December 3, 2014 · 6:07 pm
Laya Crust 2013
As with many of our readings in the book of Bereishit this week’s reading is full of stories and adventures. The event pictured here is that of Shimon and Levi rescuing their sister Dina from a local man who abducted and raped her. In light 0f current events the brothers’ efforts seem quite progressive. (Shimon and Levi didn’t punish their sister for her misfortune and didn’t hide their revulsion of the act because they were afraid of what society would say.) That incident is sandwiched between Jacob’s encounter with Esau, and the death of Rachel at the end of the parsha.
Today I’m going to write about a different incident in the parsha, Jacob’s fight with “a man” the night before he was to meet Esau. Jacob was worried- frightened- to see his brother. Esau was a wealthy hunter and fighter. Jacob had wronged Esau in the past and realised that Esau may want to attack him and his family. He divided his family into four camps and put them on the far side of the river Jabok. He camped on the other side of the river so that he would be the first line of defence.
Golden Haggadah, Barcelona Spain c. 1320
In the middle of the night a man came and wrestled with him. They were obviously well matched because the wrestling continued until dawn. By the end of the night there was still no victor. The man, an angel, touched and injured Jacob’s thigh then gave Jacob another name- “Yisrael”, translated as “you have striven with Gd”.
When Jacob first left his parents’ home he had a dream in which angels were climbed up and down a ladder, with Gd at the top of the ladder.
Laya Crust 2013
Rashi suggested that angels accompanied Jacob in Canaan, the land promised to the Jews. When Jacob fled and lay down to sleep that set of angels left his side and another set of angels came down to accompany him to the unknown country.
Why was an angel sent to fight him on the bank of the Jabok River when Jacob was on his way back to Canaan ? If the angels were there to guide and protect him, why start a wrestling match? Who won? Jacob was given a new name describing a stronger personality but he was injured and limped for the rest of his life.
Some suggest that the fight wasn’t with an angel. Some suggest it was an inner psychological struggle.When you think of it- Jacob was an older man sleeping on the hard ground. He was having nightmares about meeting his brother. Maybe he rolled around and knocked into a sharp boulder. That could explain a pretty painful injury. In any case, the fight was cathartic. After all those years Jacob had to face himself before he saw his brother again.
To deal with our difficulties we all have to look at ourselves and our past. Jacob was a strong man, and a strong leader. He faced his fears and his “ghosts”. He didn’t have an easy life but he left the amazing legacy of b’nei Yisrael, the children of Israel.
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November 13, 2013 · 7:00 pm
The Book of Ovadiah
Ovadiah (prophet) – circa 586 BCE.
Many scholars think Ovadiah wrote this book after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians.
The haftarah is the entire – albeit short – Book of Ovadiah. Ovadiah is speaking of the ultimate destruction of Edom because of its cruelty to b’nei Yisrael. The prophecy is unyielding and unforgiving in its condemnation. Esau is the ancestor of Edom and both are mentioned in this haftarah. Ovadiah speaks of how tragic it is that Esau is Jacob’s enemy. He says, “For the violence done to your brother Jacob shame shall cover you, and you will be cut off forever.”
The Book of Ovadiah ends with references to exile in Tzarfat (France) and Sepharad (Spain).
It is said that both Edom and Rome descended from Esau. They were formidable enemies of the Jews, striving to destroy them at different periods of history. Based on two themes- the haftarah’s description of Esau and Edom; and the concept that Esau is the ancestor of Rome; I took a leap and visually tied the haftarah to a haggadah from medieval Spain. “How is this all related?” you may ask. Well, I’ll tell you.
The Rylands Haggadah was created in the 14th Century in Barcelona, Spain, possibly around 1330. Jews had been living in Spain for centuries. By the early 13th C. life for the Jews in Spain became precarious. Attacked variously by mobs, Crusaders, and the armies of certain rulers the Jews were persecuted and killed.
In the Rylands Haggadah the artist portrayed the Egyptians as Crusaders. The Catalan artist depicted the Egyptians, the enemy of the ancient Jews, as Crusaders, their contemporary enemies. Continuing that idea, the Catholic Crusaders were descendants of the Romans, who were midrashically descendants of Esau.
Crusader (Photo credit: swimfinfan)
I took that concept and based the painting on a panel from the Rylands Haggadah. I related it to the haftarah, showing B’nei Yisrael as Catalan Jews challenging Edom portrayed as Spanish Crusaders. (I was fascinated that the haftarah itself mentions the exile of Jews to Spain.) Taking the idea one step further I integrated the story of Dina, from this week’s parsha, into the theme. Shimon and Levi, Dina’s brothers, will not ignore how their sister has been violated. They avenge the atrocity and thereby, within the parsha, we read a foreshadowing of the message in the haftarah- that Israel will destroy Edom.
The story of the rape of Dina is a troubling one from many perspectives, and the actions of Shimon and Levi are not condoned. The reality of war, defense, offensive action and the effects on future generations is an area always controversial and difficult to have a single answer for.
What we can pray for is understanding, tolerance, and the ability to practise our religion in peace and free of prejudice.
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Tagged as Barcelona, bible, Bnei Yisrael, Book of Ovadiah, crusaders, Dina, Edom, Esau, Haftorah, Israel, Jacob, Jews, Levi, Obadiah, Ovadiah, rape of Dina, Rome, Rylands Haggadah, Shimon, Spain, VaYishlach