TheHOPE ~ התקווה
The New Vision 
for Israel & Zion


Dr. Yitzhaq I. Hayut-Man 12.04.2009 11:00

Biblical Re-biography and the Reconstruction of Israel

             Seven Degrees of Brotherhood  

Chapter in Arzi, Kahana & Fekhler
(eds.) Life as Midrash – Studies in Jewish Psychology (in Hebrew). Yedi’ot Aharonot, Judaism Here and Now series, 2004.

A. Introduction:

This essay is dedicated as tribute to Professor Mordekhay Rotenberg, whose book: “Re-Biographing and Deviance: Psychotherapeutic Narrativism and the Midrash” opened for me an important intellectual venue, and led me for a protracted study and research. In the introduction to the book,  Rotenberg presents his work as “a presumptuous attempt to present dialogism as an alternative to the accepted psychological method”. I myself have subscribed to this presumption years before. Another, no less ambitious, attempt for promoting “dialogism” is the 'Conversation Theory' (CT) of my teacher, the late professor Gordon Pask . CT is a painstaking application of dialogism to additional fields, such as education and epistemology, and proposes a comprehensive conversational paradigm for all the behavioral sciences. Yet the fascinating aspect of the pioneering work of professor Rotenberg is, for me, his basis in the Jewish Midrash (Biblical exegesis, often allegorical and hermeneutic) and tradition. In the following, I shall attempt to support Rotenberg’s initiative, and to extend it in two directions: 1) To base it not only on the classical Midrash, but also on the primary source, namely the Biblical scriptures, 2) To extend it beyond the domain of personal psychotherapy to the public domain of national survival and achieving peace for Israel.

Rotenberg shows the dominance of the Freudian-Oedipal interpretation in the practice of personal psychotherapy, and characterizes it as “missionary”, based culturally upon the Christian dogma (of Saint Paul and Augustine) concerning “The Original Sin”.  The Christian interpretation considers the incident of the Tree of Knowledge as “The Original Sin”, as a transgression of the command of the Father-God which has only one possible atonement – subscribing to the death-and-resurrection of the Son-God, through capitulation to the official Christian dogma. The dogmas of psychoanalysis connect the problems of the patient, by and large, to his infantile-Oedipal desire for patricide, and the patient has no remission until he sees it through the fixed, and “missionary”, interpretation of the dialectical analyst. The dialectical approach demands the negation of the old and its destruction, in order to give birth to the new, a destruction that means, in the terms of psychoanalysis, a confession of “The Oedipal Original Sin”.

In contrast to the “missionary” interpretative approach of dialectical psychology, Rotenberg proposes the example of the dialogical approach of the Jewish Midrash, which allows, he suggests, the “Rebiographing” of the person.

Even though the author draws most of his support from the extant Midrash, we may note that in many cases he draws upon the plain scriptural text. Thus in contrast to the Dialectic-Oedipal approach that requires the replacement of the parent by the son, Rotenberg brings the case of the Aqedah – the Binding of Isaac. While it is possible to discern in the story of the Aqedah echoes of inter-generation struggles: of father against son or of son against father. Yet the confrontation of the Aqedah does not lead to the removal of one of the protagonists, but to the situation that allows us today to pray to “the God of Abraham, God of Isaac and God of Jacob” all together.

We may also note that though the subject of Rotenberg’s book is personal psychotherapy, he does not refrain from dealing with the collective level. He compares between the dialogical 'Qibbutz haGaluyot' (the ingathering of the exiles) and the attempt at dialectical 'Mizug Galuyot' (fusion of exiles). By the latter the Israeli society, whose ideological source was “the Second Aliyah” (which was saturated with Marxist-dialectical meta-historical notions), initially tried to assimilate the diverse communities of the new immigrants and to undo their former, exilic, character. These failures of assimilation led to a more pluralistic approach, of a dialogical reconstruction of all the communities, new immigrants and veterans alike.

At the end of his book, Rotenberg extends the dialogical approach also to the inter-temporal dialog – between past and future. He explains the approaches that lead, for example, to the statement of Rav Kuk that “each thought of repentance (Teshuvah) ties together the whole past with the future, and the future is elevated through the rising of the thought of repentance” . Rotenberg even claims that in addition to that “the will to elevate oneself is found in the essence of the idea that may be called ‘messianic insolence’”. As Rav Kuk affirms there, the new generation of ‘messianic insolence’ is connected with the amplification of feelings of charity, integrity, justice and compassion, along with scientific and idealistic force, that bursts forth beyond what our forefathers have known”. 

Rotenberg relies here on the phenomenological maxim, that when people define situations as real, the results of these situations do become reality (like Herzel’s maxim “If you will, this would be not legend (but become real)”). Therefore, the method of 'descent for the sake of ascent', according to which people are taught to dive to the darkness of their past in order to read it anew, with which they may be able to rise and courageously aim for their future infinite spiritual reality – will become the essence of “insolence therapy” through which the patient would be allowed to freely re-write his future script, and not just ‘recite’ it, like some psalm that was written long ago.

B. Extending the Dialogical Approach to the Collective and National Domain

If we want to extend the application of Rotenberg’s interpretive approach into a universal approach, it may be good to extend the approach beyond reliance on the traditional Jewish Midrash, which is familiar only to a certain Jewish-religious elite. The Bible itself, though, is the heritage of most of humankind and its authority is anyway superior. My claim is that the very approach of “rebiographing” has first appeared not in the Midrashim, but was already built into the Biblical text itself.

But as we come to apply this method in the direction of national renewal, I am wary that the matter is deeper and more complicated. Rotenberg (in parallel with his academic domain), focused his discussion upon personal therapy. But it is very tempting to explore, whether we might employ the proposed re-biographic approach in order to treat our collective problems that have psychological-spiritual context. The proposed thesis is that such severe problem can (only?) be solved by way of renewed rebiographic interpretation of the various identities. In the following I shall present a radical Biblical approach (or a new, Israeli, Midrash), that accords with Rotenberg’s approach, which is faithful, in my opinion, to the original meaning of the makers of the scriptures, and in particular, that represents a creative approach towards the problems of the present and the future.

