Torah Thoughts for Today
Monday, January 19, 2004
#7 Jacob's Children: THe World's Greatest Family !
Jacob's Children: The World's Greatest Family.
(Related to the Torah portion VaYeitzei (“Went Out”), read in synagogue. Genesis, Chapter 28, verse 10 – Chapter 32, verse 3. English text and commentary at
http://bible.ort.org/books/pentd2.asp?ACTION=displaypage&BOOK=1&CHAPTER=28 Dedicated to my parents.)
People like to “joke around” when they mention the blessings God gave to Adam and Eve to be “Fruitful and Multiply”. But really, what’s so funny? Well, some will argue that “population explosion” really is no joke! The “sophisticated folks” of the so-called “First World”, who are supreme advocates of birth control, look down with disdainful pity at the “poor folks” in the “Third World” who are breeding babies like rabbits, birth control be damned. In the world’s most illustrious forums, recent population explosions are placed on a par with potential nuclear explosions as dire threats to human survival on this fragile planet of ours.
Ironically at a time when tens of millions of childless couples in the West are each paying kings’ ransoms for the privilege of adopting a waif from the East, the prevailing milieu remains that “ZPG” (Zero Population Growth), which actually mysteriously results in Negative Population Growth, is the correct interpretation for what should prevail on God’s Earth. And when you get down to it, with the melt-down of the existence of the “traditional nuclear family” of a Mom, Pop, and Kids, in our midst, yet there nevertheless remains a great longing for that ideal set-up of a “nice family”, with a healthy dollop of a couple of great lively healthy kids with shining faces to make everyone happy.
No matter how much we hear about “alternative family life styles” with or without kids in the picture, the notion of the “perfect family” cannot be eradicated from the human heart of hearts. Now why is that so? Are people just dumb breeding machines that are genetically programmed to desire the continuation of their own species? Is it all about some concept of self-preservation or a cloudy desire not to be forgotten? Is it about measuring personal strength, dominance, virility or fertility to be found in the animal kingdom? Is it a measure of one’s self-worth to either take pride or revile in what happens when a man and woman unite to either have or stop children being born?
In classical Judaism based on the Torah there is a direct line of cause and effect between God’s desires for Adam and Eve to be Fruitful and Multiply, the fateful family conundrums that arise as a result of them fouling up their mandate, and the subsequent rise and mission of the Jewish forefathers and mothers as they in turn aspire to build their own special families. What emerges from all this is that desiring, having, and rearing a family is no joke at all. To be fruitful and multiplying biologically is a serious business in more ways than we can even humanly conceive, (good pun)!
I will attempt to lay out the outline of an approach that will put Adam and Eve, what they were meant to accomplish, and how Abraham, Isaac, and IN PARTICULAR Jacob, and their wives, finally turned the ship of state (of the world, that is) in the direction that God had intended it to travel in, in the first place. I am not the “inventor” of these teachings. I was privileged to hear them presented publicly a number of times by some great scholars. Any shortcomings are mine alone, and are no reflection of their original presenters’ acumen.
Some questions are asked about the wording of the weekly Shabbat afternoon prayers, “Mincha”, when it describes the holiness of the Sabbath day:
“You are One and Your Name is One; and who is like Your people Israel, one nation on Earth. The splendor of greatness and the crown of salvation, the day of contentment and holiness have You given to Your people. ABRAHAM WOULD REJOICE (“AVRAHAM YAGEL”), ISAAC WOULD EXULT (“YITSCHAK YERANEN”), JACOB AND HIS CHILDREN WOULD REST ON IT (“YA’AKOV UVANAV YANUCHU VO”), a rest of love and magnanimity, a rest of truth and faith, a rest of peace and serenity and tranquility and security, a perfect rest in which You find favor.” [*1]
What connection is there between Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the Sabbath? And WHY is it “JACOB AND HIS CHILDREN (WHO) WOULD REST ON IT” (“YA’AKOV UVANAV YANUCHU VO”)? Why are Jacob’s children mentioned at all? What makes his children different, and what is their relationship to the holiness of the Sabbath day?
It’s assumed that the Jewish forefathers, the “Avot”, voluntarily and happily observed the Sabbath day to keep it holy because it was part of Adam and Eve’s original condition. Adam and Eve were to enjoy a supreme Sabbath in the Garden of Eden on the Seventh day after they were created on the Sixth day. However an evil fate overtook them in the form of a cunning Serpent who inducted them into the ways of opposing what God wanted, namely NOT to eat from a Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. And so they failed and were expelled with curses hanging over their heads, and bodies. He, to suffer by the sweat of his brow in making a living. She, to agonize in pregnancy, childbirth, and child rearing. And that sadly, all were to die as foretold.
