Reading the Bible without the benefit of commentary or tradition, AJ notes one would likely come away thinking Jacob was the awful twin and Esau was taken advantage of. What brother wouldn't give his brother a bowl of soup if he were hungry? Why demand such a high price? This is where rabbinical tradition comes into play. One thing AJ learned from it: Esau was "a slave to his urges, pure id, and an exaggerator to boot. He'd do anything for a snack, including selling the sacred birthright; he showed no respect for what God had given him." (pg. 239)
After reading through "rabbinically tinted lenses" AJ could see Esau's flaws more, but added: "Still, I don't want to whitewash Jacob. I love the complexity of the patriarchs, that their flaws are as numerous as the stars in the sky and, in some cases, come close to eclipsing their righteousness. And I am awed by the profound and extraordinary fact that the entire Judeo-Christian heritage hinged on a bowl of soup." (pg. 240)
I have to admit that I've always seen Jacob as quite the, er, well, let's just say I'd never hope to have a child like him! But I do appreciate AJ's thoughts on the "complexity of the patriarchs" and his being okay with their being flawed individuals. It demonstrates for me again how God can use sinful humans to accomplish His purposes.
AJ met Jews from different perspectives. Some like Mr. Berkowitz liked that religion told him exactly what to do, what types of materials to wear, what to eat for meals, even how to put on his shoes! Yet, Mr. Greenberg told him, "'Never blame a text from the Bible for your behavior. It's irresponsible. Anybody who says X,Y, and Z is in the Bible -- it's as if one says, 'I have no role in evaluating this.'" Whereas Berkowitz celebrated religion giving him freedom from choice (which reminded me of Amber's recent post, Abdicating Responsibility) Greenberg "grappled" with the Bible. (pg. 268)
Which do you prefer? Which do you think is more accurate? Religion giving you freedom from choice because it spells every.single.thing.out. for you? Or religion making you wrestle with the texts
and not excusing you for your actions? Or maybe you prefer something in between those two views?
Remember the story Jesus told about the prodigal son? Here is what AJ thought upon reading it:
When I first read the parable of the prodigal son, I was perplexed. I felt terrible for the older brother. The poor man put in all these years of loyal service, and his brother skips town, has a wild good time, then returns, and gets a huge feast? It seems outrageously unfair.
But that's if you're thinking quantitatively. If you're looking at life as a balance sheet. There's a beauty to forgiveness, especially forgiveness that goes beyond rationality. Unconditional love is an illogical notion, such a great and powerful one. (pg. 275)
Do you tend to look at life issues in terms of a balance sheet, something rational where rewards can be given out in a fair manner? Or do you see life as wild and messy and with "illogical notions" such as unconditional love and forgiveness coming into play? Which do you prefer? Why?
AJ admitted that he had a foul mouth, but after reading the Bible's warnings about cursing and not having bad communication, he fought both gossiping and using bad words. At one point his wife laughed at his attempts...
"She can mock me, but the weird thing is, I think my G-rated language is making me a less angry person. Because here's the way it works:
I'll get to the subway platform just as the downtown train is pulling away and I'll start to say the F-word, I'll remember to censor myself. So I'll turn it into 'fudge' at the last second. When I hear myself say 'fudge' out loud, it sounds so folksy, so Jimmy Stewart-ish and amusingly dorky, that I can't help but smile. My anger recedes. Once again, behavior shapes emotions." (pg. 282)