Monday, April 10, 2006

Call me Ismael.

I knew that Abraham was the father of Judaism, that he formed the first covenant with God and affirmed his faith in God by offering up his pre-teen son, Isaac, as directed by God, as a burnt offering to God (thus REALLY becoming the first Jewish father by royally fucking up his son for life with childhood guilts, trust issues and other traumas), which, luckily, God put a stop to before it could be carried out. That much I knew. I also knew that Isaac survived, at least in body, and became a father himself, of Esau (the hairy man, the hunter) and Jacob (the girly, spiritual one, the gatherer), who put the fun in dysfunctional sibling relationships, long after Caine offed his brother Abel.

Where a I going with this?

What I did not know, until my six-year-old was kind enough to inform me, was that Abraham had another son, in addition to Isaac (whose name means "laughter", go figure), whose name was Ismael. Ismael was the son of Abraham and a slave girl named Hagar, who was Egyptian. Abraham cast them out when he became the father of Isaac with his wife, Sarah (not so nice, but these were not the days of political correctness). And it is widely believed that Ismael and his progeny became the first Muslims. Thus, the Muslims and the Jews turn out to have common bloodlines. My little Adam also informed me that in Iraq, they have blood tests that can tell one whether his Muslim blood is mingling within his veins with the blood of Jews as well.

Aside from that, when you really get to thinking about all of this, you start to realize that this is actually the "prequel" to the blockbuster Passover Story, which is also referred to by Hollywood types as "The Ten Commandments". And hey, who can blame them for making and now remaking 10-C? It is amitvah to tell and retell the Passover Story again and again and again, year after year for generations and generations and generations, ad infinitum (as pointed out by a generous commentator, a "mitvah" really isn't something that is "auspicious"; I would like to say that a mitvah is something that is a good deed because that is what it has come to mean in common parlance, but in truth, mitvot (plural of mitvah) are commandments, required, not optional). Also (as Anon points out), as Jews, we have a duty to tell the Passover Story over and over and over again, for generations and generations and generations to come, ad infinitum. We should never forget the story of how we went from slavery to freedom, of how we overcame oppression, of how we received God's miracles and blessings and, of course, the Torah.

The Passover story always ends the same way: Next year in Jerusalem. Makes sense: a story of how our anscestors reached their promised land ought to end with the hope that someday we will find it as well. Personally, I like to go a bit abstract here and envision "Next year in Jerusalem" not as literally "let's do this in Israel" or "let's go live in Israel", but rather, "Next year, in freedom from what keeps us bound." To me, a Passover Celebration would not be complete without a roundtable discussion of what freedom means to each person present and how we might set ourselves free in the coming year.

The Passover Story itself begins, at least in the Yoga Chickie family, with the cliff-hanging, somewhat foreboding statement: "One day there came a Pharaoh who knew not Joseph...." In order to understand the significance of that statement, you have to understand who Joseph was, why Joseph was so special, and why his relationship with the Pharoah was crucial to the well-being of Joseph's family and larger community.

Ever hear of the musical, "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat"? If so, and if you saw it, or otherwise know the story, then you probably already know a bit of the "Passover Prequel". Long story short, Joseph was one of the many sons of Jacob, but one of the few children of his favorite wife, Rachel. Joseph was special. He was good with people. He was eloquent. He knew his way around a difficult situation. And, as you can well imagine, given the whole Jewish sibling rivalry theme that runs so consistently throughout these stories, his brothers and sisters resented him like you can only imagine.

One day, Joseph's siblings got together and decided it would be really funny to sell Joseph into slavery with the Pharaoh. Ha ha! Thing was, it wasn't long before Joseph found his way into the Pharoah's inner circle. He interpretted dreams, and his interpretations proved prescient. He dreamed of seven years of feast, and seven years of famine. All of that which he dreamed came to pass, of course. And Joseph became a made man, as least as so far as the Pharoah was concerned. To this particular Pharoah, Joseph was DA man.

Then one day, there came a Pharaoh who knew not Joseph.

It's kind of like when you're working as a cog in the corporate wheel, and you've got your boss who likes you, and your boss's boss who likes your boss, and you have the whole pecking order right on up to some Exectuive Vice President pretty well covered, maybe even right up to the CEO. And then boom....someone leaves, gets canned, gets replaced. And then who the hell are you? Where do you fit in? Suddenly, your relationships are strained. Suddenly, you're not who you thought you were. Suddenly, you find that you have no influence over the people you report to. And suddenly you find that those people you report to have decided that you should just shut the hell up and act like the piece of crap slave that you are. Y tu mama tambien.

OK, maybe that is an exaggeration (I recently watched Office Space for the third time, so I am feeling particularly corporate-hostile) least in the corporate setting. But not so in the biblical setting. However bad you think it might have been, it was far worse, I am sure. Not only were the Jews in Egypt sent into slavery, but between the time Moses's brother, Aaron was born and the time Moses, himself, was born, a law was passed by the then-Pharoah that all babies born to Jews should be killed.