C. Regarding the Tenses of the Book of Genesis

Let me open by pointing that, as a matter of fact, the Book of Genesis is not written in past tense at all. Only the first two sentences were rendered in plain past tense: “Bereshit (“In the Beginning”, in most translations) created God (Elohim, in plural form) the heavens and the earth. And the earth was without form and void, and darkness was on the face of deep”. From then on, from the instance of God’s involvement, something is turned around, and in literal translation, it should be written “and God will (or would) say/said, Let there be light. And there would be/was light”, and from there it almost always follows like that till the end of the Pentateuch. The words yomer (will say) and yehi (will be) are definitely in the form of future tense, but they are preceded by the letter Waw, which the interpreters call 'Waw ha’Hipukh' (the waw – “hook” – of turning-around”), as if it turns the future into past and the past into future. But would be more appropriate to deduct that this 'Waw Hipukh' is not much different from the more common, and similar in form, 'Waw ha’Hibur' (the waw – 'hook' – of connection) – it connects between past and future and between future and past. If we read the scriptural text with care and sensitivity, we shall find that nothing that is told in the scriptures is closed and sealed in the past. Apart from being a story from the past, it is also a kind of prophecy for the future, or a future possibility that is always present. 

Anyway, since the Biblical narrative hardly ever uses definite past tense, closed and sealed, but is accompanied with the possibility that this is actually the future, then this use of language invites the Midrashic approach of “dialog between past and future” noted by Rotenberg. It is quite likely that this is the very origin of the difference between the dialogical Jewish Midrash and alien interpretations of the kind of 'the Original Sin' – as all these interpreters had to rely on translations, in which the unique form of Biblical past-future was eradicated and replaced by past simple.

D. The Biblical Re-Biography in the Book of Genesis

Our claim is that the technique of 'Rebiography' is found in the scriptures right from the start, at the Book of Genesis. As is well known, there are two, or even three, different versions of the acts of Genesis, which apparently are even contradictory. The first version (chapter 1 till 2:3) tells of an orderly creation in six days of action, which are completed on the Sabbath, and contains no special dramas. The second version (2:4 till 4:26) is very different, and contains the story of the Garden of Eden, the Trees, the woman and the serpent, after which comes the story of Cain and Abel. It is possible to discern still a third version (from chapter 5 on) that deals with “the generations of Adam”, which is no longer concerned with Cain and Abel, but with Seth (Shet). Only in this version, and only about Seth, is it written that he was born in the likeness and after the image of Adam.

There are various ways to explain these differences, including the interpretations of “Biblical Criticism” on one hand, and interpretations of Kabbalah on the other hand. The book of the Zohar, for example, explains that the first Adam was actually the serpent and his wife was Lillith, and only in the second creation there were created Adam and Eve. (According to the Zohar, both the serpent and Adam copulated with Eve, from the seed of the one issued Cain and from the seed of the second issued Abel, and only Seth was of exclusively from the seed of Adam.

In my own exegesis  I claimed that these are three levels of the same story, levels that parallel what is known in the Kabbalah as 'The World of Creation' (Olam haBeri’ah), 'The World of Formation' (Olam haYetsirah) and 'The World of Action' (Olam ha’Assiyah). This means that the three versions are actually of the same story, but it is told from the perspectives of different, and complementary, levels of the acts of Genesis. But even if we ignore for this discussion the matter of different levels, still the very existence of two different versions, alongside each other, means that there is no unique hegemony of interpretation. The duality that resides in the presentation of two different versions accords with what we consider the main theme, that of two brothers who are likely to have differences of conception and of interpretation.

E. The Root Human Problem According to the Book of Genesis

But let us try to generalize: what is the chief problem, or dilemma, that the Book of Genesis contends with? 

If we look for the problem that recurs again and again in the Book of Genesis, we find this is the problem of the relationship between brothers, from Cain and Abel and the question of the first “Am I my brother’s keeper?” right to the adventures of Joseph and his brothers. The problem of fraternal relations is still a major and chronic problem: all men (Hebrew Bene Adam – 'Sons of Adam') are (by this definition) brothers, who ignore each other, are envious of each other, likely to fight among them and even kill each other . Various interpreters, of course, have already noted the importance of the motive of brothers’ conflict in the Book of Genesis, but it seems that an ethnocentric bias limited their grasp of the universality of the phenomena (we shall return to discuss this issue).

With the influence of the “Re-biographic Reconstruction” elucidated by Rotenberg, we may return with a fresh approach to the Biblical text, which we might have seen many times without realizing it: the brothers in the Book of Genesis are always the same brothers – but with each story, or additional “round”, their names change and something in their relationship changes and gets refined. They do not become angels devoid of urges, envies and hates, but there gradually form vessels that can safely contain the tensions. As we shall survey the various “rounds” in the Genesis drama, we shall rely carefully on the original texts – and yet it is likely that the accounts may seem to most readers as quite surprising and strange. The reason is that certain Midrashim, or traditional interpretations, have become so fixated in the collective Jewish consciousness, even though they are by no means necessary – and can surely be interpreted also differently . In the following, I shall present the course of the Book of Genesis as a series of “experiments” that follow each other and comprise a clear evolutionary course. It is noteworthy that the evolutionary course of these seven human experiments is parallel to the pattern used by the Book of Genesis to describe the creation of the world in seven days.

1st Trial: Cain and Abel as an Eternal Archetype
According to the Bible, whoever is a human being (Hebrew Ben Adam) is necessarily akin either to Cain, to Abel. Seth, the third son, is presented as “substitute” for the slain Abel. Cain is the senior brother and Abel the junior one. They divide according to the basic (human ecology) division in the region called nowaday “The Middle East”, which is the center of the Biblical world: one is an agriculturist, and the other a shepherd. This economic division becomes also a territorial division: the agriculturists settle more densely in permanent settlements that become “centers”, whereas the nomadic-shepherds are pushed to the pastures of “marginal regions”. Cain and Abel are in competition for God’s favor.

