Let me start with the deepest expression of gratitude for taking Yaakov into business. You can’t possibly know the nakhes I get in reading letters from Yaakov about his success. I know how much of a risk it was to bet on a free spirit who hadn’t found himself in his late seventies getting his act together; but even if no one else saw Yaakov’s promise, I knew you couldn’t have picked a better mensch. In case I didn’t make it clear at the wedding, you diffused a family predicament somewhat like what happened between Lot and Abba Betuel when we were kids, so I knew that when you saw Yaakov you would guess at the general idea of what brought him to you before he even told you. I have nothing but gratitude for how you brought Yaakov into the House of Terakh as an untried associate. I’ve worried for years that you wouldn’t see what I see in him, and I worry that his father never has.
This makes it doubly unfortunate that I have to speak to you unpleasantly again, but the fact remains that you gave my son permission to marry Rokhel, you knew that Rokhel was the daughter he wanted to marry, and Yaakov swears that all the contracts he signed with you said ‘Rokhel’, not ‘Leyah’. So why then did you give him a different bride than the one he earned? I know I told you at the wedding how unfair a trick you pulled on Yaakov in front of his hundred-twenty year old mother – a mother who’d journeyed for six months just to kvell over her son marrying the love of his life; and I understand I’m an outsider to your situation, but I feel the need to re-emphasize how cruel it was.
Yitzhak’s old and blind. We have no family member in Canaan of proper bloodline to run the corporation but Esav, a son with so much seykhel he sold his birthright for a bowl of soup. He put half our money into a huge investment hinging on getting a hunt-for-profit license whose credit check we may not even pass. I had Eliezer-ibn-Eliezer draw up a report. HIs projections showed that big game has a high short-term yield but that the hunting bubble could pop very soon.
I’m so happy Yaakov’s employment worked out as it has, but we need Yaakov to return as soon as possible to run our organization, and he won’t return without Rokhel as his wife. You obviously lied to Yaakov because you find him valuable, but please, I’m begging you, let him marry Rokhel so we can bring him and his family back to his old mother before she dies.
Barukh Hashem and much love,
It’s been nearly 90 years since you left for Canaan and I still have to remind you to stay out of my business. This is why you never got married until you were 40! I don’t know why you need Yaakov to return so badly. You proudly told me at the wedding how influential you are in House Avraham and your ideas to improve in their production, if this meshuggeh idea for two entries in the bookkeeping is so successful, why do you need Yaakov?
So since you claim you’re an accomplished person of business, I’ll explain all this to you businessman to businessman, though I imagine this is a station you’ve earned completely by marriage. I’ll also explain this situation parent to parent, which you’ve obviously done an exemplary job at even if you clearly play favorites.
I don’t know why you or Yaakov think an eighty-four year old man has any business marrying a girl who’s barely 19, let alone the twelve-year-old she was when Yaakov kissed her when they first met at the well. Yaakov swore he thought she was at least ten years older, but even if she were 22, what the hell is a seventy-seven year old doing proposing to someone more than half a century his junior? I thought I was doing the right thing by separating them and that you’d support me, but please understand, this compromise is win/win for everybody.
Maybe you haven’t read the tablets for the last half century but just in case you forgot, the Sumerian Empire just collapsed and it almost killed my whole family and millions more. Let’s also not forget that the whole mess started over that dispute Avraham got mixed up in over the Valley of Siddim.
Yaakov and I just spent the last seven years moving the family out of Ur and re-establishing ourselves in Kharan, An & Enlil and Enki be praised. It’s a miracle we’re alive and we have entirely Yaakov to thank, but neither of us have made any profit by his years with the House of Terakh, and if he wants to make real money, he needs to stay another seven years.
Without whatever angels bless your son, there’d be no Terakh House anymore, so in spite of his questionable taste in women, the House of Terakh loves Yaakov. He’s a sheep broker with skill by the terracubit, and has it in him to be a visionary in our fields. Maybe a mensch like Yaakov could have found himself sooner if his mother disciplined him more, but he’s exactly the kind of trail-smart entrepreneur that’s indispensable to Terakh House’s survival.
