In a previous post (first refusnik) I explore how Jacob was the first Refusnik… in the fullest sense of the word.
I make reference to a seminal concept in the way the rabbis read the Bible, especially Genesis: The stories of our predecessors are a sign for future generations.
Normally this concept is translated as “the narrative of the Patriarchs is a sign for their children”. So that if Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all were individually exiled because of a famine and ultimately returned to the promised land, so too would their progeny many years latter… and as a people.
But a more radical understanding could certainly be: All those stories about our patriarchs, matriarchs.. our origins, are nothing more than symbolic.
Afterall, the word avot (אבות), especially in Rabbinic usage means origin or sources (e.g. the 39 core forms of work prohibited on shabbat ל״ט אבות מלאכות )
After All, Maimonides in his Guide for the Perplexed II, 42 states unequivocally that many of the iconic stories in the Bible were just dreams….
the appearance or speech of an angel mentioned in Scripture took place in a vision or dream; it makes no difference whether this is expressly stated or not, as we have explained above. This is a point of considerable importance. In some cases the account begins by stating that the prophet saw an angel; in others, the account apparently introduces a human being, who ultimately is shown to be an angel; but it makes no difference, for if the fact that an angel has been heard is only mentioned at the end, you may rest satisfied that the whole account from the beginning describes a prophetic vision.
What this means is that not only is the story of Jacob struggling with the Angel just a vision… never happened.. but so is the story of the Fall which ends with Angels guarding the entrance to Eden…. and so is the sacrifice of Isaac which ends with an angel calling out to Abraham to lay off the boy. (so it turns out that the sacrifice of Isaac was not only a dream… it was a particularly bad dream… a nightmare..)
In my mind, to say that much, if not all of the bible is merely a dream, a vision, a sign is not a defect. The Hebrew Bible contains the dreams, visions and nightmares of my people… ones that have impacted humankind in ways unimaginable.
But when it comes to impacting the lives of other human beings, created in the image of the divine… let’s remember… it’s just a story.