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    The tents & the fields – Tol’dot

    Jacob & Esau, by James Tissot c.1896

    Jacob & Esau, by James Tissot c.1896

    Two brothers, two human types – Esau, the man of action, and Jacob, the dweller in tents (Gen. 25:27-28).

    Jewish tradition seems to value the tent-dwellers more than the men of action.

    Tent-dwelling symbolises the studious, contemplative life. The sages were tent-dwellers. The philosophers and poets, the writers and historians sat at their desks, produced great ideas and stretched the human mind.

    The men of action ran, hunted and built. If the conventional story is true, they left little impact on human thinking. The contrast couldn’t be greater.

    But it does not reflect the reality. There were indeed great thinkers who never left their tents, desks or firesides – but many were also men of action.

    The Talmudic sages had many occupations: they built with their hands as well as their heads. There were great doers who strode the stage of history, but also wrote books, composed music, painted great works of art.

    Rarely did the two halves of these human personalities dovetail. Frequently, tension pulled in two directions.

    This is Rav Soloveitchik’s polarity of the practical Adam I and the poetic Adam II.

    The true Adam is neither one nor the other but both; he oscillates between the two sides of his being. He is the busy man of the field and the quiet dweller in tents.

    The tension never leaves him until he enters the next world. And maybe not even then, since the sages say that the disciples of the wise have no rest either in this world or in the world to come (Talmud B’rachot).

    The real problem is not which Adam I am but how I am perceived.

    As a man or woman of action did I devote my talents to raising the quality of society – or did I serve selfish or distorted ends?

    As a thinker did I lift souls to God, goodness and holiness – or did I sin with my mind and twist the truth?

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