Sunday, January 24, 2021

Underrated Classical Musicians: Benno Moiseiwitsch

 Welp... last night I said that Hofmann's Waldstein was sui generis, but that's before I heard Benno Moiseiwitsch's, whom Abram Chasins regarded as Hofmann's 'heir', a sentiment which according to Chasin's book, Hofmann endorsed. According to wikipedia, Rachmaninov similarly regarded Moiseiwitsch as his 'spiritual heir.'

This performance is incredibly similar to Hofmann, but in this performance, the sound is at least acceptable, and Moiseiwitsch still has far better technique in the finale. Perhaps Moiseiwitsch lacks that very last small measure of 'danger' Hofmann risks in the opening movement, but in a competition it is a 'photo finish.' Like Hofmann, Moiseiwitsch seems to anticipate the developments of historically informed performance - not only in the extreme fleetness of his tempos, but in the light clarity of his touch. How many pianists can make Beethoven not only sing, but dance? And yet, when you read the comments, a number of listeners allege that Moiseiwitsch makes Beethoven sound far more like Liszt or Schumann. I suppose that when you're accustomed to hearing Beethoven in the austerities of Pollini and Gilels, there's something about this approach that sounds sinfully romantic, and yet, when you read accounts of Beethoven's own playing, surely it was far closer this manic juxtaposition of emotions.
Not that Moiseiwitsch was at all a manic type of pianist. He simply followed the music where it took him, and reached the emotional core with almost too much seeming ease. Moiseiwitsch was a "pianists' pianist" more than a public's. It's not hard to figure out why, what's harder to figure out is how the public warmed to similar pianists like Hofmann for as long as they did. Hofmann had none of (god bless them) Horowitz and Rubinstein's playing to the gallery. None of Rubinstein's raising the hands high in the air, none of Horowitz's piano-destroying encores, and neither did one get obvious theatrics from contemporaries of Hofmann like Rachmaninov, Lhevinne, Godowsky, Friedmann, Schnabel, Gieseking, (Cortot perhaps...). I suppose their success can only be explained by the conclusion that between the two World Wars, audiences were so passionate about piano playing that there most have been hundreds of thousands of listeners around the world if not more who could genuinely discern the transcendent from the merely excellent. By the time Moisewitsch peaked, classical performance was just a little bit its 'Golden Age,' and the superstars were performers who put a little more effort into 'putting on a show' that should have probably been reserved for the music itself; but a career's a career, and if Rubinstein and Bernstein and Pavarotti became superstars by their theatrics, they did more than enough good for music and for other people to easily be forgiven their vulgarities.
Moiseiwitsch arrived a generation too late for his approach, which recalled both Rachmaninov and Hofmann in their prime until his death well in 1963. Rachmaninov and Hofmann could not be more different, they are like heads and tails from the same coin. You can fancy yourself hearing the enormity of Rachmaninov's frame (6'3, some say 6'6, hands that took in a thirteenth) as you can the wispy slightness of Hofmann's (5'2, hands that barely reached a ninth). And yet, between them is that same musical orientation of finding that perfect melding of classical and romantic, both employing the use of extreme musical discipline and rigor to find the greatest possible emotional resonance.
We'll come back to Moiseiwitsch, an artist far better known for his romantic repertoire than his Beethoven. Perhaps it's common now to disparage pianists who make specialties of the 'old romantics' like Chopin, Schumann, Liszt. Conservatories turn out hundreds of them every year, and the term used for them is "finger jocks." And yes,... there's something rather brainless about certain more contemporary approaches to their music (we won't mention any names...), but when played by pianists like Moiseiwitsch, Hofmann, Rachmaninov, Friedmann, there's nothing brainless about it. These are artists as grounded in the oral tradition of this music as today's younger bluesmen are to John Lee Hooker and younger jazz cats are to Miles Davis.It takes a level of artistry that marries passion to technique to intellect to taste, and the reason it's so popular is that, when done well, it speaks directly, rather than the brain or the nerves, straight to the heart.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Underrated Classical Musicians - Josef Hofmann #2

 The sound is pretty terrible, but here it is, Josef Hofmann doing the Moonlight and Waldstein. Like so much of Hofmann, these performances are sui generis. We will never know what Hofmann sounded like in late Beethoven, the Hammerklavier or op. 111, both of which were cornerstones of his repertoire. Hofmann clearly anticipated the later developments of Historically Informed Performance, and yet unlike the robotic antisepsis of so many HIP performers, Hofmann allows for the kind of pulsing fluidity that only flows from a combination of 19th century romanticism and natural musical genius. This is a musician who has so internalized music that he knows exactly how much rubato (mid-phrase slowdowns and speedups) a piece can take to make the music sound more natural, not less.