The usual Midrash regards Cain as evil and Abel as righteous, but a careful reading of the text shows this isn’t necessarily so. Cain was a tiller of the ground, and thereby he took upon himself the punishment of Adam, as it was said to Adam: “…cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life. Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee…” (3:17-18). Abel the shepherd, on the other hand, relied on what was already perfect, on what was created by God. When the time came to bring offerings to God, Abel was able to choose “of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat parts thereof”, whereas Cain brought of the fruit of the ground. In this he actually repeated the act of Eve “she took of its fruit” – and took also her punishment, the punishment of desire and the weakness associated with it. To the woman it was said: “thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee”, whereas to Cain, even before he committed his sin, God reminded: “and if thou doest not well, sin crouches at the door, and to thee shall be his desire”. The frustrated Cain stands just a step away from passion and sin, and must decide whether to yield or to rule over it, and when he discovers that just by being faithful to his parents’ legacy he is rejected by God – he chooses sin. Compared with the competitions between brothers, which we shall survy below, we know here nothing about the preferences of the parents, but the whole story is occasioned through the preferances of God.

Cain apparently tried to reason with his brother about the discrimination against him, as is written “and Cain said (or “would say”) to his brother” (Gen. 4:8), but the text does not bring any response from Abel. Perhaps Abel, who already felt himself as the chosen one, did not listen to him at all. Only after that, “and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him”. The mention of the field apparently is not coincidental. Whether this was a field far away from settlement, the place of the pastoralists and wanderers, Abel’s place, or the tilled field, the field of Cain, it was the field that was the ground of contention and field of battle between the brothers. When then, as the Lord asked him “where is Abel thy brother” (4:10), Cain answered, “I know not. Am I my brother’s keeper?” This question continues to reverberate till our days, and it seems that this is the real sin – the alienation among brothers.

The punishment of Cain was the act of turning him forcibly from being a farmer to a wanderer like his brother was: “when thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield to thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be on the earth” (4:12). Cain admitted his guilt “my punishment is greater than I can bear” and then he later undertook an attempt at rectification – he begot a son and called him 'Hanokh' (Enoch), a word related to Hinukh – education – and refinement, a son who made a further step towards refinement “and he was building a city, and called the name of the city after the name of his son, Hanokh” (4:17). This was the start of urbanization, and it shows that urbanization (literally also “civilization”) has the aim of educating humankind and rectifying it.

After the death of Abel “And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son, and called his name Shet (Seth). For God, said she, has appointed me another seed instead of Abel whom Cain slew” (4:25). In this first case, of Cain, Abel and Seth, it is possible to find in the scriptures a dialectical model of replacement, and the text indeed says that Seth was a replacement for Abel. In fact, Seth is also a replacement for Cain, because right there starts the third creation story, “This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created humankind/Adam, in the likeness of God he made him” (5:1), the story on the level of 'the World of Assiyah' (Action)”, in which only Seth is mentioned as Adam’s son and as the continuation of the human race, whereas both Cain and Abel seem as forgotten . But as we shall see in the continuation of surveying the Biblical narrative, the dialectical model of replacement is becoming changed and refined from one story to the next, until it becomes fully replaced by the full dialogical model.

2nd Trial: Noah and the Noahides
In the story of Noah we find the principle of a new beginning (still a dialectical principle, in Rotenberg’s terms). Almost all humankind is destroyed, and only the righteous Noah and his three sons (and their wives) survive. The three sons of Noah are a new version of the three Sons of Adam (Bnei Adam, also 'Sons of Man'), but here the three sons act simultaneousely, which allows the forming of a coalition. When Ham seas his father’s nakedness and derides him (or worse than that, according to various Midrashim), the older and the younger sons act in harmony as one “And Shem and Yefet took/would take (va’Yiqah – written in single mode) the garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backwards, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father’s nakedness” (8:23).
Noah was 'Ish ha’Adamah' – the husbandman of the living earth – and from this aspect was on the side of Cain. He was also a just man, and it seems that his justice is evidenced in the division of the earth among his three sons, who each inherited a separate continent – Africa to Ham, Europe to Yefet and (Western) Asia to Shem (only the hold of Canaan the son of Ham in the Land of Canaan in Asia mared this arrangement).

3rd Trial: Abraham, his Wives and his Sons.
With Abraham, the Biblical story repeats for the third time. After the beginnings of Adam and Noah, there comes a new beginning. But this beginning is of a different kind, because it does not cancel all the rest (and it can thus be regarded as a dialogical choice). The choice of Abraham is not connected with the cancelation of the rest of humankind and their destruction. On the contrary, the selection of Abraham was intended to serve the rest of humankind. Already in the first revelation of God to Abram, not only the great benefit for him and his seed was promised, “I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee” (12:2), but also the aim of the whole plan: “and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed”. Therefore also the selection is not a total choice, but individual. Unlike for many of the religions, the belief and rights of Abraham do not negate in any way from the possible belief and rights of any other family or nation.
The two sons of Abraham parallel the two sons of Adam and the story is indeed re-written, but the difference here is that the sons of Abraham have two different mothers, who have a different status – the one the son of a bondwoman, the other the son of the lady. In fact, the conflict is not played out between the brothers, but between their mothers. In spite of their being brothers, they do not yet get to contend with each other, but only in the laughter of children’s games – “And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she has born to Abraham, mocking (metsaheq, from tsehoq – laughter, related to mishaq - game)” (21:9). The game, namely the simulation, allowed Sarah to predict beforehand the likely competition and conflict between them – and see this through the eyes of the fostering mother Sarah, who must have seen in Ishmael, much more than his biological mother, “a wild man, whose hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him” (16:12), and then, when Sarah celebrated the weaning of her own son, “So she said to Abraham, Cast out this bondwoman and her son; for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, with Yitzhaq” (21:10).

