30 November 2012

Poking, Jabbing

The laugh is what I always remember about this encounter.

It was late on a Friday afternoon.  Chicken was in the oven in the Hillel kitchen and the rest of the building was quiet except for the quiet discussion going on between me and Irv Saposnik, of blessed memory.  The biblical patriarch Jacob had just awakened from his dream, realized his place of slumber was holy ground, named the rock "House of God" and "Gate of Heaven" and then extracted a deal from God.  "If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, so that I come back to my father's house in peace, then shall the Lord be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God's house; and of all that Thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto Thee."

Calling this 'hutzpah' is an understatement, Irv laughed. 

He who had taken the birthright from his brother Esau; conspired with his mother to steal his father's blessing; had fled for his life in the rapid retreat of the refugee; and, was now making demands to establish on his own terms the House of God which had already been made quite apparent to him--in a dream.  

Maybe he was anticipating Herzl--"If you will it, it is no dream"--claiming for future generations that one can dream of home in the Holy Land but making it so is another matter.    

But maybe not.  It seems more in Jacob's nature to make demands as a condition for his faith.  Give me bread, give me clothing, give me shelter--and then I will call this place God's house.   

This is a real tension that I have seen among people of all ages when it comes to talking about God.  Give me material proof that God exists, people say, and then I will believe.  That's the general proposition.  But how many people get up in the morning and thank God when getting dressed; thank God at breakfast; and thank God when leaving the house that has sheltered them all night long?  Who among us is so bound to a sense of simple faith that the obvious is a daily blessing?  I wonder.

It's more true that people taking daily blessings for granted; or, even more likely, credit themselves for the benefits of their own hard work.  You can't blame them.  People work hard.  Everyone wants credit.

So says Jacob, perhaps:  You want my devotion?  Prove it to me.  With a material structure that will secure my being.  And on he goes:  obtaining wives, handmaids, children, and wealth; and still, he's left alone, beside a river, deeply troubled and insecure.  Terrified to face his brother.

He lays down again--this time as he moves toward his brother--and dreams of wrestling an angel from whom he extracts another blessing, which is not material but conceptual:  the angel changes Jacob's name to Israel.  He who strives with God, even God's champion, some suggest.

It's quite remarkable how much sorting out of his unconscious mind Jacob does while he sleeps.  His material angst; the emotional landscape of his sibling rivalry; his place, with his brother, in the Biblical land of Israel.  

Jacob, after gaining the name Israel, bows before his brother Esau, who runs to meet him, embraces him, kisses him, and weeps with him.  Their reunion--each materially satisfied--is a seeking of favor in one another's eyes.

Would that it were with Bibi and Abbas:  both locked, child-like, in their own restricting narratives.  Neither yet capable of the generous acts of men comfortable in their fate to concede that peace is possible.  A pseudo-state declared; settlements expanded in East Jerusalem.  A continual finger in the eye, two brothers, still wrestling, jabbing, poking and fatefully ignoring the radical gesture of bowing generously to one another in the land. 

What else can you do right now, but laugh.

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