The more I hear him, the more convinced I am that, assuming such a thing can exist, he's the greatest pianist of the recorded era. It's not just the virtuoso technique, which is clearly fraying a bit by the time of this performance, it's that the technique is always married to expression and intellect. There are so many giants who lay claim to 'greatest', whom from the moment they touch the keyboard cannot be mistaken for anybody else: Richter, Sokolov, Arrau, Serkin, Friedmann, Gilels, Gieseking, Grinberg, Gulda, Kocsis, Ogdon, Ciccolini, Rubinstein (if only live...), to even Horowitz... to the list just goes on and on and on....
But there's something in the later Hofmann recordings that is kind of tragic. When you listen to contemporary accounts of Hofmann, they make perfectly clear that Hofmann at his 'peak' was a kind of Apollonian god, unperturbable, imperious, perfection incarnate, inspiring awe in all from professionals to beginning listeners, yet perhaps a little cold. By the time of his most famous recordings, by the time of his famous Golden Jubilee performance at the Met, he was nothing like the descriptions. He was a drunk who'd thoroughly besotted his family life, and thrown out of the Curtis Institute for administrative incompetence and doubtless some embarrassing behavior about which we never shall hear.
Hofmann hated the recording microphone, which he said could never capture the essence of his nuances. I'm sure he's right, but the Hofmann of the WWII years was a very different Hofmann, as explosive as the earlier Hofmann was unflappable. One begins to wonder if the earlier Hofmann was more a craftsman than an artist - certainly Rubinstein said so in his autobiography, where he had some incredibly cruel things to say about his older contemporary. But 'late Hofmann', supposedly an embarrassment to his younger self, was very much an artist with something to communicate. If his technique was not as reliable as it was, it was more reliable than late Schnabel or late Horowitz. Toward the end of his life, recorded sound improved immeasurably, yet Hofmann never set down most of his repertoire, worried the comparison to his former self would result in embarrassment. What a shame. Compare the 1936-38 live recordings to the acoustic recordings. The acoustic recordings are nothing short of awesome experiences. Even through the dull, scratchy sound, the nimbleness that only exists in Hofmann's fingers is unmistakable. Are they deeply reflective works of art? Unlikely at best. But later in life, Hofmann, the child prodigy, the unflappable virtuoso, had finally experienced something of life that made him understand what music was for, and how expression speaks to the human heart more directly than any technical effect.
I would rather have heard what an older Josef Hofmann had to say about late Beethoven or Brahms's Handel Variations or the Well-Tempered Clavier than when he was the flawless young virtuoso, and the impermanence of all these interpretations is a devastating loss. What Hofmann sounded like in so much of his repertoire only exists in the ephemeral memories of old concertgoers who still recalled Hofmann with awe half-a-century after his retirement. One and all, they recall it with a level of awe an instrumentalist engenders once in a generation.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Tales from the Old New Land - Tale 1 - Final Draft