This passage merits a few comments. One in regard to alienation – Sara does not call Ishmael by his own (and God given) name, and does not relate to his being her own legitimate son (by her being the mistress of Hagar), but only sees in him “the son of Hagar the Egyptian”. The second is in regard to understanding the complexity of the expression “metsaheq” (translated earlier as “mocking” or “playing”). It is clear that Ishmael’s act was not insignificant. This “laughter” has no doubt a sexual aspect (thus in the sequel Yitzhaq was found metsaheq (with) Rivqah his wife, and the wife of Potiphar accused Joseph that he came to letsaheq with them). But soon we find another tough issue connected with this word root Ts.H.Q, or Sh.H.Q; for the son of Sarah was named by God Yitzhaq, and in the Book of Samuel (II Sam. 2:14-16) we learn that there is a great difference between the games we play nowadays and the bloody games of yore: “And Avner said to Yo’av, Let the young men now arise, and play – vi’Yesahaku – before us. And Yo’av said, let them arise. Then there arose and went over by number twelve of Binyamin, belonging to Ish-boshet the son of Sha’ul, and twelve of the servants of David. And they caught every one his fellow by the head, and thrust his sword in his fellow’s side; so they fell down together”.

Yishma’el was expelled as consequence of his being metsaheq, and became a wanderer and vagabond, like Cain – but the killing was spared. In contrast to the division between Cain and Abel, here it is the firstborn becomes the shepherd, the wanderer, whereas the young, Yitzhaq-Isaac, became the dweller of the family estate. Yitzhaq grew indeed in a shepherds’ family, but he himself seems to have preferred to cultivate the soil, where he found “a hundredfold” (26:12).
Not only was Yishma’el not cursed, but also he was expressly blessed, with a blessing that stands till this day. When the prophet Mohammed arrayed the Arabs under Islam, he used the figure of Ishmael, the son of Abraham - whose domain extended, as written (Gen. 25:18), “And they dwelt from Havilah to Shur, that is before Mitsrayim (Egypt), as thou goest towards Ashur (Assyria)” – namely from the Persian Gulf until Africa. Mohammed made him the progenitor of all the Arabs, who now live still wider than the widest borders of the promise given to Abraham in the Bible. In contrast with the totality of the division between Cain and Abel, Yitzhaq and Ishma’el were still to meet at their adulthood, after the passions of their adolescence, to bury their father (25:9), and it seems that they became reconciled.

Assuming that we regard the story of Ishmael and Yitzhaq as the “re-biographing” of the story of Cain and Abel, then in this chapter of the story the fratricide was averted and replaced by an exile punishment that was put upon the firstborn – and eventually – with a blessing. An additional difference between the two pairs of brothers is that in the story of the sons of Abraham the sons were distinguished along two different, and even contrary, characteristics: one distinction of seniority by age and another of seniority by status – the advantage of age seniority was countered by the status inferiority. The story of Abraham is the story of the onset of individuation. The Bible pays attention to the very different feelings of Sarah and Abraham, “And the thing was very grievous in avraham’s eyes because of his son” (21:11). Therefore it is also more appropriate to attribute this act with a solution of separation and distancing and not of annihilation.

Only later there is told the trial of making the father, Abraham, confront the total annihilation of his other son, Yitzhaq-Isaac, in circumstances that are not related to the brothers’ conflict – unless we relate to the special term “thy only son” in: ”Take now thy son, thy only son Yitzhaq, whom thou lovest…”, as apparently being “the only son left you after the expulsion of Ishma’el”, for otherwise God would be found lying, as Ishmael was still alive.

The Rejection of Yishma’el
Even though the text presents Yishma’el from beforehand as “he will be a wild man, his hand (will be) against every man, and every man’s hand against him”, still Yishma’el is not portrayed as wicked, but as one who suffered for no guilt of his own, and eventually merits a great blessing, a blessing expressed by the fullness of twelve sons-chiefs. The participation of Yishma’el along with Yitzhaq in the burial of Abraham is a sign that from the perspective of the Bible, Ishma’el is considered a virtuous man. And indeed, for many centuries also the Jewish sages did not see in Yishmael an evil figure. The Name “Yishma’el” was considered at the time of the sages as a most respectable name, used for exemplary figures like “Yishma’el the High Priest” and the Tanna (Mishnaic authority) Rabbi Yishma’el, the “pair” of the greatest Tanna Rabbi Aqiva (and whose own name is mentioned, among others, at the beginning of the Teachings of the Priests as the definer of the Thirteen Measures by which the Torah is explored). But in a later period, only after Mohammed discovered the Biblical Yishma’el and made him into the father of the Arabs and of Islam, who became great conquerors and mightier than the Jews, then the name “Yishma’el” has become a derogatory name among Jews. From then on there is no Jew who would call the name of his son “Yishma’el”, and the later Midrashim, including the Zohar, already present Yishma’el as a complete and unredeemable villain.

4th Trial: The Binding of Yitshaq
We shall turn for a moment from the subject of the struggle between the brothers to the story of the Aqedah – the Binding (often rendered 'the sacrifice') of Yitzhaq/ Isaac, which Rotenberg already cited as what characterizes the style of the Bible regarding the issue of inter-generations struggle . The story of the Aqedah comes right after the expulsion of Yishma’el “and it came to pass after these things, that God did test Abraham” (22:1). After he was requested to give up one son, apparently for reasons of a struggle over inheritance, Abraham was called to give up, and sacrifice also “thy son, thy only son Yitzhaq, whom thou lovest”. This is as if in a measure for measure for the expulsion of Yishma’el, because of which Yitzhaq remained in the status of “thy only son” – Abraham needed his rectification.

The meaning of this supreme experience is rooted in the name Aqedah – “Binding” – that is an attempt to bind the opposites and connect them together. In the Kabbalah the trial of the Aqedah is explained as the combination of the two contrary qualities of Hesed – Charity – that is typified in the figure of Abraham (as hinted in the verse {Mikha 7:20} thou wilt show… Hesed to Abraham”); and of Din – Rigor – that characterizes the figure of Yitzhaq/Isaac (who is ready to pass the most frightening experience, as hinted in the expression {Gen. 31:53} 'the Awe of Yitzhaq').

