Monday, January 11, 2010

Surprisingly, I find my heart is breaking for Esau

I don't know whether it's Robert Alter's translation of Genesis or just the fact that it's hitting me in a different way, but reading my way slowly through Jacob's story, the one that hits me is Esau. He's slow and simple, as we are shown, but darn it, he tries so hard to do what his parents want. And then is always done down by his own mother as well as his twin.

I already was feeling this, pondering Jacob's theft of the birthright while knowing that at the end of their "twin" saga it is Esau who welcomes his brother home generously. Then today I read how Jacob went off to find a wife and saw that little insertion of Esau overhearing his mother's dislike of Hittite (or something) wives and how he went and got a wife from the tribe of Abraham. Darn it. Just made me feel worse.

It also made me think about how Jacob twists and turns and finagles everything ... and most probably with no need as God had already promised he would be the covenant holder (for lack of remembering what term is used). Makes me think of the shenanigans our family had to go through when Dad was dying ... with accepting God, turning away from atheism. And so much more besides. Same thing. God did it in the end, but so much more difficult for everyone ...

I shared the above thoughts with a wise friend who responded, in part:
God does not always elect the pure of heart. Jacob struggles with God and is changed and wounded in the process and gives his name Israel to the people/us I think for that reason.
Ouch. But so true. Such tends to be our human nature and our blindness makes us have to realize it again and again, just as I do when reading about Esau.


  1. Is this from The Five Books of Moses? I've always felt sorry for Esau, particularly when he mourns the loss of his father's blessing.

  2. Actually from his translation of Genesis, which I am sure is included in The Five Books of Moses ... which I think came later.

    Somehow it just never hit me until now. I guess I accepted Jacob's valuation of Esau.

  3. Tante Leonie1/11/10, 2:34 PM

    Fascinating reflection, Julie.

    I've been long interested in getting Alter's translations. But, as I am now in the middle of unpacking more than 50 cartons of books, and trying to find space for them in our new place, the thought of buying any more makes me feel positively nauseated.

    (BTW: *Loved* today's horoscope!)

  4. FIFTY CARTONS! You are a Tante after my own heart obviously. :-D

    That horoscope always makes me laugh a bit more than most.

  5. Jacob gets his though when he is tricked into marrying the woman who should have been his sister-in-law after working for the father for 7 years. The father says to Jacob, "Here, the eldest has priority." A slap to Jacob who stole his elder brother's inheritance. Jacob then has to toil another seven years to get his true love, while taking care of the first wife, whom he doesn't love. What goes around, comes around, no?

  6. Very true.

    However, that doesn't make Esau's desire for his parents' love any better. I don't care that Jacob "gets his" except as a point that shows how we all grow and mature and learn that we are not as smart as we thought we were. That we all need God in our lives since we are not in as much control as we think.

    This is the very sort of situation that proves the adage "two wrongs don't make a right." Esau seems to be pure of heart, albeit simple, and that makes the wrongs done to him even more grievous, regardless of what happens to any of the others in the story.