by Pamela Jay Gottfried & Jonah Gottfried (Atlanta, GA)
My ten year old son and I study Torah together. Once or twice a week, we sit together and read the narrative of Genesis. Then we discuss its deeper meaning and our interpretations of the text.
It is both a responsibility and a privilege to teach my son Torah. It is also, at times, a burden. But the burden feels lighter, now that we have discovered a common interest: writing.
The progressive school he attends introduces Writer’s Workshop in 1st grade and the teachers help the students develop their critical thinking skills beginning in Preschool. This year it all came together for Jonah: improved motor skills, increased facility with words, and a Language Arts teacher who inspired him to work to his potential.
I realized earlier this year that I could hitch a ride on this teacher’s coat tails, and I suggested to my son that we form our own Writer’s Workshop.
Some weeks—as often as our time permits and the text demands—we write our own midrashim (interpretations/legends) and we critique each other’s work. Recently, we decided to attempt a co-authored piece. We left the file in a shared folder on the desktop and worked on revisions independently, using Word’s “track changes” tool.
Jonah started the midrash, an imagined conversation among the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Our goal was to illustrate how Isaac’s parenting skills affected Jacob’s decisions in his adult life. The biblical text is sparse and often merely implies the inner thoughts and feelings of the heroes. We thought it would be fun and instructive to give voice to these biblical figures. We are also open to your feedback and ideas, so please share them!
by Jonah & Pamela Gottfried
Isaac: “Hello, I am your ghost-host, Isaac. Today I will be interviewing my son, Jacob, about whether he learned anything from the mistakes that I made while raising him. What do you want to say about your childhood, Jacob?”
Jacob: “I don’t have many memories of my life as a little boy…except that you ruined my childhood because you loved Esau more than me!”
Isaac: “How did that ruin your childhood?”
Jacob: “Well, the story began when Esau came back from a hunting trip. He was very hungry and I was making soup. He told me that he would give me his birthright in exchange for some soup. If you ask me, that was a pretty stupid trade on his part, but I was happy to agree.”
Isaac: “Some soup for a birthright sounds like a pretty good deal for you, but why would Esau do that?”
Jacob: “He did it because he was so hungry that he was willing to give up anything for food.”
Isaac: “That didn’t stop you, though, did it?”
Jacob: “Nope, not really. But then you decided to give the blessing of the firstborn to Esau. I still had his birthright, so I deserved the blessing, too. And when you actually gave me the blessing, boy, was Esau mad. I had to run away just to survive!”
Isaac: “Wait a minute. I gave you the blessing for the firstborn?”
Isaac: “Hmm, I certainly don’t remember that happening.”
Jacob: “Anyway, Esau still resents me to this day for what I did, but I think he had it coming because of the way he treated me.
Isaac: “Wait, what’s the connection between this story and my question?”
Jacob: “Well, you ruined my life because my brother despises me and then later, when I became a parent—Hold on. I think I should let my father explain this part.
Isaac: “What? Father? I’m your father!”
Abraham: “No, Isaac, I’m your father. And I’m also the Father of Monotheism, making me Jacob’s spiritual father along with being his grandfather. Besides, everyone knows that grandparents have a special bond with their grandchildren. It helps that we have a common enemy.”
Jacob: “No kidding, Saba Abe.”
Abraham: “Yes, son. Now, let’s enlighten your father. Isaac, your eyes may have grown dim with age, but your thinking was cloudy from the moment Esau brought you fresh meat. Did you forget what God told Rebekah?”
Isaac: “I remember: ‘The elder shall serve the younger.’ But as Esau grew, I wasn’t sure that God got it right. Esau wasn’t the servile type.”
Abraham: “What?! You thought God was wrong?”
Isaac: “Not really. I just didn’t know how to parent those unruly kids. They were always disagreeing and bickering with each other. And your mother coddled you, Jacob. She loved you more than she loved Esau, and she didn’t hide her favoritism.
Jacob: “Really, Abba?! She was fulfilling God’s prophecy and you wrecked everything!”
Abraham: “Well, folks. There you have it. Rebekah and Jacob may have staged the deception, but it was the Almighty who wrote the script.”
Isaac: “I still don’t see how this ruined your life, Jacob. I mean, now you have everything—a house full of wives and kids, sheep, worldly possessions…”
Jacob: “Is that what you see?! Look more carefully and you’ll understand. My beloved wife, Rachel, died in childbirth, leaving me with only Joseph and Benjamin to console me. The other ten brothers hate Joseph because he wears a special coat and describes his dreams of the entire family bowing before him.”
Isaac: “Didn’t you give him that special coat? You showed favoritism to the younger…”
Jacob & Abraham: “Exactly!”
Pamela Jay Gottfried is a rabbi, parent, teacher and author of Found in Translation: Common Words of Uncommon Wisdom. Jonah A. Gottfried is an aspiring author and rising 5th grader whose teachers are trained in the Writing Workshop curriculum. You can read more of Gottfried’s work at her website: http://www.pamelagottfried.com/