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On Simchat Torah we read the last passage of the Torah, but we don’t stop for even a moment when we finish reading the Torah. Instead, we turn around and start over immediately from the first verse. There are many celebrations on Simchat Torah, but they come before we read …

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Home » Politics, Vayishlach

Vayishlach: The Self Conscious Jew

Submitted by on November 14, 2010 – 3:06 amNo Comment | 2,522 views

The Wedding

What did King David mean when he wrote “I was forgotten from the heart like the dead, I was [remembered] as the vessel went missing?” (1)

The famed Maggid of Dubna (2) explained it with a parable. The downtrodden and poor are often invited to wedding receptions, where a table is set for them at the back of the hall. Though we invite them to the wedding, we hardly thank them for coming; on the contrary, we expect them to feel grateful for the invitation.

When do we remember them? After the wedding, when the silver is counted and some is found missing, the poor are suddenly remembered in suspicion. I’m sure they didn’t mean to steal, we muse, but the temptation must have been overwhelming. . .

The Maggid compared the lot of the poor to the Jew in Exile. The Talmud teaches that G-d grants blessing to the nation that hosts the righteous of the generation’s Jews. (3) Yet, history shows that Jews are rarely recognized by their hosts in gratitude; the blessings we auger are taken for granted and we are promptly forgotten. It is only when the blessing is withheld, such as in famine or plague, that the nations remember us. But only for opprobrium and persecution. . .

Reaction

It is no surprise that over the years we have developed an aversion to the public spotlight. We would rather go unnoticed and safe than be famous and dead. I suggest that at times this is a wise path to tread, but there are also times when our cowardly aversion is plain wrong. In our day and age, this path deprives us of opportunity.

Across the world, there are Jewish children who don’t know they are Jewish because their parents, out of fear, concealed their identity. Across the world, there are Jews, who refuse to support our rights in Israel out of fear of repercussion. When a Jew is abused by non Jews there are many who refuse to offer support for fear of backlash. Should we abandon our heritage, country and fellow Jew out of fear?

Jacob and Esau

Esau was enraged because Jacob absconded with blessings his father intended for him. Jacob wisely fled and stayed away for thirty-four years. When Jacob finally received word that Esau was approaching with a column of four-hundred men Jacob did not flee; he refused to cower in the fear that prompted his hasty departure thirty-four years earlier. Circumstances had changed. Thirty-four years earlier Jacob was weak and would have lost the confrontation; fleeing was the right thing to do. Now Jacob was stronger and wealthier. He no longer needed to fear his brother and indeed he did not.

He prepared for the encounter in three ways. First he prepared his family for war. He did not want to fight, but if Esau would attack, Jacob would stand his ground and defend his family. Next he sent a tribute to Esau. He was not looking for war; he preferred reconciliation. He sent a delegation to initiate peace talks and normalize relations. But he did not do so out of weakness; he did it from a position of kindness and strength. Finally, Jacob prayed to G-d.

When they actually met Jacob was deferential toward Esau, but not obsequious. He bowed to him and greeted him cordially, but firmly stood his ground. When he was attacked by Esau’s angel, Jacob fought back and won. When Esau invited him to travel with him Jacob recognized the danger and refused.

The Modern Jacob

A pattern emerges: When Jacob was in mortal danger he fled for his life. Just the same, when Jews are in mortal danger, such as was the case during the holocaust, self conscious - innerstreamit was appropriate to save our lives by maintaining a low profile; even going so far as to turn our children over to monasteries and the like.

When Jacob was strong enough to defend himself he stopped cowering in fear. He stood up for his identity with pride and maintained his principles with dignity. He was not afraid to fall back on his might even as he extended an olive branch of peace and respect.

Our current age matches Jacob’s second posture. Our parents survived a war and a holocaust; it is understandable if they preferred a low profile; they lived in fear of repercussion. We don’t harbor our parents’ fears and our children can’t even comprehend it. Thank G-d, we were raised in a prosperous and secure climate, we enjoy the respect of nations and we live in freedom with the opportunity to celebrate our religion.

Our children don’t even understand the concept of reticence where pride and identity are concerned. As Franklin D Roosevelt said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Today we stand to gain much more from public celebration of Judaism than from hiding. Placing a wall between our Judaism and the street tells our children that being a Jew is somewhat dangerous, or worse, shameful. They hide it from their friends and sometimes even grow ashamed of it. Public displays of Jewish culture and heritage embolden our children, igniting pride and passion for our beautiful traditions.

In several weeks Jews across the world will celebrate Chanukah. The Chanukah lights are kindled in the doorway or window, proclaiming our celebration before the entire world. Neighbors and friends learn of our celebration and with it they discover our identity. Today there is no reason to fear. It is time to stand with pride; in solidarity with our heritage, our land and our brethren.

Prayer

With all of the above Jacob still prayed. No one can ensure the future. We can use our logic and the Torah’s guidance to determine a proper mode of conduct, but the future is always up to G-d.

Our best efforts can backfire. We might hide behind walls and earn the ire of our neighbors and we might celebrate in the open and thrive. The outcome of any event is in G-d’s hands. We are confident that He will provide, but still, we pray.

Jacob understood this well and after making his preparations he prayed to G-d. We too must remember G-d as we determine our approach to life. We do the best we can, but always seek blessing from above.

Footnotes

  1. Psalms 31.
  2. Reb Yaakov Krantz, 1740 – 1805.
  3. Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 39b.
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