Making the Mold: What if Genesis Explains Jewish Law?

 

One of the disadvantages of the way in which people read the Torah is that we often fail to see connections that span the entire text – connections that greatly enrich our understanding of what the document is trying to tell us.

I have written, for example, on how fathers become increasingly interested and involved in their children from Abraham to Jacob to Joseph – and, indeed, how the younger generation that was first rootless (Terach and Avraham) increasingly come, with the sons of Jacob, to choose to live with their fathers. Binding the generations together becomes an essential facet of Jewish life, a necessary precondition for a nation designed to survive and thrive for thousands of years.

But this is not just something that happens in Genesis. The connections span the entirety of the Five Books, and there is much we can learn from them.

“One wife loved, and the other wife hated,” describes Jacob and his wives, in 29 Genesis, and Jacob’s resulting favoritism of Joseph over Reuben. The resulting law, forbidding favoring the son of the loved wife over the firstborn son from the hated wife, appears in Deuteronomy 21. The language of the latter echoes the former, and it is clear that we are instructed to make different choices than Jacob did. It is not hard to explain why that is so – favoring Joseph did not lead to domestic tranquility.

Linguistic parallels provide the signposts for when a law given in the Torah is explained by what happened to our forefathers in Genesis. Some of these signposts, such as “Love ye therefore the stranger; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Deut. 10:19) are explicit. Others are more subtle.

For example, the phrase “when the sun sets” is used only a handful of places in the Torah. The first examples talk about times of dread and fear – Avram’s covenant between the parts (Gen. 15), and the night when Jacob, fleeing from his brother, sleeps and dreams of ladders and angels and blessings from G-d (Gen. 28).

Imagine the scene. Jacob flees, alone and afraid. He has no pillow, so he uses a rock. It is a time of uncertainty – so much so that when Jacob wakes, he makes a vow to G-d, trying to ensure that he has food to eat and a garment to wear.

There is an amazing echo in Deuteronomy, when a commandment is expressly given:

Thou shalt surely restore to him the pledge when the sun sets, that he may sleep in his garment, and bless thee; and it shall be righteousness unto thee before the LORD thy God. (Deut. 24:13 – echoed also at Ex. 22-25)

Jacob took G-d’s rock, and used it to sleep – and then he woke, turned the stone upright to anoint it and mark the spot, and then Jacob blessed G-d, the divine presence that provided a rock for a pillow, inspired and comforted Jacob in his sleep, and then soothed his fears and loneliness. The restoration of a man’s pledge-garment by sunset is connected to G-d’s comforting of Jacob when the sun set, and provision of a rock-pillow. And in both cases, the benefactor is blessed by the man who was able to sleep at night.

[There is another story of a rock and the sun setting at Ex. 17:12, but I’ll save that digression for another time.]

There is much more to this story. When the sun sets, something extraordinary happens. The Torah does not say that the sun rises until, many years later, a returning Jacob wrestles with the angel. So when Jacob leaves, the world is cast into metaphorical shadow and doubt (similar to the first time in the Torah when it says that the sun sets, when Avram experiences the Covenant between the Parts). Which means that the sun set on Jacob, and there were many dark years until he returned to the land and the sun rose upon him.

What happened in the meantime? Jacob worked for Laban, a man who changed the pay scale many times, played a switcheroo with brides, and was a genuine scoundrel when it came to fulfilling his pledges. Jacob refers to working “for a week” when he meant a full seven years – and yet Laban refused to compensate him honestly.

In Deuteronomy “the sun sets” is signposted to tell us that

… You shall give the day laborer his hire before the sun sets. (Deut. 24:15)

We learn from Laban’s mistreatment of Jacob that we must pay as agreed. We are command to pay the day-laborer on time, because a day-laborer is depending on that payment in precisely the same way that Jacob was depending on Laban honoring his pledge.

There are many other examples, of course. All of these help us to understand the “why” of the commandments themselves. But they also show us how the Torah was iterated as a result of the interactions and even partnership between man and G-d. The experiences of our forefathers seem to be clearly linked to the commandments that subsequently became part of Jewish Law.

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  1. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum
    @

    Glad of the extra time this weekend to enjoy a double-measure of insight, @iwe! Bookmarked for a bit later…Thanks!

