Becoming Israel

Genesis 32:24-32

It’s the night before the reunion with my brother the savage whose people & whose flocks infest the land. I isolate myself like a woman in her monthly time. But through the tent wall, through furs, through woolen blanket & robe, another pair of hands find mine & begin to push.

This is contact almost at the level of pure symbolism, but still a kind of arousal occurs. Some slave girl, perhaps, ambitious for a piece of the inheritance? I bump up against a maybe hip & thigh — something warm & solid with just a little give.

Who are you on the other side of sleep? Are these truly hands? Are you even human?

By way of answer, I am crushed in a sudden embrace. A hot harsh breath in my ear: this is no sweet angel. Now I am throwing punches hard enough to stun a ram. Now the curtain falls away & I am face to face with the darkness between the stars.

Ah, but we keep each other close as adversaries must, skin burning skin, grinding into the stony earth. I will not be anyone’s bitch. I will never say Uncle. I will survive until morning, & limp fully blessed into the glare of meeting.

11 Comments


  1. Nice work, Dave. This story is one of my favorite pieces of text, and you’ve done some really interesting things with it here. I especially like the third and fourth paragraphs (stanzas?)

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  2. As Tall Girl said, especially mysterious, like a dream. I think I need to find my bible and look up that passage.

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  3. One of my favorite stories, too. The timing of Jacob’s nocturnal encounters has always fascinated me.

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  4. face to face with the darkness between stars…….WOW. This is wondrous, great job.

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  5. Thanks for all the generous reactions.

    Rachel – Yes, it does seem to be a keystone story, doesn’t It? Even apart from the granting of the name Israel, I mean. Foundational to the whole Talmudic tradition.

    Peter – Yes. They seem to be a way of paying for “blessings.”

    marja-leena – Sorry I didn’t hotlink the citation to an online translation, but I thought that might be a bit perplexing – you really have to know the whole Jacob cycle to pick up on all the references, and I figured it would work O.K. even without that familiarity.

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  6. Dave, that’s ok. I found the online translation right away. My memory of the story is pretty vague, but I still enjoyed this.

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  7. I hope this is the first in some other similar explorations of/responses to biblical texts…yes? It always inspires me, Dave, the way you find things and take off from them, the way you give yourself assignments.

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  8. An interesting, gritty version–the original is both so full of light and so physical, and you have run with that union.

    Tiny thought: the first phrase in the second paragraph threw me (so to speak) a bit–that is, I had to clamber over it to be sure the speaker hadn’t changed.

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  9. beth – I’ve thought about it, and I think I would need a unique angle before I decided to pursue it. I don’t have faith of my own to wrestle with, so that’s a huge disadvantage.

    marlyat2 – Gah! Yeah, you’re right, that is a leetle out of character! Thanks.

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