape.) The Ramban offers an apologetic, saying that although Simeon married Dinah, they did not have conjugal relations. Way to make an already bad story worse, fellas. Sigh.

Back we’ve also missed one son. What about Number Four? What makes him so special? Let's remember who he is. He's the one that suggested that they could get rid of brother Yosef and make money on the deal at the same time. Does that make him hero or goat? His act did spare Yosef's life, but was that a righteous act or a side-effect of greed? We'll never know. But he got payback, when he found out he had slept with his own daughter-in-law! (Even stranger, without that incident, there would have been no Davidic line to begin with!) So maybe that evened the score enough to enable Judah to be the son who received the really cool blessing and prediction.

Apparently the other brothers weren't too impressed with Yaakov's predictions. When Yaakov kicked the bucket, the brothers were still worried about what Yosef might do to them. He was the one with the power now. Judah's turn would come later. Much later, long after Judah and his brothers were gone.

Let's put aside the question of authorship and redaction. Yes, perhaps Yaakov's final testament to his sons was a reflection of a later historical reality. But let's assume that these were indeed Yaakov's very words. The question remains-why pick Judah, out of all of them, to be the ultimate long-term success story? What had Judah done to merit the honor?

I have a theory about that. Harken back to parashat Vayeshev and Gen. 38:26 in which Judah plainly admits he had been wrong in dealing with Tamar. The ability to admit when one is wrong - that is worthy of great honor, indeed. Especially among us clearly imperfect human beings.

In a way, Yaakov's ethical will might be his own admission of guilt, of his failures as a father. Favoring one son among twelve. Failing to properly chastise his children when he really needed to. Takes a certain type of person to be willing to lay it all bare like that-for it reflects as much on him as it does on his sons.

So Yaakov's own parting words reinforce my thesis - Judah is honored for his willingness to admit to wrongs. A good lesson for us all this Shabbat.

חזק חזק ונתחזק

Chazak, chazak, v'nitchazek.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2017 (portions ©2001) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this Parasha

Vayekhi 5777 - It's Our Stew Now
Vayekhi 5776 - Beyond the Threshold
Vayekhi 5775 - Which Last Words?
Vay'khi 5774 - The Puppet's Unritten Lament
Vayekhi 5773 - The Wrong Good (Redux and Updated 5762)
Vayekhi 5772 - A Different HaMalakh HaGoel
Vayekhi 5771-Trading Places (Redux & Updated from 5759)
Vayekhi 5770 - Musing Block?
Vayekhi 5769 - Enough With the Hereditary Payback Already!
Vayekhi 5767-HaMalakh HaGoel
Vayechi 5766-Thresholds (Redux 5764 with Reflections
Vayechi 5761/5-Unethical Wills
Vayechi 5764-Thresholds
Vayechi 5763 - I Got it Good and That Ain't Bad (Redux 5760)
Vayechi 5759-Trading Places
Vayechi 5762-The Wrong Good

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