     

    • #1
  2. Michael Collins Member
    Michael Collins
    @MichaelCollins

    So individuals and nations both learn from experience, but in this case with G-d’s special guidance.  “To understand why this is commanded, look to the past.”  That is a lesson worth learning.

    • #2
  3. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    iWe: Jacob took G-d’s rock, and used it to sleep – and then he woke, turned the stone upright to anoint it and mark the spot, and then Jacob blessed G-d, the divine presence that provided a rock for a pillow, inspired and comforted Jacob in his sleep, and then soothed his fears and loneliness.

    How does a mere mortal like Jacob bless G-d?

    • #3
  4. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    iWe: Jacob took G-d’s rock, and used it to sleep – and then he woke, turned the stone upright to anoint it and mark the spot, and then Jacob blessed G-d, the divine presence that provided a rock for a pillow, inspired and comforted Jacob in his sleep, and then soothed his fears and loneliness.

    How does a mere mortal like Jacob bless G-d?

    Jacob does something far more cheeky: he sets conditionals. “If G-d does X, then I will do Y.” Abraham and Moshe negotiate and entreat and argue with G-d as well.

    Mortality does not make us unimportant. The Torah makes it clear that we are invested with a spark of G-d’s own divine spirit, which makes us potentially very powerful, indeed, albeit for a limited time.

    Observant Jews make blessings over many, many things (there is a widespread custom to bless G-d at least 100 times each day). It is part of the partnership between us, among the ways in which we work to complete the world.

    • #4
  5. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    iWe (View Comment):
    Observant Jews make blessings over many, many things (there is a widespread custom to bless G-d at least 100 times each day). It is part of the partnership between us, among the ways in which we work to complete the world.

    I’ve said many times that I so appreciate when you point out our “partnership” with G-d.  Rather than suggesting that G-d is distant, that we serve Him as if we are low beings, you remind us that we serve G-d by partnering with Him. That kind of intimacy is very special. Thanks, iWe.

    • #5
  6. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    This interaction between man and G-d is also seen in Genesis 18:16-33 when Abraham negotiates with G-d over the number of righteous men to be found in Sodom that would spare the city.

    26 And the Lord said to him: If I find in Sodom fifty just within the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.

    The agreed upon number eventually becomes 10 righteous men.

    We might see this carried forward to this present day in the Jewish tradition of 36 righteous individuals that pray for the entire world. I’m not learned enough in Jewish theology to expand on this any further. There are cloistered monks and nuns that pray for the entire world.

    Basically these are my thoughts that I have on this subject, but as I say I’m not a theologian.

    • #6
  7. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum
    @

    G-d “needed” neither our existence/presence, nor our blessings; He oddly-enough delights in both and invites us into collaboration…Amazing! I second @dougwatt in his mention of intercession as a participation in partnership…Chaplain-Pandas  delight in it, too. :-)

    • #7
  8. Hypatia Inactive
    Hypatia
    @Hypatia

    Hee hee hee!  I love the Jacob and Laban story, esp. how Rachel sits on Laban’s  stolen household idols, pleading her pregnancy as an excuse for not rising to greet her irate dad!

    Since you mention increasing involvement of parents with children:

    Remember how, when Jacob blesses Joseph’s sons, he crosses his hands so his right will rest on the younger son’s head? (Gen.  48: 17-19. ). Sir James Frazier says this is because in the OT with pastoral societies, ultimogeniture, ( not  primogeniture)  was the rule.  The older sons would come of age while dad was still pretty hale, they’d have to ask for a couple animals and  go form their own households.  It would be the youngest who’d be still at home when dad was too feeble to continue and who would take over dad’s operation.

    I wonder if that’s not reflected in the parable of the Prodigal Son, who was the youngest?

    • #8
  9. Amy Schley Moderator
    Amy Schley
    @AmySchley

    Hypatia (View Comment):
    Hee hee hee! I love the Jacob and Laban story, esp. how Rachel sits on Laban’s stolen household idols, pleading her pregnancy as an excuse for not rising to greet her irate dad!

    Not her pregnancy … her “not pregnancy” if you take my meaning …

    • #9
  10. Amy Schley Moderator
    Amy Schley
    @AmySchley

    iWe: “One wife loved, and the other wife hated,” describes Jacob and his wives, in 29 Genesis, and Jacob’s resulting favoritism of Joseph over Reuben. The resulting law, forbidding favoring the son of the loved wife over the firstborn son from the hated wife, appears in Deuteronomy 21. The language of the latter echoes the former, and it is clear that we are instructed to make different choices than Jacob did. It is not hard to explain why that is so – favoring Joseph did not lead to domestic tranquility.