To reverse this gloomy downward spiral, each of the three Jewish forefathers lays the foundation and revitalizes the world in such a way that God’s original plan for a special Sabbath day of peace on Earth can be re-actualized. They do this together with their spouses. In classical Judaism, faith and belief in the God of the Jews, the Master of All, are judged by the degree to which the Sabbath Day, “Shabbat”, is observed.
The logic is simple: By our voluntary commemoration of the Sabbath Day we acknowledge that God is indeed the only Creator, and that He created the world in Six Days and on the Seventh Day he “rested” by ceasing from the acts of creation. So by acknowledging and emulating this behavior of sanctifying the Seventh Day we are thereby giving live TESTIMONY, as in a court of law, to God’s prowess, desires, and existence. Thus when Abraham “discovers” God, and Isaac is prepared to give his life to God, and Jacob follows in their path, it therefore has to mean that they must have become aware and accepted that unique notion defined by a holy Seventh Day of rest, as THE day testifying to the existence of God the Creator who rested from His creative creationist work on the Seventh Day.
Each seeks to transmit their legacy to their offspring, but only Jacob is destined to be 100% completely successful. Abraham, the symbol of Loving Kindness, “Chessed”, had a special son Isaac. Unfortunately, for reasons that go beyond the scope of this essay, Abraham also sired a pirate and vandal named “Ishmael” by his second wife Hagar. (He was subsequently also the father of many other nations, after Sarah died). Isaac, the symbol of absolute Justice, “Din”, gave birth to twins, Jacob and Esau. Horrifyingly, Esau turns out to have the nature of a murderous killing machine, an interminable terminator, with sword in hand for evermore. Which leaves Jacob, the symbol of TRUTH as the final link and act in the patriarchal chain.
It is Jacob who ends the recurring cycle of genetic “black sheep” turning up like rotten apples ready to spoil the rest of the flock, and ruin the show, (I know, a lot of “mixed metaphors”, but it keeps things interesting, I think :- ). It will be Jacob, and his four wives, Leah, Rachel, Bilhah, and Zilpah, who will produce TWELVE SONS, as well as DAUGHTERS, and who will become that unit known as the CHILDREN OF ISRAEL (which is what Jacob is renamed as).
Jacob and his wives produce THE PERFECT FAMILY, that will be the foundation from which all Israel and all Jews grow, flourish, and triumph, to this very day.
Jacob with Leah give birth to: Reuben, Simon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun.
Jacob with Rachel have Joseph and Benjamin.
Jacob and Bilhah have Dan, and Naftali, and
Jacob and Zilpah have Gad and Asher.
According to the Oral Law Midrashic teachings, each was born with a twin sister, except for Leah’s daughter Dina, who is specifically mentioned in the Torah and is born alone. Dina has a fascinating history surrounding her nature, and her tough fate at the hands of rapacious Canaanites. (A later story).
Jacob had intended to marry only the one woman he loved the most, Rachel. But obviously God, as well as Jacob’s devious father-in-law, who was also his mother’s brother, had other plans for him.
Now obviously the facts and circumstances surrounding the coming together and results of the varying unions between Jacob and his four wives, are varied and complex, but they all fulfill Jacob’s one primary goal of finding the right person to marry and building a family that could be the bedrock from which an entire holy nation like the Israelites could flourish for eternity.
The classical Torah commentators in the Midrashim establish an immutable principle: “YA’AKOV AVINU MITATO SHELEIMAH”, which means “JACOB OUR FATHER’S BED, (MEANING THE FRUITFUL RESULTS OF HIS MARITAL-SEXUAL UNIONS) ARE ALL COMPLETE/ PERFECT/ PEACEFUL”
So much so, that of Jacob’s twelve sons, each becomes the head of a “Tribe”, “Shevet”, in Hebrew, and of an eventual “Province” in the Land of Israel when it will be conquered under Joshua and those judges, priests, and kings who follow. The name “Tribes” is not a good label today actually as it’s associated with “primitive tribes” or things like “tribal warfare” in dark places that has such an ominous ring to it.
However, in classical Judaism these so-called “Tribes” are called NOT merely Jacob’s Children of Israel, but are referred to as “YUD BET SHIVTEI KAH”, “THE TWELVE TRIBES (BELONGING TO) GOD (OF HIS ESSENCE)”
Thus Jacob’s family, specifically his Twelve Sons, metaphysically transcend their own corporeality somehow, to become united with God’s essence and be His Building Blocks for a future entity to be called the Children of Israel which will grow into a great multitude, and is destined to become the Light Unto The Nations of the World! (“OR LAGOYIM”).
