In the Book of Genesis (Braishit) chapter 32 verse 18, two important questions are asked. Jacob is en route home after 20 years in Syria working for his mother’s brother, Laban. Traveling with him are his two wives, Rachel and Leah, his two concubines, eleven sons and one daughter, and hundreds of herds of sheep, goats and cattle.
He has been told that his nemesis brother Esau is marching with 400 men to meet him. Jacob is in fear of Esau, fear of his retribution for the theft of his birthright and paternal blessing so many years earlier. He fears that Esau has come to make war against him and in order to protect his wife, children and servants, he divides them into two camps. If one is attacked, the other camp can hopefully be spared.
Jacob attempts to placate his brother by sending him rich gifts and an abundance from his flock. He instructs a servant to approach Esau and to respond to two questions which he anticipates Esau will ask.
The two questions are actually a part of the same question. “L’mi ata?”… to whom do you belong? (to whom are you loyal?) and “v’ana tailaich?”… where are you going? (what is your goal in life?)
When Esau asks the questions, Jacob’s servant replies that he is a servant of Jacob and that his master and family are on their way home to their ancestral land. The responses seems to placate Esau who goes out to meet his brother Jacob, runs to him and embraces him and falls on his neck as they both weep.
Esau refuses Jacob’s gift claiming he is sufficiently wealthy but when Jacob insists on giving gifts to Esau, he agrees to accept them.
But the two questions basically remain unanswered. It remains for each one of us to provide a correct response. “To whom do you belong”? I belong to the people of Israel. “To whom are you loyal?” I am loyal to the homeland of my people, the State of Israel and the sacred Torah which preserved my loyalty for thousands of years.
“Where are you going?” I am going to build up towns, villages and cities on the land which God promised to me and to my fathers. “What is your goal in life?” My goal is to preserve the sanctity, the safety, the security, the welfare and well-being of the people who share my faith in the democratic and Jewish moral values of the State of Israel.
The descendants of Esau try to block my path, to prevent me from reaching my goal. They have put dangerous obstacles on the roads on which I walk. Unlike Esau the Edomite, they do not run to greet me, to fall upon my neck, to embrace me with their tears. They reject the gifts which I offer them saying that they are too few and too insufficient. I fail to convince them to accept the gifts as a token of my will to make peace.
Their chieftains refuse to sit with my chieftains. There is no desire on their part to converse with me or with the chieftains of my tribes. Anger burns in their eyes. Swords and daggers glisten in their hands which they hold high in a threat to destroy me.
They dwell in their tents in the desert or in built-up towns, villages and cities. They will not sacrifice a roasted sheep to eat a meal of friendship. They want nothing more but that we should turn back and return to the lands from which we came.
We repeat the responses which Jacob’s servant gave to Esau. “We belong to the sons of Israel. Our loyalty is to our collective family. We are returning to the land from which we were exiled long years ago and our one and only goal is to settle on the land, build our homes, plant our vineyards and dwell in peace with our neighbors.”
Unhappily, they do not accept the replies which Esau accepted. It is time for us first to determine the answers and then to ask the questions. Our Hebrew language is written from right to left. So our questions need to be posed in that same direction. First right, then left. Right is the strongest and more preferable.
“To whom do you belong?” To ISRAEL.
“To whom are you loyal?” To ISRAEL.
“Where are you going?” To ISRAEL.
“What is your goal in life?” The rebuilding and security of ISRAEL.
We know the questions. Do you know the answers?