Benjamin Rubin

Ballad of Jacob Isaacson – أغنية يعقوب ابن إسحاق – הבלדה על יעקוב בן יצחק

YouTube video "Ballad of Jacob Isaacson" title. Screen capture, by B. Rubin

This is a rock ballad.  I wrote the lyrics, and I sing them to an old Dylan tune. Then I set the song as the soundtrack to an animated rock video which I produced.

This is the English language version of the Ballad. It will be translated into poetic Hebrew (as הבלדה על יעקוב בן יצחק) and into Arabic (as أغنية يعقوب ابن إسحاق). And then, using the same backing track, sung as Hebrew and Arabic versions of the identical animation video.

The lyrics are a contemporary ballad treatment of the Torah story of Jacob, including, especially, his relationship and ultimate reconciliation with his twin brother, Esau. This project, which I have been working on for a long time, now seems suddenly very relevant.

I believe (naively, but believe nonetheless) that this Torah narrative of Jacob and Esau, non-identical twin sons of the same father and mother, with bad blood between them, who eventually reconcile, provides a Biblical-based alternative vision that might make a positive contribution to the terrible conflict in Israel and Palestine, and the tension worldwide between Jews and Muslims.

I also tell the Torah’s tale of Jacob, who is transformed, after his long night of struggle with – an angel? a man? – from “Jacob” to “Israel”. Israel, from whom are descended the Children of Israel: Bnai Yisrael; the Jews. This song is a poetic treatment of that all-night “wrestling with beings, human and divine”, that renames “Jacob” – for 2000 years the Jewish minority wandering about the world in Exile from their land – into “Israel”, a sovereign Jewish majority living in their historic homeland.

The “Ballad of Jacob, son of Isaac” is a psychological/literary retelling of three Torah portions (Toldot, VaYetzei and VaYishlach), the last of which is read this year on Saturday December 2, 2023.  So this initial English-language rock video is being released on November 29 ק׳ט בנובמבר Kaf Tet b’November, commemorating that day in 1947, just two years after the defeat of the Nazis and the liberation of the concentration camps, when the UN voted in favour of the Partition of Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state.

I hope that this song may, in some small way, make a contribution to securing Israel’s place among the family of nations, and to brotherly reconciliation.

Here are my lyrics:

The Ballad of Jacob Isaacson

Standing, as the river at the Ford of Jabbok,

as your fleeing heart, and your deceitful talk,

are flowing.

Messengers sent, arrive, return,

From the place of Red, to where you Return,

to the Land where you are going.

A lord, a servant, the younger brother in fact

Reveal your story by words you speak, by how you act.

Jacob as Israel redefined:
Strive-with-beings-human-and-divine. Oh! Jacob Isaacson

Man of two Cultures, born wrestling your twin

catch Esau’s ankle as he leaves within

your suffering mother.

Rebecca’s Matriarch, she’s totally there

But you’d never dare

talk about her   with your brother.

Cuz she favoured one culture: shepherd, not hunter; it’s true.

She deceived her own blind husband so the blessing would go to you.

Jacob as Israel redefined:
Strive-with-beings-human-and-divine.  Oh! Jacob Isaacson

Sun sets; head, on stones you rest;

God of Dad, by whom you’re blessed,

plants dreams of a climbing ladder!

You’re a refugee; threat of death you fled,

Birthright repo man, to wells where flocks are fed

You moved a boulder!

Empty-handed lover, seeks a beauty fit to bear future kings;

Offer labour for a bride price, 7 years ‘stead of camels and rings

Jacob as Israel redefined:
Strive-with-beings-human-and-divine.  Oh! Jacob Isaacson

You love Rachel, so seven years seem seven days;

That first sight kiss – she waters, you gaze –

led to weeping.

Like you, Lavan deceives the blind

So on your wedding night, so unkind,

with her older sister you’re sleeping.

So you fulfill Leah’s week with a veiled unhappy bride;

Then took her comely barren sister, who you love,

to the tent, just outside.

Jacob as Israel redefined:
Strive-with-beings-human-and-divine.  Oh! Jacob Isaacson

Well the birds and bees of goats; to be a shepherd:

The laws of the mammal, and the herd,

are your only teachers.

By DNA pillars, by trade in mandrakes:

Not how to kill wild beasts, but how to mate

domesticated creatures.

11 sons, 1 daughter and flocks born in the hills of Harran,

20 years’ worth of grazing, far from the Promised Land.

Jacob as Israel redefined:
Strive-with-beings-human-and-divine.  Oh! Jacob Isaacson

You lived off the land in the great indoors

But it’s time to go back.  What you did is yours.

Wives.  Sons. And daughter.

Salt licks, saddle bags, fruits of your labour

Camels you’ll give to gain favour

of your estranged brother.

Fear. Anxiety.  A divided camp.  You say:

“I’m commanded to return.  Deliver me, I pray!”

Jacob as Israel redefined:
Strive-with-beings-human-and-divine.  Oh! Jacob Isaacson

At the Ford of Jabbok, that night of not fleeing,

You wrestle a divine human being;

He must be your twin.

So evenly matched in mindset, resemblance,

that you wrestle in all night endurance,

and neither one can win.

At the break of dawn he yanks your hip with pain

So you ask for his blessing, and he gives you a new name:

Jacob as Israel redefined:
Strive-with-beings-human-and-divine.  Oh! Jacob Isaacson

Your twin you surpassed, give him half a thousand beasts

Esau parts ways, founds Edom in the east;

Don’t kill you; don’t share it.

For a moral claim, give a material offer

From face of God, Esau’s face doesn’t differ;

Both brothers inherit.

Leave Lavan, reconcile with Esau your brother

So when your father breathes his last, you can bury him.

Both. Together.

Jacob as Israel redefined:
Strive-with-beings-human-and-divine.  Oh! Jacob Isaacson


About the Author
Benjamin Rubin was Chair of Limmud Toronto 2018, elected to Zionist Congress, and VP of Canada-Israel Chamber of Commerce. Under his pen name eBenBrandeis, he composes YouTube poems, translated from Hebrew a pre-war Pinsk biography, edited and published a book of contemporary Jewish humour, and created, a Zionist conceptual art project. Since retiring from the practice of law, he and his wife split their time between Toronto and Tel Mond. He has an abiding interest in Israeli contemporary music, the Golden Age of Hebrew poets from Andalusia, and the Muslim-Christian-Jewish convivencia of Spain. Writer, producer and director of the Zoom teleplay series, “Golden Age Travel”, about 12th century Hebrew poet and Arabic Jewish philosopher, Yehuda HaLevi, travelling through time. Episodes of the series have been performed online at Limmud Festivals in Toronto, Boston, Seattle and Winnipeg. GAT episode VI, "Berlin 28, Paris 38, Jerusalem 61" was premiered at Limmud Toronto November 2021.
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