Thursday, December 08, 2005

Dead Man Walking

Let's go back...

Back one week...

Back to Parashat Toledot...


We've got ‘Eisav — the big hairy hunter, out in the fields all day with his bows and arrows. And we've got Ya‘aqov — soft and innocent, holed up all day in the tents and studying (according to Oral Tradition).


Set the scene:
We've got Ya‘aqov, the younger one, sitting at home, cooking a meal of lentil soup. And his brother, big brother ‘Eisav comes back from the fields with his hunting tools slung over his shoulder, huffing and puffing from running around all day fighting the animals and the elements and he says:

"Yo bro, (huff) I'm tired, (puff) why dontcha just pour me some of that red stuff ya got there?"

And Ya‘aqov, ever the clever one, the one whose name means [H/h]e is a trickster, replies:

"I'll give it to you... for your birthright!"

And ‘Eisav seals the deal with these words:

הנה אנכי הולך למות
ולמה זה לי בכרה
Behold — I'm going to die!
What use to me is a birthright?

(Bereishit/Genesis 25:32)

There are two ways of saying "I" in Biblical Hebrew:
אני and אנכי

They say that anokhi is a more intensive, emphatic "I". Ani is 'me'. Anokhi is 'me', myself, my identity. Me at my core.

Brother ‘Eisav doesn't say Ani holeikh lamut, "I'm going to die" — he says Anokhi holeikh lamut, I am a person whose entire identity is bound up with death; I'm out there in the fields, fighting beasts and nature, trying to bring home food and resources for my family. I risk my life every day out there. Death is my life. Danger is my life. I am out there trying to survive — and when your entire life is centered around the continuation of that life, centered around survival itself — what use is a birthright to me?

The bekhora, the firstborn's birthright, is a thing of the future. It's a promise, a hope, a destiny waiting to realize itself. ‘Eisav had no need of such things. He was a man who lived on the edge, risked his life every day. He didn't need a Future; all he needed was a Now.

Note: In college, the kosher dining hall had lentil soup one day, and I got a bowl and sat down to eat. Before I could begin eating it, my [older, and self-described evil] twin brother walked in and, well, you know, i'm Ya‘aqov, he's ‘Eisav... let's just say that it was a meqahh ta‘ut and leave it at that. ;-)

(this post was posted from postmark 10952)


Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann said...

While reading this something popped into my head as a guess to where you were heading, but you weren't.

A big deal is made in this week's parsha (Lawrence Kushner wrote a book on this one phrase) about Yaakov saying "G-d was in this place and Anochi didn't know this."
Is there some parallel here, each of them referring to themself as anochi within this same tale? What can be made of this?

12/09/2005 12:30 AM  
Blogger Warren Burstein said...

Avivah Zornberg often quotes a chassidic drash that "anochi" is "ani" with a chaf in the middle meaning "like", similar to Emerson's “unattained but attainable self”. Here's how the identities of Yaakov and Esav go - Rashi on 25:27 says that while they were children they couldn't be told apart (from the way they acted) but when they reached 13 Yaakov went to the Beit Midrash and Esav to idolatry - Avivah says that during adolesence they deliberately distinguished themselves from one another, but by the time of the blessing, Yaakov realizes that he needs to reclaim some of what he has ceded to his brother, "anochi Esav bechorecha" is not a complete lie at this time. At the dream, she reads "anochi lo yadati" as confusion about who he is. God's anochi there (in the first commandment, too), she reads as God will appear differently to a person depending on who they are at the time. God doesn't change, but a person's experience of him will. Yaakov tries to avoids his father's experience of God. He refers to "elokei avi avraham vepachad yitzchak", he would rather identify with Avraham's experience, going so far as to speak as if he's Avraham's son rather than his grandson (only before he goes to Egypt does he bring sacrifices "to the God of Yitzchak his father").

He tried to avoid the place of the dream, which the midrash identifies with Har Hamoriah. In one version he goes all the way to Haran and then goes back, saying "could I have passed a place that my ancestors prayed"? Freud would say that this indicates resistance. In another the sun sets two hours earlier so that he will sleep there, and in yet another he's actually at Beit El but God moved Har Hamoriah to there, in both of these God had to change the order of the world to get Yaakov to go there. In Vayishlach, even when Yaakov gets back to C'naan, he takes his time about both going to Beit El to fulfill his vow and to going back to see his father.

She didn't address Esav's anochi, perhaps it could be explained that he realizes that the division of roles isn't what his true self needs as well.

12/09/2005 7:34 AM  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

This whole אנכי vs. אני thing smacks of an invented chakiro....

I doubt it would hold water in an analysis of all the pesuqim of the TANA"KH.

(Sort of like a pre-Dr.AvrohomWeiss understanding of talmudic terminology....)

12/09/2005 12:33 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


Thanks for the interesting comparisons... i actually just started reading DAG"Z's peirush on Shemot. I remember her saying some amazing things in her Bereishit book and at her parsha shi‘urim in Yerushalayim.


That's why i said They say that in introducing the distinction. I don't know, but it might work. I'd like to see a good study of the different uses of the two pronouns, to get a peshat understanding of how they work.

12/09/2005 2:29 PM  
Blogger Warren Burstein said...

What I said is anything but pshat. I don't know what pshat difference there is, between ani/anochi (if any), and I don't know if there's going to be a rule that explains all 359 anochi's and 871 ani's in Tanach (numbers from Even-Shushan).

12/10/2005 5:54 PM  
Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann said...

I think 871 VS 359 is a good hint that one is more common not only in use but in meaning.

12/10/2005 8:45 PM  

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