Vayishlach: Jacob’s Soliloquy By David Hartley Mark

Once I got away from my loving Dad-in-Law (ha!) Lavan, that leech, that bloodsucker, I thought our family was in the clear—I could settle back, let my donkey do the walking, while I rode up and down the caravan, proudly beholding my wives, children, cattle and property, like a desert chieftain ought to do: there they were, my exotic women, all bedecked properly, covered up to their eyes with their chadors, so that no Bedouin riffraff might cast a wayward eye and try to attack me—I had very few men-at-arms, you understand, and just an invisible God to protect me; not that He hadn’t shown His true worth toward me up to that point, just as He had promised, years before, but you can’t be too careful….

And I had sent out scouts; a big luggage train like ours—women, babies, shepherds, slaves, cattle!—that would be a great prize for any pack of desert brigands, and I had worked hard enough for them, all those years away from Mom and Pop in Charan, living with Lavan, that thief….

“Lord God of Grandpa Abraham, Father Isaac, Mysterious God,” I asked the scudding clouds overhead, “When do I get a chance to enjoy my family and the little wealth I have been able to build up?”

Suddenly, there he is, running towards me, my little Asher, one of—who?—Zilpah’s boys—can’t tell them apart, really; there are so many of them, all of my sons, let them be well!—calling out to me, “Ta, I’ve been scouting forward, about three mil, and I saw them! They’re coming!”

I couldn’t tell what he was saying, little fellow like that, mumbling, though it turns out he’s about sixteen years old. Who knew? Short, like his mother, same dark hair and eyes—I could not understand his speech; no, not at all—what was he babbling about? What Other People? Who?

“Who?” I asked him, reaching down for my goatskin waterbag, “Who? Just straighten up, Boy, and get the sand out of your mouth: here—take a drink, spit it out, there! Now speak, loud and slow, speak directly.”

“Coming,” The boy Asher gasped behind the stream of lukewarm, goat-smelly water, “Coming.”

“Who’s coming?” I said again, getting worried now, “Who, you son-of-a-sheep? Tell me—don’t you see, all of our lives depend on it? Tell me now, Shaddai blast you!”

“Esau,” he said, “Big Uncle Esau. Him, you told us about. With four—“

“Four men?”

“Four hundred, I think, Ta—I couldn’t tell—there were so many, so many—“ The scamp was crying now; when I let loose of his collar, he went blubbering off, to his Mama, I reckon. I didn’t really care. I flung the goatskin to the ground, and watched the bone-dry sand soak up the precious water, just as Esau’s sword would sever my head, and the ground would soak up my blood—Think, Jacob, think! Plan, Clever one, plan!

I heard the Old Voices in my head—Hurry, Jakey Boy, you must figure and plan your trickery—it’s only Stumble-Bumble Esau, you can surely take him, trick him, slip his foot out from beneath him….but:

What was I to do? And my mind, the way it works, it snaps automatically to, Survival Mode—Yes!

Split the wives and livestock into two—no, four camps; easier to spread out and distract Esau. Get my foreman, Secharbaal, to set aside the fatter, healthier cows and goats and sheep. Order him to choose five men to help, with some of my bigger sons, and clean off the road slop from their hooves, polish ‘em up; make them presentable-like. A gift. An offering, for Big Brother.

I cup my hand against my mouth, shout into the wind: “You, there! Secharbaal, my trail boss! Go fetch Secharbaal, now!” Oh, how they run….

Secharbaal was one of Lavan’s Hittite slaves, but I bought his freedom, and he’s my overseer, my trail boss, now. Good detail man, the kind I like. In an hour, the selection and cleaning are all done. Fear has always motivated me; been that way, all of my life. Secharbaal and I stand and look at the pick of the flock. Fine, fat beasts, all of them.

“We’re sending these off,” I tell Secharbaal. I like him: big, bluff, can-do fellow.

“Who to?” he asks, looking at me, confused, knitting his big, hairy brows, above that black beard of his.

“My brother. To Esau.”

He understands, and nods; he’s been with me from the start, has Old Secharo, and heard about my brother’s strength, temper, and most particularly, his feeble mind.

I take one last glance at the cattle as the boys move them out.

A small price to pay for one’s life, I think to myself.

It all goes pretty quickly after that: split up the cattle. Divide the women and the kids: four groups. Concubines in front: Bilhah, Zilpah. Leah and her boys behind, with Dinah—my poor little Dinah!

The only filly in the herd.
And Rachel, and Joseph. Poor little Joey. He cries a good deal when he sees me staying behind, and stretches out his baby arms. But now, they’re all gone, and Boss Secharbaal himself is leading the men who bring the gift to Big Bad Brother Esau.

I shudder to remember my brother: Big Red, from years ago. Those bulging muscles, and that sword and shield he bears: they make my shepherd’s crook look like a toothpick.

I watch them all leave me. I turn away, and cross the river—Yabbok, I believe it’s called. It’s not too deep, and it cools off my body, if not my heart and soul. I will wait beneath this old terebinth-tree—didn’t Grampa Abe have his terebinth, when the Angels visited? I will wait here for Esau to arrive.

He will come when he comes.

Take a deep breath, Jacob. Sit back. Be still, and try to calm your beating heart.

Is God here? I cannot feel His Presence.

I bend, and pull a bit of grass to chew. I smooth down the earth beneath me, kneel slowly down, and sit back against my terebinth-tree, all alone.

The sun is dying: all red and gold and copper sky.

It feels too quiet, here.

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.

Enjoyed this archived service or article? Click here to donate $3 to OneShul (care of PunkTorah).

Support OneShul on GoFundMe

Leave a Reply