To Whom it May Concern, I hope this letter comes to Haran, may he be blessed with bulls potent and cows fecund, if not Haran then Betuel, may he be blessed with dirt and not sand, and if not Betuel then Lavan (Laban), whom I remember only as a little pischer (bedwetter) but I’m sure has grown into a righteous and honest man - may he too be blessed with cows and dirt and slaves cooperative.
As Avraham’s (Abraham) healer, chamberlain, taskmaster, and scribe, tidings of the evil eye fall to me. It is my disconsolate responsibility to inform you that the cursed fate Abba (father) Terakh predicted for Brider (brother) Avraham rose to the breath of life. You always knew his inclination to see invisible things, and wisely exiled Brider Avraham to carry on his meshuggas (craziness) to a far off land. I’ve done everything to lead him back to the better yetzers of our nature, but his vision of an invisible silent god is more vivid than dwellers of his house. Year by year, the god is less silent, and he converses with it every day for half a century.
We told ourselves it seemed benign and pretended to believe everything he saw. We sacrifice three times a year to Avraham’s god in whom we don’t believe, we pray to a god we can’t see every Saturday morning, we give money for this place Avraham screams about called the State of Israel, and send our children to Hebrew school every Sunday, where all they do is play sports.
It was all relatively satisfactory until last week when the invisible god commanded Avraham to kill little Yitzhak (Isaac), burn his body, and eat his remains. Such a shandeh (scandal)! Everybody loved little “Tzakhi” (diminutive of Isaac), though he was 37 and four cubits tall so really he wasn’t so little anymore. And look, I know that this isn’t actually weird. Everybody sacrifices their children, but for Avraham, this is really weird because, as I’m sure you remember, he was the bokher (young Jew) who made enemies by screaming that nobody should sacrifice their children, and it’s one thing to get rid of them when they’re two or three, but when they’re 37 you should probably leave them alone. Anyway, everybody liked “Tzachi”, and even Avraham must have known we’d stop him if we heard about the voice’s commandment, but everybody saw that Avraham was peculiarly verklempt (anxious), even for our beloved meshuggener (lunatic) may he be blessed with a hole in the head that balances against the one already there.
I trust Haran and Betuel you are as alright with my saying this about Avraham as you were when we left, since Nakhor promised that it was imperative I speak my mind to Avraham so he remembers which world is the real world. For sixty-two years, I’ve been Avraham’s most faithful bondsman, exactly as I swore in blood to you both and Nakhor Z’’L (may his memory be a blessing). I’ve taken every eruption from the god of anger, every attack from the god of fear, every fistblow and whiplash from that amoretz (idiot) with smiles. Every time he heard ‘The Voice’ I pretended the voice was real as though he were still in thrall to the voice which commanded him to kill Nakhor for denying the god of Avraham.
The problem with all this is that Tzachi’s mother really loved him. After we left Ur: An & Enlil and Enki be praised, she spent the next twenty-five years trying to have a child and watched as all those concubines Avraham geshtupped (schtupped) got pregnant - and in all fairness, most of them were the maidlakh (young women) you introduced him to before we left and his children are all still alive and have kinder (children) and grandchildren of their own that Sarah had to watch every day. Sarah knew that the problem was her rather than Avraham and understandably loved the son she thought she’d never have. Well, when Sarah heard that Avraham killed their son, she died on the spot. Who can blame her? That son was a lot of work, and not just for her!
It’s about thirty-eight years since you got that letter from Avraham, saying that three angels came to him to announce Sarah would be great with child. Let me tell you, they were no angels. They were Canaanite healers I sent for to examine Sarah. The problem was exactly as I thought - that special diet Avraham’s a zealot about for which none of us eat shellfish or pork or most parts of the animal. The healers came for six weeks and I explained that Avraham was a little fertummelt (mixed up), so just go along with whatever he says. Avraham asked almost immediately if they were angels. They looked at me and I could only shrug, so they said yes, and then they were angels! Nu (untranslatable), and when they wanted a little butter to go with their meat, would Avraham say no?
Two of them distracted Avraham during the day and insisted he ate oranges and pomegranates by the mina (biblical weight measurement). They served him tea from the East they called ‘ginseng, but while Sarah would bring them those stupid ‘ashcakes’ she’s always made - and we wonder why she’s so thin..., the healers cooked Sarah a multitude of special meals. They fed her boiled octopus and fish eggs, pig liver and testicles. At first, the gross novelties disgusted Sarah, so they were ground into powder and served in potion; and while Avraham ate the good cuts of the veal and lamb, they gave her heart and kidney. They sawed the bones of animals to get blood from inside and and put the special blood in a stew, they even made broth from shellfish. Every night they told Sarah to go to Avraham so he’d schtup her while wearing damp wool boiled in ass’s milk. As I’m sure you remember, Sarah was zeyer sheyn (very pretty), but for decades after the exile, she barely ate. She told me she never ate because she hated Avraham’s diet, but once she started eating the healer’s food, she declared it the best she’d eaten in forty years! Three weeks later she looked much healthier and was pregnant.
Anyhow, that’s almost forty years ago. It’s been more than sixty years since you banished Avraham and we his servants laid eyes upon our beloved mudbricks and tombs and cuneiform documents. All of us long to return and eagerly await the day Brider Avraham embarks on his journey to Nergal. ‘Next year in Ur’ we all chant in secret, and now more than ever await our second coming to Ur, An & Enlil and Enki be praised.
Nevertheless, Brider Avraham’s seykhel (sense) seems farther away than ever. After Sarah dropped dead, he too dropped to the ground. We thought he also was dead. I’m ashamed to say we slightly rejoiced as we believed our deliverance at hand, but Avraham returned to us, yet when he came back, he was still less Avraham. Divine Nergal took an entire side of his body. He neither can walk nor ride and only speaks from the side of his mouth. He barely tries to speak now, believing he misheard the invisible god and is justly punished for killing, burning and eating his son.
Anyway, sorry this letter is so long but the reason it’s necessary is to propose an idea and offer an urgent plea to security. In addition to physical maladies Nergal inflicted, Nergal took from Avraham his short-term memory. It is only a matter of time before all memory of the sacrifice is no more. In a few months, even were we to tell him he killed Yitzhak, he would forget in 10 regas (biblical seconds).
It is only a matter of time before Canaanites discover Yitzhak’s death and Avraham’s dementia. We currently are leaderless. We long to return to Ur, but know so long as Avraham is alive, we are banished; and therefore are dead men whether we stay or go, kibbitzing (putzing around...) in the Judean Desert, incapable of agreeing upon a war leader, or even organizing for battle.
It’s been more than half a century since Sarah entreated Brider Avraham to banish Yishmael (Ishmael) and Hagar from our tents and I secretly packed them to Ur to live as servants in the House of Terakh. I realize that Yishmael was just a kint (kid) at the time, but he was a divine image of his father, just as Yitzhak was the same image until our divinely inspired nudnik (bore) put him to death. Avraham’s seed is self-evidently as strong as his brain feeble, and if the physical resemblance continued, Yishmael must still look exactly the divine image of both Avraham and Yitzhak.
Please. I ask, I beg the House of Terakh to send Yishmael and Hagar back to Khevron (Hebron), where I believe Avraham will immediately recognize Yishmael not as Yishmael, whom he has not seen in a generation, but as Yitzhak. We then may marry Hagar to Avraham as perhaps she long should have been. Though everyone will recognize Yishmael and Hagar, they will be known around Canaan as Yitzhak and Brider Avraham’s second wife. We can even give her a pseudonym
Your most devoted servant who prays East every day for his return,