As a consequence of the readiness of Abraham and Yitzhaq to sacrifice their outmost, they merit to combine the opposite qualities that always tend to separate – “the Right is integrated in the Left and the Left integrates in the Right”. Abraham, the man of charity, integrated in him, through his very agreement to slaughter his son, a measure of rigor and cruelty; whereas Yitzhaq, who had pity on his father, and through his love to him was ready to get bound, even though he could have prevented it by using his superior strength (for it was he who carried up the wood and not the aging Abraham), has integrated into him also supreme charity. Now, as each one has integrated also the quality of the other, there started the assembly of the Merkavah (“the Chariot” or Assembly) of the Patriarchs , in which each additional patriarch connects to the preceding ones who were different from him and completes them to a system of wholeness. In the wake of the Aqedah, the mutual binding, there is a renunciation a-priori of the seeming solution of expulsion and separation. From here onwards, even when brothers would be separated, they will return and meet, until they may join together.

Since Abraham has already been punished through the Aqedah for the expulsion of Yishma’el and attained the merit of Tiqun, then he may become in time the beloved father of all the children of Ishma’el, and of the religion of Islam.

5th Trial: the Children of YitzhaqYa’aqov and Esav
In the spirit of the foregoing, the story of the Children of Isaac-Yitzhaq is a “rebiographing” of the story of the Children of Abraham. The names change, but the basic confrontation, the competition over the estate and the blessing, still remains. The brothers are closer than in all the former cases. Not only are Ya’aqov and Esav (Esau) portrayed as the sons of the same father, they are also the sons of the same mother (as in the case of Cain and Abel), and moreover: they are even close twins, and the whole seniority of Esav was established by his emerging first, with his brother holding close at his heel, and thus this seniority was always given to challenge and contention. Here also the outer roles of Cain and Abel are reversed, and it is the firstborn who becomes the man of the field and of hunting, that is, the wanderer, whereas the younger was “a plain man, dwelling in tents”. Also the preferences are more attenuated – the father prefers the older and the mother – the younger son, this is similar to the story of Abraham and his sons, albeit in a far more explicit and sharp way.
The Biblical text, in distinction to the many Midrashim, presents Esav as a devoted and noble son and presents Ya’aqov-Jacob as a devious – Aqov – and a cheat who needs much rectification through toiling and suffering. But the reading of the Jewish Midrash is very opinionated – Ya’aqov, who is considered as the father of the nation, is seen as completely righteous, whereas Esav, who became the symbol of Edom and later the symbol of Christianity, is seen as wholly wicked. Interestingly, the Christian exegesis, which also preferred Ya’aqov and rejected Esav, turned the table around and regarded Esau as the father of the Jews and Ya’aqov-Jacob as the father of the Christians ).

The struggle over birthright and blessing between the brothers is ongoing and in two stages. First Ya’aqov buys the seniority from his brother for the price of a potage of lentils, whereas Esav “did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esav despised the birthright”. But after many years of living together, when Yitzhaq grew old and his eyesight failed, he called for his son Esav in order to bestow on him the blessing of the firstborn. With the help of his mother, Ya’aqov exploited his advantage as “a dweller of tents”, and until Esav the man of the field chased his prey, he and his mother had the time to prepare dainty foods from the flock at home, as well as a hand-covering mask from the fur of that same kid. Thus it happened that Ya’aqov at last caught up with his elder brother (whom he tried to supplant from the moment of his birth) and managed to arrive before Esav to receive the blessing.
Fratricide is present in this story, but it is presented as a grim possibility that can be averted. Esav, who in fact had sold his birthright, felt as if he was cheated by his brother, even though the blame was on the mother (of them both): “And his mother said to him, Upon me be thy curse, my son; only obey my voice, and go fetch me them” (27:13). But Esav of course blamed his brother, and the envy among the brothers rose up much like the envy between Cain and Abel: “And Esav hated Ya’aqov because of the blessing with which his father blessed him; and Esav said in his heart, When the days of mourning for my father are at hand, then will I slay my brother Ya’aqov” (27:41). It is noteworthy that even if Esau intended, indeed, to slay his brother, he did not act as would the brothers of Joseph and took care not to hurt his father.

The pragmatic solution to the conflict between the brothers and to the worry of the prospective murder was affected in a similar manner to what was found for the conflict between the mothers in the former generation – by way of removal. But this time it was not expulsion but shrewd removal move from the side of the mother and escape by the son. To Ya’aqov, Rivqah said, “Behold, thy brother Esav comforts himself, purposing to kill thee. Now therefore, my son, obey my voice; and rise, flee to Lavan my brother to Haran” (27:42-42). And she added that Esav’s anger is only temporary: “and dwell with him a few days, until thy brother’s fury turn away; until thy brother’s anger turn away from thee, and he forget that which thou hast done to him”. But to Yitzhaq, Rivqah told quite a different story “I am weary of my life because of the daughters of Het; if Ya’aqov take a wife of the daughters of Het, such as these, from the daughters of the land, what good shall my life be to me?” This way, Rivqah brought Yitzhaq to send Ya’aqov away to Haran, not forcibly as the expulsion of Yishma’el at Sarah’s demand, but with a blessing that also fanned Esav’s jealousy, and made him hurry and marry the daughter of Yishma’el in order to please his parents.

At the end of the story, the two brothers even reconcile, fell each on his brother’s neck and wept. Esau invited his brother to come and dwell with him, and Ya’aqov promised to do so. Promised – but did not fulfill his promise. Another generation had to pass until the conflict between the brothers was solved through a reunion.

To summarize: when we compare the murder of Abel by Cain with the possibility of the slaying of Ya’aqov by Esav, we see that the two cases had basic similarity. In the two cases these were brothers with the same father and the same mother; in both cases there was a basic distinction between the man of the field, whether he be a shepherd or hunter, and the man of the fixed estate. In the two cases the older brother had a reason to envy the younger brother who received the blessing instead of him. But the rivalry has been tempered. As noted, in the case of Cain and Abel, the parents were not at all involved, whereas in the case of Ya’aqov and Esav – the hand that instigated the conflict is the hand that defended. Rivqah initiated both the stealing of the blessing and the sending away of Ya’aqov, and Yitzhaq agreed. Once again, the dweller of tents, the one of fixed abode, became a wanderer because of brothers’ struggle. But because he had not been slain, Ya’aqov was eventually able to return and to reconcile with his brother – albeit after he has confirmed his own separation from Esav and his own worth and uniqueness.

