Between November 14-21, 2012, four events took place which, together, remind us that Biblical stories might be dangerous to ignore.
The first event was the November 14 start of war with Gaza. After years of terror rockets coming into Southern Israel from Gaza, and most particularly after 260 rockets had been fired in a single ten-day period, Israel chose to attack Gaza. Her goals were to stop the attacks and to degrade Gazan’s ability to continue firing rockets at Israeli civilians.
The second event took place between November 15 -17, when it was reported that both US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and, separately, US President Obama, declared that, ‘Israel has the right to defend itself.’ At the same time, British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Andrea Merkel and European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton all declared their support for Israel. This appeared to be the first time in recent memory that Western leaders had given unanimous support to Israel.
The third event took place on the only Shabbat of this war: we read the weekly Torah portion. For this specific Shabbat, that portion was Toldot, with its story of the birth of the twins, Eisav and Jacob.
The fourth event took place on November 21, when US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton announced, with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi at her side, that a truce between Israel and Gaza had been brokered through President Morsi.
Three of these events have a connection to what we see--war against Israel. The fourth of these events—the story of Eisav and Jacob—has a profound connection to what we don’t see--the underlying nature of this war.
According to the Jewish commentator, Ramban (1174-1270), the Torah portion of Toldot opens with language that draws our attention to the previous week’s portion, Chayei Sara, in order to clarify relationships that involve the twins, Eisav and Jacob, and their grand-uncle, Yishmael.
It is the connection between these three relatives that interests us.
First, Eisav and Jacob.
Our Sages teach that Eisav and Jacob, while twins, were very different. Eisav was a man of action, Jacob was not. Eisav scorned his birthright, Jacob did not. Eisav was cruel. Jacob was not. Our heritage also teaches that the original plan for these twins was that they should be harmonious and complementary partners. Eisav would defeat evil. Jacob would spread good. But Eisav had other plans. He scorned his birth-right. He hated and then thought about killing Jacob.
Eisav forever feels threatened by Jacob. He desires to dominate and subjugate Jacob—and he knows that his destiny is to serve Jacob. Perhaps the descendants of Eisav have so hated that prophesied end that they have hunted, persecuted and murdered the descendants of Jacob in order to thwart that destiny. History certainly seems to validate such a premise.
Today, most say that the West—Europe and the United States—are the descendants of Eisav.
In this week’s Torah portion, Va’Yeitzei, we see that Jacob is afraid—and wary--of Eisav.
Jacob has reason to be wary.
Jewish leaders in Israel today do not seem to share that concern. They welcome Eisav’s kiss even though as the sages teach us that it is axiomatic and hard-wired into creation that Eisav hates Jacob.
Yishmael, the twins’ grand-uncle, has his own problem with Jacob. He, too, has reason to hate: he was cast away from house of his father Abraham, Jacob’s grandfather. He has never forgotten that. He has never forgiven it.
Today, Yishmael is the Arab. He cries that the descendants of Jacob are apes and pigs who must be slaughtered.
Jewish leaders in Israel seem not to hear Yishmael’s cry.
The reading of these three consecutive weekly Torah portions at exactly this time of year—when Israel confronts Gaza—is not a coincidence. These portions, called, Chayei Sara, Toldot and Va’Yeitzei, serve to remind us that the hatred of Jacob is real—and deep.
These readings also suggest that, if the last 2,000 years of history is any indication, such hate can in fact be handed down from generation to generation.
They remind us that any truce between Jacob and Yishmael (in Gaza) that is brokered by Eisav (the United States) and Yishmael (from Egypt) is not benign. The hatred is simply too strong.
Right now, Jacob, Eisav and Yishmael appear to stand in agreement. But the Jewish Tanach (our Bible) teaches us that the Jewish story of Eisav, Yishmael and Jacob is relevant even today. It alerts us to beware when Eisav and Yishmael join together to turn towards Jacob.
Do you believe this is nonsense? According to a snap poll taken in Israel hours after the truce was announced, 64% of Israelis said the truce would last only a short time and 24% said it wouldn’t last at all (The Times of Israel, November 21, 2012).
It appears that intrinsically, be they religious/observant or secular, the Jews of Israel are quite aware of the Jacob-Eisav-Yishmael axis.