What would Yaakov do in Canaan anyway? It took so much work to get him out of that desert where the only body of water is that dead sea which is more dehydrating than the sand. How long would Yaakov stay if he ever came back? Even a prodigy son like Yaakov would be as helpless as Esav against drought. I guarantee that either Yaakov or his kids will end up in Egypt where there are growth fields and jobs.
And you don’t even need Yaakov! In spite of how badly you speak of him, Esav is thriving. I’ve seen your financial statements. Your endowment increases an aggregate of 18% every lunar year, even from what it was when “Yitzhak” was the boss. Your livestock dividend expands every quarter and Esav diversified a whole second arm of your securities by moving House Avraham into big game, where the real money is. There’s nothing that Yaakov can do in Khevron that Esav can’t, and what would Yaakov do for House Avraham that he doesn’t do here on a larger scale?
Incidentally, it was very tactful of you to come to the wedding without your husband, since the whole party would have recognized your husband as Yishmael, who suspiciously disappeared from the House of Terakh eighty years ago, fifty years after he suspiciously came to us from the House of Avraham. It was clear from the way you spoke about “Yitzhak” that you two are having trouble.
As for Leyah, whenever you meet her again, you’ll understand. She’s lovely in every way, and will be such a better wife and mother than Rokhel. Yaakov is his grandfather’s grandson in so many ways who never stops dreaming extravagantly, but Leyah will talk him down from those heights he always sees. She’s pragmatic, she’s grounded, never makes a fuss, and OK, she has lots of pockmarks from when she had staphylococcus, but you didn’t see what she went through. Before the illness she was just as captivating as Rokhel, but for the rest of her life she’ll have scars left from boils covering every parasa of her body. When she was sick she was in excruciating pain and couldn’t leave bed for a year; but she never complained, never screamed, always apologized for the inconvenience, and always reminded Rokhel about her incomplete textile weaving – not that Rokhel ever finished… It’s a miracle Leyah’s alive. She always had the most beautiful eyes in the world and no boil could ever take them away. Not once has this daughter of mine ever had a suitor, but she has a right to a family as much as Rokhel, and deserves it much more. Even if Yaakov is not in love with her, they’ve always been friendly and she clearly has feelings for him. It will be a great marriage and she will create the best family for him. Who needs to love their spouse?
Rokhel, on the other hand, is unmistakably beautiful, but she’s troublesome and reckless, has a terrible temper, bears false witness all the time, and I honestly think she’s a kleptomaniac. She told me her suitors left because they saw how in love she was with Yaakov, but she bribed multiple suitors to leave by offering them a night with her handmaid, Bilhah, who to be perfectly honest is my illegitimate daughter. It will be a scandal if people ever found out that one daughter of mine is pimping another, even an illegitimate one. Let’s hope that Rokhel will calm down, but Yaakov has no idea the whirlwind he reaps if they marry.
But here’s the real reason I had to prevent the marriage, which Yaakov doesn’t know. Hopefully my sharing this secret will convince you that I’m an honest marriage broker, because if I didn’t tell the truth until now it was best for everyone. This secret must stay between us on the pain of enmity between our houses. I’m sorry to threaten something extreme, but this secret is just that horrible.
Of course, the official record is that Rokhel is still pure, but the truth is that my furrier bondsman got her pregnant. He seduced her by making her a really tacky coat. Rokhel, thinking of no consequence, surrendered her virginity and brought shame on our house. I had no choice but to order our healer to abort the baby. He warned me that after taking the potion Rokhel wouldn’t have children for another thirty-three years. Rokhel doesn’t know, Yaakov doesn’t know, I don’t want them to ever find out, and on pain of war between our houses you can never tell them.
So instead I put Yaakov on a second, more lucrative contract. Let’s all give this another seven years. Yaakov will calm down when he has kids and realizes what a great wife Leyah is and hopefully her younger sister will stop being a korveh. If Yaakov still wants Rokhel, Rokhel will, An-willing, calm down and they can attempt that kind of romantic marriage the Jubalians always sing about. Meanwhile, Leyah will be the real wife.
Aside from everything else, the coat was a monstrosity, it has… well… it has a lot of colors…. I can’t even give it to another tribe as a gift.