The Jews, who are identified with the descendents of Ya’aqov, would eventually act like their mythical father and leave the land because of the anger of the raging “Esav” and become wanderers. When they return, it would be after they established their own separateness and distinction from their brothers who dwell in the land.

6th Trial: The Children of Ya’aqov/Yisra’el
It is only at this stage, in the second half of the Book of Genesis, from the “vaYetse” portion and on, there starts the story of Ya’aqov and his children, in which the Bible arrives at the principle of solving the problem of brothers’ conflict through the development of the system of the Twelve Tribes. In order to understand this solution, it is necessary to analyze its genesis through the relations of the Four Mothers.
The relations of the Mothers

The reason for the multiplicity of sons was not Ya’aqov’s own will, as he would have willingly preferred to have the one wife. It was Lavan the Aramite who brought him cunningly to marry the two sisters. Here the story of the struggle between the two brothers turned into the story of the struggle between the two sisters, and its outcome was not bereavement but multiple progeny.

It is noteworthy that it was the struggle between the two wives-sisters, of equal social standing, that solved the dilemma that Abraham did not manage to solve with his two wives, the one a mistress and the other a bondwoman. Sarah brought her bondwoman to her husband in order to be built from her – and this is exactly what both Rahel and Le’ah would do. But whereas Sarah, from the moment that her plan worked, and more so after she gained her own son, wished to annul the results of the plan and to expel the bondwoman and her son; Le’ah and Rahel, in contrast, who were engaged in a struggle among them, were glad to continue and be assisted by the birthing services of their maids and be built from them further. The barren Rahel hoped to be built through the progeny of Bilhah; and Le’ah – even though she was already a mother of four – kept following her. It is evident that in this struggle for parental status, each son was important for the mother responsible to him. Therefore in contrast to Abraham, who was forced to expel Yishma’el, Ya’aqov was never called to give up any of his four sons, the sons of the bondwomen. It is very likely that the status of the four sons, Dan Naphtali Gad and Asher, was similar to the status of Yishma’el. It appears that they formed a distinct brotherly coalition, at least from the verse that opens the story of Yosef-Joseph, “Yosef being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with the sons of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives” (37:2). But what was earlier a polarized conflict between two, which precipitated the expulsion of the other, was transformed into a managed confrontation within the group of twelve, which could accommodate itself within this framework.

The symbolic struggle between Ya’aqov and Esav – Judaism and Christianity – in any version, could also find its rectification through the system of four mothers and twelve son-tribes . In the system of the twelve tribes, it is reasonable to see the sons of Le’ah (and especially Judah) as representing Judaism, and the sons of Rahel (and especially Yosef-Joseph) as parallel to the developments of Christianity.

7th Trial: Moshe and Aharon – the Brothers who Reach the Holy
“The Merkavah (Chariot/Assembly) of the Fathers” is subsequently perfected through the addition of the two brothers, Moshe (Moses) and Aharon (Aaron), whose relationship is considered perfect, and they function harmoniousely without envy – “and he shall be to thee instead of a mouth, and thou shalt be to him instead of God” (Exodus 4:16), namely, they act together as one body and under divine guidance. Through this quality, they form the inside of the cube – like an added dimension that connects the structure to a coherent system.

As extension of Moshe and Aharon in the function of joining, there comes the whole tribe of Levi, that has no separate tribal estate, but dwells among the tribes, both in the center and the periphery, as teachers who disseminate the overall national ethos. The Levites (Leviyim) accompany (in Hebrew melavim) the other brother-tribes and connect them.
F. The Relevance of the Biblical Narrative to our Own Times. 

The important question that arises is whether the Torah is indeed Torat Hayim – “A Life Teaching”, namely, can it give answers to the most existential questions, or is it just a certain historic-cultural heritage, that belongs mainly to libraries.

Our current severest existential dilemma is that of the relations, or the conflict, between the “Israelis” – meaning the Israeli Jews and those who identify with them – versus the “Palestinians” – meaning the Arabs, mainly the Moslem ones, where the Arab citizens of Israel are torn in the chasm and increasingly tend to regard themselves as Palestinians. People from both these sides are being hurt because of their belonging to these identity categories, without regard to their deeds. There is a very strong feeling of “Us” and “Them”, and each side tends to project the guilt and the responsibility, as a whole, on the other side, of “Them”.

But these identities, which seem to everyone as immutable, are by no means necessary, but are a matter of convention and habitual thought, mainly a cognitive matter. As I intend to present the Torah as existentially relevant, I shall abstract from the Biblical course that was presented here a few models that might become applicable for contending with severe social and national conflicts.

G. The Scale of the Seven Relationships

We have counted above seven types of relationships among brothers that are described in the Torah – six of which in the Book of Genesis – each one of which is a stage in the sublimation of the encounter and in developing towards true brotherhood and amity, and are somewhat akin to the developmental stages of Genesis. In the following we shall relate to these seven stages as seven possible paradigms for the description of the relationships between different identities, such as “Jews” and “Palestinians”. In each one of them, the interests of the parties and the mode of their interaction will appear different.

1) “We are all Human (Bene Adam): Almost all people of goodwill will start from this world-view - We are all human, so we should act as brothers. But when we look well at the original Biblical narrative that deals with the first brothers, Bene Adam (Sons of Adam) in the simplest meaning of the words, a very gruesome view emerges. Two brothers are contending with each other over the very same land, both see themselves as deserving God’s blessing, of material blessing, in an exclusive manner. From the Arab point of view, the Jews are that wandering “Abel-Hevel” that has no rights of possession in this land. The true possession of the land is only for the Moslem-Arabs, and their national commandment is the Tsumud – the Clinging to the land of their fathers. But somehow it happened that actually they, actually the Palestinians who tend to cling to the land, became a nation of refugees devoid of home and/or citizenship and the envy and humiliation drive many of them to a murderous behavior, like the Biblical Cain.

