Article -

Jacob, who? Will the real Jacob stand up?


Authors: Jo Milgrom and Yoel Duman







JACOB WHO? WILL THE REAL JACOB STAND UP


Bible historiale, Jacob and the Angel, 14th cent.

Bible historiale, Jacob and the Angel, 14th cent.

In the course of his return home (Genesis 31 – 33), contentious Jacob faces three adversaries: Laban, his equally crafty father-in-law; the mystery man/angel; and Esau, his duped twin.
But confronting these “others,” he must also confront himself. Visual artists delight in the ambiguities and foibles of human interaction. How do they convey the complexity of Jacob`s growing terror and his emerging clarity?
When Jacob starts out (Genesis 28) he is self-involved, cocky, a wheeler-dealer.

And Jacob vowed a vow, saying: `If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, so that I come back to my father`s house in peace, then shall the LORD be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God`s house; and of all that Thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto Thee.`


Notice the emphasis above on the first person (I, me, my, etc.) and the conniving response to God`s promise of support, “God, if you do all this for me, you will get 10% of all my profits and I will join your congregation
.”


Twenty years later (Gen 32), humbled by life Jacob declares himself unworthy of God`s bounty.

Then Jacob was greatly afraid and was distressed….
And Jacob said:

I am not worthy of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which Thou hast shown unto Thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two camps.


Deliver me, I pray Thee, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, lest he come and smite me, the mother with the children.


Jacob freely admits his fear, not only for himself, but beyond himself, for his wives and children. The chastened manipulator repeats God`s promise but this time he does not dare broker a deal.








Jacob`s vulnerability and staff


The biblical text stresses the reversal of Jacob`s fortune from that of a lone ragged fugitive to tribal opulence. However, two seventeenth century Dutch artists show Jacob`s vulnerability through the medium of his staff
.


Rembrandt, Jacob`s Prayer, 1655-56

Rembrandt, Jacob`s Prayer, 1655-56


Victors, Reconciliation of Jacob and Esau, 1652

Victors, Reconciliation of Jacob and Esau, 1652


Rembrandt portrays him penitent, utterly alone but for his staff. Divine diagonal light points to his bent knee. In Jan Victors` painting (on the right) Jacob, about to meet Eau, although surrounded by devoted family, still clutches his staff for support. “Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4)








Confrontation with a Manangel

How does this vulnerability translate in the nocturnal confrontation with “the other”?

That same night he arose, and taking his two wives, his two maidservants, and his eleven children, he crossed the ford of the Jabbok. After taking them across the stream, he sent across all his possessions. Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the break of day. When he saw that he could not prevail against him, he wrenched Jacob`s hip at its socket, so that the socket of his hip was strained as he wrestled with him. The he said, Let me go, for dawn is about to break. But he answered, I will not let you go, unless you bless me. Said the other, What is your name? He replied, Jacob. Said he, Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with beings, divine and human, and have prevailed. Jacob asked, Pray tell me your name. But he said, You must not ask my name! And he took leave of him there.

Genesis 32: 23-30 (NJPS)

That same night he arose, and taking his two wives, his two maidservants, and his eleven children, he crossed the ford of the Jabbok. After taking them across the stream, he sent across all his possessions. Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the break of day. When he saw that he could not prevail against him, he wrenched Jacob`s hip at its socket, so that the socket of his hip was strained as he wrestled with him. The he said, Let me go, for dawn is about to break. But he answered, I will not let you go, unless you bless me. Said the other, What is your name? He replied, Jacob. Said he, Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with beings, divine and human, and have prevailed. Jacob asked, Pray tell me your name. But he said, You must not ask my name! And he took leave of him there.

The deliberate ambiguities of the text reflect Jacob`s inner turmoil.

Did he cross with his people or did he cross them and remain alone on the far bank?
Who could not prevail?

“>Who is this “man”?

What is the nature of the injury?


Everything he ran away from is now attacking him.

Jacob`s return and reconciliation with Esau (Gen 32-33) closes the awakening phase of the Jacob cycle. Each element of the return parallels an aspect of the `going out`.
  1. Crossing the Jabbok returns him to the promised land from the refuge of the


    diaspora
    , movement reflected here in the Vienna Genesis (see more below).


Vienna Genesis, Jacob`s Return from Aram, early 6th century

Vienna Genesis, Jacob`s Return from Aram, early 6th century

2. The name itself, Jabbok, echoes linguistically the


dual nature

of the encounter: hostile from avak, raising the dust


Delacroix, Jacob with the Angel (detail), 1854 - 1861

Delacroix, Jacob with the Angel (detail)
1854 – 1861


Gauguin, After the Sermon, 1888

Gauguin, After the Sermon, 1888


Chagall, Jacob and the Angel, 1931 - 1939

Chagall, Jacob and the Angel
1931 – 1939

and nurturing from habek, embrace, recalling the tormented relationship with the land, with God, with the nations, with family.


