Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Genesis: Chapter 38

Go down
then turn again

The things you
cannot find
even by the open eyes

(For full chapter, click here
After throwing Joseph into the Pit, Judah also "goes down" from his brothers
Judah's reduction and sale of Joseph is to define his life. Judah brings out to the open the dangerous overlap between relationship and possession that has haunted the book of Genesis since the creation of Eve. He creates a seamless continuity between money and flesh, a complete commodification of the bonds of brotherhood: "What is the profit if we slay our brother... Let us sell him for he is our brother, our flesh".
The sale of Joseph causes a "turn" va-yat. No love or longing for Judah. Profit is the key. His deepest connection is to his business partner; his wife is not even mentioned by name; he is quickly comforted for her death [ in stark contrast to Jacob's refusal to be comforted]. "What will you give me, to sleep with me?" he is asked by Tamar, in the first open exchange of goods for sex. The price is a goat.
Yet the second "turn" va-yat to Tamar  introduces a new element to Judah's sterile transactional world. "Will you give me your bond?" demands Tamar. The physical commodity of the bond/pledge becomes a demand for responsibility. "Recognize please." Even within the world of commodities and exchanges, there can be deeper responsibilities, bonds that cannot be paid off.
Judah's failure is epitomized by Onan, who cannot give something that "will not be his". There is no room for giving in this world. Judah, by contrast, contains the seeds of duality, which finds expression in the closing of the chapter, in the birth of the second pair of twins. This recreation of Jacob and Esau also struggle over the birthright, and this time the Jacob-like-Peretz manages to enters the world first.)

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