The Parshat Shavua\פרשת שבוע or weekly reading portion of the forthcoming Shabbat is "Toledot\תולדות", which means both "generations and "history". We saw that last week: seeds had been sown with Abraham and his wife Sarah; consequently, "history" could grow and develop into various spiritual directions, curricula.
To begin with, Ishmael\\ישמעאל and then Yitzchak\יצחק. The reading deals with Yitzchak's life and the relationships "cooked up" by his delightful and clever wife Rebekkah. She conceived two children that "struggled in her womb and she said: "im ken, lamah zeh anochi\אם כן למה זה אנכי". if so why do I exist? She went to inquire the Lord. The Lord answered: "Two nations are in your womb, two separate peoples shall issue from your body; one shall be mightier than the other and the older shall serve the younger" (Bereishit/Genesis 25:22-23). So the first of the twins was to be Esau\עשו – ((red) hair) and the second one Ya'akov\יעקב (heel). At this point, we can say that retroactively, theologians have speculated at length about the symbolic power of a strong-minded mom and her two sons facing patriarch Yitzchak's death and legacy and/or counter-legacy. There maybe too much speculation. Two babes in one womb are indeed on a move. True, signs are signs, but things are both known and understand and unveiled. Life also includes the mystery of what women knit in their insides.
Is Ishmael the model of Islam? and Esau the icon of Christianity whereas Ya'akov is to be Israel for ever? This is not the problem at the moment. It is too dangerous or we should be more than cautious in detailing our convictions about symbols. Indeed, there is a turn with Yitzchak, Ishmael, Esau and Yaakov. History is called to launching the way for an exceptional spiritual path through personal curricula. "Toledot\תולדות" refers to "yalad, holid, yiled\ילד-הוליד-ילד" = "to bear, give birth, beget, deliver, grow\אתילד-ityalad" as stated everywhere in the TaNaKh\תנ"ך and the Talmud. In Pessikta Rabba 15, "nolad\נולד" means "born" as the result of a "forthcoming, revealing action".
Russian is one of the few languages that link "history" to "birthing": " rodit\родить’" and "birthplace – rodina\родина (homeland)" is with "rod\род" (gender, birthing, age, generation), a root for "delivering a new generation". Some rabbis have interpreted the Greek word "historia-ιστορια" as a Hebrew way for saying that "hidden (things - nistar\נסתר) come forth, show up and happen to be. Here, it deals with evident generations, through fighting in Rebekkah's womb. A picturesque midrash describes how the twins were leaping of joy in their mother's womb as she passed in front of a beyt midrash\בית מדרש (house of studying the Jewish texts), which can be compared to the Gospel of Luke 1:41: Elizabeth's child (John the Forerunner) leaped in her womb at Mary's greeting, as a sign of the Spirit).
The sequence of birthing generations of human beings may be concealed by a steady fight once each person is born and represents other challenges or desires. There are reversed choices: as the selling of Esau's birthright to Yaakov for some bread and lentil stew. Then the skillful and tricky mom Rivka's project that Yaakov would usurp Esau's identity and get Yitzchak’s blessing in place of the older twin. In Bereishit Rabba 63b "Rivka is told to be the mother of the twelve Tribes". Yaakov convinced his aging father who told him not to marry a Canaanite: i.e. the three first patriarchs / avot-אבות: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will marry in total faithfulness to the original point where idolatry had been destroyed.
Then,what use for faking? And how come that arguing with lies, usurping an identity, buying a birthright can be resourceful means to reach out more blessings. Or say, beside Rivka's love for Yaakov who was "mild", is Yaakov a strict product of his mom's tribal power? Is it so easy to delude and what for? As if essence was duller than a revamping.
The Jewish tradition does not allow us to fake who we are. International business, intelligence, literature, arts, actors, authors, known or for ever incognito, have made use of false or usurped identities. The whole of Antiquity theatral mise-en-scène and masquarades is grounded on minful and artistic changes of who is who and how a person = a masked face can change and portraits itself with dubious identities.
Just surf on the web: males turn to females and vice versa; multi-user or nick names introduce constant possibilities to escape from real to virtual and seemingly come back to reality. The real problem is to know the price: at what cost? Robotics and high sophisticated techniques often mislead dangerously. Some elements factors encroach a reality which some folk cannot face in daily life. It may lead to some unhealthy, confusing addictions and role playing. On the other hand, we cannot avoid to question this real/virtual world whether to understand if “real/existing” vs. “fake/virtually existing” is not a multi-faceted medium to find a coherent identity.
