Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Tol’dot

A member of my “Experienced Adult” (avoid using the term “seniors”) Tuesday morning class keeps asking me, “If this stuff (Torah) is not real, why do we waste our time studying it?” Every week (often twice because of Shabbat mornings), I try to give him examples of how text leads us to meaningful conversations and that no one intended for it to provide answers. Truth is found in the ethic, not in fact.

This week, I found an example that resonated. For me, it’s a double blessing that it did because, in this text, I find the best Jewish description of the Jewish concept of Messiah. Isaac marries Rebecca. She cannot conceive a child. Ultimately, they pray, and she conceives – twins. They struggle mightily in her womb. She prays for guidance. God responds, “Two nations are in thy womb, and two peoples shall be separated from thy bowels. The one people shall be stronger than the other people; the elder shall serve the younger.” (Genesis 25:23)

I have to believe that this was not the news for which Rebecca was hoping. I bet she wanted God to fix it for her. Instead, Rebecca received a most important but most challenging truth. She carried in her womb the yin and the yang of civilizations: Esau, the mighty (yet naïve) warrior and Jacob the brilliant (but deceitful) caretaker. Neither can be whole without the other. Without each other, each has a glaring deficiency. Their deficits are interrelated.

Esau has no sense of value and no interest in family. He is a warrior. Jacob cannot defend or protect himself and puts all value in … value. He lives in fear of not having and learns to cheat, to ensure his own wealth. Holistically, where we have strength and wisdom, we have security and can experience blessing. The “blessing” Rebecca received was more of a prophecy than a blessing. She gave birth to the two opposing forces that have to reconcile and synergize for peace to ever be real on Earth. Only in peace can we ever know freedom.

The truth is that each of us is Esau and Jacob. We know how that stealing and deceiving is wrong. We know that we need each other and however strong cannot exist on our own. We know that we can only be free if we lose our fear and help each other past it, as well.

The most crucial line in Judaism comes from a 2000-year-old text (Pirke Avot), “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what good am I? If not, now, when?” Unlike Esau, we have to be strong and stand up for ourselves. Unlike Jacob, we need to be as concerned for the well-being of others as we are for our own. We cannot wait until we get thrown out of the family (Esau for marrying Canaanites) or seriously injured by God (Jacob wrestling with God) to open our eyes and our hearts to all that should be sacred. In a spiritual sense, we cannot live in two different nations (different worlds) uninvolved or interested in each other and expect to see peace in our lifetime.

In the same sense that the real story behind yesterday’s Thanksgiving holiday calls on us to rethink our need to dominate each other, this Torah portion demands that we create something whole out of fragments. If not, now, when? Time is of the essence. Shabbat Shalom.