PS: The two servants with Avraham at the sacrifice, Paebel and Keret, ran away from the site the moment they bound “Tzachi” and immediately warned of everything. They are the bondsmen who come to you with this letter, both illiterate as a pillar of salt. They do know nothing of its contents, but it is vitally important you kill them both the moment you finish this letter. They’ll understand.
Lavan son of Betuel son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor
House of Terakh Global Partnerships
10 Gilgamesh Dr.
Ur, Sumeria, 324
9th of Seventh Month, Iddin-Dagan Year 8
Eliezer Master Slave Representative
Cc. Avram (Abram, Abraham's pagan name) son of Terakh
House of Avraham
18 Noah Way
Hebron, Canaan, 613
Dear Eliezer,
It has been long since we received any word from House of Avraham, and while we regret the nature of its tidings we thank you for the update. We here at House Terakh are a bit confused by your insistence on Hagar and Yishmael’s return considering how eager once you were to be rid of them, but seeing its necessity, we here at House Terakh agree to this proposition and hereby grant you their immediate use. Nevertheless, for any further business ventures with House Avraham we require remuneration of ten camels and a basket each’s worth of silver, gold, and raiment. Included here is an outstanding bill of payment, which we send via Paebel and Keret. We regret we cannot comply with your request for their deaths. Were we to kill bondsmen from House Avraham, it would prove in Hammurabian court that we have knowledge of Avram’s (Avraham’s pre-Canaanite name) whereabouts. You may of course do with your own bondsmen as you like, but we demand upon pain of further exile that you immediately burn this message upon receipt.
Furthermore, we here at House Terah regret that due to the nature of Avram’s malady and recent actions, the matter of his bondsmen’s return to Ur and Sumer must be delayed for a further generation until Yishmael’s death. House Terah feels it imperative that we establish plausibility that Yishmael is in fact Yitzhak, birthrighted son of House Avraham and that the return of Avram’s bondsmen do not portend the return of Avram himself.
Lavan son of Betuel son of Milcah, the wife of Nakhor
Dear Laban,
Many thanks for the return of Yishmael and Hagar, Abraham received them exactly as we hoped. Since Avraham’s god prohibits Saturday weddings, the wedding of Avraham to Hagar, renamed Keturah, began last Sunday and will, as usual, continue to the end of the month. It’s a Hittite neighborhood and half the guests are our neighbors, all of whom RSVP’d yes. Sadly, Amorites never responded and the Amalekites sent a very blunt RSVP I thought rather rude. On the other hand, the Jevusites sent a very nice, apologetic note and included a present from Melkizedek their king. While the King of Gerar, Avimelekh, said he’d like to make a visit to Avraham! Sadly, showing Avraham in his current state to a great king carries the danger of a terrible affront so I wrote him it wasn’t necessary. As there’s no way to hide it from them, the Hittites know entirely of Avraham’s state, but since we are currently allies, their leaders and bondsmen have all pledged on blood oath to keep our secret. Doubtless some Hittite will break it, but I trust by then Avraham will pass on. They have not, fortunately, learned nor guessed at Yitzhak’s replacement by Yishmael.
I should, regretfully, mention that I must supervise the journey after the wedding to deliver your demanded payment. I’m sure you understand that no other bondsman can be trusted to supervise so large a payment, and this is surely sufficient reason to grant brief clemency to violating terms of exile.
Nevertheless, please forgive me for such chutzpah (chutzpah), but since you informed us simultaneously that our return to Ur is postponed as we feared yet another generation, An & Enlil and Enki be praised, the payment you charge is really too expensive. Our positions would never be reversed, but I’m sure you’d agree that in the impossible occurrence they were, you’d find that price an unacceptably high rate for a bondmistress and bastard; particularly if the mamser (bastard) is about to become legitimate. You can be assured Yishmael/Yitzhak will be an extremely solicitous and remunerative business partner for his former masters and guardians.
We the House of Avraham realize you’ve done us a true mitzvah (good deed/commandment) to which our very lives are in remand. Nevertheless, I have another idea which may be to your liking and justify the expense of our purchase, please endow it with fair hearing.
Your grandfather recalls, no doubt, that horrific moment from Avraham’s adolescence when he cut the foreskin from his own person. He has, in fact, long since performed this appalling ‘ritual’ upon all his bondsmen. He claims it a sign of commitment to his god, and has even performed the ritual upon all our male infants when they reach eight days. I suppose we would rather this barbarity performed on our children while they’re too young to remember, but the one person in the entirety of Avraham’s house spared the ritual was myself, who’d esteemed himself so essential and loyal that Avraham felt no need to bond me through the atrocity he calls ‘covenant.’
Unluckily, one of his last ‘visions’ before the sacrifice of Isaac was that I too must be ‘covenanted.’ No matter my protestations, he otherwise did not trust me to pick a wife for Yitzhak/Yishmael. Avraham swore me on pain of his unorthodox and tortuous procedure that I shall not procure a Canaanite bride and only allow his son a bride from Avraham’s own family.
By the second marriage of Avraham, this matter attains further significance, as there is already much talk among the Hittites about how Yitzhak suddenly looks fifty years aged from his former appearance. My fellow bondsmen heard it suspected that Yitzhak may be ill. Seeing that Yitzhak has not married nor produced an heir, this could be cause for substantial Hittite unrest.
I told Avraham to forestall procurement of his son’s wife many times in the hope that I could either convince Avraham to allow his son a Canaanite wife or that our financial portfolio would make Yitzhak a more attractive prospect to your house. But now that Avraham is eyver bottel (without sense), it doesn’t matter to whom he is married as much.
Nevertheless, if we’re already sending you ten camels along with baskets of gold, silver, and raiment, I have an idea to everyone's benefit. Yishmael told me you have a comely daughter of virtue true, Rivka - roughly contemporary to Yitzhak, may his memory be a blessing, and though she is forty still not married. It’s obviously not my business to know why she never married, but Yishmael, “Yitzhak Jr.”, is very eager to do whatever I tell him to prove himself a worthy heir, but it strikes me that after many years living in House Terakh together, she and Yishmael must know each other quite well. Since we’re already paying well over a marriage dowry rate, surely it wouldn't be much to ask we include a marriage between our houses. As Rivka would come live with us, it would in no way violate the terms of stipulated exile.
Please just think the matter over. I will arrive in six months’ time and no matter your decision I hope you will forgive me mention of the matter for further discussion when I arrive.
Looking forward to our visit to sacred Ur with greatest possible anticipation: An & Enlil and Enki be praised,
Dear Lavan,
So many thanks, all due gratitude, and no praise high enough unto you and the House of Terakh for the most wonderful visit to Ur: An & Enlil and Enki be praised. There is no higher happiness than to lay eyes once again upon our beloved hieroglyphics, wheels, calendars, and soap. I can only wish my fellow bondsmen in the House of Avraham derive the same nakhes (loving pride).
We’re so grateful to you for every service rendered, and in sending this letter, we want to repay the debt by notifying you of a small favor we performed. When meeting Rivka for the first time at your well, we knew her character was sterling when Rivka generously gave up her daily water allotment to us and also to our camels, but Paebel and Keret could not help but notice that there were a number of holes in your well that allow water to leak out into the sand. I hope you forgive us for meddling but all it took was a little bit of mud, grass, and reeds to apply some caulk to the holes. They finished the job in less than an hour. You should find your water retention rate much higher in the future and it is therefore all the more regretful that I had to put them to death at the end of our trip.
Your most devoted servant who will give thanks every day to the East for his brief return: An & Enlil and Enki be praised,