2) We are Sons of Noah (Noahides): Noah, the virtuous man of justice, divided the earth between his sons and thereby prevented violent struggles between them. But the root of alienation did not change. There was no struggle, but also no real encounter. At length, also this chapter ended with the ostracizing of one of the brothers and with turning him into “slave of slaves” to his brothers. In this paradigmatic narrative (which is not necessarily conscious), we Jews are the survivors of the holocaust, refugees of the flood that destroyed so many, who are proceeding with building a new land. This is actually the classical Zionist narrative. The Jewish “we” is “Shem” who maintains love-hate relationship with 'Yefet' (Japheth), which is the Western-Christian world and prefer Western culture. The problematic factor in this view is “the dwellers of the Land, the Kena’anite” (Gen. 50:11), with the status of Ham or “the dark ones” who are suspected of every transgression. These “Sons of Noah” are the common secular people. The ideal they espouse is a state of “the Rule of Law”, in the sense of a civic society in which it is No’ah, namely comfortable, to live. But this civic ideal is found in a rather severe confrontation with the other ideal – the Election (“Thou have elected us from among all the nations and wanted us”), – which is symbolized by Abraham.

3) “We are the Children of Abraham”: This claim is often raised among those who try to bring to reconciliation. The claim that “Arabs and Jews are cousins” (because of Abraham) is a paradigm accepted by the majority. Yet the connotation in which it is said and its consequences are generally negative. Primarily, we need to note that this statement has two entirely different interpretations, the Jewish-'Yitzhaqish', and the Arab-'Ishmaelite' ones.
In the eyes of the usual Jewish “Yitzhaq”, the Arab-Ishmaelite is indeed perceived as the dangerous “wild man” (pere Adam), and the solution is therefore his expulsion, as was done by Abraham to the original Yishmael at Sarah’s instigation. The Zionist State was established in the name of 'Israel'-Yisra’el, as an echo of the stance of Sarah, along with the expulsion of the majority of the original Arab-Ishmaelite population. In the eyes of the Moslem 'Isma’il', the Jews are those Bani Isra’il who defied Allah, and who falsified the scriptures and deserve punishment. The solution, in such case, is in the unification of the entire “Arab Nation”, whether as a national movement (united Arab state of the Nasserite style) or, better, under the banner of Islam. When the Arabs will unite, claims this world-view, they would be able to overcome the Jews, expel and replace them.

In addition to the motif of expulsion, which is involved in the paradigm of “The Children of Abraham”, there is also the motif of the Aqedah-Binding – Abraham is a father prone to sacrifice his children. From traditional-Jewish perspective, the Aqedah is the basis for “Thou have elected us”. From Islamic perspective, the picture is less clear and unequivocal. The Kor'an recalls the binding event in which Abraham sacrificed his son, but the Kor'an does not indicate the name of the bound son, whose identity remained a subject for interpreters.  In the glorious days of Islam, many of the important interpreters used to identify the bound son with Yitzhaq. But there were also interpreters who identified the bound son with Yishma’el, and in the course of the years and mainly at present – with the amplification of the Arab-Israeli conflict – it is quite accepted, and almost self-evident among Moslems, that the son whom Abraham sacrificed was Yishma’el.

In the examination we suggested above, we tried to do deeper and understand the Aqedah-Binding in the sense of connection and integration (hitkalelut). Such a perception, which surveys the cultural and historical processes also allows for the recognition of the “mutual binding” (Aqedah hadadit) of the Jews and Arabs in this land. The two sides are bound to each other, and it seems that the more they struggle to be free and separate from each other, the more they get entangled and tied up together, and the destiny of the Palestinian and the destiny of the Israeli-Jew are inextricably intertwined.

4) Ya’aqov and Esav – the model of the Twain-Peoples: the recognition of the mutual-binding may lead to a perception of the relationship of Jews and Arabs in this land in terms of the relations of the twin-brothers, Ya’aqov-Jacob and Esav-Esau. This is a perception of much more connection than those presented before, and perhaps even a possibility, in principle, for reconciliation, but a reality of unceasing struggle.
Originally, the motif of the twin brothers was conceived, as noted, as a symbol for the relations between Judaism and Christianity. The Jews used to perceive themselves as “Ya’aqov” and regard the Christians as “Esav” (as the descendents of the Romans, who were seen in the Image of their vassal King Herod the Edomite). But as shown by Y.Y. Yovel, early Christianity adopted the contrary view and identified itself with Jacob and the Jews with Esau. It seems that this duplication-contrariness is natural for twin brothers.

The serious observer can identify similar processes, which the Jewish people have gone through and which the Palestinians are now going through. Such recognition might, conceivably, lead to a perception of shared destiny and will for reconciliation. But it seems that the two people are caught in a similar process, but are on opposite phase – what physicists call “Destructive Interference” – which cause each side to cancel the action of the other side and annul it.

Yet if this is taken as the model for the relations of Jews and Arabs in this land, then it has a side of hope for reconciliation. In the Biblical story, Esav threatened to persecute and kill Ya’aqov, but eventually he reconciled with him, showed generosity and cleared for him a place. The promise of Ya’aqov, to return and to band with Esav, is still pending.

H. The Restoration of the “The Children of Israel” Model.
As we have shown above, according to the Biblical narrative, the preferred arrangement for reconciliation among brothers is that of “The Children of Israel” – a system of Twelve Tribes. Albeit the ancient Israel has long disappeared and apparently there remained only “The Jewish People”, while the rest of the Israelites are conceived of by the Jews as “The Lost 10 Tribes” (which according to Rabbi Aqiva, may never return). But in the visions of the prophets of Israel, the re-appearance of all the Tribes of Israel and their unification into a new whole is a sign of the ultimate Redemption and one of its major components. Thus Isaiah (11:11-13) prophesy about the gathering “together of the outcasts of Yisra’el and the dispersed of Yehudah … Ephrayim shall not envy Yehudah, and Yehudah shall not vex Ephrayim”. Jeremiah (16:15, 30:3) prophesizes the ingathering of all the exiles of Israel, whereas Ezekiel (37:15-22) prophesizes the unification of the separate trees of the House of Judah and the House of Joseph into a single tree, and in the conclusion of the visions of the future temple (chapter 48) he describes the whole land divided into the estates of the twelve tribes. The historical intention in the Bible is not “The Establishment of a Jewish State”, but the Restoration of Israel, much as the God of the Bible is not “The God of the Jews” but rather “The God of Israel”.