In the case of Yaakov, there are plenty of evidences or signs showing that he was worth taking over his brother's birthright and receiving the paternal blessing. He cheated but was cheated in return, in particular by Laban. Then, Yaakov was given another blessing and identity, Israel, during a very special dark and enlightened fight in the night. The new name he got was far more that any lentil stew deal. His very "essence or being" changed to carry over the task of blessing.
This should be considered as a "positive transgression" of the Law that had not been given yet to Moses but paved the way to Law-giving. "Averah\עברה" is a "transgression" that can be worth and helpful, as in the case of "Pikuach nefesh\פיקוח נפש" (the requirement to save a life, which has numerous implications). "Avar\עבר" also means "to be pregnant/"me'uberet-מעוברת
On the other hand, usurpation mainly presupposes the will to exercise some power. It may psychologically rely upon fear about life and being overcome or destroyed. It may be a sort of pulsing tension that draws to seize somebody’s position, competences, identity. Or to misuse it while keeping one’s mind apparently clean.
The whole matter requires at the present to be apprehended with much contrasts. We are DNA-obsessed. Everything can be cloned. Official documents, looks, people via insemination are no more unique. It could be possible nowadays to put Abraham into a freezer and reinvigorate him after centuries than use his semen for new and totally alien purposes. We got obsessed by proofs and evidences and barely can show them with accuracy. History is black in some countries and green or yellow, red or whatsoever for other nations and traditions. Truth can go through a total make-up and is thus very questionable. As in a paradox, Jewishness relies on brains, minds, metal and spiritual existence that abides bodies during a life time. The same happens for Christianity. This strongly supports the value of our words and the way we speak, use our words. They are oral; subsequently the humans experience the poer of memorizing cultural imprints.
In the Sacharit-שחרית/Morning prayer, it is said that God is “HaRishon veHaAcharon\הראשון והאחרון – the First and the Last”, the beginning and the end. Why then all that struggling competition to be the first among all the believers, the best faithful would claim they are right against others. This would rather show some disorder or discomfort based on missing fulfillment. It is quite amazing how since the emergence of the early Church, a process of seizure, rapture and transfer of Israel’s spiritual significance showed as what is called “replacement / substitution theology”.
Most Christian denominations were or are still convinced – beside any political compromising about the situation in the Middle-East – that, in Jesus of Nazareth, the Church has supplanted and superseded Israel’s election at contradictory levels. According to century-long articles, decrees, Israel would have lost its birthright in one way or another. I prefer to write the “Church” in singular because it would be quite difficult and definitely not fair to some extent to ignore the various splits that affected "the Sacred Congregation\מקרא קודש ".
But then what about being “first or last”? Some Christian Churches do endeavor to slowly correct their positions. It will take time, mainly because of self-conviction and “seizure” of the “Kingdom” that nobody can capture since we belong to God Whom nobody can seize! Replacement is called “supersessionism” by some American Christian groups. Curiously enough, Jesus of Nazareth has a parable about the laborers who were hired to work in the vineyard at different hours of the day; nonetheless, all of them got the same daily wage, “thus the last will be first and the first will be last” (Matthew 20:1-16).
Judaism speaks of “mamash, mamashut\ממשות = reality, substance” of our lives and beings. In Yiddish “mamoshes\ממשות” appeals to the very substance of what exists. There is no reason to oppress oneself or others if we really know who we are in-depths. The problem is to be and to exist to the full whatever circumstances. I discussed this topic in many previous notes. The expanding of Revelation and Redemption does not belong to any BODY. This is why the word "Church" does correspond to one entity. If it is not accepted as ONE BODY it is submitted to continuous splitting. In the end, it can be considered as a self-killing mental suicide. People are so obsessed with "genocide" because of the tragedy of religious history, that in such a behavior is indeed comparable to "reciprocal, ego's-to-ego's and mental genocide". Let's presume that the believers, undoubtedly commit themselves with such irrationality without being truly aware of the problem.
We are facing a special challenge; and Israel is indeed a real laboratory of biological, mental, spiritual for Authenticity. our challenge to feel so free and make people feel at ease that “first, last and vice versa”, obstructions can be replaced by a real feeling of appartaining to one unique human nation.
av Aleksander [Winogradsky Frenkel]
November 26, 2008 – 28 Cheshvan 5769 - כ"ח דחשבן תשון תשס"ט