Thursday, October 14, 2010
Tales of Isaac, Part II
Esau had been out on the hunt. He entered his father’s tent with pride and expectation. With him he carried the stew he had prepared from the fresh game he had killed. He father had requested it, and he had cooked it with great care. Esau’s father was blind, weak, and bedridden. I was time to confer the patriarchal blessing upon the first-born.
As Esau approached his father in his chambers, speaking to him of the hunt, the stew, and the blessing, the old man was at first confused. Then the pieces began to fall into place in the patriarch’s mind.
“Esau,” Isaac spoke to him in a somber tone. “Esau, listen to me carefully.” The old man paused for a moment. “Listen to me, Esau. I cannot give you the blessing.”
Now Esau was confused.
“Your brother, Jacob,” Isaac continued, “has tricked your old, blind father, feeble as I am. He came to me in your guise and brought me stew – and not very good stew, I should say. I should have known, but I thought, ‘old and useless as I am, I cannot even taste food anymore’ – but Esau, I have given the patriarchal blessing to your brother. The sacred oath cannot be reversed. What has been spoken must be. But listen to me, Esau –”
Esau was no longer listening. Anger was ringing in his ears. The wrath of one betrayed was swelling within him. Rage that can only be ignited by kin was upon him. He ran from the tent, throwing stew and hurling curses in all directions. “No more!” He shouted. “Jacob shall not live!”
Jacob had already been advised by his mother and co-conspirator to leave the scene – to flee the country. “Give your brother time to cool off – ten, maybe twenty years or so – then come back to claim your role as patriarch.”
Nightfall approached. Esau had run, shouted and cursed his rage down to a shocked numbness. He returned to his father’s tent. Isaac was asleep, but awakened at the sound of Esau’s voice. When the old man was sure that it was Esau, his body began to shake, and he could not catch his breath. Esau went to hold his father, trying to prop him up in bed. The old man continued to shake, struggling to get a breath. Finally, the shaking stopped and the old man drew a long, slow breath – then he burst out laughing, body shaking again until he was once more struggling to breathe.
Esau pulled himself back to get a better look at his father. At that point he realized that the old man was convulsing with laughter! Isaac managed to get another breath, was able to control himself a little more so that he could speak.
“Esau,” the old man laughed again. “Do you know what this means?” He said as he alternated between chuckling and laughter. “You didn’t listen to me earlier today...” More chuckling. “...you just went storming out like a Moabite in battle...” Again, the chuckling broke into laughter. “Esau,” he said as he drew a calming breath, “do you know what it means that Jacob took the blessing?” He gave another low chuckle. “It means you are FREE!!” With that the old man broke into another gale of laughter. “My favorite son is now free, and you have what I was never able to enjoy.” The old man was beside himself with laughter.
“Freedom from the patriarchal promise of Yahweh! Esau, do you realize what that means? It means freedom from being the Chosen One. Freedom from carrying the promise of Yahweh. Freedom from stone altars in the wilderness. Freedom from claims to a Promised Land. Freedom from being a light to the nations. Freedom from being a city set on a hill. You are free from the White Man’s Burden, free from Manifest Destiny.” At this point, Isaac broke into more uncontrollable laughter.
Esau,” the old man continued, “you are free to live your life. You are free to walk in honesty and peace. You do not have to carry any banner except the banner of humanity. You can walk the side streets of joy, sail the seas of truth. You can live life, know love, and seek peace. You’ve got it, my boy!” Laughter filled the tent. “I would have never imagined it, but you’ve got it!” Isaac was almost breathless again with laughter. “You will be free from the blindness that comes with power and prestige.”
And so the old patriarch who had been serious all his life, the one who had not laughed or danced since the day he was tied as a lad upon the sacrificial altar in the wilderness, continued in uncontrollable laughter. The man who was born in laughter, whose name means he laughs, died laughing.