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Toldot 5784                    November 18th, 2023

Rabbi Randall J. Konigsburg

Shabbat Shalom,

From the beginning of our Parsha, Jacob and Esau cannot get along. They fight even in Rivka’s womb. She has such a terrible pregnancy that she wishes she could die. Then she finds out that the twins that she carries will be enemies their entire lives, but the younger one will dominate the elder.

And that is how it will all play out. Esau is the stronger, filled with testosterone, the hunter and the fighter. Jacob seems softer, he listens, and he learns. He is wise and he is also clever, a trait hinted at in his name. He will live by his wits. He outwits his brother to get his birthright and he outwits his brother to gain his father’s blessing. All the strength of Esau cannot prevent Jacob from beating him at every turn. (I do have to mention here that Jacob is no pushover either. When he arrives at the well next week to meet his future wife, Rachel, he lifts a stone cover off of the well that usually takes several other shepherds to lift. We are not dealing with an 80-pound weakling) If there is a real difference between the brothers, it is that Esau lives for the moment and Jacob plans for the future.

Rivka and Isaac, as they age, see the differences between their sons and each favors qualities in one son over the other. When the time comes to send them both out into the world, Isaac will bless them just as Abraham blessed Isaac so long ago. Rivka remembers the prophecy that Esau will serve Jacob and together they arrange a plot to steal the blessing Isaac plans for Esau. We know this story and we know that it does not end well. Esau is out hunting and Jacob, dressing like his brother, convinces his blind father that he is Esau and gets the blessing meant for his brother. It is a blessing of the bounty of the earth and dew. It is the blessing of leadership and strength. It is a blessing where his brother is cursed to be his slave, to always be beholden to his brother. Blessed will be all who bless Jacob and cursed be all who curse him. Isaac thinks he has blessed Esau but instead, he has blessed Jacob. Now it is Esau that will have to serve Jacob. If he refuses, his life will be cursed.

When Esau discovers the deception, he bursts into tears begging his father for some kind of a blessing that will undo what has been given to Jacob. Isaac can’t retract what he has already given. At first, he tells Esau that there is nothing that can be done. But in response to Esau’s tears, he offers this consolation prize: “Your abode shall enjoy the fat of the earth and the dew of heaven above. But by our sword you shall live, and you shall serve your brother: But when you grow restive, you shall break his yoke from your neck.”

Bex Stern-Rosenblatt, of the Conservative Yeshiva, in her commentary this week, makes a sober observation about what Isaac has done. She writes:

“It is unclear whether Isaac is granting Esau the fat and the dew, much as he had offered them to Jacob, or whether he is dooming Esau to a lack thereof, to living removed from the fat and the dew.  In any case, Esau’s relationship with the earth and the heavens will not be managed by God, the way that Jacob’s relationship will be. Moreover, Isaac reinforces to Esau that he will be his brother’s slave. Even in the moment of blessing, Esau is given something of a curse. 

The curse continues, ominously, “And when you rebel you shall break off his yoke from your neck.” It is perhaps these words that put murder into Esau’s heart. Immediately upon hearing these words, Esau plans to kill his brother. The way Rebecca, his mother, understands Esau’s motivations and explains them to Jacob is “Look, Esau, your brother, is consoling himself with the idea he will kill you.” These are bone-chilling words. Isaac had urged Esau to rebel, to claim a place for himself despite the unfortunate circumstances that Isaac had blindly created for him. Esau will understand this as a call to murder, as legitimizing fratricide for the sake of dominating a limited resource. Esau, who was sure his father must have one small blessing leftover even after having given the blessing to Jacob, cannot fathom how to live together with Jacob, to share from his fat and his dew.”

This is how wars begin. Each side convinced that there are not enough resources for everyone and so they claim it all for themselves. One side has to hold all the food, the water, the energy. One side has to control everything so they can force their competitors to beg them for what they need. So that others will have to pay hard cash for just a portion of the abundance of the earth. We have seen this movie before. The Mad Max series where one man doles out water to those on a parched planet. The Highlander movies where there has to be one victor in the fight between good and evil. All those superhero movies where one person seeks to dominate the world and only the superhero has the strength and wisdom to thwart their diabolical plans. Think “Lord of the Rings” where there is “one ring who will rule them all” and the point of the story is that such a ring must be destroyed.