    In fairness to Jacob, Rueben slept with Jacob’s concubine — not exactly a family peace-making gesture.

    • #10
  11. Israel P. Inactive
    Israel P.
    @IsraelP

    Hypatia (View Comment):
    pleading her pregnancy as an excuse for not rising to greet her irate dad!

    The Hebrew term is a euphemism for menstruation, not pregnancy.

    • #11
  12. Hypatia Inactive
    Hypatia
    @Hypatia

    Amy Schley (View Comment):

    Hypatia (View Comment):
    Hee hee hee! I love the Jacob and Laban story, esp. how Rachel sits on Laban’s stolen household idols, pleading her pregnancy as an excuse for not rising to greet her irate dad!

    Not her pregnancy … her “not pregnancy” if you take my meaning …

    I just re-read that…yuh, when she says “the custom of women is upon me” does she mean her period?  That  sure woulda guaranteed that Laban wouldn’t want to search the camel saddle where she was sitting!

    • #12
  13. Amy Schley Moderator
    Amy Schley
    @AmySchley

    Hypatia (View Comment):

    Amy Schley (View Comment):

    Hypatia (View Comment):
    Hee hee hee! I love the Jacob and Laban story, esp. how Rachel sits on Laban’s stolen household idols, pleading her pregnancy as an excuse for not rising to greet her irate dad!

    Not her pregnancy … her “not pregnancy” if you take my meaning …

    I just re-read that…yuh, when she says “the custom of women is upon me” does she mean her period? That sure woulda guaranteed that Laban wouldn’t want to search the camel saddle where she was sitting!

    And frankly, if she was telling the truth, Laban could rest assured that she hadn’t stolen them, because who would steal the household gods only to menstruate on them?  This incident shows that Rachel was not only an idol worshiper and a thief, but also a liar.

    • #13
  14. Hypatia Inactive
    Hypatia
    @Hypatia

    Amy Schley (View Comment):

    iWe: “One wife loved, and the other wife hated,” describes Jacob and his wives, in 29 Genesis, and Jacob’s resulting favoritism of Joseph over Reuben. The resulting law, forbidding favoring the son of the loved wife over the firstborn son from the hated wife, appears in Deuteronomy 21. The language of the latter echoes the former, and it is clear that we are instructed to make different choices than Jacob did. It is not hard to explain why that is so – favoring Joseph did not lead to domestic tranquility.

    In fairness to Jacob, Rueben slept with Jacob’s concubine — not exactly a family peace-making gesture.

    Jacob favored Joseph and, equally or more, little Benjy!

    Favoring Joseph didn’t lead to domestic tranquility, but it did result in the salvation of Jacob’s line during the famine.  No Joseph, no Passover, no Exodus, no Ten Commandments.  If favoring Joseph was a sin, talk about your felix pecatta! 

     

    • #14
  15. Israel P. Inactive
    Israel P.
    @IsraelP

    Hypatia (View Comment):
    That  sure woulda guaranteed that Laban wouldn’t want to search the camel saddle where she was sitting!

    But he did anyway, which is another strike against him.

    • #15
  16. Hypatia Inactive
    Hypatia
    @Hypatia

    Israel P. (View Comment):

    Hypatia (View Comment):
    That sure woulda guaranteed that Laban wouldn’t want to search the camel saddle where she was sitting!

    But he did anyway, which is another strike against him.

    I didn’t get that. “And he searched, but found not the images.” Does the original language indicate that he did make Rachel get up?

    • #16
  17. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    Nanda Panjandrum (View Comment):
    Chaplain-Pandas delight in it, too.

    Just as we delight in Chaplain-Pandas.

    A very good partnership.

    • #17
  18. Hypatia Inactive
    Hypatia
    @Hypatia

    Amy Schley (View Comment):

    Hypatia (View Comment):

    Amy Schley (View Comment):

    Hypatia (View Comment):
    Hee hee hee! I love the Jacob and Laban story, esp. how Rachel sits on Laban’s stolen household idols, pleading her pregnancy as an excuse for not rising to greet her irate dad!