Tales From the Old New Land - Tale 2 - Rough Draft

 Dearest Lavan (Laban),

Let me start by thanking you again so much for taking Yaakov (Jacob) into the family business. In case I didn’t make it clear enough to you at the wedding, you diffused an extremely volatile situation and I know from your experience with Lot that you know exactly what that’s like too. I have nothing but gratitude for how you took Yaakov in as an untried associate and made a leap of faith that a free spirited shepherd who still hadn’t found himself in his late seventies would get his act together, but even if no one else saw how wildly successful Yaakov could be, I knew that you couldn’t have picked a better man and I worried that you wouldn’t see what I see in him the way his father never has. You can’t possibly know the naches (loving pride)I’ve had reading the letters from Yaakov about his success. 

Even so, I have to speak to you honestly and unpleasantly for a minute. I know I said to you at the wedding how dirty a trick you pulled on Yaakov in front of his hundred-twenty year old mother who’d journeyed for six months to kvell ('loving pride' the verb) over her son marrying the love of his life, but I need to re-emphasize how cruel and dishonest your actions were. You gave my son permission to marry Rokhel (Rachel), you knew that Rokhel was the daughter he wanted, and Yaakov swears that all the contracts he signed with you said ‘Rokhel’, not ‘Leyah.’ (Leah)

Yitzhak (Isaac) is old and blind now, and we have nobody here to run the business but Esav (Esau), a son with so much sekhel (sense) he sold his entire birthright for a bowl of soup.  He’s put half our money into this huge investment on getting a big game license which he swears up and down is the next big field. I had Eliezer ibn(son of)-Eliezer draw up a report and he said that big game has a high short-term yield but there’s a hunting bubble that could pop any month. You obviously did it because Yaakov is very valuable to you, and I’m happy it’s all worked out, but we need Yaakov back here as soon as possible, and he won’t come back without Rokhel. Please, I’m begging you, let him marry Rokhel and bring him and his family back to his old mother where they belong.

Barukh Hashem (praise god) and much love, 

Rivka (Rebecca)


Dearest Rivka...

It’s been nearly 80 years since you left and I still have to tell you to stay out of my business. This is why you never got married until you were 40! Why the hell wasn’t your husband even at the wedding? It’s clear from the way you talk about “Yitzhak” that you two are clearly having trouble you’re not telling me about. So even if I don’t have to, I’m going to speak to you businessman to businessman, something which you are absolutely not even if you always thought you were, and parent to parent, which I know that you’ve done an exemplary job at even though you clearly play favorites. 

Look, I don’t know why you or Yaakov would think an eighty-four year old man has any business marrying a girl who’s barely 19, let alone the twelve-year-old she was when Yaakov first kissed her. Yaakov swore he had no idea and thought she was at least ten years older, but even if she were 22, what the hell is a seventy-seven year old doing proposing to someone more than a half-century younger? I thought I was doing the right thing by separating them, but please understand, this is a win/win compromise for everybody. Maybe you haven’t read the tablets for the last half century but the Sumerian Empire just collapsed and Yaakov just spent the last seven years helping me get us out of Ur (Sumerian city) and re-established in Kharan (Mesopotamian city), An & Enlil and Enki be praised. It’s a miracle any of us are alive at all, and we really have Yaakov to thank. Without his managerial skills and the connections he made, there wouldn’t be a Terakh House anymore. Not to mention, in spite of his questionable taste in women he’s a very nice guy, he’s obviously a great cook, and everybody here likes him. Maybe a mensch (good man) like Yaakov could have found himself sooner if his mother disciplined him a little more, but he’s exactly the businessman we need here and he would be wasted at House Avraham, because in spite of how badly you and Yaakov treated him, Esav is clearly doing great for you guys. The quarterly dividend is growing even from what it was when “Yitzhak” was the boss. Your livestock business still grows quarter by quarter and he’s created a whole second arm of your portfolio by moving House Avraham into big game. What would Yaakov do in Canaan that Esav can’t and that Yaakov wouldn’t do here on a larger scale here?

And as for Leyah, whenever you meet her you’ll understand. She’s so wonderful in every single way and she will make the best mother. In many ways, Yaakov is his grandfather’s grandson, and has all these extravagant dreams, but Leyah will talk him down from these delusions of grandeur.  She’s grounded and practical, she never makes a fuss, she’ll be a perfect wife. OK, so she has lots of pockmarks from when she had staphylococcus. But you weren’t there when she went through that. She was just as beautiful as Rokhel before that, but there were boils on every parasa (a biblical measurement) of her body and it’s frankly a miracle she’s alive at all. She was obviously in terrible pain and couldn’t get out of bed for nearly a year, but she never complained, she never screamed, always apologizing for the inconvenience she thought she was causing, and she was always reminding Rokhel about the work that would never have gotten done if Rokhel weren’t reminded of it. Leyah always had the most beautiful eyes in the world and no boil could ever take that away. She’s never once had a suitor but she deserves happiness as much as Yaakov and Rokhel. Even if Yaakov isn’t in love with her, they’ve been friends ever since he came to us and she clearly loves him. It will be an excellent marriage and she will make such a wonderful family for him. Who needs to love their spouse?

Rokhel, on the other hand, is obviously beautiful, but she’s so much more difficult and irresponsible, she has a terrible temper, she has a problem with honesty, and frankly I worry that she’s a kleptomaniac. She would tell you she rejected her suitors because she was in love with Yaakov, but she turned multiple suitors away by bribing them by a night with her handmaid, whom, to be perfectly honest, is my illegitimate daughter Bilhah, so the potential scandal is doubly possible. Hopefully one day Rokhel will calm down, but she’s a true wild child, and Yaakov still has no idea what he’s getting if he takes her for a wife. 

But here’s the real reason I had to prevent that marriage, which Yaakov absolutely doesn’t know about. Hopefully my sharing this with you will demonstrate definitively that I’m dealing with you decently, and if I’ve withheld the truth it’s because I’ve looked out for everyone’s best interest. After saying that, I suppose it ought to go without saying that this next part stays between you and me on the pain of enmity between our houses. I’m sorry to say something so extreme, but as you’ll see, this secret really is that serious. 

