Genesis: The Beginning of Desire

By Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg | Go to book overview

TOLEDOT


Sincerity and Authenticity

Jacob takes Esau's blessings

The dramatic and moral focus of this Parsha is the scene of deception, in which Jacob "takes"1 from his blind father, Isaac, the blessing intended for his brother, Esau. Both the Torah text and the midrashic tradition have sharp criticism to level against Jacob for this act. Subtly, the narrative voice indicates the ironies of nemesis within Jacob's personal destiny -- for instance, in the parallel deception that he has to suffer on his own wedding night. His father-in-law, Laban, replaces his beloved bride, Rachel, with her "hated" sister, Leah, and then ingenuously defends himself with sardonic references to the rights of the firstborn: "It is not the practice in our place to marry off the younger before the elder [lit., the firstborn]" ( Genesis 29:26). Outraged, Jacob confronts Leah in the morning. The midrash puts ironic words into her mouth: "He said to her, 'Deceiver, daughter of a deceiver! Did I not call you Rachel and you answered me?!' She replied, 'Is there a master without students? Did your father not call you Esau and you answered him?!'"2

Similarly, on the larger scale of national history, the midrash registers the bitter cries of Esau realizing he is supplanted ("he burst into wild and bitter sobbing" [27:34]); these echo in the cries of the Jewish people on the verge of destruction in the time of Haman: "Mordecai went through the city, crying out loudly and bitterly" ( Esther 4:1): "Anyone who says that God overlooks misdoing will himself be overlooked. He is merely long-suffering, but ultimately collects His dues. Jacob made Esau break out into a cry just once, and where was he punished for it? In Shushan the capital, as it says, 'And he cried out loudly and bitterly.'"3

There is a precise and painful attention paid to Jacob's acts. Nothing is foregone or blurred. The cries of Esau cheated, deprived, resound through

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Genesis: The Beginning of Desire
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • The Pivoting Point 3
  • Kindness and Ecstasy 37
  • Travails of Faith 72
  • Language and Silence 97
  • Vertigo -- the Residue of the Akedah 123
  • Sincerity and Authenticity 144
  • Dispersions 180
  • The Quest for Wholeness 216
  • Re-Membering the Dismembered 243
  • The Absence of the Imagination 284
  • The Pit and the Rope 314
  • The Beginning of Desire 352
  • Index of Sources 431
  • General Index 441
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