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ISRAEL AT WAR

Thursday, 4 December, 2014 - 12:43 pm

What happens when a fly falls into someone's cup of coffee?

The Italian—throws the cup, breaks it, and walks away in a fit of rage.
 
The German—carefully washes the cup, sterilizes it and makes a new cup of coffee.
 
The Frenchman—takes out the fly, and drinks the coffee.
 
The Chinese—eats the fly and throws away the coffee.
 
The Russian—Drinks the coffee with the fly, since it was extra with no charge.
 
The Israeli—sells the coffee to the Frenchman, sells the fly to the Chinese, sells the cup to the Italian, drinks a cup of tea, and uses the extra money to invent a device that prevents flies from falling into coffee.
 
The Palestinian—blames the Israeli for the fly falling into his coffee, protests the act of aggression to the UN, takes a loan from the European Union to buy a new cup of coffee, uses the money to purchase explosives and then blows up the coffee house where the Italian, the Frenchman, the Chinese, the German and the Russian are all trying to explain to the Israeli that he should give away his cup of tea to the Palestinian.
 
Friends, this anecdote is quite an accurate depiction of reality. Once again, Israel is at war. Only a few miles from the center of Jerusalem lives an entire population with the single-minded agenda of exterminating every Jewish man, woman and child living in the Promised Land.
 
The attack at a Jerusalem synagogue this week that killed four rabbis and a policeman was a pogrom. It was an attack motivated not by politics but by religious hatred; it was directed not at Israelis but at Jews.
 
The killers were armed with hatchets and guns instead of suicide belts, and they came not to kill Jews but to butcher them. The images are horrific: a prayer shawl in a pool of blood; a prayer book turned crimson, from which one of the victims had been worshipping as he was killed; and more haunting, the hand of a dead man, still wearing his phylacteries, soaking in his own blood.
 
While Hamas has praised the butchery and Palestinians have celebrated by handing out candies to children and posing with hatchets and photographs of the killers, PM Benjamin Netanyahu has called for restraint, urging Jews not to take the law into their own hands. Where do we go from here?
 
In this week’s portion of Toldot, Isaac marries Rebecca, who remains childless for 20 years. Isaac prays on her behalf and she conceives. She feels two children struggling within her, goes to inquire of G-d, and is told that there are two nations in her womb. Rebecca gives birth to the twins Esau and Jacob. When the boys grow up, Esau, Isaac’s favorite, becomes a hunter, while Jacob, Rebecca’s favorite, is an assiduous homeboy, “a dweller in tents.” One day, Esau comes home from the field exhausted and starving. He asks Jacob to share with him the stew he prepared. Jacob agrees on condition that Esau sells him his birthright. Esau agrees and sells his birthright to Jacob for a pot of stew.
 
Isaac grows old and his eyes become dim. He expresses his desire to bless his beloved son Esau before he dies. While Esau goes off to hunt for his father's favorite food, Rebecca—the mother—dresses Jacob in Esau's clothes, covers his arms and neck with goatskins to simulate the feel of his hairier brother, prepares a similar dish and sends Jacob to his father with the food.
 
Isaac, assuming that Jacob was Esau, blesses his son Jacob:
 
“And may the Lord give you of the dew of the heavens and the fatness of the earth and an abundance of grain and wine. Nations shall serve you and kingdoms shall bow down to you; you shall be a master over your brothers, and your mother's sons shall bow down to you. Those who curse you shall be cursed, and those who bless you shall be blessed."
 
Jacob, dressed in Esau's clothes, has taken Esau's blessings.
 
When Esau returns with the food and learns what his brother has done, he breaks out in a terrible sob. It is a moving and tender scene: 
 
When Esau heard his father's words, he cried out a great and bitter cry, and he said to his father, "Bless me too, O my father!"
 
Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing that his father had blessed him, and Esau said to himself, "Let the days of mourning for my father draw near, I will then kill my brother Jacob."
 
