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    My minders & your minders – Vayyishlach

    November 26th, 2023

    The meeting of Jacob & Esau, by James Tissot

    Heads of state work in stages. Only after their officials have hammered out an agreement do the principals come together with the television cameras watching, shake hands and have an official signing of whatever treaty is on the table.

    One might say this is a practical way of dealing with matters which must have been worked out at some point in the history of diplomacy. The earliest precedent, however, appears to be in the Bible, in this week’s sidra.

    Jacob sends messengers (the Midrash, followed by Rashi, says they were angels) in advance of his fateful meeting with his brother Esau (Gen. 32:4). He wanted to ascertain how Esau was likely to receive him. If an angry, hostile reception appeared likely there was still time to pull back and escape.

    The sages see in the Biblical text an indication that Jacob had three options: prayer, gifts and weapons. He prayed that God would make things go well, but if this did not succeed he was ready to load his brother with presents. As a last resort he was willing to fight.

    Fortunately the first method worked, and Esau was prepared to greet him with some cordiality. The gifts were now unnecessary, though later they were accepted. The fighting was forgotten.


    Obedience in advance – Vayyishlach

    November 26th, 2023

    A Hebrew rhyme says Im Lavan gar’ti v’taryag mitzvot shamar’ti – “With Laban I dwelt and I kept the 613 commandments”.

    Laban had little connection with God and religion. It was a triumph for Jacob to keep the mitzvot in his house.

    It happens today even more: people who keep up religious observance regardless of the indifference or active opposition of the family.

    The Jacob story has an extra problem – why keep commandments which were not yet officially given?

    Some people have the instinct to discern the will of God even without being told – truly a high rank in spirituality.


    The will to good

    November 19th, 2023

    The last month has been full of pain. We have suffered grievously at the hands of those who assert religiosity but have no feelings for religion.

    Herzl says that God is the Will to Good which always prevails in the end. In the meantime, the Bible assures us that in time of calamity God suffers with us. Suffering extends to God too, and we expect Him to proclaim morality and to protect the people of Israel… and Himself.

    Primo Levi said, “If I were God I would spit” (“Survival in Auschwitz”, 1961). There are times when God has no choice but to spit at those who claim to act in His name.

    Herzl was no paragon of orthodoxy but believed that people should be true to God. His idea of God is far from traditional but despite what it leaves out he is right that no-one can talk of God without the doing of good.

    Strangely, evilly, some of our enemies pretend that only they have the right to promote their religion but no-one else (Jews, Christians, whatever) has a similar right and must be stripped of their humanness and humanity. We insist that all faiths have a right to be.

    People sometimes say that we are not being faced by “the real Islam” which presumably has a streak of tolerance.

    Hopefully God will exercise His omnipotence by weakening and overpowering the enemy and preventing their getting away with their gross inhumanity.

    #Hamas #Gaza #Palestinians #War


    Meeting with God – Vayyetzei

    November 19th, 2023

    Jacob praying for protection, from Doré’s English Bible, 1866

    On the way from his home in Beer Sheva, Jacob happened upon a particular location, Vayifga BaMakom.

    A rabbinic interpretation of the Hebrew is “He encountered God”, since HaMakom is one of ninety-odd rabbinic names for the Almighty.

    Literally it means “The Place”, since it indicates that there is no place where God cannot be found. He is Omnipresent, always there, present in every moment of life and every corner of the universe.

    The Bible says (Isa. 55:6), “Seek the Lord b’hi’matz’o – wherever He may be found”. Some say that the Hebrew does not indicate “wherever” but “whenever”. Both alternatives mean much the same thing, i.e. that God is always accessible.


    Why he went to Haran – Vayyetzei

    November 19th, 2023

    Why did Jacob go to Haran (Gen. 28:10)?

    It all depends on where and what was Haran. The name seems to come from a root that means “road”.

    Haran was probably a caravan-station north of the Syrian border, a significant stopping place on the caravan routes through the Middle East. Traders met there and it must have had a political and commercial importance.

    Rashi says that it was the sort of place where one could make an impact. So we can take it for granted that Jacob deliberately chose to set his sights on Haran.

    It is also a place with a family connection since it was the birthplace of Jacob’s mother Rebekah.

    The climate in Haran is dry and parched, but weather was not the main consideration.