Monday, July 21, 2008

On Resentment and Getting a Wife, Old School

15Then Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?” 16Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17Leah’s eyes were lovely, and Rachel was graceful and beautiful. 18Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.” 19Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me.” 20So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her. 21Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed.” 22So Laban gathered together all the people of the place, and made a feast. 23But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her. 24(Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her maid.) 25When morning came, it was Leah! And Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?” 26Laban said, “This is not done in our country—giving the younger before the firstborn. 27Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me another seven years.” 28Jacob did so, and completed her week; then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as a wife. ~ Genesis 29:15-28

Anyone out there hear this story for the first time in the context of "Fiddler on the Roof"? Perchik, the itinerant revolutionary, tutors Tevye's youngest daughters, tells the story, and draws himself up to his full height, and says, "Therefore you can see that the Bible clearly teaches that employers are not to be trusted" (or something along those lines).

It's a laugh line. It gives Hodel a chance to needle Perchik, and gives him a chance to break down some boundaries with her (because, of course, they end up together). But the purpose of using the story is to show how people bend their interpretation of scripture to suit their own interpretive, political and personal goals.

This is such an awful story. Anyone, this far into the Genesis stories, getting tired of infertility as a trope? (Raising my hand.) Anyone, loving these stories, still cringing along with me at the way these people mistreat one another? (Raising my hand again.) Anyone recognize themselves in at least one if not more characters? (Yeah.... you know.)

Personally, I have been both Leah and Jacob, the unloved wife and the one longing for someone other than his spouse. I have, I see it now, spent a lot of time feeling I have been wronged.

What is that all about, I wonder? I think perhaps I have been wronged now and then, but I have done the wronging, too, oh my, yes I have. In 12-step groups we talk a lot about resentments. They are considered toxic and dangerous to the addict. Resentments are what give us permission to drink/ drug/ gamble/ binge/ cheat/ have illicit sexual liaisons (depending upon your particular addiction, of course). Someone at a meeting said, "Resentment is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die." Isn't that the truest thing?

Truth be told: we hurt one another. Sometimes, intentionally. Often, inadvertently. We hurt one another, and life can be painful as a result. But it can be beautiful too. Forgiveness is one of the most beautiful things we can give one another. It is release, for the forgiver and the forgiven, both at once.

I wonder about Laban. Did he just have it in for Jacob? Why was that? Did he get a telegram from Esau before Jacob ever pulled up to the well? Did he decide this guy was too big for his britches, and he needed to be taken down a peg?

Notice where God is in the story: no where. Not until wombs start opening and drying up. God lets the people work all this stuff out themselves. But God does, in the end, seem to love a love story just as much as the next guy.


Wormwood's Doxy said...

But God does, in the end, seem to love a love story just as much as the next guy.

Oh, YES! :-)

Julie said...

I have always really disliked this story even from childhood. I always felt real sorry for Leah. Whenever this story was told in church I would think here it comes again (It was usually told from some real chauvinistic male perspective which probably added to my ire.). The comment about God letting people work stuff out themselves was great.

Songbird said...

I like your thoughts on this story. There was a fascinating piece about contemporary Muslim polygamy in America on NPR a couple of months ago, and it's on my mind as I read this story. We have a lot of constructions for "what works" or "what might work," but they don't always account for human feelings (including resentment!).

RevDrKate said...

Yep and Amen!

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

"Resentment is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die."


suzanne said...

Cecilia, Thank you, thank you. You have no idea how timely your post is.

Life is rather toxic in my house these days, but then it has been for a while. The resentment over real hurts and percieved hurts has been building between my spouse and I and it seems a bit insurmountable just now, but your statement about forgiveness, well that hit home and is the key. I'll work on that.

I love your blog and look forward to your regular postings.


Kate said...

Well, that comment about resentment and poison just hit me in the head like the proverbial brick.

Methinks I need to go and think on that some...

Thank you! (Ow.)

Jen said...

The part about I know what I'll be tossing around in my head for a while to come. Thanks, so powerful and so timely.

Diane said...

yeah, like the ending, too :)