Parshat Toldot: sibling rivalry

I have not stopped thinking about Israel all week.

Like many of you, I fear for the innocent lives of all who stand in harm’s way. I pray that the Israel Defense Forces will act judiciously and responsibly in defending the State of Israel against all those who would see her destroyed. I hope that a cessation of violence will bring all parties back to the negotiating table and that the region as a whole has not lost the chance for a lasting peace. We join together this week with much on our minds to find comfort in the power of community.

During this part of the Torah reading cycle, our encounter with our ancestors is framed in the context of sibling rivalry and family infighting. The stories of Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers – these are the contours of the book of Genesis. Through these stories we see the reflection of our own families and we strive to understand our current reality in light of the lives of the founders of our faith.

Parshat Toldot tells the story of Jacob and Esau and the hatred that grows between them as they compete for their parents’ love and the blessings of the first born. By the end of this week’s reading the animosity has grown to such a boiling point that Esau declares, “May the days of mourning for my father draw near, then I will kill my brother Jacob.” Jacob has no choice but to flee from his home, running away in terror and fear.

But this is not the end of the story.

In just two weeks, Jacob and Esau will meet again. Not knowing if tempers have cooled, Jacob is prepared for war as he sees Esau’s caravan looming from afar. But when they finally meet face to face, Esau “embraced him, fell on his neck and kissed him. Then they wept.” What begins as a tale of deceit and trickery with threats of murder, ends in the tearful embrace of twin brothers resolved to help each other move forward with their lives.

Unfortunately, our contemporary version of sibling rivalry, has not yet reached the tearful hug that concludes this episode in the Torah. The people of the State of Israel, the worldwide community of Jews, and indeed peace loving people everywhere have been reminded this week, in tragic and violent fashion, just how far we have to go to finally embrace each other and cry the tears of resolution and compromise, instead of those of pain and destruction.

But we know something that Jacob and Esau did not. We know the end of the story. Although this Shabbat and the current historical moment ring loud with the sound of feuding brothers, I have faith and pray that our time to hug each other will not be too far away.

May the One who makes peace in high places, make peace for us and for all Israel, and let us say, amen

Shabbat Shalom

About the Author
Uri Allen is the Associate Rabbi at Temple Beth Sholom in Roslyn, NY where he lives with his wife Sari and three children Doron, Aderet and Yedidyah. He is also a Rabbis Without Borders Fellow and a part of the fourth cohort of Clergy Leadership Incubator.