Which is how it came to pass that Moses was placed in what is now called a "moses basket" and sent down the river, where he was found by the then-Pharoah's daughter. This is exactly what was supposed to happen. This is how Miriam planned it, Miriam being Moses's sister. Miriam was a handmaiden for the Pharoah's daughter, and she and her mom hatched this plan so that the life of Moses might be spared. Where does the religion come into the story? Well, God allowed this to happen. Perhaps God even whispered the idea into Moses's mother's ear. And God saw to it that Moses arrived safely exactly where he was supposed arrive: at the river bank, where the Pharoah's daughter was taking her bath.

Pharoah's daughter :"Oh! Look! A cute little baby boy, floating down the river....I think I will keep this cute little baby for myself!! But am I going to care for a baby by myself? I really need to find a nanny. And a wetnurse, while I'm at it..."

And that was then Miriam, who had been hiding in the tall grasses beside the river the entire time, spoke up: "Well, might I suggest that I know this Jewish slave lady, who had a baby whom she killed as was required by law, so she still is wet with milk...might I take the liberty to arrange to have this Jewish slave lady be your wet nurse, whaddaya say?"

"Sounds good to me."

Of course, the Jewish slave lady was Moses's mommy. And such an incredibly mommy she was. Moses's mom knew that Moses was special. She also knew that her time with her child was limited. So she made the absolute best of her time with her child, staying with him constantly until he was weaned (probably around the time he was close to three years old).

Story to be continued....



Anonymous said...

Dear Yoga Chickie,

"Mitvah" does not mean "auspicious." A mitvah is a commandment, of which there are actually 613 (that's right: the ten big ones are only ten out of 613). It's not simply that Jews think it's a good idea to do the Passover thing, Jews are COMMANDED to re-tell the Passover story. It's a requirement. Now lots of people don't like the authoritarianism implicit in the language, but I guess they are also the same ones who whould find Ashtanga boring and/or problematic, so they would go off to take "flow" classes.

The Ishamel stroy is not at all obscure. It's right there in Genesis, along with the story of how Sarah "laughed" when informed by God that she would have a son. Why did she laugh? Because she was very, very old. And the Hebrew root of the name Isaac is the same as "to laugh." I'm very impressed that your son is learning about Hagar and Ishamel at such a tender age. This is quite progressive. If you don't watch out, they may teach him about EVOLUTION!!! (JOKE) Have a great holiday.

samasthiti said...

I like the technicolor ye olde movie version. I watch it every year. I love the special effects and crazy sound stage sets.
Office space! I just watched that again recently too!
Funny movie!

samasthiti said...

I like the technicolor ye olde movie version. I watch it every year. I love the special effects and crazy sound stage sets.
Office space! I just watched that again recently too!
Funny movie!

Anonymous said...

Love your commentary. You should bring it to the Seder.


Anonymous said...

happy passover
texas yid

Sergio said...

I've always had the most respectful curiosity towards Judaism, even though I was brought up a Catholic (which is the major religion here in Spain, in terms of number of practicioners and, sadly, influence, despite it's not the official religion anymore). Stories and analysis like this one are very interesting for me. The Jewish community in Spain is very small, to the point that there's only one synagogue in the Canary Islands. I came to know a Jewish couple (she is a convert, I think), him being of Austrian ascendent but born in Argentina. He lived in Israel, in a kibbutz, for some years, before knowing her. We've had some incredibly deep but relaxed conversations about religion. It's sad that people are becoming less and less open about their believes these days.

Anonymous said...

"And it is widely believed that Ismael and his progeny became the first Muslims."
This is as widely believed as Abraham is the father of the Jews. In Arabic, Abraham is "Ibrahim" and the modern-day Arabs love to liken the current Israeli-Palestinian situation to that of Hagar and Ishmael...Jews casting out Arabs....

DK said...


Please continue the story.

yoga chickie said...

Anon - I can totally see that, and I was wondering when that was going to come up on took 8 comments apparently...I wasn't going to be the one to say it....see, you get to be anonymous. I am OUT there. Ya know?

Story will continue later...


Anonymous said...

I'm not likening it. The Arab community does. This seems like news to you, but I assure you, its been around as long as, oh, let's say the day AFTER the 6-day war...

yoga chickie said...

Honey, if you're looking for original political commentary, you're in the wrong space. But it looks like you've already figured that out...

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Northern Westchester, New York, United States
I live by a duck pond. I used to live by the East River. I don't work. I used to work a lot. Now, not so much. I used to teach a lot of yoga. Now not so much. I still practice a lot of yoga though. A LOT. I love my kids, being outdoors, taking photos, reading magazines, writing and stirring the pot. Enjoy responsibly.


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