Tuesday, December 18, 2007


So Israel set out with all that was his, and he came to Beer-sheba, where he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. God called to Israel in a vision by night: "Jacob! Jacob!" He answered, "Here." And he said, "I am God, the God of your father. Fear not to go down to Egypt, for I will make you there into a great nation. I Myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I Myself will also bring you back, and Joseph's hand shall close your eyes. (Gen. 46:1-4, JPS translation)

Ya’akov was packing to see his son again—he was called Yisrael then, I always forget. And his eyes droop closed, and again, he’s standing on the side of that river bank.

Ya’akov! Ya’akov, he hears! And he says: hineini.

And when a name is repeated, Rashi says that it’s “derech hiba,” touch in a caring way, those boundaries of intimacy, the last time they spoke. Don’t touch, smile, say anything that might be construed as “I love you.”

God loves Ya’akov—had he ever told him before? Does thigh-ripping pain count as love? Did he feel that pain for what it was?

This doubling-up, doubling back nickname. God loves you most when you’re tearing yourself apart.
Avraham gets it once—by the angel, when he’s about to sacrifice his less-loved son.
Moshe gets it once—when he’s about to singe his skin for the incomprehensible miracle.
And Yisrael, I mean Ya’akov, gets it here. He hasn’t seen Yosef in too many years, and he’s ready to die. And behind it all, the story of his fathers: you will be slaves, you will be exiled, you will die in a foreign land.

Are you ready to play your part in the grand game?

Yisrael nods off during his packing. He’s old now, blind like his father, but in his dreams he’s young again. He sees the man on the hillside, ready to fight, but when he’s called by the old-time name, he hesitates. They look at each other like long-time lovers. And instead of wrestling, the angel picks him up, cradles hin lightly. Yosef will shut your eyes, he whispers.

(Was this what it’s like to be a baby held? He weighs almost nothing; his bones have nearly collapsed into dust.)

And he wakes, and everything is green for just a second, and he’s once again Ya’akov, setting out on a grand adventure. Rachel young and beautiful and not yet in his sights. And then he feels his back ache, and tasts old lentils in his mouth. Tomorrow I will see Yosef, he thinks, and then I can sleep.

--Sara Meirowitz

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