Of course, the official record is still that Rokhel is still pure, but the truth is that my furrier bondsmen got her pregnant. He seduced her by making a really tacky coat for her. Aside from everything else, that coat was a monstrosity, it has… well we’ll just leave it at it has a lot of colors. I can’t even give it to another tribe as a gift. Anyway,... without even thinking twice she surrendered her virginity and dishonored her family. I had no choice but have our medicine man abort the baby, and he warned me that after taking his potion, Rokhel wouldn’t have children for the next thirty-three years. Rokhel doesn’t know that, Yaakov doesn’t know that, and frankly I don’t want either of them to find out, and I beg on the price of friendship between our houses that you never tell them. 

So instead I put Yaakov on another seven year contract. Let’s all give this another seven years. Yaakov will stop being angry when he has kids and realizes what a great wife Leyah is and hopefully her younger sister still will stop being a korveh (slut). If he still wants Rokhel, hopefully Rokhel will calm down too and they can try to have that kind of marriage they still obviously dream about right in front of Leyah that only exists in the stories our family bard tells while Leyah does all the work of being a real wife. 

An & Enlil and Enki be praised and all my love,



Dearest Lavan…….

I regret writing you yet again to protest your treatment of Yaakov, but I don’t have a choice. Yaakov just sent me ten cuneiform duplicate invoices which demonstrate that you have not paid him anywhere near his full earnings. His letter told me that every time he’s raised a new herd of cattle, he creates a much better herd than yours because you keep trying to save money on what you feed the animals, only for you to pull rank on him and commandeer his better herd over and over again in exchange for your drek (shit) herds, out of which he always creates another good produce only for you to steal his herd again. 

It’s bad enough you cheated Yaakov on his wedding, but you claimed to me that Yaakov should stay in Kharan because he would have better business opportunities, only for you to steal all his business; and every time you steal business from him, he creates better profits for you out of the bopkes (turds) you give him, only for you to give him bopkes again. All he wants is to come back to Canaan with his family and make an honest living. 

I know we’ve always had trouble Lavan, but I honestly never thought you were a gonif (thief). 

Baruch Hashem and Love….



Dearest Rivka……….

I deserve better from you. You know perfectly well that when I took Yaakov in he wasn’t a functional member of society. On the day he arrived he’d smoked so much hash that he was literally seeing angels walking up and down a ladder. Now, when he’s nearly ninety, he’s finally gotten his act together and is getting invaluable business experience. You remember Dad, do you really think Abba (father) Betuel was any different with me than I am with Lavan? 

I know you love your son, but you have another son writing to me about your treatment of him. Esav is doing better than ever, but after what he told me it’s a little much to read your pointing fingers at me about my dishonesty. That birthright was Esav’s by natural right, and you deliberately tricked ‘Yitzhak’ into giving Yaakov the blessing. 

Do I really have to remind you that my ‘tricks’ are the reason that you have any sons at all? You’re the one who wanted to marry into that crazy side of the family which cuts the foreskin off it’s babies but doesn’t sacrifice them on an altar, claims they’re ‘chosen’ by a god that isn’t there, and are so much more moral than the rest of us that they whore out their wives and expel their concubines. And don’t think all that ‘exiling’ is over either just because your meshuggeh father-in-law is gone, your side of the family is still so screwed up that your favorite son had to run away and fortunately he had a rich uncle (though not as rich now…) who could take him in. How many of your grandchildren will even be able to stay in Canaan? 

I’m sorry if my letters are too harsh, really I am, but the fact is that the head of the house always gets the plumb herds, that’s the way it’s always been. You know this very well. But what you might not understand is how difficult things are now. 

Whatever luxury we knew in Ur, An & Enlil and Enki be praised, that’s over now. We came to this new country with nothing, and through fifteen years of hard work we’ve built a successful corporation that still isn’t half of what we had in Sumeria that was taken away from us overnight. I’m just trying to keep expenses low, and as head of Terah House, if I didn’t take the best shares, Yaakov’s life would be threatened. You never met my sons, I try to discipline them but they run with a very bad crowd of Assyrians. If I let Yaakov keep the best herds, what defense would Yaakov have if my sons decided I was cheating them out of their inheritance? Yaakov is not a fighter like his brother, and even if Boer is as short and squat as all of us, his friends aren’t, and any one of them could make quick work of your son. 

Rivka, please understand, I love you, I love Yaakov, I love Leyah and Rokhel, even if Rokhel is a hur… (what it sounds like…), and I want to see them thrive. I’m doing what I think is best for all of us, including Yaakov, and when all this is done, he will have his choice of whether to be head of House Terah or House Avram. 

As a show of good faith, I’ll tell you what I’ll do. Kharan’s annual livestock fair is soon. In six months we’re going to have ten herds of goats and sheep each. He’ll get all the black ones, all the spotted and speckled ones, and I’ll just take the pure white. 

Your loving but unappreciated brother, An & Enlil and Enki be praised,



Dearest Lavan………….

I really can’t believe I have to do this yet again. I was very happy to read your new promise to Yaakov, it was really was wonderfully generous, but I just received a letter that you removed all the non-white livestock and carried it three days away so he couldn’t find it. If your word was a stick you couldn’t lean on it. 

Is Esav paying you to fercockt all this? 


Dearest Rivka…………………………………….

I’d say that I’m shocked by your tone but that’s obviously not true. As I said, if my sons got word that Yaakov would keep the best herds, what defense would Yaakov have if my sons decided I was cheating them out of their inheritance? Well, they got word of the deal just hours after I sent the letter. If I valued Yaakov’s safety and his children’s, if I valued my own, I had to send the cattle elsewhere and not let Yaakov pick them. 

