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.
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…
By the end of Deuteronomy, Moses compares Dan to a lion:
…Dan is a lion cub…
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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