Yossi Feintuch: Jacob's last word on his life and on the Shechem Massacre

[Picture: 'The days of my sojourning are a hundred and thirty years. Few and evil have they been...''. Free Image - CC0 Creative Commons - Designed and Uploaded by Devanath to Pixabay]

[Picture: 'The days of my sojourning are a hundred and thirty years. Few and evil have they been...''. Free Image - CC0 Creative Commons - Designed and Uploaded by Devanath to Pixabay]

[For articles on the “Sabbath of Va-Yehi" in Hebrew, click here]

Rabbi Dr. Yossi Feintuch was born in Afula and holds a Ph.D. in American history from Emory University in Atlanta. He taught American history at Ben-Gurion University. Author of the book US Policy on Jerusalem. He is the rabbi of Congregation Shalom Bayit in Bend, Oregon.

Rabbi Dr. Yossi Feintuch was born in Afula and holds a Ph.D. in American history from Emory University in Atlanta. He taught American history at Ben-Gurion University.

Author of the book US Policy on Jerusalem.

He is the rabbi of Congregation Shalom Bayit in Bend, Oregon.

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When the Pharaoh asked Jacob in last week's Torah portion (Va-igash) how old he was Jacob's reply was a somber reflection: ''The days of my sojourning are a hundred and thirty years. Few and evil have they been...'' Biblical commentator Robert Alter points out the huge gap between Jacob's seeming success in life that would justify much more favorable and grateful words than his actual reply to the Pharaoh. After all, Jacob ''achieved everything he aspired to achieve'' beginning with the birthright blessing (though obtaining it by guile), including his marriage to his beloved Rachel, many offspring, and affluence.

[Picture: Biblical commentator Robert Alter. Unknown photographer. We believe we are making fair use of the image]

[Picture: Biblical commentator Robert Alter. Unknown photographer. We believe we are making fair use of the image]

Still, after deceptively replacing Esau as the successor son to his ancestral covenant with God, Jacob became a sojourner, a temporary resident wherever he had lived, including Egypt where he would expire after 17 years of whiling away in a foreign land. Jacob's view of his life, as ''brief'' and as afflicted by woes as it was, was ''the price of fear and lingering guilt and long exile'' -- especially an exile from himself.

This is Jacob's last word about the worthiness of his achieving his goal of primacy through foul means. The last word on this account has been uttered -- fulfilling his goal in the way that it was done generated untold pain to him and to others.    Who knows if Reuben’s words of consternation to his brothers upon discovering the empty pit where Joseph was cast: ‘’the child is no more! And I --  where am I to go?’’ -- over two decades ago -- did not subliminally express Jacob's own turbulent soul? Namely, the simple boy that I was: ‘’a homespun, a dweller in tents’’ has been long gone. In seeking preeminence over my brother through unfair and shady means, I have no else to go now – no wonder I see the years of my life as ‘’ill-fated’’ – Jacob’s last word in summing up his eventful life to the Pharaoh.

[Picture: Introspection... Free image for use at CC BY 2.0 level, uploaded by Imagination to flickr]

[Picture: Introspection... Free image for use at CC BY 2.0 level, uploaded by Imagination to flickr]

In this weekly Torah portion, Va-Yehi Jacob must have the last word on the Shechem horrid massacre that his two sons, Shimon and Levi, perpetrated a long time ago.  Indeed, it had seemed to us back in Genesis 34 that these two murderous sons of Jacob were given the last word on their perfidious mass killing of all the just-circumcised males in that town.

Though Jacob admonished them in real-time his rebuke was not based on moral grounds -- ‘’you have stirred-up trouble for me… for I have menfolk few in number.’’  Nevertheless, Jacob had ostensibly allowed his two sons to have the last word – ‘’Should our sister [Dina – she was raped in that town] then be treated like a whore?’’

Now, on his deathbed at 147 years of age, Jacob would not allow these two sons of his to get away with their final word on the Shechem Massacre; he will have it and settle the matter once and for all. Jacob denounces Shimon and Levi for hamstringing an ox (per Genesis 49: 6) in the aftermath of that heinous massacre.  But the Torah says nothing about Shimon and Levi harming in any way the doomed town’s bulls. Yet, Jacob is utterly stern, even from his deathbed in Egypt, that ‘’to their council may my being never come, in their assembly may my person never unite! For in their anger they kill men, in their self-will they maim an ox’’. So, what could Jacob possibly mean by referring to the castration of the bulls in  Shechem besides what he had already said to his sons in real time?

[Picture: Dina's revenge - "Shimon and Levi kill the people of Shechem". Artist: Gerard Hot. The image is in the public domain]

[Picture: Dina's revenge - "Shimon and Levi kill the people of Shechem". Artist: Gerard Hot. The image is in the public domain]

The Rabbis (in Bereshit Rabba) interpret “they castrated a bull” to mean that Shimon and Levi uprooted a line of potential converts; why, the male Shechemites willingly accepted and performed circumcision in order to be eligible for inter-marrying with Jacob’s clan. Thus, the Midrash has Jacob chastise his two blood-shedding sons for destroying a potential population of converts. They are the hamstrung ox(en) that Jacob refers to, massacred because Shimon and Levi would not accept a conversion for the purpose of marriage, thus betraying a disposition of genetic purity. It is for this atrocious crime that Jacob must have the last word and decree for these two sons a future dispersal with no independent existence among the eventual tribes that his other sons would grow into. The final word on this dark chapter has now been said, and it was Jacob's.

[For articles on the “Sabbath of Va-Yehi" in Hebrew, click here]

מצאת טעות בכתבה? הבחנת בהפרה של זכויות יוצרים? נתקלת בדבר מה שאיננו ראוי? אנא דווח לנו!

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Yossi Feintuch: Jacob's last word on his life and on the Shechem Massacre

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