Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Toldot

The world exists on the foundation of dualities. Even while most of the time we live somewhere in between the extremes, we know that for every yin there is a yang. Granted, the yin and yang are themselves fluid, but as opposing concepts, humanity accepts them and works from there. Many will argue that we use merisms as a means to describe large overriding principles of life in short and concrete comparisons. “Night and day” really mean all 24 hours. “Heaven and Earth” includes all of the universal creation. A dear friend and teacher, Rabbi Chanan Brichto zt”l, taught that the value of a merism is in the word “and.” “And” spans the chasm between the two words it connects.

When we look at personalities, we speak of “good and evil” as if the two words express all behaviors of all of humanity. Most people are not at one end of the spectrum or the other (even while many assert that we divide in such a manner). Probably, most accurately, one should say that we are never at one end or the other most of the time, but there are certain episodes in all of our lives that hit both ends (we hope more to the good than the other direction).

Torah calls this reality into conversation this week as we meet the twins, Esau and Jacob. In truth, the text treats them as though they represent the introvert and the extrovert. Jacob is the introvert, staying close to home, living well under his parent’s shadow. Esau is the hunter, the man of the field and adventurer.

Their youth is somewhat tortuous, and our tradition goes to great lengths to reconcile some difficult texts. Jacob is a lying and cheating young man. Esau seemingly lacks any long-term life strategies. In this one Torah portion, Jacob cheats both his brother and his father out of valuable birthrights and blessings. The text leaves us somewhat sympathetic for Esau. The portion ends as Jacob flees from his brother’s rage for having been deceived out of everything in life that matters.

Seemingly, one walks away from this week’s portion with a skewed message of truth. Being simple and transparent does not help. Esau was simple and transparent and lost. Jacob, deceitful throughout the story seems to win everything. Over the course of the story, we will learn that neither is the case. Esau will become a great leader, and Jacob will mightily struggle with family and with God. Watch over the next few weeks, as Jacob is on the “cheated” end in dealings with his father-in-law and his children.

Justice wins, but not for a while down the road. I have faith that the system works and that despite horrific episodes throughout history where parts of humanity failed, there have always been the people who appreciated truth and blessing who somehow righted the course of history. In the interim, though, a lot of people suffer.

Tonight is the anniversary of Kristallnacht. Many argue that while it is by no means the beginning of World War II, it is the visible beginning of the Shoah (Holocaust). Anti-Semitism was on the rise in Europe. This day of synagogue destruction was not the first Anti-Semitic act in Europe. It was not even the most barbarous of pogroms. It was, however, the most visible and openly hostile statement of the direction into which Germany was headfirst diving. We were used to regrouping after pogroms. There was no regrouping from Kristallnacht. It took a full seven-year Sabbatical cycle for any sense of normalcy to return to Europe. 80 years after Kristallnacht, we have not solved this problem and Anti-Semitism is still strong … as is anti-everything these days. Yet, more people than ever are finding their way into each other’s arms realizing that this is not about label based discrimination; the violence all comes from ignorance, fear, and the dismissal of each other’s dignity.

It will take a painful “hip-wrenching” epiphany for Jacob to understand. It will take a lot of trust from Esau to move past his own pain and anger. It takes a lot of difficult work to heal the chasms between people, and yet, we know that the bridge returning us to each other is possible. I receive a lot of requests to address the word “redemption.” Quite simply, I learned that it means the restoration of value. When we learn that each of us matters; when we look into history and see how much destruction stemmed from our failure to see divinity in each other’s eyes, then the world will experience redemption. It has to be for all of us and not some of us, and those who think that they have the market cornered on God’s blessings – over and above everyone else – these people most assuredly don’t get it. Truth will never come down to choosing which religion to espouse; they are all truth coming from one source of all creation. We will come to know and embrace truth when we understand that we are all in this equally-together. Shabbat Shalom.