Proof of this amazingly high spiritual status attained by each of the twelve sons is that the TWELVE MONTHS in the Lunar Calendar (since it takes the Moon basically one month to spin around the Earth, and twelve of those constitute one entire year), primal building blocks of time, and their corresponding symbolic TWELVE SIGNS OF THE ZODIAC, symbols of a higher order in the universe, revealing that all is under God’s thumb. The roots of these groupings of twelve are all acknowledged as being entwined in the same supreme supernal source that gave rise to the establishment of Jacob’s twelve sons, who are also the TWELVE TRIBES OF GOD in this world.
Jacob had said: “I struggled to establish twelve tribes, corresponding to the twelve signs of the zodiac, twelve hours of the day, twelve hours of the night, twelve months of the year, and twelve jewels of the Ephod. (the breast-plate worn by the High Priest in the Temple)!" (Medrashic: Yalkut Shimoni 143) This was in fulfillment of something that happens at the outset of this week’s portion when: "Jacob took twelve stones (when he departed from his home and dreamt that angels were ascending and descending a ladder), for God had decreed that He would establish twelve tribes. Jacob said: ‘Neither Abraham nor Isaac bore them. But if these twelve stones shall become one, I will know that I will be the one to establish the twelve tribes.'" (Medrashic Breishis Rabbah, 68:11) Thus Jacob steps forth as a giant among men who understood and accepted his unique role in building the most perfect of families. This should serve as a role model in family building. When parents bring children into this world, they are also bringing forces of light into Creation. (Or jarringly, they may be facilitating the arrival of one “Rosemary’s Baby” – a demonic child- too many). The following extract from http://www.azamra.org/Earth/house-04.html describes the background to Jacob’s lofty family building goals and undertakings:“The Twelve Tribes: Where did Jacob aim when he conceived his sons? He set his sights on the universal Soul of the whole creation, bringing down a part of that Soul in each of his sons. The prophet Isaiah declares: "The moon will be disgraced and the sun will be ashamed, for the Lord of Hosts will rule on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem" (Isaiah 24:23). The Rabbis said: "The sun refers to Abraham and the moon to Isaac. In the future, Abraham and Isaac will be ashamed [because of their bad sons Ishmael and Esau]. But not Jacob, for Jacob is associated with the stars [and Jacob's sons, corresponding to the twelve signs of the Zodiac, were all good]" (Midrash Rabbah Bemidbar, Naso).
The Sefer Yetzira discusses the creation in terms of the three basic categories of Space, Time and Soul. The entire creation is for the sake of man and is structured accordingly. Man has twelve fundamental soul-functions: speech, thought, motion, sight, hearing, action, coition, smell, sleep, anger, taste and laughter. There are twelve corresponding divisions of space and time. The twelve divisions of space are the twelve constellations of stars through which the sun "moves" in the course of the solar year. The twelve divisions of time are the twelve months of the year. Each sign of the Zodiac and its corresponding month of the year have a unique character bound up with the associated soul-function (Sefer Yetzira ch. 5).
The twelve divisions in space, time and soul correspond to the twelve diagonals on the tree of the Sefirot. (When the sefirot are diagrammatically represented as a "tree" of ten points, there are twenty-two connecting lines, seven of which are vertical, three horizontal and twelve diagonal.) Jacob's twelve sons revealed to perfection all of the essential qualities of the inner Soul for whom God created the world of Time and Space.
Each of the twelve was unique according to his respective place on the tree. They were all personalities of tremendous power, as illustrated in the many Bible and midrashic stories about them and about their illustrious descendants in later generations. Each of the tribes received its own blessings from Jacob and later from Moses according to its unique trait. The tribes had their own emblems. Many of them are associated with animals (such as Judah with the Lion, Joseph with the Ox, Issachar with the Donkey, Dan with the Serpent, Naftali with the Deer and Benjamin with the Wolf.)” [*2]
Now finally, what is the relationship between Jacob’s Family, his righteous children and the fact that they merit rest within the ultimate Sabbath day?
