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Friday, 2 December, 2016 - 12:41 pm


What happens when a fly falls into a cup of coffee?

The Italian throws and breaks the cup, and walks off in a 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, the fly to the Chinese, and the cup to the Italian, orders 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 EU 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.

In this week’s Torah portion, Toldot, Isaac married Rebecca, who was childless for 20 years. Isaac prayed on her behalf and she conceived. She felt two children struggling within her, inquired of G-d, and was told that there were two nations in her womb. Rebecca gave birth to the twins Esau and Jacob. When they grew up, Esau, Isaac’s favorite, was a hunter, while Jacob, Rebecca’s favorite, was an assiduous homeboy, “a dweller in tents.” One day, Esau came home from the field exhausted and starving. He asked Jacob to share with him the soup he had prepared. Jacob agreed on condition that Esau would sell him his birthright. Esau agreed and sold his birthright to Jacob for a pot of soup.

Isaac grew old and his eyes dimmed. He wanted to bless his beloved son Esau before he died. While Esau hunted for his father's favorite food, Rebecca dressed Jacob in Esau's clothes, covered his arms and neck with goatskins to simulate the feel of his hairier brother, prepared a similar dish, and sent Jacob to his father with the food.

Isaac, assuming that Jacob was Esau, blessed 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… 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 returned with the food and learned what his brother has done, he broke out in a terrible sob. 

Is this the proper way to behave, to contrive a scheme to outsmart one's spouse's wishes? If Rebecca had a good reason as to why Esau was undeserving of his father's blessings, shouldn't she have communicated it directly to Isaac?

Why couldn't Rebecca "follow" the glorious old tradition of Jewish wives who commonly explain to their husbands how wrong they are?  [A man once asked me: Rabbi! If I state an opinion in the forest, with my wife not present, am I still wrong?...]

Indeed, Rebecca had a good argument against granting the blessings to Esau, one that Isaac would understand. Jacob's descendants became the nation of Israel, who granted the world the vision of ethical monotheism, while Esau's became the Edomite nation, and ultimately the Roman civilization, with its culture of ruthless power and material achievement.

So why would Rebecca not share this insight with her husband, instead of manipulating the situation?

Isaac never intended to make Esau the father of the people of Israel, never thought to bequeath the Holy Land to him, never considered him heir to “the blessing of Abraham.” All along, Isaac had two distinct blessings intended for his two sons. Jacob was to be given the spiritual legacy of Abraham.

Yet 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 remarked when he touched 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 constituted the spiritual core of the Jewish people, while Esau would be 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. 

Rebecca, however, understood that Esau was not ready yet for a joint partnership. This was the plot behind Rebecca’s actions. She dressed Jacob in Esau’s clothes, thereby teaching him that at times he would need to garb Esau's cloaks. Sometimes history would summon him to don Esau's sword and become “a skilled hunter, a man of the field.” However, only his outer garb would be Esau's; internally, he must remember that he is Jacob—his primary focus and role is spiritual oneness with G-d. 

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 not only a spiritual ascetic, but also the ability to become a doer and a fighter.

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 had learned to dress and maneuver 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.” Isaac, at last, agreed with Rebecca.

This past weekend was the International Shluchim convention. Over 4,000 rabbis from every corner of the globe came together to plan a brighter future for the Jewish nation. The Shluchim imitated Jacob in donning the garbs of Esau to enter every culture and society to spread goodness and Torah there. 

An atheist walked through the woods.

“What majestic trees! What powerful rivers! What beautiful animals!” he said to himself.

Suddenly, he heard a rustling in the bushes. He turned and saw a 7-foot grizzly bear charging him.

He ran as fast as he could. Looking over his shoulder, he saw the bear closing in on him. He ran faster, then looked behind him again. The bear was closer. The atheist tripped and fell. He rolled over to pick himself up and saw the bear above him, reaching with his paw and preparing to strike.

At that instant the atheist cried out, “Oh my G-d!”

Time stopped. The bear froze. The forest was silent.

A bright light shone upon the man, and a Voice came out of the sky. “You denied My existence for years, taught others I don’t exist and even credited creation to cosmic accident. Am I to help you out of this predicament? Am I to count you as a believer?”

The atheist looked directly into the light. “It would be hypocritical of me to suddenly ask you to treat me as a believer now, but perhaps you could make the BEAR a believer?” 

“Very well,” said the Voice.

The light went out. The sounds of the forest resumed. The bear dropped his paw, closed his eyes, meditated, and then spoke slowly:

“Baruch Atah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Haolam Hamotzi Lechem Min Haaretz."

You see, sometimes you never know what lurks behind the bear-garment. Externally he may be dressed a bear, but if you listen carefully, you might hear the “Baruch Atah Hashem.…”

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

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