After Jacob had *blessed Joseph’s two sons* Manasseh and Ephraim, he said to Joseph, “Please tell your 11 brothers I wish to speak with them now, and you too.”

When they had all assembled before Jacob in his tent around his bedside, he said to them, “Thank you for being here, boys. This is the last time I’ll speak with you, for I’m momentarily to be ‘Called Home’ by God. So you won’t have me to kick around any more.”

“Do I detect bitterness, Father?” said Reuben the eldest.

“You could call it that. I’ve much to be bitter about. With one exception, you boys have been so big a disappointment to me, and have caused me so much pain, that you’ve shortened my time on earth. If only I’d had 12 daughters instead of the 12 sons I got.”

“We might have turned out better if you’d been a more attentive father” said Simeon the second son.

“You might have, but only marginally, for sons are mostly just trouble, as you boys have shown. I will confess, though, that who your mothers were, affected how I looked upon you. This, in turn, affected you. It’s by now no secret that Leah, who was the mother of six of you boys, tricked me into marrying her. She *stole into my bed* in the dead of one night, pretending she was my beloved Rachel. So, under the laws of our people, she automatically became my wife.”

Jacob paused to take a swallow of water, then continued, “Although Leah was plain-looking, she made up for it through her amazing wiles in our marriage-bed. Where she learned them I do not know. She played my body like the strings of a lute. She so stoked the fire in my loins, that, consumed in its white heat, I was as a frenzied wild animal. But after each encounter I loathed myself and hated my weakness. Hence in you of my sons born to Leah, I saw the me who I loathed and the lust I hated. You, the sons of Leah who I fathered, were the sons I visited my sins upon. You, in turn, will have visited them upon your own sons, who in their turn will visit these sins upon their sons.

“Are you letting us off the hook, then?” said Reuben, who was a son born of Leah.

“No, I’m not letting you off the hook, or, to put it more felicitously, I’m not absolving you. There comes a day in the life of any man when he must take responsibility for the sins of his mother and father that live within him, so that he’s no longer at the effect of them. The sins that live within him will never die, but, by becoming aware of them and therefore becoming responsible for them, he becomes his own charioteer, rather than his inherited sins becoming his charioteers.”

“Beautifully put” said Joseph, who was a son born of Jacob’s beloved Rachel.

“You would say that, wouldn’t you, Brother,” said Reuben.

Jacob turned to Reuben, and said, “I can never forget that you *seduced Bilhah*, the mother of your brothers Dan and Naphtali. For what you did, I’ll always see you as scum.”

Turning to Simeon and Levi, Jacob said, “I can never forget the bloodthirstiness by which you *slaughtered the Shechemites*. From all I’ve heard, you enjoyed this bloodletting for its own sake. Not only that, you created many unnecessary enemies for us. I’ll therefore always see you as scum too. To think I fathered you. What does this say about me?”


Jacob went on to address each of his other sons, about most of whom he wasn’t complimentary either, although he didn’t go so far as to tell them they were actually scum.

Joseph was the exception. Jacob praised him fulsomely, calling him the prince among his sons. But then, Joseph was the first son Jacob fathered by Rachel, the wife who was the light of his life, and therefore the princess among his wives.

Jacob then said to all the assembled sons, “Although, with the exception of Joseph, I consider most of you either scum, or something close, this doesn’t seem what God thinks, because He blesses you, thereby showing that His ways are inscrutable to us mortals. Each of you, through God’s blessing, will constitute one of the 12 tribes that in whole will become the nation of Israel – the nation that will bring God’s word to all the earth’s peoples.”

Joseph ended by asking that he be buried in the cave in Canaan where Abraham and Isaac were buried, and Leah too. Joseph on behalf of his brothers assured Jacob this would be done. Whereupon Jacob drew his feet up on to his bed, laid back and stopped breathing.

Source: Genesis 49

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2 Responses to Scum

  1. Mathilda says:

    You have Jacob saying of the average man, that “…..The sins that live within him will never die, but, by becoming aware of them and therefore becoming responsible for them, he becomes his own charioteer, rather than his inherited sins becoming his charioteers……”

    These are the sins that the average man has absorbed from his parents.

    When I read this passage I thought of Ibsen’s play “Ghosts”, the motif of which is that the ghosts of our parents which we absorb while we grow up always live on in us. As one of the characters in this play says, “……we are all of us ghosts………It is not only what we have inherited from our father and mother that ‘walks’ in us. It is all sorts of dead ideas, and lifeless old beliefs, and so forth. They have no vitality, but they cling to us all the same, and we cannot shake them off……”

    The sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the sons to the third and the fourth generation, wouldn’t you say?

    • Christopher says:

      And when I read your quote from Ibsen’s “Ghosts” I thought of Philip Larkin’s poem, “This Be the Verse”:

      They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
      They may not mean to, but they do.
      They fill you with the faults they had
      And add some extra, just for you.

      But they were fucked up in their turn
      By fools in old-style hats and coats,
      Who half the time were soppy-stern
      And half at one another’s throats.

      Man hands on misery to man.
      It deepens like a coastal shelf.
      Get out as early as you can,
      And don’t have any kids yourself.

      If more people knew of this poem, there would be no population explosion.

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