And even if that’s what I did, and even if Yaakov is as furious at me as you are, he and I are still dependent on each other for our safety and he frankly has me to thank that no danger’s come to him. Neither he nor I would be in any danger if he’d just trusted that I would reimburse him properly at the first opportunity, but instead he clearly stayed up all night painting all kinds of spots on the remaining livestock and I had to let him keep them. So now my sons are yelling at me every day about how I’ve let Yaakov get richer than we are and how I’ve cheated them out of their inheritance, and I have to live every day with the terror that they’re going to get Assyrians involved in our business disputes. The Mesopotamian police can only do so much to protect us. 

The Assyrian Empire is getting closer and closer, and you have no idea what these Assyrians are like. You want to do everything you can to avoid being in debt to them. Every one of them’s a farbrekher (criminal). They attack all their neighbors, burn their cities to the ground, make the city completely Assyrian, and make second-class citizens like us third-class. Then they do the same to their next neighbor. I’ve seen Assyrians slice off a man’s hands, feet, ears, nose, and throw his wife off a high tower. I’ve seen them behead a child, flay alive his brother, and roast the third over a fire. In peacetime Assyrian cities beat their criminals and and whip their debtors to death, pull out their tongues, gouge out their eyes, impale, behead, make them drink poison, and burn children in front of their parents, and not as a sacrifice! And I can tell you right now, one day they’re gonna come for Canaan too. 

So as you see, I don’t expect thanks for this, but many thanks is what you should obviously be offering me. Every decision I make is to protect our family, of which Yaakov is one of our most important components. I guess Yaakov doesn’t want to become head of Terakh House at this point, what a shame that is, but if he ever does again he’ll see right away that it’s no easier for him to honor his promises than it was for me. 

All my love which you frankly aren’t deserving right now, but I miss Ur and remember our good times with nothing but deep affection, An & Enlil and Enki be praised,


PS. Esav is not paying me, but your ‘older son’ has written me asking for the hand of my bondswoman, your ‘stepdaughter’ Mahalat, daughter of Yishmael, a person who supposedly no longer exists. In other words, Esav’s half-sister. Esav had the sense to put you in a slightly awkward position that, considering your recent treatment of me, is a cause of slight enjoyment. I’m sorry but it’s true. You’ll now have to legitimize “Yitzhak”’s daughter from when he was Yishmael and all sorts of Amorites will be sniffing at why the bride of a legitimate son of Yitzhak has a father who suddenly ‘disappeared’ a century ago yet looks exactly like a female version of her father-in-law, and is even from his mother’s hometown, An & Enlil and Enki be praised….


Dear Lavan….

How could you not tell me that my son was living in this kind of danger every day for eighteen years? Are you exaggerating now or have you deliberately withheld what kind of neighborhood you live in all this time? You had us believe that you were running a respectable business! But now you’re telling me that you’re almost a hundred thirty years old and you’re running businesses like you’re still hustling that backgammon racket out of Zaydie (grandpa) Betuel’s barn. For our entire lives, you told me that I would never have any mind for business because I’m a woman, and for our entire lives I’ve watched you senselessly put our family’s lives on the line just so you could make more money. Maybe you’re right, maybe a woman would run this business differently. Maybe one day soon the House of Avraham will let a woman run it and show she can do it as well or better than men like you. 

The time has come and long since passed for Yaakov to return. Yitzhak fell into a coma and is likely to never wake up. So as it happens, with Yaakov gone and Yitzhak incapacitated, I am now the Vice-President of the House of Avraham. As you know, I have the authority to order Yaakov to return without Esav’s permission - and by the way, I’m sure Esav’s marriage was your idea. By my authority, Yaakov is to come back to his proper family immediately so he can take over his ailing father’s business as he should have done twenty years ago. 



Dear Lavan, 

As I’m sure you realized by now, by the time you receive this letter, Yaakov and his family should be well on their way back to Canaan. Of course I knew that you wouldn’t tell Yaakov of my order and would lie to keep Yaakov in perpetual service, so I immediately sent Eliezer-ibn-Eliezer to Yaakov to convey the message that his family was ordering him to come back along with Paebel-ibn-Keret and Keret-ibn-Paebel. After reading your last letter, I immediately resolved we had to bring Yaakov back by any and all means, even if it means Yaakov and your daughters and grandchildren leaving you under cover of night with all their possessions (or at least the ones you let them have) and with no warning at all. 

I’m deeply sorry the relations between our houses have come to this. I wish there were any other way at all, but you’ve put Yaakov in such terrible danger, along with your own daughters and grandchildren. I saw no other option and even Esav agreed with me once I told him. 

I wish you only the best of luck, which I am sure you will always find a way to have. B’Ezrat Hashem (with God’s help), we all will have such luck in the future, and in the meantime, I reluctantly still send you my deepest love,



Dear Rivka,

I indeed realized Yaakov and his family were gone hours after they left. I had resolved to let them go, except that my daughter, Rokhel, who certainly knows about the god of your house, stole a bunch of gods from my house to take with her to Canaan. She will now be your problem, a true Jewish Arabian Princess. Knowing the statues would eventually be discovered and how much they would offend you and even Yaakov if you found out, I immediately took my best horses to catch up with them, take my gods back and say goodbye to my family whom I love dearly on the very best and most forgiving possible terms. 

I am genuinely sorry you’ve been so offended by my treatment of Yaakov but everything I did was for the good of our family - my family and yours. You have the luxury of viewing our situation from the outside. If you had ever been in my position, you would have made no decision differently than I did. I’ve been trying to tell you for decades how dangerous our situation was. I’ve kept nothing from you, and while you clearly were shielded from that knowledge while you were with us in Ur, nothing here in Mesopotamia is more dangerous than Sumeria ever was, or Canaan is. 

