Succoth, Not Seir

Hobbling along with a dislocated hip is ordinarily bad enough, but if you must do so while shepherding your family and animals through unfamiliar territory, while also seeing *four hundred strange men* approaching you with hostile intent for all you know, that puts an extra burden on your shoulders.

How many of you reading this in the comfort of your twenty-first century homes would swap places with Jacob as he confronted these hazards more than three-thousand years ago?

With the oncoming four hundred men getting ever closer, Jacob had to think fast. He divided the children between Leah and Rachel and their two slave girls. He ordered the slave girls with their children to go in front, followed by Leah and her children, and then Rachel with her only son Joseph.

Because the brunt of any attack by Esau’s men would be borne the most by those in the front, and borne the least by those at the back, it is clear that Jacob valued the slave girls and his children by them the least, and valued Rachel and Joseph the most.

Leah, who, with her children by Jacob, was in front of Rachel and therefore less valued by Jacob, demanded that she and her children be allowed to swap places with Rachel and Joseph. “If you won’t do as I ask” said Leah to Jacob, “I’ll withhold my wifely favours the next time you visit my tent. You know I *light your fire* as no other woman does.”

“I’ve other concerns right now, dear Leah” said Jacob, “so just do as I tell you.”

Jacob, to his credit, didn’t cower at the back of the procession, but went on ahead to meet his brother, Esau, in the hope that Esau would call off his four hundred men. He saw Esau in the distance, and approached him while prudently bowing low to the ground, which Jacob didn’t find easy because of his dislocated hip.

When Jacob got near, Esau ran to meet him, and wrapped him in a hug of such strength that, after Esau let go, Jacob collapsed on to the ground

“It’s good to see you, Jakey boy” said Esau as he picked Jacob up, “what’s with the limp?”

“A dislocated hip. Sounds worse than it is. Nothing to worry about” said Jacob, “it’s good to see you too, Brother. You look a bit different but you still smell as rank…….ha ha ha…….”

“Still the same wise-cracking Jakey, hey?” said Esau. He gave Jacob a friendly punch on the shoulder that sent Jacob to the ground again, “Say, who are all these people with you?”

“They are my wives and children” said Jacob as he got up and dusted himself off.

“Nice” said Esau. “You’ve also brought a lot of livestock with you.”

“The livestock are for you, Brother” said Jacob,”as a token of my wish that all the unpleasantness of the past between us be buried forever.”

“It’s good of you, Jakey. But I’m rich enough. Keep the animals for yourself.”

“I insist you take them, Brother. Do it for me.”

“If you say so.”

***

There followed some socialising, in which Jacob introduced his wives and children to Esau, and there was a lot of family talk, for there was much for Jacob and Esau to catch up on.

Esau said to Jacob, “Let’s set out together for Seir, me you, my men, and your family. I and my men will go at your pace, for I know your wives and children won’t be able to walk that fast, and you with your dislocated hip and all.”

“Thank you, Brother, but we would still be going too slowly for the likes of you and your men. So please, you go on ahead to Seir, and I and my family will make our way there on our own.”

“You sound to me, Jakey, like you still want to keep away from me?”

“Not at all, Brother. If I didn’t have my wives and children with me, and I didn’t have this hip problem, I would cleave to you like a leach on a donkey.”

“You trying to be facetious, Jakey?”

“Not at all, Brother. I’m just saying what I feel.”

“Well, at least allow my men to go with you, so you’ll feel safe on your journey.”

“While I, myself, might feel safe with them, Brother, I don’t think Leah and Rachel and their slave girls will. I’ve seen how your men have been looking at them. They look like a ripe bunch of cutthroats, if you don’t mind my saying so, Brother. So, no, we’ll make our journey alone.”

“Are you implying I’m not a good judge of men? Don’t push the inside of papyrus with me, Jakey, know what I’m saying?”

Looking at Esau’s face becoming redder than normal, and at the pulsing on Esau’s temple, Jacob hastily assured his brother that he was a fine judge of men.

Esau gathered together his men and went off to Seir. Jacob, deciding at the last moment that he didn’t want to see more of Esau for a while, set out with his family not for Seir, but for Succoth, where he built a house and settled.

After several years, though, Jacob again got itchy feet and moved to a city in Canaan called Sechem. There, Jacob bought a strip of land, set up an altar to God, that he called El-Elohe-Israel.

