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Looking For Babel Part One – The Language of Silence

Colin Thubron, in his beautiful “Shadow of the Silk Road,” visits the Chinese city of Xian after an absence of eighteen years. “Xian had suffered a hallucinatory change (page 7).”


The new generation, born after the Cultural Revolution, complain, “Our parents’ world was safer: state pensions, assured jobs and housing. And they want to go on as before, cautiously, preserving. But my generation – our world depends on us (pg. 9).”


I read this and immediately thought of Jacob and his sons: “AND HE ABODE — Jacob wished to live at ease, but this trouble in connection with Joseph suddenly came upon him (Rashi 37:2).” What if the sons believed about Jacob what this young man described to Thubron, ‘they want to go on as before, cautiously, preserving. But my generation – our world depends on us’?

After all, Jacob seemed ready for his sons to take control. After the rape of Dinah, “Jacob heard that he had defiled his daughter Dinah; but since his sons were in the field with his cattle, Jacob kept silent until they came home (34:5).”


They seem to respond to his rebuke by shutting him down; “Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me, making me odious among the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites; my men are few in number, so that if they unite against me and attack me, I and my house will be destroyed.”


But they answered, “Should our sister be treated like a whore (Verses 30-31)?”



The young man, for whom, Thubron reflects, “the terrors of the Cultural Revolution were pure history,” continued his lament, “There’s a kind of wisdom we’re not taught, he said. “Every family is full of silences (pg.12).”


Well, I read of a twenty-two year familial silence beginning with the big lie, 


‘Then they took Joseph’s tunic, slaughtered a kid, and dipped the tunic in the blood.

They had the ornamented tunic taken to their father, and they said, “We found this. Please examine it; is it your son’s tunic or not?”

He recognized it, and said, “My son’s tunic! A savage beast devoured him! Joseph was torn by a beast!”


Jacob rent his clothes, put sackcloth on his loins, and observed mourning for his son many days.


All his sons and daughters sought to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted, saying, “No, I will go down mourning to my son in Sheol.” Thus his father bewailed him (37:31-35).’


“Every family is filled with silences.”



“They (my parents) were Red Guards, of course, and I heard that my father smashed up old things. He may even have killed a man. But I’ll never know.”


I wondered (Story Magic – Part Two) whether Jacob ever shared his “Angels on the Stairway to Heaven” dream. Now I wonder whether he ever sat down with his sons and described his interactions with his brother, Eisav. 



Did he ever apologize to Isaac for tricking him to steal the blessing intended for Eisav?


Did Leah’s sons ever learn of their mother stealing Rachel’s place in Jacob’s bed?


When did the silences begin?


When did they begin to accept to never discuss uncomfortable history?


Is this language of silence and unspoken history and lies, is this the language of Babel?


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