The question no one asked:
what did I want to bring with me
from the old hacienda, every rock
and bush familiar as my own palm?
What talismans of my childhood
could I sequester in the saddlebags
and sit on like a mother hen
brooding over her speckled eggs?
Even my husband doesn't understand
how these old beliefs shaped me
how my curves and corners fit
snug against what I've rejected
and what I embrace, even him,
even here in this goatskin tent
where my father's household is only
a memory clouded with distant dust.
This week we're in parashat Vayetzei, which includes the story of Rachel stealing Laban's household idols. (You can find it in Genesis 31:19-35.) I've always loved this story. There's comedy in the wry way the text shows us Laban getting his comeuppance. Of course, there's something funny about Jacob's obtuseness here, too. And I'm always struck by the theme of trickery and cunning throughout this generation of the family story: Rebecca schooling Jacob to trick Isaac out of Esau's blessing, then Laban tricking Jacob into marrying the wrong daughter first, and now Rachel tricking Laban out of his household gods.
But what does it mean to steal the household gods? This question came up in our Torah Journeys class last week, and we had a fabulous conversation about the poetic imagery of Rachel sitting on the idols as though they were eggs she intended to hatch. That's the idea which gave rise to this week's Torah poem.
We don't tend to think in terms of household gods anymore -- the term puts me in mind of Aeneas taking the Lares and Penates, wrapped in his toga, as he flees from burning Troy -- but I like the idea that there is something each of us takes from our household of origin when we set off on our own to create our own homes and families. What from my parents' household has come with me the long way from south Texas to western Massachusetts? What did I bring with me, knowingly and unknowingly? How do the talismans and the stories of my childhood continue to shape me and my house, and what will they mean to my son as he grows?
Does any of this resonate for you?