Source: Genesis 33

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13 Responses to Succoth, Not Seir

  1. dafna says:

    hi philippe,

    you have me googling again trying to locate El-Israel. makes me wonder what i learned in sunday school. i’m sure my parents know the old testament backwards and forwards. look what one generation in america does to a person, it’s like getting only the crib notes!

    two holidays that the “stories” are read to us, don’t live in the old testament – they get their own book. hanukkah and purim. i know these stories inside out.

    makes me wonder, from a writers perspective… there is so much “foreshadowing” about joseph being special.

  2. Philippe says:

    I would think that El (Elohe) Israel was put up in Sechem.

    Perhaps one can get a three-dimensional look at its remains from the comfort of one’s home via Google maps?!!!

  3. dafna says:

    🙂 🙂 see what luck you have with google maps. when i tried to find my uncles house in israel while in the u.s. it was blocked by satellite.

    however, you can see richard sitting at his window and my sister’s car in her driveway! that’s too close for my liking.

  4. jenny says:

    Leah and Rachel and Jacob. I’ve been thinking about love triangles lately, not in life, but in literature.

    You convinced me to read Franzen’s “Freedom” and I’ve been reading lots of contemporary fiction since then. Last week picked up Julian Barnes’ “Love, etc.” (mainly because it was cheaper than buying his more recent award-winning novel) and today I read Eugenides’ new novel “The Marriage Plot”. All of three of these novels are about love triangles. I ought to have some theory why this is such an attractive plot device for novelists, but I don’t.

    I mean, what does the story of Jacob (and, then, your retelling of it–you also focus on that part of the story) convey by introducing a love triangle?

  5. dafna says:

    oh, oh, oh… hand in the air teacher!

    i think i have part of the answer to your question, jenny.

    love triangles intrigue because relationships are never equal. they come in pairs but someone always wants/needs the other more – so he loves her more, but she loves him less and another more, who maybe reciprocates or loves another, etc.

    but only in fiction are there great and equal soul mates. the love triangle fictions are maybe closer to reality.

  6. jenny says:

    So, we dramatize the inequality of affection with a love triangle. That’s a good thought, Dafna.

  7. Philippe says:

    With love triangles in literature, what is more frequent: two women and one man, or two men and one woman? Perhaps the gender make-up of the triangle is influenced by the gender of the novelist? I have an intuition…..ooops hunch….. that most male novelists would have two women one man, and female novelists two men one woman.

    Discuss.

    While the theme of equality is an interesting way of looking at a love triangle, isn’t it better to see it as the best means to help meet the unmet needs of all three members?

    I’ll surmise that because each partner in a “relationship” (my, what a poetic word) can never meet all the needs of the other, a triangle of one sort or another will inevitably be part and parcel of most “relationships”.

    Discuss.

  8. jenny says:

    Intuition v. hunch, the sterility of the word “relationship” — you’re on a roll, Philippe!

    As for your hunch, though, you know that Franzen wrote about two men and a woman. And so did Julian Barnes. And so did Jeffrey Eugenides. So, at least for moderns, it’s more complicated that a straight-forward playing out of standard fantasies.

    You may be right about “unmet needs” (a phrase that is every bit as soulful as the word “relationship”), but you’ve put me in mind of a funny scene from “Love and Death”:

    Woody Allen’s goofy Russian character talks to a Sidney Appelbaum about women:

    Sidney: I prefer two, myself.
    Woody: I prefer three, but it’s hard enough getting one.

    🙂

  9. Philippe says:

    On the other hand, the triangle in Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening” (that I’ve just read, and talk about a bit on Cheri’s blog on its “About Cheri” page) is two men and one woman (Robert, Arobin, and Edna).

    And, while Franzen’s “Freedom” does have a triangle of two men and one woman (Richard, Walter, Patty), it also has a triangle of two women and one man (Lalitha, Patty, Walter).

    So there we go.

    I think that were I to write a novel with a love triangle, it would be two men and one woman. This would come out of my low “self-esteem” (another elegant phrase out of sociology that pervades current discourse).

  10. dafna says:

    o.k., i like the phrase unmet needs, even if it is sterile.

    but if you two are going to get “literal”, i’m going to speak math 😉

    a triangle is the strongest, most stable shape for construction. whether an “equal”-lateral triangle is stronger than an isosceles or a scalene, that i can’t remember.

  11. Philippe says:

    I still remember, from when I was but a boy, a song sung by Danny Kaye from the film “Merry Andrew”, the lyrics of which were in part:

    The square of the hypotenuse
    in a right triangle
    is equal to the sum of the squares
    of the two adjacent sides

    You’d not tolerate
    letting your participle dangle,
    so please effect the self same respect
    for your geometric slides

  12. dafna says:

    well done,

    music, rhyme, math all in one!

  13. jenny says:

    Rick–Ilsa–Victor Laszlo

    Top that!

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