“The sunset is beautiful. I am waiting for the first stars to come out. The crickets keep me company. I hear a jackal or two calling. They do not worry me. my family, servants and livestock are safe behind the rise back yonder. It is a good night to be living. Join me at my fire, Traveler, and let me share this good night with you.
My name is Ya’akov ben Yitzhak. People call me other things in harsh undertones when I pass them at the wells and watering holes. Ya’akov the Thief. Ya’akov the Deceiver. Ya’akov the Sorcerer. My father hissed ‘Wicked, wicked boy!’ in my ear last time I saw him. I miss my father. Lavan is a bad substitute father. His names for me are ‘Lazy’ and ‘Liar’. My wives make fun of my manhood when they think I am not listening, and my sons call me ‘The Old Crank’, when they think I am dozing in the shadow of my tent. Impertinent louts! My daughter screams ‘Murderer’ at me, if she speaks to me at all. My beloved Dinah.
I suppose each and every name is correct. To some degree. Correct, but not fair.
Ah, there are the first stars. Time for one last prayer to The One, blessed be, before it is time for bed. I probably will not sleep much, but I will pray. Pray and think, it seems, is what I do most these days – pray and think.
The crickets have quieted. The moon is out and the river makes small sloshing noises to call the wildlife to drink. So it is just you, me, the moon and thirsty wildlife. I like the night. The night is gentle, soothing and so absolute in its clarity. Now that I think about it, I am sure that all my real conversations with The One, blessed be, have taken place in the lights of the night.
That reminds me. Esav. Do you know why I am here, traveler? I am here because of my brother Esav. He gave me my first name beside Ya’akov. Brother. He called me brother. That night before the unholy business with the lentil soup.
“Good night, Brother,” he said as he wrapped himself in his cloak by the fire and fell asleep.
My brother. I do not know if he still is, but back then he was a snorer. Worse than a boar. I loved my brother. I still do.
I know what our tradition says happened. That he spurned his birthright, and that I bought it from him for a bowl of lentil soup, because I am a jackass. Tradition, as usual, only has half a picture. Or pieces. It is true I am a jackass. Because it was all a stupid joke. Esav came back from a hunt, he had not caught anything that day and he was hungry. He asked me for a bowl of what I was eating – lentil soup. On a whim I said
“Sure, if you sell me your birthright.”
Either he was simply too wrung out to care at that moment, or he actually heard the note of laughter in my voice. But he answered
That was it. We shared that meal, not thinking more of it – why would we, we were brothers and we both knew that he was the oldest – a bowl of lentil soup wouldn’t change that. But it did. As it turned out, our mother overheard our bantering. To her it meant everything. Our mother, a schemer, in a family of people who relied on voices, visions, and visitors. I should have seen, what happened later, coming, but I did not.
I hold no doubt that my parents loved each other. Theirs was a love that exclude anything not relevant to that particular relationship. Even children. Once my brother and I were born I think their love froze. That would explain why they argued so much. I do not think my mother ever wanted children. Or if she did, she would have settled for having just one. There she was, saddled with two and no real love for either. Because of our damned Tradition.
I know my mother detested Esav, and I know he knew. I remember the exact moment I knew that he knew how much she hated him. I walked past my father’s tent. My parents were arguing. They seemed to always argue. About me. About Esav. Mother has always resented that I am second born. I hear her say,
“I want Ya’akov to go and live with my brother Lavan. I do not want him to grow up and be like Esav!”
“What is wrong with Esav? He is a good hunter, a strong man. He will be a good husband one day.”, father responds.
Mother throws something, a vase or a bowl I guess. She does that a lot. At father, at the servants, at Esav if he is home. Once the crockery has stopped crashing she screams at father “Esav is a lout! He cares only for hunting and whoring. He stinks. He is always half-covered in blood!”
I wince and turn around to go and there is Esav standing right behind me. So much pain and sadness in his eyes.
“She really hates me! They hate me! I wish I could just get away from them both. I wish you had been born first, Ya’akov!”
He turns right around and runs back into his beloved wilderness.
Did I secretly scheme to rid him of his birth-right? Did I somehow suspect that he wanted nothing to do with it, and tried to help him out? Now, looking back I cannot honestly say. I want to believe that it was all just in jest. I want it to be a light banter between brothers that I can somehow go back and clarify. Whatever is the truth of the matter, I know that to our mother it was very serious. She kept it to herself and let the years pass. Until father was dying. But that comes later. I have to do this in the right order, Traveler.