Jacob's Family Dynamics
By Gad Dishi
Devora Publishing, 2010, 232 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - November 22, 2010
This book is a refreshing easy to read intellectual feast. Most books today that analyze the Bible do so homiletically. They do not tell the readers what the Bible is saying, but the sermon that they think the reader should derive from the Bible, a moral that is generally not even implied in the text itself. Frequently, readers think that the lesson is in the text and are misled.
Dishi, an educator, Orthodox rabbi, and lawyer, takes a different approach. He analyses the biblical narrative from a literary and psychological approach. This frequently reveals that the patriarchs did not act properly. They were human. In his introduction, he writes that he recognizes that his approach, which is not unique, may bother some readers, but he quotes good recognized Orthodox sources that support this kind of analysis.
Readers may or may not agree with his assessment of the nine episodes that he probes. But this is in not important. Even if and when they disagree, they will find that Dishi's method provokes them to think about the issues Dishi raises and develop their own ideas.
For example, Dishi shows by a careful close reading of the Torah text, that Jacob's mother Rebecca did not suggest to Jacob that he deceive his father Isaac into thinking he is Jacob's brother Esau; it was Jacob's idea. This leads to the question, why did Jacob feel that he was justified in deceiving his father? Also, why did his father Isaac love Esau more than in him?
Dishi suggests that Isaac had a great fondness for venison ever since his father Abraham almost sacrificed him and, at the last moment, substituted a ram. This may seem to some readers as going too far from the text, but one should not decide until reading Dishi's reasoning.
Another example is Jacob's hidden agenda. After working for his father in law for twenty years, he calls his two wives and tries to persuade them to abandon their father and join him in returning to his homeland in Canaan. Dishi sees Jacob using six strategies. These include his mentioning "their father" four times to gauge his wives' reaction, to see where their loyalties lie. After all, they had sided with their father against him when Laban had arranged the conjugal switch of giving him Leah instead of his promised Rachael. He tells them that Laban had changed his wages ten times, but the Torah records no wage swap. He omits telling his wives that he manipulated rods to reduce the number of sheep that Laban would get. He claims that God told him that he knows all that Laban is doing to him, but the Bible text does not report that this actually occurred.
In his Afterword, Dishi writes that as a child, he liked the midrashic Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but as he grew older, he was unable to identify with the figures these sermons offered. He says that he finds "parallels between the analyses (I) provided in this book and my own life experiences." Readers may read different events into the narrative based on their own life experiences, but need to thank Dishi for raising questions and offering solutions, and for encouraging them to do so as well.