The question is:
 
Is this the proper way for a woman to behave, to contrive a scheme to outsmart her husband's wishes? If Rebecca had a good reason as to why Esau was undeserving of his father's blessings, why couldn't she communicate it directly to Isaac?
 
A man once asked me: Rabbi! If I state an opinion in the forest, with my wife not present, I’m still wrong?...
 
Why did Isaac cherish Esau so deeply and want to give him the blessings?
 
Isaac observed that Esau professed a quality lacking in Jacob: Physical strength, brute power and aggressive assertiveness. Isaac felt that, despite Jacob's obvious spiritual and moral superiority, in a world filled with brutality and violence, you need to be able to defend yourself. Jacob, the gentle scholar in the tents of Torah, did not possess the temperament necessary to wage wars and fight against cruel and vicious opponents. “The voice is the voice of Jacob, while the hands are the hands of Esau,” Isaac remarks when he touches a disguised Jacob.
 
Esau’s power lay in his hands; Jacob’s—in his voice, in his inner melody. In Isaac’s idealistic vision, Jacob would constitute the spiritual core of the Jewish people, while Esau would become its material defender. Jacob would be given the blessing of Abraham’s spiritual touch, while Esau was to be granted the blessings of the material world. Together they would make the ideal team. Isaac hoped that his twin sons - the more aggressive and materialistic hunter Esau and the more studious tent-dweller Jacob – would pool their talents and work together. He planned to give the material blessing of prosperity and productivity to Esau and the spiritual birthright of Abraham to Jacob.
 
Rebecca, however, understood that Esau was not ready yet for a joint partnership. Esau had become too brute and aggressive to appreciate his role of creating a structure in which Jacob could live, a civilization where Jacob could fulfill his mission. Instead, he would attempt to undermine and completely vanquish the more spiritual Jacob. Jacob, then, needed to cultivate some of the qualities of Esau if he wished to survive in our world and to transform our world into a haven for goodness and G-dliness.
 
This was the plot behind Rebecca’s actions. She dressed Jacob in Esau’s clothes, teaching him that at times he would need to garb the cloaks of Esau. Sometimes history would summon him to don the sword of Esau and become “a skilled hunter, a man of the field.” However, only his outer garb would be that of Esau's; internally, he must remember that he is Jacob. The very act of dressing like his brother, and taking his brother’s blessings, allowed him to cultivate within himself the “Esau” quality of brazenness and risk-taking; it furthermore allowed Isaac to see that Jacob contained within him not only a spiritual ascetic, but also the ability to become a doer and a fighter.
 
This is the deeper meaning in Rebecca’s words: “Now my son, listen carefully as I instruct you. Go to the flock and fetch me two choice kids and I will make of them a dish for your father, such as he likes” (Genesis 27:8-9). Jacob, she was saying, go to the flocks, go out to the field, go out to the street. Take your Torah out of your tents and out to the whole wide world!
 
When Jacob announced to his father, "I am Esau your first-born," he did not truly lie. Jacob had acquired his brother's traits. He had become Esau, at least externally. He learned how to dress like Esau, how to maneuver and navigate in the world like Esau, so that he could confront it on its terms and transform it to holiness. When Isaac observed this, he declared “Let him be blessed.” At last, Isaac agreed with Rebecca.
 
This week Israel needs to don the garb of Esau, take its “sword” and defend itself against the vicious, brutal and barbaric attacks of the Arabs.
 
This is a devastating tragedy for Israel, for the Jewish people. We remember the victims with love, and stand with their families and all the people of Israel, with unwavering determination and vigor, praying that Jacob has the courage to keep on wearing Esau’s garments until he removes the cancer of terror that wishes to murder every single Jew alive, and we pray for the day when Jacob can finally remove the clothes of Esau permanently, the day when peace and compassion will reign in our world with the coming of Moshiach, Now.
 
Happy new month of Kislev on Sunday!
 
Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov,

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky
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