An & Enlil and Enki be praised and all my love,
Thank you so much for inviting me to the wedding of Yaakov and Rokhel, for as long ago as it should have happened, it really was lovely. The Arabian caterer couldn’t have been more understanding about my dietary restrictions, and I could not believe how beautiful the Babylonian floral arrangements were, but nothing could have been more beautiful than Rokhel. Was her dress Trojan?
I wish I could write seven letters to you kvelling about the wedding but unfortunately i have to speak to you again because of something troubling I saw while I was there. My son showed me ten cuneiform invoices demonstrating you’ve paid him one-third his full earnings. He tells me that every time he raises a new cattle herd, he creates much better herds than yours, only for you to pull rank and commandeer his better-fed herd just before the harvest in exchange for the drek herds you raise. Whatever the state of the herds you give Yaakov, he always creates more good herds only for you to steal his herds again. Please understand, none of this is meant as a criticism of your skill as a cattle trader, Yaakov just thinks you’re saving money by starving the animals – what shepherds do to their animals in private is their own affair.
Lavan, it’s bad enough you cheated Yaakov on his wedding, but you begged Yaakov to stay with your firm because of the better professional opportunities, only for you to steal his business. Every time you steal merchandise from him, he creates better profits out of the bopkes you hand him, only for you to leave him with bopkes again.
All Yaakov wants is to return with his family to Canaan and make an honest living. I know we’ve always had occasional trouble Lavan, but I honestly never thought you were a liar or a gonif. Please show me you’re the righteous person I always knew was in you.
Baruch Hashem and Love….
I deserve better from you. You know perfectly well that on the morning Rokhel found Yaakov he’d smoked so much hash that he was literally seeing angels walk up and down a ladder. Now, when he’s nearly ninety, he finally gets his act together and absorbs invaluable corporate experience, and that’s not enough? You remember Dad, do you really think Abba Betuel was any different with me than I am with Yaakov?
I know you love your son, but you have another son whose scribe keeps writing me about how you treat him. Esav is doing better than ever for House Avraham, but after what they wrote me it’s a little tiresome to read you accuse me again of dishonesty.
That birthright story was really shocking. Esav offered Yaakov his birthright in exchange for a bowl of soup as a joke, and once Yaakov jokingly took it, he threatened to burn it rather than give it back; and when you heard about it, you not only didn’t demand Yaakov return it to its rightful owner, you deliberately tricked ‘Yitzhak’ into giving Yaakov the Blessing too.
Do I really have to remind you that our firm’s ‘tricks’ are the reason you have any sons at all? You’re the one who wanted to marry that crazy side of the family which claims they’re ‘chosen’ by a god they never see, cuts the foreskin off its babies but doesn’t sacrifice them, and thinks themselves so morally superior to the rest of the world that they whore out their wives and expel their concubines (and don’t think all that ‘explulsion’ in the House of Avraham is over just because your meshuggeh father-in-law is dead). How many of your grandchildren will even be able to stay in Canaan? Your side of the family is so fucked up that your favorite son had to run away to save his life. Fortunately he had a rich uncle to employ him, though apparently if he’s rich he has no problems at all…
Please understand, the head of the house always gets the plumb herds, that’s the way it’s always been; you know that very well, but what you might not understand is how difficult things still are. Whatever luxury we knew in the old days of Ur, An & Enlil and Enki be praised, that’s over now. We came to this new country with nothing, and over fifteen years we built a successful multi-empire syndicate that still isn’t half the organization we had in Sumeria, which I shouldn’t need to remind you was liquidated due to anti-semitic discrimination.
I’m just trying to keep expenses low, and as head of Terakh House, if I didn’t take the best shares, Yaakov’s life would be threatened. You never met my son, I discipline him as best you can a schnorrer, but he runs with a very bad crowd of Assyrians. If I let Yaakov keep the best herds, what defense would Yaakov have if my son decides Yaakov’s a threat to the inheritance Boer refuses to work for? Yaakov isn’t a hunter-gatherer like his brother, and even if Boer is as unathletic as the rest of us, his friends are not, and any one of them would make quick work of your son. So please understand, if we made business decisions on the basis of all your womanish worries, we’d all have died a hundred years ago.
Rivka, please understand, I love you, I love Yaakov, I love Leyah and Rokhel, even if Rokhel is a hur…, and I want to see them all thrive. I’m doing what I think is best for us all, especially Yaakov, and very soon he can choose whether to be head of House Terakh or House Avraham.
