Jacob’s Struggle

by Josh Yarden

Translation has its limitations

how do you say…

we stumble, severely at times

We do not realize when we do not realize

understanding stands down

misunderstanding stands in


The translator pretends to be Superman

disguised as a reporter for the Daily Planet

able to leap tall constructs in a single bound

Translators transcend boundaries

across time and place

we have all sorts of advantages

Just one mysterious weakness

we are vulnerable to the substance of our planet

Kryptonite is a cryptic message

Once free of the burden of place

eternal outsiders are never stuck at home

odd ducks can swim in any lake or just fly away

We carry our roots on the journey

pick them up put them down

leave them behind move on

No wonder the journey gets confusing

take Jacob, resting at the Jabok crossing

stumbling in hesitation, guessing and second guessing

Translating Genesis

I try to figure out what I can understand

what the other superheroes may have missed

It's not just the words that are there

the power is in-between the lines

this is where the revelation lies

“Jacob” is a meaningless word, in English

the Hebrew, “Ya’akov,” tells us he is a follower

a shadow perhaps, cast on the path toward his future self

Ya’akov fears the light of day


©2014 Copyright, Mardie Rees, All Rights Reserved

is about to hit his face

he walks West to Canaan

His shadow will disappear at high noon

in time for a duel with Esau

to prepare, he must first encounter himself

. . .

Jacob is left alone1

a man wrangling with him[self]2

until the dawn ascends

he sees that he cannot contend with him[self]

touches his thigh, wrenches his hip

Jacob, in his struggle with him[self]

and he says force me3 as the dawn is ascendent

and he says I will not force you

unless you bless me

and he says, what is your name

and he says Jacob

and he says no longer will your name be Jacob-Shadow, but rather Israel-Eternal Struggler

because you have struggled with the eternal

and with people

and you are able

and Jacob asks, saying, tell me your name

and he says why ask my name

and he blesses him there

and Jacob names the place Facing Eternity

because I saw the Eternal face-to-face

and my soul was saved

and the sun rises up in the east

when he transitions past Facing Eternity

and he stumbles on his hip

. . .

We all stumble at times

on the way

or on the way back

Looking for his way

Jacob gets hold of himself

grabs himself in a dream


©2014 Copyright, Mardie Rees, All Rights Reserved

Imagine the stress

by day he leads his household

by night he wanders and wonders

Carries all their trauma

feels the promise patiently

squeezing through a precarious passage

He has to imagine

a path he cannot see

darkness hovers again over the abyss

Jacob closes his eyes to rest

wishing there would be light

he imagines a new beginning

He can see his own anticipation

just a few feet beyond

his anxiety

Suddenly he is locked in a hold

he sees his own face looking back at him

he beholds his own stumbling block

So nearly exhausted

tell me your name, he says

and he says why ask my name

For a split second

he is looking

in two directions

Offering a blessing to his future self

watching his former self fade into the past

he envisions the light of his reinvention

The synapses fire

beginning in his mind’s eye

he realizes his eternal potential to become

Emerging from fear

calls for ingenuity

words cannot suffice

1. The next 24 lines are translated from Genesis 32:23-33. Here is the Hebrew text:

וַיִּוָּתֵר יַעֲקֹב לְבַדּוֹ
וַיֵּאָבֵק אִישׁ עִמּוֹ
עַד עֲלוֹת הַשָּׁחַר

וַיַּרְא כִּי לֹא יָכֹל לוֹ
וַיִּגַּע בְּכַף-יְרֵכוֹ וַתֵּקַע כַּף-יֶרֶךְ
יַעֲקֹב בְּהֵאָבְקוֹ עִמּוֹ

וַיֹּאמֶר שַׁלְּחֵנִי כִּי עָלָה הַשָּׁחַר
וַיֹּאמֶר לֹא אֲשַׁלֵּחֲךָ
כִּי אִם-בֵּרַכְתָּנִי

וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו מַה-שְּׁמֶךָ
וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב
וַיֹּאמֶר לֹא יַעֲקֹב יֵאָמֵר עוֹד שִׁמְךָ–כִּי, אִם-יִשְׂרָאֵל

כִּי-שָׂרִיתָ עִם-אֱלֹהִים

וַיִּשְׁאַל יַעֲקֹב וַיֹּאמֶר הַגִּידָה-נָּא שְׁמֶךָ
וַיֹּאמֶר לָמָּה זֶּה תִּשְׁאַל לִשְׁמִי
וַיְבָרֶךְ אֹתוֹ שָׁם

וַיִּקְרָא יַעֲקֹב שֵׁם הַמָּקוֹם פְּנִיאֵל
כִּי-רָאִיתִי אֱלֹהִים פָּנִים אֶל-פָּנִים
וַתִּנָּצֵל נַפְשִׁי

וַיִּזְרַח-לוֹ הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ
כַּאֲשֶׁר עָבַר אֶת-פְּנוּאֵל
וְהוּא צֹלֵעַ עַל-יְרֵכוֹ

עַל-כֵּן לֹא-יֹאכְלוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת-גִּיד הַנָּשֶׁה
אֲשֶׁר עַל-כַּף הַיָּרֵךְ עַד הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה
כִּי נָגַע בְּכַף-יֶרֶךְ יַעֲקֹב, בְּגִיד הַנָּשֶׁה

2. There is no definitive indication in the passage that Jacob/Ya'akov is the man wrangling with himself, but neither is there any other clear indication who the man is or how he entered the scene. Most translations suggest that there is some other being there, human or Divine, actually or as a metaphor. The passage does, however, clearly indicate that Jacob is alone at night, and we know that he is a dreamer. It stands to reason, as one possible reading of this ambiguous text, that Jacob himself, the herdsman, is a lone wrangler, dreaming about his future in the form of symbols that only make sense in the unconscious light of a dream.

3. Here the verb, שלח/sh-l-kh, is the same one used in reference to Adam & Eve being forced out of the Garden, and it is the same that Moses uses to exhort Pharaoh to force the Israelite slaves out of Egypt. It seems that these are all struggles with authority, human and eternal, divine or existential. Liberation from oppression is always a challenge, always won through a struggle with a more powerful entity, never handed down on a platter, for if that were the case, there would have been no oppression, and no need for liberation.

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