Look deeper, it may give you more insight

This is another Torah minute I write for my families in the Religious School...please to enjoy:

Earlier this week, a viral email reminded me of a story from last summer that had a minute of fame and a lot of egg-covered faces around the world.  The original story was that a group of rabbis in the Mea Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem had condemned a dog to death, thinking he held the soul of a former secular critic of the rabbis from twenty years earlier.   Reported in both the British and some Israeli press, the story was quickly found to be wholly untrue and in fact a very particular lie--a slam on the Orthodox who populate the neighborhood that is often called “ultra-orthodox” because of its adherence to strict and sometimes difficult to understand Chassidic practices.  The fact that this story, debunked over and over again, still has legs makes me question why.  Was it anti-Semitism?  Was it anti-Orthodox?  Was it simply a hoax played for fun?  Or was it, in a culture of instant communication and a telephone game-like media where reporters are “sources” for each other, that any story can find the light of day and be seen as true.  Let me be clear, no Bet Din, Jewish court, condemned a dog, but my guess is if you search certain anti-Jewish websites you will find references to it.  It doesn’t take much for a story to be set in the closed minds of people.   It is easier to believe a stereotype of a particular type of person than to question a story.
We can see that in this week’s Torah portion.  Part of the story is the triumphant return of Jacob to Canaan and the meeting with his brother Esau after a long absense.  When last we left Esau, he had threatened to kill Jacob over Jacob’s manipulation in taking Esau’s birthright and his trickery in getting his father’s blessing.  For more than twenty years the brothers have been apart, and Jacob is nervous.  Esau is coming with armed men.  Will there be war?  What happens is remarkable: Esau accepts Jacob’s apology.  They hug and kiss, and, by the end of the portion, they are together, like their father and uncle before them, to bury their own father Isaac.  But ask many people about Esau and he is seen as a enemy of the Jewish people, in part because his decedents become the classic enemies of the Israelites.   So Esau, who showed forgiveness and grew beyond his anger, is marked for all time as an evil foil to a good Jacob.  But Jacob had a lot for which to be forgiven.  Jacob had been not such a nice guy.  Arrogant and a bit full of himself, Jacob wanted the keys to the kingdom and is humbled, first by being tricked by his father-in-law, Laben, and later when his is crippled in a wrestling match with one of the Torah's most enigmatic characters.  I recently read a book on this very story in which the author wanted to have the good and evil be cut and dried with no shades of gray.  For this author, Esau was a stand-in for all that was evil.  In order to get around the seeming humble gesture in this Torah portion, the author said Esau poisoned his children with stories of hate of Jacob and that is why they didn’t believe the reconciliation was real and carried the hatred of all things Jacob (thus the Jewish people) throughout history.  Easy to believe, especially when we paint certain people to fit our understanding. 
The Torah is not that simple.  It is a book that requires a deeper look.  Rashi said there is nothing in there by mistake.  We as Jews need to figure out why something is in there.  Take some time with the stories.  I promise you will be surprised, and I can promise no dogs are going to be stoned. 
Have a wonderful Hanukah and happy and healthy New Year.


Popular Posts