So as a show of good faith, I’ll tell you what I’ll do. Kharan’s annual livestock fair is in half a year. In six months we’ll have more goats and sheep than any of us know what to do with. Yaakov will get all the black ones, all the spotted and speckled ones, and I’ll just take the pure white.
Your unappreciated brother who loves you, An & Enlil and Enki be praised,
I really can’t believe I have to do this yet again. I read this new promise to Yaakov with great happiness, it was really was amazingly generous, but I just got a letter from Yaakov saying that you removed all the non-white livestock and herded it a three days journey away so Yaakov couldn’t find it. If your word was a stick you couldn’t lean on it.
Is Esav paying you to fercockt all this?
I’d say I’m shocked by your tone but that’s obviously untrue. As I said, if my son ever saw that Yaakov keeps the best herds, what defense would Yaakov have if Boer decides I gave Yaakov the inheritance Boer believes is his by natural right?
Well, Boer heard about our arrangement just hours after I sent the letter. If I respect Yaakov’s safety and his children’s, if I appreciate my own, I had to send the cattle away and stop Yaakov from taking them.
And even if that’s what I did, Yaakov has me to thank for no danger coming to him or his family. Neither of us would be in any danger had he trusted I’ll compensate him properly as soon as possible, but instead he stayed up all night painting spots on the remaining livestock and I legally had let him keep them. Ever since, my son yells at me every day about how I let Yaakov get richer than we are and how I’m cheating him out of his inheritance. Yaakov and I both live every day in fear that Boer will get Assyrians involved in our business dispute. The Mesopotamian police can only protect us so much.
The Assyrian Empire gets closer and closer, and you have no idea what they’re like. We have to avoid getting involved with them. I’ve seen Assyrians slice off a man’s hands, feet, ears, nose, then make him watch as they throw his wife off a high tower. I’ve seen them behead a child, flay alive his brother, then roast a third brother over a fire. In wartime they burn cities to the ground. In peacetime Assyrian cities beat criminals and whip debtors to death, pull out their tongues, gouge out their eyes, impale, behead, make them drink poison, burn children in front of their parents, and not as a sacrifice! Maybe you don’t believe me, but one day they’ll come for Canaan too and you’ll understand.
I don’t expect gratitude, but you owe me appreciation. Every decision I make is to protect the House of Terakh, in which Yaakov is the most important member. Yaakov no longer wants to be head of Terakh House, and that’s a shame for us all, but if he ever does again he’d immediately see that it’s no easier for him to honor vows and covenants than it was for me.
All my love which you don’t currently deserve, but I miss the better times in Ur, An & Enlil and Enki be praised,
How could you not tell me that my son was living in this kind of danger every day for twenty years? Are you exaggerating or have you deliberately kept secret what kind of neighborhood you live in? You had us believe you were running a respectable business, but now you tell me you’re associating with lowlives like the backgammon scum you hustled in Zaydie Nakhor’s barn!
For our whole lives, you told me I have no mind for business because I’m a woman, and for our whole lives I’ve watched you senselessly put our family’s lives in danger just so you could make a profit. First I watched you manipulate your position as heir, your tenure as head of the house, and your maleness to get away with lie after lie. What the point of being President of the House of Terakh if you run the House just for the good of yourself? Even when we were thirteen, I knew this is how you would run things. Maybe you’re right, maybe a woman would run a business differently. Maybe one day, the House of Avraham will let a woman run the organization and do a superior job to men like you.
The time has come and long since passed for Yaakov to come back to Canaan. Yitzhak dropped into a coma the day after Esav’s wedding and is unlikely to wake up; so with Yaakov gone and Yitzhak incapacitated, I’m Vice-President of the House of Avraham. As you know, I have the authority to order Yaakov’s return without Esav’s permission – and by the way, I’m sure Esav’s marriage was entirely your idea. By my authority, Yaakov must return to his real household immediately so he can take his Birthright and run the house of his grandfather, which he should have done twenty years ago.