Epstein, Jacob and the Angel, 1940-41

Epstein, Jacob and the Angel, 1940-41


Rembrandt, Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, 1659-60

Rembrandt, Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, 1659-60


This intensity reflects the stormy environment of Jacob`s nuclear family, manipulative divided parental love, and sibling jealousy, deceit and rage (Gen 27-28)


3. The life-threatening exposure to the demonic/divine starkly contrasts with the charming invitation to encounter the awesome divine at the ladder scene. At the outset Jacob didn`t realize `God was in this place`. He still has no clue when he asks for the “manangel`s” name, but he knows he needs the blessing (yet another one). He will be wounded, but will escape with his life.


The climax of the nocturnal encounter in which Jacob`s identity rings clear can be seen in the 6th century Vienna Genesis.


Vienna, Genesis

Vienna, Genesis


Jacob and the blue manangel appear twice. On the right, the two struggle; on the left the angel blesses his “humbled yet victorious” combatant. The textual dialog, unseen in the painting, takes place between the two paired figures. Jacob has refused to release the “manangel” until the latter blesses him. The “manangel” asks, what is yourname? “And he said, Jacob”. This Q&A echoes back to Jacob`s dinner meeting with his father from whom he sought the blessing that belonged to his elder twin. The old blind Isaac was confused by the dissonance between the voice that didn`t belong to the hairy hands “Are you really Esau”. Twice Jacob lied to his father and concealed his real identity. (Gen 27:18-22).


The Vienna Genesis, by illuminating the “manangel”s blessing, confirms Jacob`s new clarity, “Yes, I no longer pretend to be someone else; I am Jacob,” at which point the divine figure proclaims that he has earned a name change, “You are no longer the devious Jacob, you are Yisrael, is- ra-el a man who has confronted divine power and overcome.”








Various readings of the encounter with Esau

The meeting with Esau in Genesis 33 proceeds in calculated steps stalling, delaying and mounting tension:

– Jacob sights Esau with his 400 armed men
– Jacob once again divides his camp, ranking his clan by sub-units of love

– And then passing before them bows seven times as he nears Esau


Finally in an accelerating sequence of stills:

And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him; and they wept.
וַיָּרָץ עֵשָׂו לִקְרָאתוֹ וַיְחַבְּקֵהוּ וַיִּפֹּל עַל צַוָּארָו וַיִּשָּׁקֵהוּ וַיִּבְכּוּ
(Genesis 33:4)


After all the anger and pain, the two brothers are actually reconciled—or are they? We may be reminded of the hopeful anxiety that preceded President Sadat`s first visit to Israel.


Indicating their disbelief, the Masoretes, scribes who preserved the accuracy of the Hebrew text of the Bible, marked וֹיֹשֹקֹהֹוּ(and he kissed him) with a series of dots above the letters: Esau kissed Jacob?! They provide a mysterious visual cue, like a series of exclamation points.
Rabbinic opinion was divided on the meaning of the dots, adding cynicism and grotesque humor.


Our selection of artwork on this scene portrays the meeting variously as abject contrition, suspicious groping, a tentative hug and finally a loving embrace.


Hexateuch of Aelfric, Meeting of Jacob and Esau (detail), mid-11th century

Hexateuch of Aelfric, Meeting of Jacob and Esau (detail)
mid-11th century


Bible Historiale, Jacob and Esau meet, 14th century

Bible Historiale, Jacob and Esau meet
14th century

Reconciliation, 1999

Reconciliation, 1999

Steinhardt, Jacob and Esau, 1950

Steinhardt, Jacob and Esau, 1950


This sequence can be seen as a therapeutic process, appiclable today as mach as in the the Bible. Throughout Jewish history, Esau has represented the hostile “other”. However, the doubtful nature of the kiss is just as much a product of Jacob`s manipulation and guilt as of Esau`s justified bitterness. Both sides of this tension are the outcome of human and divine favoritism. Thus the renewed meeting of Jacob and Esau can be an opportunity for us to reevaluate our attitude toward others, and brothers, on many levels. Their encoutner contains a stunning statement by Yis ra el `the one who sees God` (no longer Yaakov, `the deceiver`):

I see your face as though I have seen the face of God (Genesis 33:10)

Is he saying: I see the divine in the human face? If so, Jacob/Israel, the sleeper, is now awake.


Article Sources:

Genesis  Rabba 68:12
            The Lord once indicted Judah,
            And punished Jacob for his conduct,
            Requited him for his deeds.
            In the womb he tried to supplant his brother;
            Grown to manhood, he strove with a divine being,
            He strove with an angel and prevailed—
            He had to weep and implore him,
            At Bethel [Jacob] would meet him,
            There to commune with him.
 
