Friday, November 28, 2008

Parshat Toldot - פרשת תולדות

(ויתרוצצו הבנים בקרבה... (כה: כב
(ויאמר ה' לה שני גיים בבטנך ושני לאמים ממעיך יפרדו ולאם מלאם יאמץ ורב יעבד צעיר (כה: כג

In this week's Parsha, Rivka is pregnant with twins, Esav and Ya'akov. Rashi comments on the word ויתרוצצו in the first Pasuk above, explaining that whenever Rivka would pass places of Torah study Ya'akov would push and attempt to get out, and conversely, when she would pass a place of Avodah Zarah, Esav's incessant kicking would be felt, such were his urges.

Another famous Rashi later on examines Esav's name, and explains that the root of his name, עשה indicates something that has been "done." It could be said that Esav, born with the hair of a much older child, was "ready-made."

Ya'akov and Esav were twins, and though we are keen to draw the differences between the two, they definitely had their similarities. What is oft-ignored is that Ya'akov was also rather wholesome himself. Interestingly further on it says of Ya'akov, "ויגדלו הנערים... ויעקב איש תם יושב אהלים - And the lads grew up... and Ya'akov was a pure man, a dweller of tents." The moniker תם can mean pure, as it is often translated, or alternatively it can mean perfect. His dwelling in tents is a reference to his way of spending his time learning Torah.

It is fascinating to note that the word for twins is "תומים." As mentioned above, the word used to describe Ya'akov is תמים, and I speculate that the two words are linked, especially as we are told in the second Pasuk that I listed above, "And Hashem said to her (Rivka) there are two nations in your stomach, and from your insides two regimes shall be separated, and one regime shall become strong from the other, and the older will serve the younger." The fate of the two boys are inexplicably linked, and it would seem that so too are their characters.

I received a message last night from a friend who writes a weekly D'var Torah, (search for "Inspiring Weekly Parsha on facebook,) and in it she wrote of how Eisav had the potential to be the leader of Am Yisrael. She wrote how some "commentators have said that Yitzchak wanted Eisav to become the leader of the Jewish people, which is why he wanted to bless him and not Ya'akov. Eisav was a man of action, who would go out into the world and spread the message of Judaism and bring people closer to God. Yaakov sat in his tent all day and was not ideal to spread this message, according to Yitzchak." But because he could not do this, Ya'akov had to take his place.

If we look closely at the wording, we can see that the Pasuk uses the unusual word "ויתרוצצו," which Rashi renders as meaning either running or as crushing. Notable by it's absence is the expected translation/explanation of the word; that the two brothers are fighting one another - for they are not! The two nations may be opposed to one another, but they are not essentially enemies. Rather, Esav's tafkid, (like that of every creation in the world,) is that to be an agent and aid the Jewish nation when we are not doing our job properly. Similarly, it is instructive to note that while we are commanded to destroy our arch-foes, Amalek, there is no imperative related to our having to hate them.

I find this very relevant to today's generation. When I hear people see slogans such as "death to Arabs" spray-painted or chanted by Jews in Israel, I get the horrible feeling that we are missing the point. I am saddened because this battle is not against Eisav or indeed the Palestinians, it is against ourselves and the Yetzer Hara. If we can take care of ourselves, then will have no need to fight our enemies. Previously the Romans, the Greeks, the Persians, and the Christian Crusaders have tried to exterminate the Jewish nation, I wouldn't worry too much about Al Qaeda, Hamas and Iran. If history has taught us one thing, it is that there is nothing in this world that the Jewish nation should fear, and that the best path for us is one of Torah observance. It is because we have not clung to Hashem's Torah that we suffered so from the swords of all these enemies, not because they were so perilous in of themselves. Hashem has let us try integrating, and we suffered a Holocaust.

But if we try too hard to separate ourselves from our neighbours, we are missing the point, too. Yes, we must take care of our security, yes we must protect our Jewish identity, but it is also essential to recognise the cause of our problems, and they are not the Arabs. Living in the Old City, I frequently visit the Kotel and from time to time I hear people caught up in a moment of angst, shouting anti-Arab slogans. I completely empathise with their torment, their very real anguish, but simultaneously wonder why they don't yell "Stop Sinat Chinam now!" or "No more Lashon Hara!" Invariably, the emotion is real and the intent is actually not of hatred toward Arabs, but their words betray the fact that these people are all too often misguided. Suicide bombs and rocket strikes from Gaza are not the cause of our pain, they are ultimately the effect our own sins are having on us. It is not the Arabs' fault that we are still in exile, that we are still in pain; it is our fault and it is up to us to correct our own wrongs.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom!

In memory of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg of Bet Chabad Mumbai, Aleihem HaShalom.

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