As I’m sure you recognize by the time you read this letter, Yaakov and his family are well on their way to Canaan. Within seven days of sending my last letter I realized we had no alternative to escorting Yaakov home ourselves, even if it means Yaakov fleeing under cover of night with your daughters and grandchildren and all their worldly goods (such as you let them have any…). I knew you’d never show Yaakov my order and would bear false witness to keep his service forever, so I immediately sent Eliezer-ibn-Eliezer to deliver an official command of homecoming.
I’m deeply unhappy relations between our houses came to this. I wish there were another way, but you’ve become such a danger to the family’s security. There was no other choice, and once I told Esav everything, he agreed.
I only wish you the best of luck, which I’m sure you’ll always have, and for your household to be fruitful and multiply. B’Ezrat Hashem such luck we all will have, whether in this world or the next. In the meantime, I reluctantly send you my deepest love,
I discovered Yaakov left with his family about an hour after they abandoned us. No doubt you won’t believe me when I tell you that I’d already decided to let them go and would have given them my full blessing the next morning. You wouldn’t be able to accuse me of delaying them for a moment if Rokhel, whom Yaakov taught everything about your house’s god, hadn’t stockpiled hoards of gods from my own collection. Knowing the statues would easily be discovered and how much they would offend you and Yaakov, I immediately sent for my best horses to catch up with them, took my gods back and said a swift goodbye to my family that I love dearly in the best and most forgiving way. Rokhel is now your problem, a true Jewish Arabian Princess.
It’s made me unhappy to read you taking offense at my treatment of Yaakov so many times, but I repeat, all that I’ve done was for our family’s good. You have the luxury of viewing our situation from 650 miles’ distance. In my position, you’d make no decision differently and you can’t possibly tell me that I’ve withheld the dangers of our situation because I know I’ve sent decades of letters to you about it. Whether it was about our exodus from Ur to Kharan or the dangers of having Assyrian clients and tenants, there’s nothing I’ve kept from you. You just didn’t have eyes to see or ears to hear anything about it. Nothing here in Mesopotamia is more dangerous than Sumeria ever was, or Canaan is, An & Enlil and Enki be praised. If I spared you the explicit details, it’s because I know how you worry about Yaakov, but this is why I’ve constantly advised you you’re not a person of business. You never understood the risks, you never wanted to understand, and if you did, you’d never sleep.
You’re absolutely right, I’ve dismissed you for being a woman for a century, and it wasn’t right of me. I swear before Divine An that I repent and plead both An’s mercy and yours; but I do know you Rivka, and whether it has anything to do with your womanhood, I know that even if you had the kishkes for running a business, being a woman would make running a family house much more labor for you than it ever was for me – and it’s always plenty. You were always smart, and being smart is helpful in business, but to make real money, what you need is chutzpah of steel – which hasn’t been invented yet, but you know what I mean. You wouldn’t just spend the last century avoiding fraud, you’d spend it avoiding assassins who know that a woman as a household head endangers every male power in the world. You’d have to kill every powerful man before they kill you, because your death would be the example to every woman who dreamed as passionately as you did of a just world.
But to be perfectly honest, in recent years, my opinion of you changed drastically. What changed it was reading how you defrauded your own son, and I don’t know which I’d worry about more: whether you don’t have any killer instinct, or whether you have too much. Maybe you could have been the woman with the kishkes to succeed in a man’s world, but how can any person who kills that many people on the hope of creating a more just world be righteous?
And so, if “Yitzhak” is in a coma, there’s no sense in longer keeping from you my deepest secret. If I’d ever told you this information before now you’d have immediately told Yaakov, and he’d either leave or see through the lesson I tried so hard to teach.
Three days before Yaakov arrived at my well, high on hash if you recall, I got a letter from Yitzhak/Yishmael about which he clearly never told you. He ordered me to burn it immediately after reading, but I remember every word.
The original lie which gave Yitzhak/Yishmael his lifelong wealth was almost a century ago, but he felt shame at living Yitzhak’s life every day which only grew with every decade; and during your family’s more recent conflicts, so great was the shame that his head was stricken by a horrible voice; not a pleasant, blessed voice like An who kept company with his father, but a screeching, horrible voice like Nergal’s who every day pierced his skull and slit his flesh; a voice who never stopped telling Yitzhak/Yishmael that deception is built into the House of Avraham’s entire future; claiming your house’s idea of only one god who rules over all creation will always be tarnished with an original sin of dishonesty that will repeat itself from generation to generation for as long as the House of Avraham exists.