Targum Yonatan to Genesis 32:25
Jacob was left alone beyond the Jabbok. And an angel in the form of a man wrestled with him. And he said, "Did you not promise to tithe all that would be yours? Now behold, you have twelve sons and one daughter, and you have not tithed them." Immediately he set aside the four first-born of the four mothers, and there remained eight. And he began to count from Simeon, and Levi happened to be the tenth. Michael spoke up and said, "Master of the world, this one is your lot." It was on account of these things that he tarried beyond the stream until the column of the dawn rose.

 Bereshit Rabba 77:2
And a man wrestled with him until daybreak - R. Huna said, He appeared to him in the form of a shepherd. This one had flocks and that one had flocks, this one had camels and that one had camels. He said to him, Bring yours across and I shall bring mine across. Jacob brought his flock across and then he checked to see whether he had forgotten anything behind. Forthwith: And a man wrestled with him until daybreak.
The rabbis said, He appeared to him in the form of a bandit chief. This one had flocks and that one had flocks, this one had camels and that one had camels. He said to him, Bring mine across and I shall bring yours across. The angel brought our father Jacob`s flock across in a flash, and then Jacob brought some across, came back, and found more to bring across, and came back and found still more to cross over. He said to him, You are a sorcerer…What did he do? He took his finger and stuck it into the ground and the ground began to produce fire. He said to him, From this do you expect to frighten me? The whole of me is made up of such a substance, as is written And the house of Jacob shall be a fire (Obadiah 1:18).

 Rashi on Genesis 32:28
And Jacob was left He had forgotten small bottles and returned for them.
and a man wrestled - Menachem explains: And a man became covered with dust, derived from avak, dust, for they were raising dust with their feet through their  movements. I believe, however, that it is a term meaning that he attached  himself, and it is an Aramaic expression (Sanh. 63b):“After they became attached (דָּאִבִיקוּ) to it,” “and he would tie it (וְאָבִיק לֵיהּ מֵיבַק),” for so is the habit of two people who make strong efforts to throw each other down, that  one embraces the other and attaches himself to him with his arms. Our Rabbis explained that this was the prince (guardian angel) of Esau.
 
Ramban on Genesis 32:25
And Jacob was left alone - That is, for he had forgotten some small jars, and he returned for them. These are the words of Rashi. But in line with the plain meaning of Scripture, the verse And he took them and made them pass the stream, means that he made them [his family] pass together with him, and he made pass that which was his - [i.e., his camp and his belongings] - by commanding others to do it. He returned, and he commanded that all others pass over the stream before him, and so he remained behind them. 
Rashbam on Genesis 32:25
Jacob was left alone - In other words, he got them all across and there was no one who still had to cross over except him. He wanted to cross over after them intending to flee in another direction so as not to meet up with Esau.
And [an angel] wrestled with him - So as not to allow him to flee, in order that he might see the fulfillment of God`s promise in that Esau would not harm him.

Genesis Rabba 77:3
R. Hama b. R. Hanina said: It was the guardian Prince [angel] of Esau. To this Jacob    alluded when he said to him [Esau]: For to see your face is like seeing the face of God and you have received me favorably (Gen 33:10). This may be     compared to an athlete who was wrestling with a royal prince; lifting up his eyes and seeing the king standing near him, he threw himself down before him. Thus it is written, and he saw that he could not prevail against him (Gen 32:26), which R. Levi interpreted: And he saw through the shechinah  hat he could not prevail against him.
R. Brechiah said: We do not know who was victorious, whether the angel or Jacob.  Since, however, it is written wayye`abeq a man with him (ibid. 25), it  follows: Who was covered with dust (avak)? The man who[strove] with him. 
R. Hanina bar Isaac said: He [Jacob] comes against you wearing five amulets [said  God to the angel]: his own merit, the merit of his father, of his mother, of his grandfather and of his grandmother. Measure thyself--can you stand even against his own merit? This may be illustrated by a king, who had a savage dog and a tame lion. Now the king would take his son and incite him against the lion, so that if the dog should come to attack him, the king could say to him: A lion was powerless against him, yet you would prevail against my son! So if the nations of the world come to join issue with Israel, the Holy One, Blessed be He, will say to them: Your guardian angel could not prevail  against Israel, how much less can you!
He touched the hollow of his thigh: He touched [injured] the righteous men who  would descend from him, viz. the generation of destruction.
 
Sifrei Behaalotkha 78:11      
And he kissed him - The presence of dots over this word indicates that he did not do so sincerely. R. Simeon b. Yohai says, As a matter of fact, it is perfectly clear that Esau hated Jacob, but at that moment his deepest feelings changed and he kissed hi8m with all his heart.
 
Bereshit Rabba 78:9
and embraced him His compassion was moved when he saw him prostrate himself  all those times.
and kissed him Heb. וֹיֹשֹקֹהֹוּ. There are dots over the word. There is controversy concerning this matter in a Baraitha of Sifrei. Some interpret the dots to mean that he did not kiss him wholeheartedly. Rabbi Simeon ben Yochai said: It is a well known tradition that Esau hated Jacob, but his compassion was moved at  that time, and he kissed him wholeheartedly