Friday, November 16, 2012

Toldot

I am unable to leave Sandy behind.  Perhaps better to say that Hurricane Sandy will not let go.  Her winds and waves continue to torment my dreams.  True, life is returning to normal on the North Shore.  Power has been restored.  Our homes are again warm.   Nonetheless for our friends and family living only miles away the struggle continues.  Far too many, in the place we call home, are without even the most basic of necessities.

I find this painful to witness.  I pledge not to sit idly by.  I must vow to do more.

I find it as well painful to read the opening verses of this week’s portion, about our forefathers Jacob and Esau.  Here is that story.  Jacob and Esau are twins.  Esau was born only moments before Jacob.  Jacob emerges holding on to his brother’s heel.  He is thus called “Jacob, meaning heel.”  Esau becomes a skilled hunter.  Jacob is more mild mannered and toils in the house (nay, tent).  One day Esau returns from hunting and spies the lentil stew that Jacob is cooking.  Esau screams, “Give me some of that red stuff to gulp down, for I am famished…” (Genesis 25:30)  Seeing an opportunity, Jacob tells Esau to sell him his birthright.  Esau relents saying, “I am at the point of death, so of what use is my birthright to me?”  Jacob insists that Esau make a solemn vow renouncing the birthright.  He does.  And thus Jacob claims the birthright of his older brother.

How many people take advantage of the pain and suffering of others, especially during the past weeks?  How many gas stations unnecessarily raised their prices?  How many people stole from others when their homes were unprotected?  There were far too many who took advantage of their brethren and profited from their hunger, thereby spurning their very heritage and casting aside the ties that should bind us together.  Then again there were far more (at least I continue to believe, I must believe, that there are always more good than bad) who ran to help, who contributed much needed supplies, who offered assistance, who continue to write checks for repair.

And now my thoughts turn to Israel.  Why must Jacob and Esau continue to fight?  Let it be said that I stand with the State of Israel.  I stand with my people, with Jacob who later becomes Israel in its struggle with Esau.  Still I wonder why can’t brothers live in peace, why must they fight over birthrights, inheritances and blessings?  Why can’t we live by the prophet’s words, please God may it be soon? “And they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation. And never again will they learn war." (Isaiah 2:4)

I understand the intricacies of the modern Middle East.  I recognize the failures of the Palestinians to build something (anything!) positive in Gaza after Israel unilaterally withdrew from this territory.  I can argue with the best of them whether Jacob stands guilty of stealing the birthright or as the Torah records, “Thus did Esau spurn the birthright.”  Sometimes I wish that such discussions should be of no consequence.  I just want peace.

Yehuda Amichai, the great Israeli poet, writes:
Not the peace of a cease-fire,
not even the vision of the wolf and the lamb,
but rather
as in the heart when the excitement is over
and you can talk only about a great weariness.
I know that I know how to kill,
that makes me an adult.
And my son plays with a toy gun that knows
how to open and close its eyes and say Mama.
A peace
without the big noise of beating swords into ploughshares,
without words, without
the thud of the heavy rubber stamp: let it be
light, floating, like lazy white foam.
A little rest for the wounds—
who speaks of healing?
(And the howl of the orphans is passed from one generation
to the next, as in a relay race:
the baton never falls.) 
Let it come
like wildflowers,
suddenly, because the field
must have it: wildpeace.
Let that be our prayer.  For our tortured souls following Hurricane Sandy.  And for our embattled (once again) Medinat Yisrael, the State of Israel.

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