06 January 2012

Until We Meet Again

Endings are never easy.  If anyone knows this in Torah, it's Jacob, who never really seems to end anything right; rather, he seems to always be scheming, finagling, wiggling his way this way and that until a new set of circumstances arise that can occupy his restless, teeming soul.

He leaves home in conflict with his brother; he leaves Paddan Aram and his father-in-law's household with deceit and a swindling of the family idols; even his reunion with Esau, by the river, is rife with double-meaning: a kiss that bites a marble neck, knocking out Esau's teeth, according to a famous midrash.  And hear at the very end, more tricks up the frayed sleeves of his patriarchal robe:  the switcheroo on the blessings for Ephraim and Menashe; the truth-telling, harsh as it may be of his sons in the form of a "blessing" before he dies (with blessings like some of these, who needs curses?)  In character to the very end.

What he does know, in his inimitable, exhausting way, is that he seeks, above all else, love and truth--חסד ואמת--and, finally, to be buried with his fathers, not in Egypt, the land of exile and strangeness, but at home, in familiar territory.  Where the names on the graves are those that belong to you; where the trees under which prayers are offered are branches of mercy, accepting--despite weakness, faults, sins, deceits, and wretched behavior--the man for whom those words are spoken.

Israel, his true name, has seen the fullness of his people's destiny and as he prepares to say good-bye, he remembers.  He remembers the promise and the prophesy of covenant, slavery and redemption and knows, as deeply in his mind as in the very bones that have carried him hither and yon, that he can go no further.  He declares his end to be near.  He rests his head on the very bed in which he'll die.  He seems to drift away.

But remains.  Long enough to assert an order in the family; long enough to encode for Joseph his son that the way among the Jews is unique, singular, and certainly not simple.  "Promise me you'll bury me among the ancestors," he demands of his son.  And the promise is fulfilled.  But like a great quarterback fakes long before hitting the receiver cutting across the field for short yardage, Jacob pulls his grandchildren close and in switching the blessing of Ephraim and Menashe, he conveys an even greater principle beyond the plea for love and truth--חסד ואמת that he demands. 

That truth says that we change the order of a destiny we are meant to live.  How we were born, where we were born, in what place, at what time--is not determinative of who we are and who we will be but the human element--our lives at play in the world--is ultimately the hand that shapes our existence.

Abraham may have argued with God; Isaac, that passive saint of a man, said little, and did less.  But Jacob, mighty conniver in the game of life that he was, pinned his God to the ground, fought to a draw, and from the struggle, exacted blessing.

Destiny, covenant, faith, eternity--I know, I know:  when all is said and done, what are you going to do about it?

Jacob is laid to rest this Shabbat.  Genesis draws to an end.  The drama of Exodus and Moses' larger-than-life personality dominates Torah for the remainder of the year.  But it's Jacob we long for, Jacob we know in our guts, until we meet again, next year.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So beautifully written and moving--thank you!