Where else can Esau go from such a “blessing” from his father? If he wants to break free from Jacob’s yoke, then Jacob must die. What option has Isaac left his son? Is it any wonder that Jacob must leave home at once, to save his own life? Is it any wonder, after stealing the blessing meant for his brother, that now he himself will lead a life wandering through the world until he reaches the old homeland, where he will find an uneasy refuge for the next 21 years. If Jacob thought he was so clever that he stole his brother’s birthright and blessing, he will not get the chance to enjoy either of the two rewards. He will leave home alone and penniless. He will have to live by his wits. He will have to pick himself up from the dust and find his own way to earn the bounty of the earth and dew. He will also discover that there are people in the world who are more clever than Jacob is and that living a life built on a lie will not lead him to any success. Jacob knows that there will come a day that he will have to face his stronger, older brother. He will not have his parents to protect him. Jacob will have to learn, like Abraham and Isaac, to rely on God.

We too will have to learn to rely on God. We too will have to learn to rely on each other. Resources cannot be hoarded; they must be shared. If Hamas cared at all about the Palestinian cause, they would be sharing their resources to help their people survive. Hamas has not learned the lesson that they cannot only look out for themselves. When people have nothing, they do not show love for those who have what they need.

Israel understands that the Middle East cannot be ruled by one nation alone. They know full well that water must be shared or there will not be enough for anyone. Israel understands that they need to find a way to live in peace with the Palestinians, one that will provide security and hope for both sides in this conflict. But so far, after some 75 years, the pain of the Palestinians has deepened into the resentment of Esau. There can be no sharing of resources. There can be no sharing of power. It is always all or nothing. And all that the Palestinians have accomplished has become nothing. Hamas thinks that Iran will give them the weapons they need to wield over the Israeli army not understanding that Iran has no interest in Hamas. Iran is Shia, Hamas is Sunni. Hamas has made itself not into a liberating army for Palestinians, but a tool of the ambitions of Iran. The other Sunni nations now understand this. Egypt, Jordan, The Emirates and soon Saudi Arabia will make their peace with Israel to counter the real threat from Iran. Hamas will be lost as a footnote to history. Just another failed attempt to destroy Judaism and the Jews who practice it.

Israel knows who the real enemy is; those who want it all at the expense of everyone else. Someday there will be real Palestinian leaders who will craft a real peace between themselves and Israel and with all the other Sunni nations of the Middle East. Peace can only come when all sides will learn to share the resources that exist in that part of the world. I still quote Yitzhak Rabin when he noted you don’t make peace with your friends, but with some very unsavory enemies.

The real question is not will Israel defeat Hamas; that is a given. But the real question is where will this all lead? Once again, our Torah guides us to an answer that will come a couple of parshiot into the future. It will come when Jacob and Esau finally get their moment to confront each other and carve out a future together.

Bex Stern-Rosenblatt gives us a preview of that moment in the life of our patriarch. She writes:

By the time we reach the moment in which Jacob and Esau next meet, Esau will have taken the second half of the blessing given to Jacob to heart: “those who curse you be cursed, and those who bless you, blessed.” Esau will choose to stop cursing Jacob. Esau will finally recognize that cursing his brother can only rebound harmfully onto him. So, Esau and Jacob will bless each other and be blessed through each other. The next time they meet, Esau will weep once again. But this time he will weep together with his brother, locked in an embrace.”

Finally, Esau will understand that the blessing of Earth and dew is not a limited resource at all. That if the brothers share their resources, then there will be enough for everyone. Both sides have now grown strong in numbers and in blessings. Like all siblings, they need some time apart before they can stop the rivalry and live together in peace. There will be twelve tribes of Esau and they will take their place in the land long before Jacob’s children will have the chance to set up their own land. Jacob’s family will descend into Egypt before they can become a nation. They will have to learn the lessons of the desert before they can find their place in the world. The Children of Israel will receive their blessing of earth and dew and they will not get it at the expense of their brothers, the Edomites.

Jews and Palestinians do not need to destroy each other to live together in peace. Peace is not a commodity to be hoarded, it is meant to be shared. Kindness, compassion, and joy do not depend on strength or power. Both sides already know, in their hearts, that they need each other to survive in the land. Both sides already know that resources must be shared. The only question is how they can build up the trust and the faith so they can live together in peace.

Maybe I am a hopeless optimist. But the story of Jacob and Esau is one filled with a lot of crying and weeping. Perhaps when both sides learn to cry over what they have lost in all this fighting, they will come to embrace each other and share the wish “If only we had done this sooner!”

I have no idea of what the future holds for Israel. I know terrorists must be defeated. I also know that in spite of many twists and turns, the peace between Israel and her neighbors has turned out to be stronger than anyone knew. I believe that when there will be peace with the Palestinians, whenever that may be, I believe that that peace will be strong enough to end the bitter hatred that describes the relationship now.

In this time of war: “Oz l’amo yiten – May God give strength to God’s people and may God bless the people of Israel with peace.”  May this be God’s will as we say ….  Amen and Shabbat Shalom 

Mon, February 26 2024 17 Adar I 5784