Thursday, November 29, 2012

Vayishlach

The Jewish people trace their lineage to Abraham through Isaac and in particular Jacob. He is the father of the twelve tribes. In this week’s portion he gains the name Israel by wrestling with a divine being. His brother, Esau, is forever our enemy. According to Jewish tradition our many enemies can be traced to Isaac’s first-born son.

Esau is seen as the ancestor of the Edomites who aligned themselves with the Babylonians and destroyed the First Temple. The tradition as well sees the Romans as descendants of Esau who destroyed the Second Temple and views Jacob’s only brother as the ancestor of our later enemies, even modern European antisemites. Bereshit Rabbah comments: “We went looking for a brother, but instead found Easu, armed and hostile in a very non-brotherly manner.” All our enemies begin with Esau.

There are days when my dreams are haunted by this tradition. Must Esau forever be my enemy? The two brothers, Jacob and Esau, are indeed reconciled, but then part company and become the fathers of different nations. Will this enmity continue to be my future? Is this the history that we are condemned to live? I am a descendant of Jacob. My enemies forever bear the imprint of Esau. Our brother exclaims, “Let but the mourning period of my father come, and I will kill my brother Jacob.” (Genesis 27:41)

A few weeks following those terrible nights of Kristallnacht, in November 1938, Mahatma Gandhi wrote a disheartening article about Zionism. In it he argued that only the Arabs were the rightful inhabitants of Palestine. He viewed the Zionist settlers as colonialists. He advocated that Jewish settlers practice non-violence in order to win over the hearts of the Arabs. Ghandi also thought that the Jews of Germany should follow a similar practice in response to the then emerging Nazi onslaught.

His views were of course terribly naive. Ghandi refused to divide the world into friend and foe. Our lot, we have learned, is far different. I am Jacob. My brother, Esau.

The Jewish philosopher and founder of Hebrew University, Martin Buber, responded to Ghandi by saying that that no land belongs to any people. “The conquered land is, in my opinion, only lent even to the conqueror who has settled on it—and God waits to see what he will make of it.”

Buber, unlike the majority of Zionists, argued for a bi-national state, a state with a shared place for Jews and Palestinians. It is a vision of Zionism long since rightfully discredited by the overwhelming majority of Israelis. How could such a state then have a decidedly Jewish character? Still there must always be a place for Arabs within a Jewish and democratic state.

On this day, in 1949, the United Nations argued that there should indeed be a place for Palestinian national aspirations, not within the Jewish state, but instead alongside it. Decades of war, terrorism and bloodshed suggest this is impossible. These past weeks might have again caused our hearts to become hardened. Martin Buber refused to lose hope.

And so we continue to ask, “Even after the rockets and the public calls for our destruction, there still is hope?”

“Yes, even now.”

And Rabbi Akiva’s students asked him, “Even now?” He answered, “Yes, even now.”

We must always hope. Even now.

Always. No matter the history. Regardless of the circumstance.

Especially now.

“And Esau ran to greet Jacob. He embraced him and, falling on his neck, he kissed him; and they wept.” (Genesis 33:4)

No comments: