Monday, March 24, 2014

Genesis: Chapter 44

"What is the deed you
have done?"


Who is exposing whom?
What is the exchange?

[for full chapter, see here
The issues set into place in the last two chapters come to a head. The issue of exchange and commodification is highlighted ad absurdum. Once again, the money (kesef) is returned; this time, with the addition of the silver (kesef) cup planted in Benjamin's bag. "Why have you exchanged bad in place (tahat) good?" thunders the steward, utterly ignoring the glistening money sitting at the top of all the opened bags. Only the personalized cup (gevi-i) matters. The full power of Judah's bond is the counterpoint: not value, but an existential bond, a life for a life: "Your servant-slave (avdeha) has bound himself for the youth to his father...Let your slave/servant stay in place (tahat) the youth as a slave to my master, and he shall go up with his brothers."
 "With this you will be tested," Joseph informed his brothers, "when your youngest brother comes here." The hidden issue resonating since Joseph saw "his brother, son of his mother" now comes to the open. The jealousy and breakdown has always been about Rachel--most beloved, always hovering on  the edge of "nothing". "Is it not enough you have taken my husband?" Leah had accused, denying her sister any place in the family. The sale of Joseph reflected the same impulse. Now Joseph recreates the situation with Benjamin, who becomes the "enenu"--the one "that is not," in a thrice-repeated echo of Reuben's despairing cry upon finding Joseph gone.
A change has taken place in the "many days." Judah's matter-of-fact, unemotional approach comes is defense of the relationships he had attempted to reduce to commerce. "He remains alone from his mother, and my father loves him" "My father had said: 'You know that my wife birthed me two sons." This bald re-iteration conveys the emotional truth powering Reuben's desperate offer of killing his two sons--Joseph and Benjamin are the only ones who matter. Yet even as Judah conveys what had driven the brothers to sell Joseph in the first place, he also repeatedly denounces himself: "we will send our father's old age in agony to the Pit."  The attempt to save Benjamin is the acceptance of guilt and a responsibility beyond emotion, rejection and pain.]

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