Jacob’s Voice/Esau’s Hands: The aftermath of a Massacre. Toldot, 5775

This has been a very difficult week.

For me, personally, on Monday morning – the day after Sue and I returned from a fantastic trip to New York with our 10th grade Confirmation class I underwent a planned, laparoscopic surgical procedure to remove my gallbladder. As I emerged from the fog of anesthesia and pain medication on Tuesday morning, I tried to get caught up in what was happening in the world around me.

I learned of the horrific attack on a synagogue in the Har Nof section of West Jerusalem. Armed with knives, meat cleavers, and handguns, two Palestinian terrorists burst into a holy sanctuary during morning prayers – killing five Israelis – Rabbi Moshe Twersky, Rabbi Aryeh Kupinsky, Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Goldberg, Rabbi Kalman Levine (who had family in Boulder), and Police Officer Zidan Saif.  Three of the slain held American/Israeli citizenship, one held British/Israeli citizenship, and one was a Druze Israeli police officer. In addition, seven civilians were wounded, three seriously. Images of bloody worshippers still wrapped in tallitot (prayer shawls) and tefillin (phylacteries) shook us to the very core.

This attack is part of an ever-escalating series of violent incidents in and around Jerusalem that seem to point towards a coordinated resumption of violence in the Israeli Capital.

Making matters even worse, in the aftermath of this murderous and reprehensible act of violence, we witnessed rejoicing in Gaza and certain other sectors of the Palestinian community. Men, women and children were dancing in the streets, passing out sweets and celebrating this “victory”– a victory that consisted of the brutal murders of innocents and of police officers who were assigned to protect them.  The fact that the attack was against a Jewish religious target – a synagogue – and the victims were engaged in the sacred act of prayer made the reality of what happened all the more horrifying. This was not an act of war – not could it be disguised as such. This was a blatant act of violence against the Jewish people.

In addition to the increasing violence and tension occurring in Jerusalem, here in the States, we are all watching and waiting to see what will happen in Ferguson, MO – where a Grand Jury is set to announce its decision in regards to the case against Police Officer Darren Wilson, the man who fatally shot Michael Brown – an unarmed African American young man – this past summer.

And just yesterday, another act of violence occurred when a disturbed young man with easy access to guns and ammunition opened fire at a University campus – this time at Florida State University in Tallahassee, He wounded three students – one seriously, before he was killed by police officers.

Violence on the streets– is very much alive. But there is a difference between what is happening in our nation and what we are witnessing in Jerusalem. As tragic and disturbing as recent events on the streets of our cities might be, no one in America is rejoicing over the murder of innocents. No one is celebrating the lives of the killers – calling them heroes in the wake of their cowardly acts.

For those of us who are praying for peace in Israel, we must ask the question: How can peace come when there are those who not only do not discourage violence, but actively encourage others to engage in random, senseless killing? How can there be hope when the murder of innocents is greeted with raucous rejoicing? What chance is there for a negotiated settlement in light of the tyranny of terror? How can we continue to paint the situation in Israel as political when there are those who are deliberately and actively attacking religious targets – like synagogues – that have nothing to do with Statehood?

In this week’s Torah portion, Toldot, we are introduced to twin brothers – Jacob and Esau – whose entire life is consumed with fighting. We are told how, when Rebekah was pregnant with her sons, they “struggled within her” (Genesis 25:22). We learn of how Jacob tricks Esau into selling his birthright and how, with his mother’s help, he deceives his father, Isaac, into giving him the blessing that was supposed to have been given to Esau.

In our text, we read of how, when Jacob comes to his blind father dressed in Esau’s clothing and covered in sheepskin, Isaac is confused and proclaims: “The hands are the hand of Esau, but the voice is the voice of Jacob.” Over the centuries, many commentators have used this phrase to accentuate the differences between those who would use violence to achieve their goals (the hands of Esau) and those who would eschew violence and use dialogue and negotiation to accomplish peace (the voice of Jacob).

It is clear that time is running out for the prospect seeing any kind of negotiated settlement in Israel and the territories. Violence begets violence and only serves to strengthen those who would champion the hands of Esau and silence the voice of Jacob.

Our tradition has made it clear that there is a time and a place for the use of strength and power. It is a Mitzvah to defend ourselves when placed in a dangerous situation. The state of Israel and the Jewish people will never allow ourselves to be destroyed by our enemies’ attacks. This is why the war in Gaza this past summer was not only justified, but essential. At the same time, once we have established our physical well-being and safety, we also are commanded to “Bakeysh Shalom V’Rodfeyhu – Seek peace and pursue it.” At several times during our services this evening we will pray for peace. It is quite possible that the moment that the four rabbis were murdered in the midst of their prayers they were saying the words: Oseh Shalom Bimromav, Hu YaSeh Shalom Aleynu V’Al kol Yisrael – May the One who makes peace in the High Heavens, make peace for us and all Israel.”

This week we are reminded of the tension between the hands of Isaac and the Voice of Jacob.  Let us work and pray for the time when our voices will be louder than our fists.

The families of the four rabbis who were murdered this week in Jerusalem just put out the following Shabbat plea:

With broken hearts, drenched in tears shed over the spilt blood of holy men – the heads of our families.

We call on our brethren wherever they are – let us come together so that we may merit mercy from Heaven, and let’s accept upon ourselves to increase love and comradery, between each individual and each community.

We ask that every person accept upon himself on this Sabbath Eve (Parshat Toldot, November 21-22, 2014), to set aside the day of Shabbat as a day of unconditional love, a day during which we will refrain from words of disagreement and division, from words of gossip and slander.

May this serve to elevate the souls of our husbands and fathers who were slaughtered while sanctifying Gd’s name.

Gd will look down from the heavens, see our suffering, wipe away our tears and put an end to our tribulations.

May we merit seeing the coming of our Moshiach (Messiah) speedily in our days. Amen.

Signed with a torn heart,

Mrs. Chaya Levin and family

Mrs. Bryna Goldberg and family

Mrs. Yaacova Kupensky and family

Mrs. Bashy Twersky and family

About the Author
Joe Black serves as Sr. Rabbi of Temple Emanuel, a large Reform synagogue in Denver, Colorado. He also is a husband, a father, a musician, a limericker and a skier. You can follow Rabbi Black's congregational blog at You also can find out more about his music at Rabbi Black's latest book - There Once Was A Man From Canaan: The Five Books Of Limerick - is available at