Toledote: At Home with Isaac and Rebecca

(Night in the Desert. Isaac sits alone at a campfire. He drinks slowly from a cup of spiced wine, pokes at the embers of the dying fire, and soliloquizes.)

Isaac: Father is dead—and how am I to continue his destiny? I have also heard the Voice of El-Shaddai, the Stander on the Mountain, telling me that I will be “as numberless as the stars of heaven”—but who will continue the line after me—my strapping son, Esav, that red-haired rascal, or my Jacob, so thin that he seems to slip through my fingers when I try to hug him—that Mama’s boy? O’ Nameless One, what a riddle have you posed me! Whom do You prefer? I wish You would choose—(waits, but no answer comes). Both earth and sky are silent. Well, well, my Father’s God, if you will not help me here, I must wait, and decide myself—but deciding is not my strong suit—let me think (he drinks deeply of the cup, leans back against his pillow, and sings softly): “O then let the cannikin clink, clink, clink/ O then let the cannikin clink/ A herdsman’s a man/ A life’s but a span/ Why then, let the herdsman drink!” (giggles to himself, and sighs)

(A sound from the shadows. Isaac gropes for his belt-knife, tries to scramble clumsily to his feet, gets as far as his knees) Who’s there, hey? Come and show yourself! (Rebecca crawls from the darkness, pulling her head-covering back from her face) Oh, it’s you, my dear. Come, come, and sit. Have some wine.

Rebecca: If there’s any left in the jug, you mean. It sounds and smells like you’ve been having more than a bit. (She accepts the cup he offers, sniffs it, takes a ladylike sip, and makes a face)

Isaac (sounding hurt and defensive): Now, my dear, first off, my answer is no; and, second, it’s no more than I deserve, chasing those nasty little sheep and goats around a hot desert all day.

Rebecca: While I relax in a hot black airless goatskin tent, you mean. It’s no picnic for me either, keeping track of those two little boys. Little Jacob is a dear, always sticking close by his mommy, but our Esav—well, your beloved hellion, Esav, is always running off, trying to shoot that toy bow-and-arrow at the vultures and ravens.

Jacob: Nothing wrong with that. He’s got my hunter’s eyes, that boy: he’ll make us proud, one day, as chief of our tribe. He’ll be as big as my brother Ishmael, wait and see. Just feed him plenty of deer meat, same as I like: roasted and spicy, hot from the fire. That will make him hot-blooded and warlike, just like I—

Rebecca (finishing his sentence): –always wanted to be. You know, Isaac, it would be nice if you would spend some time with little Jakey, too. He’s a born shepherd, your son. He was asking me today about how many foals the camels expect to bear, come spring. Jacob has a wonderful head on his shoulders: he can figure numbers without using his fingers, and I want to put him to work calculating how much provender we should buy for the herd, come this winter. I know he will be able to do it, your son. Do you think you could give him some attention?

Jacob (not really listening): Yes, Jacob is a good boy—but quiet. Not like Esav. As Abraham’s God lives, how he came crashing through the tent door that day, waving that poor dead rabbit he caught, when you and I had thought that we could have some quiet time! Ah well, my dear, we really should be going to bed. Esav will be up at the first cock-crow. And the flocks won’t wait….


David Hartley Mark is from New York City’s Lower East Side. He attended Yeshiva University, the City University of NY Graduate Center for English Literature, and received semicha at the Academy for Jewish Religion. He currently teaches English at Everglades University in Boca Raton, FL, and has a Shabbat pulpit at Temple Sholom of Pompano Beach. His literary tastes run to Isaac Bashevis Singer, Stephen King, King David, Kohelet, Christopher Marlowe, and the Harlem Renaissance

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