Torah Portion: Toldot
Book of Genesis
December 2, 2016
Clearly the most common source of conflict among humankind is sibling rivalry. If brotherhood and sisterhood are the goals of good living, one might surmise that twins best exemplify this ideal. If you are a twin you may disagree! Certainly this was not true of the relationship of Jacob and Esau-twin brothers who could not be more different and difficult.
Esau was the hunter, Jacob the academic. Esau is described as ruddy and hairy, Jacob as smooth and gentle. Esau was the “apple” of his father’s eye. Jacob was the favorite child of his mother. From their birth, the two brothers spent their early years competing for their parent’s affection and their later years as enemies of one another. Jacob would go on to be a founding father of the Jewish people, while Esau would be the father of the Edomites who became bitter enemies of the Jews.
Thousands of years later, how far have we come? Whether the names be Isaac, Ishmael, Jacob, and Esau or Judaism, Christianity, and Islam the need to be the “favorite” of our parent God has visited death and destruction on centuries of human life. Our common histories have for too long been told in the “echo chambers” of our separate faiths. We have lost sight of the lesson taught in these chapters of Genesis. In the end, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, come to recognize and respect their differences. Noam Zion writes in the text Talking About Genesis, “The recognition and respect of differences also hold out hope for reconciliation when brothers accept their disparate fates, when each goes off to his own land and his own lifestyle-when they realize that they do not want to be the other but to be themselves.”
Zion concludes his essay by writing, “When Christians stop dreaming of Jewish conversion to Christianity, and Muslims and Jews stop dreaming of exclusive control of Abraham’s blessing, then there will be hope for mutual recognition among siblings. When all the biological and spiritual descendants of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar learn that the pain of our brothers and sisters cannot be taken lightly-even when we believe divine destiny is on our side-then reconciliation may become a real possibility.”
And, I may add, this world a better place. . .finally!
Rabbi Howard Siegel