    Not her pregnancy … her “not pregnancy” if you take my meaning …

    I just re-read that…yuh, when she says “the custom of women is upon me” does she mean her period? That sure woulda guaranteed that Laban wouldn’t want to search the camel saddle where she was sitting!

    And frankly, if she was telling the truth, Laban could rest assured that she hadn’t stolen them, because who would steal the household gods only to menstruate on them? This incident shows that Rachel was not only an idol worshiper and a thief, but also a liar.

    Like Jacob! Peas in a pod, those two!   He is a trickster figure from the get-go, he’s Loki in a caftan.  My fave is the ford of Jabbuk, where he seems to be auditioning a different deity, a river god.  It changes shape all night, but he holds on till it has to get free, the day breaketh…then he extracts his boon: a name, which becomes the name of his people.

    • #18
  19. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Hypatia (View Comment):
    Like Jacob! Peas in a pod, those two! He is a trickster figure from the get-go, he’s Loki in a caftan. My fave is the ford of Jabbuk, where he seems to be auditioning a different deity, a river god. It changes shape all night, but he holds on till it has to get free, the day breaketh…then he extracts his boon: a name, which becomes the name of his people.

    Hypatia, you’re just writing a clever description of this appearance, right?

    • #19
  20. Hypatia Inactive
    Hypatia
    @Hypatia

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Hypatia (View Comment):
    Like Jacob! Peas in a pod, those two! He is a trickster figure from the get-go, he’s Loki in a caftan. My fave is the ford of Jabbuk, where he seems to be auditioning a different deity, a river god. It changes shape all night, but he holds on till it has to get free, the day breaketh…then he extracts his boon: a name, which becomes the name of his people.

    Hypatia, you’re just writing a clever description of this appearance, right?

    @susanquinn, as opposed to what?

    It doesn’t make sense, really, that the wrestler at the ford was Jahweh.  Jacob already made  his deal  with Him, at the Pillar of Bethel.  Why would Jahweh care that day is  breaking?  Bible says “there wrestled with {Jacob}a man”. Why did Jacob wait there, sending the rest of his entourage on ahead?   And  “el”  means god, any god, not Jahweh in particular. A river deity has to grant a wish if you can hold onto him, not easy cuz he’s , well, Protean.

    And  Jacob does fit all the classic folklore tropes for the trickster hero.  Took advantage of Esau. Tricks the dying Isaac. Tricks Laban (the sympathetic magic ritual to produce the brindled animals) . But he is the culture bearer and gives the people its  name.

    All these are ideas  I have read in my folklore studies, esp. Fraser.

    Please: I don’t mean to offend anyone, especially not anyone Jewish.

    If we point out that the birth of Jesus has close parallels in the birth of Horus, the birth of Mithras –to me, that doesn’t reflect upon the Christian faith.  These parallels could, if you like, be viewed thru a lens of neoPlatonism ( that they foreshadowed the ultimate, as yet unrevealed truth) .  Or just that they’re the Lord’s doing, and miraculous in our eyes.

    • #20
  21. Amy Schley Moderator
    Amy Schley
    @AmySchley

    Hypatia (View Comment):
    If we point out that the birth of Jesus has close parallels in the birth of Horus

    Of course, it doesn’t. Or at least, my Bible misses the part where God is chopped into 42 pieces by his brother, the pieces are spread out across the nation, his wife finds all but one, reassembles the corpse, makes a clay set of genitals (that being the missing piece), and either has necrophiliatic sex to impregnate herself with Horus or turns into a bird to extract his seed that way.

    The “Horus is Jesus” claptrap is insulting to both Christians and Egyptian mythology, just as “Wonder Woman” turning Zeus and Ares into Jehovah and Lucifer is insulting to both Christianity and Greek mythology.

    • #21
  22. Hypatia Inactive
    Hypatia
    @Hypatia

    I didn’t say Horus is Jesus.  But people used to carry crèches thru the streets to celebrate his birth.  And the Star has many antecedents.

    Do you expect me to defend Wonder Woman?

    • #22
  23. Amy Schley Moderator
    Amy Schley
    @AmySchley

    Hypatia (View Comment):
    I didn’t say Horus is Jesus. But people used to carry crèches thru the streets to celebrate his birth. And the Star has many antecedents.

