Thursday, December 8th 2022   |

Every day is Yom Kippur to Jacob


Don’t get the wrong idea. I like Jacob. But when the High Holidays near and I think of forgiveness my mind pictures Jacob, our progenitor, as improperly flawed as us. I think he’d be a great neighbor on a barroom stool. Colorful, fascinating conversationalist. And what stories, what adventures he could relate: the stolen birthright story, his mid-level management job with Laban, his uncle, his reconciliation with Esau. And last, but not least, his escapade with Leah. Leah instead of Rachel!

All night long he had not figured out that Leah wasn’t Rachel? Hmmm – a little hard to believe. Easier to believe that oh well, my beloved Rachel is not under the sheepskin cover, but look here’s sister Leah. Better than sitting around the campfire and telling jokes that Noah must have heard; or as it says somewhere in Proverbs, better a sun-dried chicken neck than nothing. Especially on a lonely, moonlit night.

Jacob eventually gets the girl of his dreams, Rachel, as we all know. But what adventures befall him. You could sip your beer for hours and listen to his tales. He was an adventurer. He was not a Tzadik. Sometimes the reader can believe that Jacob is set up by the Master Plotter of History as an anti-hero. It could be that the Creator is saying: don’t deceive your brother, don’t even deceive your imperfect uncle, the trickster Laban. Look at Jacob, who loses for decades his favorite son, Joseph, a real mensch.

The Chumash makes it plain that Jacob pays a price for his original sin – the con game whereby he steals the inheritance. Struck by fear before he meets up with Esau – who seems to have prospered despite his defeat in the inheritance Super Bowl – he wrestles with an angel. Not so named, but clearly a heavenly creature composed of ethereal clouds and reminiscent of fabled fictional vampires because as the text puts it, “Let me go for the day breaks,” he mutters. Strange. A most unlikely messenger from G d. Nowhere else in the Chumash do we find an emissary fearful of daybreak. Again, more like Stephen King than the Holy Writ. A highly mysterious event – open to all kinds of interpretation.

Next thing you know here comes Esau with his team with blood in their eyes, thinks Jacob. This is the confrontation he has feared all these years. He even makes a lush package of livestock to appease the brother he has cheated. But no. Esau initially refuses Jacob’s gifts. “But Esau raced to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him and they wept” like two estranged brothers who can’t restrain their innermost love. It’s hard to believe that the Chumash is not teaching us a lesson in forgiveness. Especially since in an earlier passage Laban forgives Jacob for stealing away from his camp with his daughters.

Carefully, David takes both Rachel and Leah. No mistakes this time; just to make sure he got the right one. And a fat herd of livestock. One must admit that G-d favors Jacob. Everybody seems to forgive him: Isaac and Esau, whom he duped, Laban – no soft touch, even athletic angels, and most importantly, the G d who made him.

What a perfect example of forgiveness for the High Holidays.

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