I wanted to spare you the details because I know how much you worry about your son, but this is why I’ve always told you you’re not a businessman at heart. You never understood the risks involved, you never wanted to understand. 

For once, you’re too tactful to say it outright, but the implication that I’ve dismissed you for a century for being a woman could not be more clear, and you’re right, I have, and for the record, I do surely repent for one hundred years of ill-treatment and plead your forgiveness. But I do know you Rivka, and whether it has anything at all to do with being a woman, I know you do not have the kishkes (stomach) for running a business, and even if you did, being a woman would make running a business even harder for you than it is for me. You would have to not just spend every day avoiding being cheated, you’d have to spend every day avoiding being killed, you would have to be the killer yourself before someone killed you, and everyone would try to do both: your neighbors, your bondsmen, even your family. 

I guarantee Canaan is no less dangerous for your family - our family - and never will be any less, and whether Esav has any brains, he has the seykhel for business and he has the kishkes, and he has the… Business isn’t about being smart, it’s about having chutzpah of steel - which I know hasn’t been invented yet, but you know what I mean. 

But if “Yitzhak” is in a coma, then there is no sense keeping the secret from you anymore. If I ever told you this information you would have told Yaakov, and he would either leave or he would see right through the lesson we were trying to teach him. But three days before Yaakov arrived at my well, high on hash and completely without any official announcement if you recall, I did receive a letter from Yitzhak/Yishmael, a letter about which he clearly never told you, and which he ordered me to burn immediately after reading, but the agony your husband experienced was such that I remember every word. 

Your husband realized that his original deception was already nearly a century ago, but even so, the guilt that he has lived Yitzhak’s life ever since has eaten him alive. He was very apologetic about involving us in your family’s deception at all, but in light of the new events, he was particularly terrified that deception is inbuilt now into the entire House of Avraham, and the entirety of the idea of your house’s idea that there is only one god who rules over all creation will be tarnished with an original sin of dishonesty which will repeat itself over and over again for as long as the House of Avraham exists. All that wouldn’t even matter, but it’s an idea which Avraham and both his kinder (children) believed will redeem the world and make people act more decently and honestly with one another. 

Quite frankly, I always thought that idea was shandlekh (shameful). Living is hard enough without telling people that they can be more decent and honest if they believe in a god who controls everything, reads all their thoughts, and follows them everywhere they go. It makes prisons in the minds of everybody who believes it. It’s only going to make people who believe it suffer more, and when they suffer more, they’ll be more dishonest, more violent, more covetous. It could turn everybody who believes it into a meshuggener (lunatic) like Avraham.  

When Yitzhak/Yishmael saw how quickly you reverted to deception when you thought you knew better what the future should be than your husband, and how quickly your son agreed to conspire with you, he knew that deception was embedded in the entire isud (foundation) of your house. Yitzhak/Yishmael saw that Esav was a slow learner, but he was good natured and only wanted to make people happy. When Esav sold Yaakov his birthright (and by the way, Esav handed him that birthright as a joke), Yitzhak/Yishmael realized that even though Yaakov was smart, he was conniving and dishonest. Yaakov immediately claimed that Esav’s bowl of soup joke was a serious deal and wouldn’t give Esav’s deed to the birthright back. And you not only believed him, you helped him! And then he stole Esav’s blessing too, and all of Esav’s possessions. That part was your plan, not his! So ever since, Yaakov was the designated heir and there was nothing Esav or Yitzhak/Yishmael could do, and yet Esav has run the House of Avraham brilliantly, and all the disasters you predicted in Esav’s stewardship never came. 

And so, Yitzhak/Yishmael wrote to me, with underlining, that what Yaakov required was brutal discipline. According to your husband, Yaakov’s dishonest and arrogant ways were due to his mother spoiling him and letting him do all the easy jobs with the cattle herds while Esav went out hunting and did the serious work in the desert and the fields of finding the animals, which, you may have noticed even if you didn’t seem to care, required him to be away from home for months of work at a time, go without food for days and occasionally without water, and risk his life against all manner of wild animals. Even if Esav was angry enough to say he wanted to murder Yaakov, wouldn’t you be just as mad? Wouldn’t you say and/or do things you’d regret for a lifetime? If you were paying attention, you’ve noticed Esav has long since calmed down and forgiven his brother, and tells me he will welcome Yaakov back with a giant party with hundreds of Hittite guests. But even so, neither Yaakov nor you’ve forgiven me for deceiving them on levels that are, if anything, more trivial than what you’d already betrayed your own son and brother. 

Even so, when I heard all that Yaakov did, I understood immediately, this is a guy with the chutzpah to be a great in business, but he needed to understand business’s risks, he needed to know the price of success, he needed to learn exactly what it means to be a cattle trader and go through all the brutal rigors and humiliations of apprenticeship just the way I did, because being the boss is no easier than being an associate. This is the way Abba (dad) learned, the way Zaydie (grandpa) learned, and it’s the way apprenticeship was always done, and I guarantee was much more brutal in the past. 

I don’t expect to be thanked, but Esav’s assured me that Yaakov will come home to a hero’s welcome. Esav says he has enough and is planning to retire, he’s nearly 100 years old, and even if he doesn’t, you now have both your sons at home who can run your business brilliantly and make a living that keep all your grandsons provided for when they get old enough, while the House of Terakh has no capable heirs yet, and at the age of a hundred thirty, I still can’t retire and enjoy the bread I eat from the sweat of my face. You have no idea how hard it is to work with this kind of schedule at a hundred-thirty, the mind wanders, the soul plays tricks, sometimes I begin to think I’m hearing the same voice Avraham heard all those years ago….

An & Enlil and Enki be praised, all my love, and your welcome,