Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Israel's Lesson

In B'reishit, Chapter 49, Ya'akov, now called Isra-El, reveals some of the insight he has gained from his own struggles.

Remember that this is the man who was maneuvered into stealing another's place and blessing, stealing from his own brother. Who saw his children fighting with each other, even selling one of their own into slavery, because of their father's favoritism.

At the end of his life, this is the truth Israel spoke:

Each of you is different. Each of you is unique. Each of you has strengths, and weaknesses, and I will not treat you as if you should all fill the same place. Each of you has a place in the world and in relation to each other.

First he blesses Ephraim and Manasseh, elevating the younger ahead of the older - is this the repetition of the old, dysfunctional favoritism that has plagued the last several generations? (Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Yaakov, Yoseph and his brothers...) But no, this is simply how he reveals to all his chilsdren that the pattern has changed: because the older grandson does not complain, is not jealous, and is seemingly happy for his brother.

Then he blesses his sons, each according to his blessing. Most commenters find a similar message in this passage:

"Achdus" (Unity). The Ari HaKodesh comments that when the two "yuds" of Hashem's name are written together, the letters can't be erased. However, if one "yud" is higher than the other, it is not the name of Hashem and can be erased. The reason for this is that the two "yuds" must not be rivals and must consider themselves equal; only then do they symbolize Hashem. Similarly, two Jews can evoke Hashem's spirituality only when they work together harmoniously, and not when one considers himself above the other. Egotism leads to destruction and rivalry and hatred can only cause the downfall of B'nai Yisroel. It is when Jews are united and accept each other as equals that B'nai Yisroel can thrive and flourish, and bring credit to Hashem and His Torah.
--Lilmode Ul'Lamed (Rabbi Mordechai Katz)

Keys To Survival. Jacob, feeling his death imminent, summoned his sons and said "come together and listen, sons of Jacob, and listen to Israel your father." "Come together" and "listen to Israel your father" are the dual keys to the survivial of the Jewish people. Factionalism is a luxury Jews cannot afford. G-d chose the entire Jewish people, not just certain segments of us. The second part of the verse, "listen to Israel your father," reminds us that the true source of strength throughout our history has been that of the Torah and our faith in G-d.

--Reflections on the Sedra (Rabbi Zalman I. Posner).

both as quoted on:

Even Rashi explains that the blessings mentioned here indicate, not just a single blessing for all his children, but specific individual blessings for each one, according to his strengths or character.

This form of blessing and vision for his descendants, and their community, is entirely new. No longer does only one child carry the blessing and obligation for maintaining the covenant. Israel no longer has to choose between his children, but may bless ALL of them, and recognize the good and bad in each one, as they contribute to the larger whole that will be the tribal family.

So, that's all very nice, but what's the point?

Factionalism. Fear of losing one's place as a leader of Yisrael, or perhaps one's livelihood as a leader in the Jewish community. Jealousy or perceived threats from seeing each other excel, growing great in skills and ability and self-realization as a leader of one's community. I don't know the full story, but I do know that it saddens me greatly when I see this kind of division between the leaders in my community, even more so when they are my valued friends.

I look forward to the day when all those who have gifts to offer the community are welcomed and encouraged by all its leaders, when we begin to recognize that everyone has a useful and divine place in the community, and we are able to bless each other, each according to his blessing.


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