    Do you expect me to defend Wonder Woman?

    No, I do not expect you to defend Wonder Woman. I would like you to learn some Egyptian mythology from a reputable source (i.e. actual Egyptologists, not random internet crackpots or HBO comedians) so that you can stop spreading lies.

    • #23
  24. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Hypatia (View Comment):
    Please: I don’t mean to offend anyone, especially not anyone Jewish.

    I’m not offended, Hypatia. I just think the comparison doesn’t work. Who or what he wrestled with is not clear, but I’ve heard it could have been G-d or an angel. The Hebrew, I believe (I just checked is) eesh: a man. Maybe @iwe could jump in briefly. Regarding Laban and Jacob, I believe that Jacob wasn’t trying to be a trickster; he was just tired of Laban’s nonsense and made sure he didn’t have to deal with him again.

    • #24
  25. Hypatia Inactive
    Hypatia
    @Hypatia

    Amy Schley (View Comment):

    Hypatia (View Comment):
    I didn’t say Horus is Jesus. But people used to carry crèches thru the streets to celebrate his birth. And the Star has many antecedents.

    Do you expect me to defend Wonder Woman?

    No, I do not expect you to defend Wonder Woman. I would like you to learn some Egyptian mythology from a reputable source (i.e. actual Egyptologists, not random internet crackpots or HBO comedians) so that you can stop spreading lies.

    Not very Christian,  calling me a liar.  My BA is in Anthro, btw. Not many internet crackpots or HBO comedians on the faculty, not even among the grad student instructors. Do not attack me.

    • #25
  26. Hypatia Inactive
    Hypatia
    @Hypatia

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Hypatia (View Comment):
    Please: I don’t mean to offend anyone, especially not anyone Jewish.

    I’m not offended, Hypatia. I just think the comparison doesn’t work. Who or what he wrestled with is not clear, but I’ve heard it could have been G-d or an angel. The Hebrew, I believe (I just checked is) eesh: a man. Maybe @iwe could jump in briefly. Regarding Laban and Jacob, I believe that Jacob wasn’t trying to be a trickster; he was just tired of Laban’s nonsense and made sure he didn’t have to deal with him again.

    That may be, but he sets up sticks with the bark randomly shaved for the mating cattle to gaze upon, so they’ll give birth to  “ring streaked,, speckled and spotted”calves.  Gen 30:37-42. Is he justified, cuz after all Laban only offered him the brindled newborns because usually there are very few of ’em?  Well, okay.

    These things are nothing to be scared of.

    • #26
  27. Hypatia Inactive
    Hypatia
    @Hypatia

    Also, @susanquinn, you probably know this but calling him a “trickster” just denotes a type of folk hero.  I’m not impugning his character.

    • #27
  28. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum
    @

    Hypatia, Fraser’s Golden Bough and other anthropological *catalogs*/case studies/observations are just that.  As correlation does not imply causation, similarity in characteristics, noted by a given researcher, in various expressions of relationship to the supernatural, do not describe G-d  – as much as they do the makeup of human beings – seeking a relationship to/with the Transcendent.  (My B.A. is in Psychology and my M.A. is in Theology, btw.) :-)

    • #28
  29. Hypatia Inactive
    Hypatia
    @Hypatia

    Nanda Panjandrum (View Comment):
    Hypatia, Fraser’s Golden Bough and other anthropological *catalogs*/case studies/observations are just that. As correlation does not imply causation, similarity in characteristics, noted by a given researcher, in various expressions of relationship to the supernatural, do not describe G-d – as much as they do the makeup of human beings – seeking a relationship to/with the Transcendent. (My B.A. is in Psychology and my M.A. is in Theology, btw.) ?

    Yes, that’s what I said.

    • #29
  30. Duane Iverson Member
    Duane Iverson
    @

    OK I’ll impugn characters of the whole family. Abraham said Sarah was his sister and she escaped the Harem only because God intervened. Isaak did the same trick. Also Isaak wasn’t dying, he just thought he was. Baby! Jacob tricked Esaw because Mommy told him too. I somehow wonder about the passage that says “and the next morning? Behold! It was Leah. That family was so bad they can’t look down on me. Well not too much anyway. And if there had not been that little incident about Joseph being sold in to slavery I imagine God could have figured something else out. You got to work with what you have seems to be the motto.

    • #30

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