To be perfectly honest, I always thought the idea was a shandeh. Living is hard enough without convincing people they’ll live more honestly if they believe in a god who controls everything, reads all their thoughts, and follows them everywhere. I know your husband thinks the idea will redeem the world and make people act more decently, but it’s going to put every mind who believes it into a prison. It will only make them suffer more, tell more lies, be more violent, more covetous. If it ever caught on it could turn the whole world into meshuggeners like Avraham.
When Yitzhak/Yishmael saw how easily you decided to lie when you second-guessed your husband’s judgement, and how quickly Yaakov agreed to conspire with you, your husband decided he had proof that the voice was absolutely right, and I don’t doubt that when Esav unknowingly married his half-sister, the voice sent him into a permanent sleep.
Yitzhak/Yishmael saw that Esav was a slow learner, but was good natured and always did the right thing. When Esav handed Yaakov his Birthright, as a joke, Yaakov immediately claimed Esav’s joke was a serious exchange and threatened to throw the document into the fire rather than return it, then he hid it in a place which only he knew. When Yitzhak/Yishmael heard what Yaakov did, he saw that the voice’s suspicion was true; that dishonesty motivates your faith like yeast leavens bread, and that however shrewd and charming, Yaakov was dishonorable and false-hearted.
And you not only believed Yaakov, you helped the son you love more steal the blessings and possessions of the son you love less! That was your plan, Rivka, not Yaakov’s. Thanks to you, Yaakov is the designated heir and there’s no way for Esav or Yitzhak/Yishmael to reverse the effects of your betrayal, but it was Esav, not Yaakov, who ran the House of Avraham brilliantly for twenty years, and the disasters you predicted for Esav’s period as household head never materialized.
What Yaakov required, Yitzhak/Yishmael wrote to me, with underlining, was brutal discipline. According to your husband, Yaakov’s dishonesty was due to his mother spoiling him. You insisted that Yaakov was not cut out for challenging work, you made sure he got easy jobs shepherding the herds while Esav hunted large animals in the desert, going without food and sometimes water for days, endangering his survival against savage beasts. Whether Esav has any brains, he has the seykhel for business, he has the kishkes, and he has the…
So if Esav was angry enough to say he wanted to murder Yaakov a few minutes after learning that his own brother and mother betrayed him, he soon realized he didn’t mean it; and even if he did mean it at the moment he said so, he long since repented his words and told me he regrets them every day.
If you were paying attention, you’d see that Esav’s long since forgiven his brother and, more obviously, forgiven you. His scribe wrote me that Yaakov will be welcome at a surprise celebration with hundreds of Hittite guests. Esav forgave both you and Yaakov, but neither of you have forgiven me for my deceptions, deceptions that are obviously on a level more trivial than your own betrayal of your son and husband.
And even so, when I heard everything that Yaakov did, I appreciated straight away that this is a guy with the chutzpah to be a great businessman, but he needed to learn business’s risks, he needed to accept the price of success, he needed to understand exactly what it means to be a cattle trader and endure all the humiliations of apprenticeship just like I did. Being a boss is no easier than being an associate. A good head of the house still carries the heavy stones by himself, still picks the weeds with the bondsmen, still gets on his knees to wash the sheds; he cleans sheep drek from the backside wool, his hands have bloody scabs from plucking the chickens, this is the way Abba learned, this is the way Zaydie learned, the way apprenticeship is always done and I guarantee it was much more ruthless in the past.
I don’t expect to be thanked, but Esav assured me Yaakov will return a hero. Esav is nearly 100, claims he has enough savings and wants nothing more than to take a cruise down the Nile. Even if Esav stays in Canaan, you’ll have two sons near home who can run the House of Avraham brilliantly and make a living that keeps your descendents out of the slave house forever. Meanwhile, the House of Terakh has no capable heir yet, and even at the age of a hundred thirty, I can’t retire. You can’t possibly know what a burden it is to work as hard at one-hundred-thirty as you did at thirty and there are no words for my exhaustion. At times I even believe I’m hearing the voice Avraham heard all those years ago….
An & Enlil and Enki be praised, all my love, and your welcome,