The Snake that Roared

We knew a frustrated father whose 20-year-old son was enrolled for the fourth year in some go-nowhere-course at a local college while emerging from his room only for the occasional meal. The manner he displayed towards his parents was typical of that displayed by those living on charity towards their benefactors, which is to say generally sullen and resentful.  The many long and loud conversations during which dad tried to motivate his son were about as productive as that college course, “Women, Culture, and Society” in which Sonny Boy was enrolled. 

After some family coaching sessions with us, during which we not only advised dad what to do but helped him find the strength and determination to do the necessary,  Sonny Boy returned home one night to find that his key did not work on the front door.  He circled to the rear of the house in order to find an open door or window, but to no avail.   Regardless of the late hour, he tried to phone his parents. There was no response but he did find a text on his phone from his father. 

It detailed the monthly rent that would henceforth be charged, a separate fee for meals, and at what times of the day the father would be available to the son for a phone conversation.  The next three months went by painfully for both parents and son, but thereafter an almost magical transformation occurred.  The son found a job in which he excelled, the silly college course long forgotten. He discovered a new respect for his parents and their relationship became loving.   

Sometimes, talk eventually becomes counterproductive. Only action helps. Have you ever  found yourself frustrated by endless conversation while you knew that the time for critical action was passing?  Here is your roadmap to transformation.

Genesis chapter 46 enumerates Jacob’s children and grandchildren by name, arriving at a total of seventy souls who came to Egypt.  All is as expected until we arrive at Jacob’s fifth son, Dan.

Dan’s sons: Chushim.
(Genesis 46:23)

That’s right, Dan’s “sons” suggests a plural, yet there is only one—Chushim*.  Strangely, his name ends in the manner that masculine plural nouns end in Hebrew—IM.  So yeladIM means boys; sefarIM means books, and susIM* means horses.  Though Dan only has one son, ChushIM, there is an important hint in the ending of his name that he is actually plural—two people.

We see another unmistakable sign of  a duality in the tribe of Dan:

When blessing his sons, Jacob compares Dan to a snake:

Dan will be a serpent on the highway, a viper by the path…
(Genesis 49:17)

By the end of Deuteronomy, Moses compares Dan to a lion:

…Dan is a lion cub…
(Deuteronomy 33:22)

From snake to lion is quite a leap.  It certainly seems that Dan has undergone major transformation in the few centuries separating the two verses.  In fact he is assigned a prestigious and protective post north of the Tabernacle during the desert journey. (Numbers 2:25)

What started this transformation? Ancient Jewish wisdom describes a rather strange story. When Jacob’s sons arrived at the Cave of Machpelah to bury their father (Genesis 50:13), their Uncle Esau confronted them saying, “That burial plot belongs to me.”  The stunned sons reminded Esau that he sold his inheritance to Jacob, but he refused to give ground. The brothers then dispatched Naftali, the swiftest runner,  back to Egypt to fetch the contract to prove that the plot indeed belonged to Jacob. Meanwhile they waited.

Chushim, the son of Dan, was deaf and did not hear the entire discussion.  When he asked, “What’s the delay?” his uncles explained how Esau was holding up the burial. This outraged Chushim. “Must my grandfather lie in disgrace until Naftali returns?” he yelled.  He immediately jumped up to strike Esau, killing him.  Jacob was then buried.  

What caused Chushim to have such an instantaneous and strong reaction?

Lengthy, protracted  conversation and negotiation can eventually start having  a numbing effect.  It can gradually erode the certainty of one’s position.  One begins to “understand” the other side.  Think of how many today have begun to “understand” those who claim that being born white is proof of being privileged.

By contrast, the deaf Chushim who heard none of the interaction with Esau knew only what he saw, namely that, “Grandpa lies in disgrace.”  He recognized Esau’s intent for what it truly was—a desire to remove Jacob and his descendants from continuing the heritage of Abraham and Isaac.  The delay was for the sole purpose of demeaning Grandfather Jacob rather than a valid confusion over a contract.

We are certainly not meant to model our behavior exactly on that of Chushim. However, those of us with ambition to improve our lives can learn from him. Sometimes we need to transform ourselves radically from snakes to lions as it were.  Such transformation is best brought about through action rather than talking, arguing, organizing or coordinating.  Often we can get ourselves out of the rut by a convulsive leap rather than by endlessly discussing detailed drawings and descriptions of the obstacles in our path.  Chushim really was two people—Chushim the First before transformation and Chushim the Second thereafter.

Are you ready for action? As 2021 begins, get off on the right foot with Chart Your Course: 52 Weekly Journaling Challenges with Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin. On sale now, this book guides you to make the most of every day. 

* Recommended Bible references:
Horses: SusIM – סוסים. p. 1826 – 6th line from the bottom – 2nd to the last word. The ב at the beginning of the word means ‘with.’
Dan’s son, ChushIM: חשים – p. 146, 15th line, last word

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19 thoughts on “The Snake that Roared”

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Roger–
      One doesn’t usually think of this, the 7th Commandment as needing a lot of explanation. What about “Thou Shall Not Commit Adultery” wasn’t clear?
      I’d be happy to help if I had some understanding of what is puzzling you.
      Cordially
      RDL

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  1. Enlightening. Indeed, if it’s just all talk, and no action, it’s nothing. This is the first time I’ve read about the actions of Chushim towards Esau and it’s quite a story indeed.

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  2. Carl August Schleg

    Children such as his need to live with the Amish for 6 months to discover reality….There is no free lunch.

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    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Carl-
      So true! This wasn’t the only parent we have helped to get over wrong instincts and really help their children over the hump. It is surprisingly common.
      Cordially
      RDL

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  3. Whoa! I understand this story too well. I had to deal with family drama that had lasted for 10 years. Just this past summer, a crisis hit within the family drama, and those in charge would not and could not mentally deal with it as usual. Just more talking and arguing and no action.

    I was the quiet one who remained peaceful throughout the 10 year drama. Yet this past summer, I snapped and refused to let the drama remain unchallenged and unresolved. No more delays. Some would say I became another person leaping into action like a sudden whiplash out of nowhere. By the support and grace of HaShem, the family drama is no more because of my particular transformation.

    And by the way, just before the crisis hit, I had a dream of snakes twice, but no dreams of lions.

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    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Well done, Lisa,
      That is why we wrote this particular Thought Tool; we had heard from many who were painfully enduring endless and futile discussions, meetings, analyses, and conversations. It happens in business as much as in families.
      Cordially
      RDL

      + 1
    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      So happy you enjoyed it, Teresa,
      It takes a surprisingly long time to write. I think that is partially because we never exceed a maximum of 1,000 words which means much rewriting and editing so really happy to hear when readers enjoy.
      Cordially
      RDL

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  4. Wow! A very enlightening piece and the first one for me to read on your Thought Tools; I intend to read the other recent pieces forthwith. I am retiree who is keen to continue serving people in private security industry, thanks to your thoughts on Retirement in your book’ Business Secrets From The Bible’ – you have really motivated me.

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    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Great letter, Peter,
      and one we really enjoyed receiving, thank you.
      Wishing you a healthy and prosperous 2021–the happy part you have to take care of.
      Cordially
      RDL

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  5. Once again, Rabbi Lapin, you have opened the scriptures with remarkable insight. Thank you for sharing with us that decisive action is frequently needed.

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  6. Where I originally came from I have heard people say “A promise is a comfort to a fool’s heart.” People will promise you things for years and will not deliver if they see that they can. Action really speaks louder than words.

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