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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Parshat Va'yetze: Blessings and Curses of Brothers

Last week's parashah was Toldot (see previous post) in which we read of the birth of the twin brothers Jacob and Esau, the beginning of their rivalry, the birthright and blessing being taken (stolen) from Esau by Jacob and ending with Jacob fleeing for his life.

This week's parashah/portion is Va'yetze (Genesis/Bereshit 28:10-32:3). It includes within it the well-known story of Jacob's dream. After fleeing from his brother Esau, Jacob finds a place to rest and while sleeping he has a dream. In this dream he sees a ladder reaching from earth to heaven. On this ladder angels are ascending and descending; God is "standing" on the ladder. God promises Jacob that he will indeed become a great nation and that his descendants will be blessed. Upon awakening Jacob proclaims that had he realized the awesomeness of the place he would not have gone to sleep for "God was in this place and I did not know it." He then names the place Bet El, the house of God.

Next week's parashah is Vayishlakh (Bereshit/Genesis 32:4-36:4) in which Jacob prepares to be reunited with his brother Esau. As Jacob waits for the reunion and ponders whether his brother still wishes to kill him, he encounters a stranger in the darkness besides the river Jabok. They wrestle all night long, with neither of them the clear victor. As the sun begins to rise, the stranger realizes that he is unable to prevail over Jacob, he then wrenches Jacob's hip from its socket and tells him that he must leave for the sun is rising. Jacob demands a blessing from the stranger. The stranger asks Jacob his name. After Jacob responds, the stranger tells him that he will no longer be called Jacob, but he will instead be known as Israel, for he has struggled with beings divine and human (Yisrael, meaning "one who has struggled with God"). Then Jacob asks the stranger his name, to which he replies, "why do you ask my name?" The stranger then disappears and Jacob walks away, limping, to meet his brother Esau.

This week's commentary is a three-part poem based on the first two parshiot and the struggle of the two to reconcile and somehow become one again.  Next week I will print the fourth and final part of the poem when the brothers meet again.

Shabbat Shalom,


the blessings and curses of brothers


born together
           always apart
yearning for self
          for other
 God’s favor

one against one
two in one
from the start
they were destined
they were doomed

hand over heal
younger over elder
mother's love over father's longing

one comforting mother with
            the compassion she needs
one comforting father with
            the strength for which he longs

blessing is sought
blessing is given
at what cost

father's blindness
     begets mother's deception
son's complicity
blessing and birthright
both gone
one is left
with nothing
but anger
passion for retribution
never to be achieved


the two are one
the same     yet not
    both leave
seeking brides
  seeking partners
    seeking to continue
       the family
       the heritage
       the legacy
the treachery

all the while
god watches and waits
        smiling slyly
    as they act out
the divine drama
the divine comedy
of life

mother's son marries
mother's daughters
father's son marries
daughter of the other son
            the other forgotten one
            the other side
each following his own path
which is truly
the desired one

one works
enslaved to passion
love  lust  desire
for her
      he gets more
than he bargained for

for him   over him
    the chosen one
sisters fight
     long for sons
to please him

will he ever be pleased
will he ever be at peace
as long as the other is out there
searching  seeking  seething
can he rejoice without peace
      without finding
the love of his brother

that would be worth
all his children
if it can ever be

waiting years
he watches
      as wives compete
    concubines at their side
  competition of conception
righteous rivalry

children are born
their father still is not whole
not fully present
      to life
    until he can reunite
with his other half
   bringing unity to the a whole
that has never truly

angels climbing ladders
do nothing    to comfort him
         any more
than wives bearing children
     surrounded by beings
     human and divine
     he is still
never at one

without warning
the day arrives
for which he has longed

he is coming
            the other one
      the other half
will divine union finally occur
or will they tear each other apart
creating further division
no one  can repair

fear grips
not knowing
fear grips
the other

that evening
one wrestles
with the other
      the self
   the divine
through the night
never winning
   never losing
 simply struggling
simply living

the other struggles too
     with demons
within and without
    the hatred of other and self
       of mother and father
the desire for power and reconciliation
  the memory of what was
the dream of what could be
  inert struggle
preventing him from moving ahead
      to meet
the one
    who is both
        other and the same 

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