The answer is that in the original narrative of Creation, there are technically two accounts of the Six-day process of Creation. The first runs from the start of Genesis Chapter 1 till Chapter 2 verse 3. It’s all an orderly harmonious account of creation and how on the Sixth day God issues that famous directive to Adam and Eve to be Fruitful and Multiply, and then following that to BE READY TO ENTER INTO THAT SUBLIME STATE OF SABBATH on the Seventh day:
“God said, ‘Let us make man in our image and likeness…male and female He created them. God blessed them…Be fertile (fruitful) and become many (multiply)…God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. It was evening and it was morning, the sixth day” (Genesis 1, verses 26-31) [*3]
This, say the rabbis was fulfilled by Jacob and NOT by Adam. THUS IT IS JACOB WHO FULFILS IN AN UNTARNISHED MANNER THE DIVINE EDICT TO BE FRUITFUL AND MULTIPLY and it is therefore his sons, and ultimately also their sons (and daughters), the Children/Sons of Israel and their sons and daughters, the indestructible Jewish People who will be commanded to keep and will strive to observe the Sabbath Day with its sublime direct connections to God’s original peaceful objectives for the world at Genesis, as it says:
“Heaven and Earth and all their components were completed. With the seventh day, God finished all the work that He had done…blessed the seventh day, and He declared it to be holy…”(Genesis Chapter 2, verses, 1-3) [*4]
The second narrative about Adam and Eve is when the Torah seems to recapitulate and go into the “gory details” of how Adam and Eve stumbled and fumbled in their imbroglio with their nemesis Serpent, does not relate to Jacob at all. It starts with Genesis Chapter 2, verse 4 and concludes with Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden at Genesis Chapter 3, verse 22. This is the “grand cosmic fiasco” that Jacob and his Children come to rectify, correct, and ultimately erase.
Whereas Adam and Eve’s children bring them ignominy culminating with Cain murdering his brother Abel, as humanity’s induction into homicide and mayhem. It is Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who rise above the failed human condition to a soaring level of being fit to be God’s personal Chariot in the Universe.
Jacob stands head and shoulders above all others because through his remarkable great family, he “OUTLIVES” evil in more ways than one. He establishes and inculcates an indestructible gene or condition and formula of death-defying continuous Jewish spiritual and physical survival, which is ultimately what a Torah-guided life becomes for its adherents. It translates into a type of “anti-death” or “death-defying” way of LIFE.
Judaism is thus not a “religion” in the crusty old sense; it is famously named a “WAY OF LIFE”. It is the faith rooted in the Tree of Life, the supernal “EITZ CHAIM”. Jews do not hail bloody Mary’s, they exclaim “LECHAIM”, TO LIFE, and this is all ultimately all encapsulated in the Torah, which is called a TORAT CHAIM, a Torah/Book of Life. After all isn’t that what Jews have always done in history, defied the fatal odds stacked up against them?
To sum up. All this flows because, as the Torah sages astutely concluded, in a very large spiritual and material sense, Jacob is literally “Larger Than Life”. It is not stretching reality to accept the saying that “YA”AKOV AVINU LO MET”, meaning “JACOB OUR FATHER DID NOT DIE” in the sense of death being “final”. Peculiarly, Jacob’s remains would ultimately be embalmed upon his demise in Egypt eventually; maybe it sends some sort of “long-lasting” message? Yet when the foundation of a family is rooted in subjugating one’s procreative sexual powers to a higher Godly cause, such as “YA’AKOV AVINU MITATO SHELEIMAH”, that “JACOB OUR FATHER’S BED (PROGENY) IS PERFECT!”, and when the children become the good and blessed “YUD BET SHIVTEI KAH”, representative of “GOD’S OWN TWELVE TRIBES”, then there surely can be the wondrous human miracle of Jacob’s children the Jews who inherit the mantle of Sabbath Observers: Such as “JACOB AND HIS CHILDREN (WHO) WOULD REST ON IT”. So much so, that the powers of “luck” do not have any control over Jews, they actually rise above being connected to the “MAZALOT”, the “TWELVE ASTROLOGICAL POWERS (OF LUCK)”, and attain a status of “YISRAEL LEM’ALAH MIN HAMAZAL !”, “ISRAEL (THE JEWS) ARE ABOVE, THEY TRANSCEND, THE ZODIAC”, because they have truly arrived at “YISRAEL VE’ORAITA VEKUDSHA BRICH HU CHAD HU”, (“ISRAEL, THE TORAH AND GOD ARE ALL ONE ENTITY!”), and it is finally thus Israel that redeems and rehabilitates the fallen and tarnished Adam when they are told that “ATEM KERUIM ADAM”, “YOU, ISRAEL, ARE CALLED THE TRUE ADAM”!
The decrees and conditions inhibiting Life shall be removed to make way for a new and better world order.
Now put all of that into your pipe/s and smoke it! :-}~~#
Now of course, Jacob’s sons had failings, some of which would create their own set of negative historical consequences, such as those stemming from their jealousy of their brother Joseph and wanting to have him completely eliminated from their lives. But all their failings and faults are measured, accounted for, and they are all set right by the time they re-unite around Joseph’s rule and protectorate as viceroy of ancient Egypt.
All’s well that ends well, and the story of Jacob’s sons has a happy family ending!
Have a great Shabbat and let me know what you think!
[*1] The Complete Artscroll Siddur (prayer book), Mesorah Publications, English translation, pp.518-9.
[*2] http://www.azamra.org/Earth/house-04.html , Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum.
[*3] The Living Torah, English translation by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, p.7.