The inherent meaning of this model is that it lives each of the tribes as having their own special identity, and yet also as partner in a more comprehensive identity. All the Children of Israel are partners to one national homestead (even though it is divided among them to render tribal estates), and they all belong to one comprehensive narrative, which does not deny the private narrative of each one. There is no rejection, no expulsion, no ostracizing, and none has to give up one’s identity. Even the distinction that the Torah makes between the “Ladies” – Le’ah and Rahel (Rachel) – and the maids – Bilhah and Zilpah – does not entail a class distinction between their children. The distinction between identities does not become a class gap. This is the Biblical conception, which we suggest as the alternative to the current distinction in our country between “Children of Ishma’el” and “Children of Israel” (namely “Children of Yitzhaq”) – the relationship between them is that of real brothers, and not of among “cousins”, and the children of the bondwomen [check] have a part and inheritance in equality with the children of the ladies.

For our situation, it is important to show that this redemptive image of The Tribes of Israel is not limited only for Jews, it has also been adopted by Christianity and Islam and is cherished by them. Early Christianity saw itself as “The True Israel”, and regarded the Jews as those who are no longer Israel because of their denial of Jesus. But the image of the Christians as the Israelites has emerged intensively, in various forms, during the last centuries, especially among Protestant and Anglican Christians. In 18th and 19th century Britain there were many who identified themselves as “British Israelites”, and the self-image as Israelites was also strong among the puritans and the Founding Fathers of the USA . The most pronounced expression of the “Israelite” motif in US culture is perhaps the emergence of the Mormon religion. Believers of this religion, which emerged in Puritan New England of the early 19th century, and who nowadays count in the millions, see in many of the native Americans (“Indians”) the descendents of the Israelites refugees who fled from Jerusalem before its destruction, and altogether, the Mormons regard themselves as being the Tribe of Ephrayim.

Also in Islam, the concept of Bani-Isra’il – the Children of Israel – is well known, and appears scores of times in the Kor’an, including even relating to this land as the land of Bani Isra’il who will all gather there (Sura 17:105) – and this compared with the total absence of the name of “Palestine” in the Kor’an. According to the Koran, there is no doubt that the Israelites are the senior among the believers in the true religion of Allah. Truly, they are mentioned as rebellious and abdurate (even though much less so than what the Torah and the prophets attribute to them), but their seniority is not doubted. In the Koran, the concept of Bani Isra’il is not the same as of Jews, who are also mentioned as having their peculiar commandments and practices.

I. Reflections on the Current Situation

Having extracted the different models from the Biblical narrative, let us go for a while towards utopia and consider the possibilities implied by these models for contending with the current conflicts. Even if these suggestions may seem a bit foolhardy/daring, perhaps they may attain the case of “If you will, than this is no legend” (im tirtsu, en zu Agadah – Herzl’s Zionist motto).

Can the model of “The Children of Israel” be applied to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Even if we may not base it on the genetic argument (a specific characteristic gene was recently discovered by geneticists, which is found only at 2/3 of the Jewish males and 2/3 of “Palestinian” males, which can bring to the recognition that we are indeed dealing with two parts of the same people – in the concrete genetic sense ), it is still possible to argue for a utopian model of Israel as a multi-tribal state. In my view, it is only such a model that can safeguard stability and a system of checks and balances and mutual complementarities. In such a system there can form different coalitions for different issues. Such an assembly may also neutralize “The Demographic Demon”, which is the present concern of the Israelis, and which prohibits giving civic rights to the Arabs, and presses for the division of the land – a division which, I am afraid, is bound to be destructive.

But the beauty of the restoration of the Biblical order of the multi-tribal, multi-faith Israel is in the potential for creativity and complementarities. There are many who recognized the relative value of cultural pluralism, even without positing rules and frameworks for it. Our analysis has shown that there is a perfect multi-faceted assembly, made of a dozen component parts, which is inherently made to nurture a whole spectrum of fruitful dialogs that mesh the assembly into a fruitful creative system, in contrast with the arrangement into two sides that define themselves just through the negation of the opponent.

In the context of this discussion we have not yet touched upon the higher potential of the assembly of the New Israel, namely the potential for holiness, symbolized by the images of the holy-brothers Moshe and Aharon. This topic deserves a comprehensive treatment that can elucidate in relevant contemporary terms the issues of Jerusalem and the visions of the future temple: “the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all the nations shall flow unto it” (Isaiah 2:2).

J. The Next Movement: From Israelite Fraternity to All-Human Fraternity

This essay charted a course of progression from the current dead-end, which leads from universal human concern – to Israel. But when this ideal Israel may be established, there is certain to be a positive movement towards universalism. Such an Israel may indeed become “a Light onto the Nations” and reflect back peace and reconciliation for even wider extensions: of the whole Middle East, of all the religions of “The Children of Abraham” and of all humankind upon earth, as Abraham was promised “in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:3) and as the prophets have envisioned, it will become likely that “out of Tsiyyon shall go forth torah” (Isaiah 2:3).

The Zohar or Midrash haZohar (attributed by tradition to the Tanna R. Shim’on ber-Yohay, and by researchers to 13th century Spain). English translation, the Soncino Press.
Hayut-Man, Yitzhaq: An Israeli Genesis to Bereshit in
www.thehope.toreng0.htm - the whole “New Israeli Genesis Exegesis” in the internet

Yovel, Yisrael Ya’aqov: Two nations in thy womb – Jews and Christians – mutual images (In Hebrew). Am-Oved Alma, 2000.

Mark and Elizabeth Prophet (1962): Saint Germain on Alchemy, Summit University Press, Corwin Springs, Montana.

Nebel A, Filon D, Weiss D, Weale M, Faerman M, Oppenheim A, Thomas MG (2000): High-resolution Y chromosome haplotypes in Israeli and Palestinian Arabs reveal geographic sub-structure and substantial overlap with haplotypes of Jews, Human Genetics 107:630–641.

Rotenberg, Mordechai: Re-Biographing and Deviance: Psychotherapeutic Narrativism and the Midrash. Prager Pub. , New York 1987.

Pask, Gordon: Conversation Theory: Applications in education and Epistemology. Amsterda, Elsevier, 1976.

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