וְאֵ֛לֶּה תּוֹלְדֹ֥ת יִצְחָ֖ק בֶּן־אַבְרָהָ֑ם
“V’eileh tol’dot Yitzhak ben-Avraham.”
“These are the generations of Isaac, son of Abraham.”
Parashat Toldot gives us the backstory on Eisav and Yaakov, Esau and Jacob who become Edom and Israel. Toldot speaks of the conflict between these twins who were fighting even when they were in their mother’s womb. Jacob goes on, as you know, to trick his older brother out of his birthright and of his father’s blessing, and then runs from him when Rebecca hears rumors that Esau (understandably) wants to kill him. The prophets and later rabbinical writings characterize Esau (and Edom) in a very negative light, as undeserving of blessing and that Jacob would have received the Abrahamic spiritual blessing for the land and seed anyway, just as he ended up getting from Isaac upon leaving for Haran.
Now, I’m not going to morally dissect the actions of Jacob and Esau. And I’m not going to judge or cast blame. I wasn’t there. I’m sure there’s more to the story and frankly, we can’t change what happened. What I would like to do is talk about this Edomite animosity that has followed the Jewish people ever since and what we are supposed to do about it. Over the centuries, our sages have consistently characterized our enemies as the spiritual descendants of Esau--progeny of the Edomites, acting out of jealous hatred against us. And I know we’ve all seen it.
I’ve been struggling these last two weeks, since the Tree of Life Synagogue attack. The worst aspects of humanity keep crawling into my vision and I’m emotionally struck, almost to tears. Is it just me or are there more reports of anti-Semitism in the news and on social media these days? And are there really more happening or are reporters paying more attention because of Pittsburgh?
Yesterday, just yesterday, during a high school assembly in Oak Park, Illinois, teens received the image of a swastika on their iPhones. This after two incidents in the past week of hate filled, anti-Semitic and racist graffiti were found outside the school and inside a school bathroom. Also this week, a family in Las Vegas awoke to find swastikas painted on their garage and porch steps. Hate is alive and well.
Last night was the 80th anniversary of Kristalnacht, the night of terror, November 9th, 1938, when German mobs burnt or tore down 1,350 synagogues, 30,000 Jews were thrown in concentration camps, 7,000 Jewish businesses were destroyed and thousands of Jewish homes were ransacked. 91 Jews were killed that night and hundreds more died in the coming days due to injuries and suicide. Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass,” so called because the next morning the streets were filled with the shards of glass from all the Jewish windows.
In London yesterday, a Kristalnacht vigil was ended early because of men shouting about killing Jews.
In a dentist office this week in Ann Arbor while knitting a kippah my wife was asked, “You one of them Jews?”
Friday morning, a severed pig’s head was found hanging from the entrance to a synagogue in central Israel.
And for the last several months, someone has been methodically scratching Israel off all the maps in the classrooms here at Washtenaw Community College.
Hate, animosity, and jealousy are alive and well. And not just for Jews.
We’ve all heard that anti-Semitism is on the rise throughout Europe and America right alongside the rise of far right, nationalist, xenophobic and extremist groups and political parties. Some blame Netanyahu and or Israel’s treatment of the Arabs in the territories captured in 1967. Nationally, some blame our President for creating an atmosphere where its okay to come out of hiding and spew your vitriol in the light of day, to call people names, to bully and tell half-truths.
True or not, where does that leave us?
Before I answer that question, let me remind you of one more tribulation. We as Messianic Jews identify as Jews and so are counted as such by the Edomites. But we are also scorned by mainstream Judaism often as something contemptible. So where does that leave us?
The first answer I’d like to give is from my 12-year-old nephew. He wrote this in the days following the Pittsburgh shooting and read it to about 200 congregants at their Friday night Reform Shabbat service.
[My nephew gave me permission to read his letter as part of my sermon but for purposes of protecting a minor online, I’m going to summarize his excellent letter down to his main points and 2 examples.]
“No matter what is going on around you, you should still be kind to others and do the right thing.”
“We all need to help other people. Helping them out can also help open their eyes and show them that they should also do this. Doing a nice thing like helping someone if they get hurt, is always the right thing to do, no matter what.”
“This was demonstrated last week when the shooter in Pittsburgh was taken to the hospital hurt, he was treated by a Jewish doctor and a Jewish nurse before being sent to prison. As I said, if someone is hurt, you do the right thing.”
“As another example, Syrian refugees have been receiving medical care and life saving procedures across the border in Northern Israel for years. Doctors don’t care where they came from, but they are just trying to help out.”
“In conclusion, I am proud of Israel and Jews around the world who continue to do the right thing, no matter what. Thank you and Shabbat Shalom.”
He’s right. We do the right thing. We love G-d, and we love our neighbors, actively.
It says in Proverbs, “Hatred stirs up quarrels, but love covers all offenses.”
And Paul said it in Romans, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Did you know that Jews give more money per person in America than any other religious group. That’s a good start, but it’s not enough. Tzedakah is not just giving money. It’s helping people. It’s acting with G-d’s heart, it’s being His hands and His feet.
When someone is grieving, we must reach out and comfort them.
If someone is hurt or in pain, we try to heal them.
Where people are starving, we need to feed them.
Where people are thirsty, we should do more to provide clean drinking water.
And we know what persecution feels like.
When bullies attack, we need to speak up. We need to stand up. We need to fight back.
For example, when racist graffiti is painted on a African American Church, we should be rushing in to clean it up just as fast as we would on our own synagogue.
When people come running to our borders from their homes across untold miles because of violence and terror, we should be running to meet them with open arms, for we too have been refugees…
And Matthew quotes Yeshua saying, “And you’ve heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”
We should be living examples of G-d’s love for His creation. We should be healing this world, through the Mitzvot. We should be reaching out to all people, from all nations and all beliefs, in gestures of peace. We should be Hashem’s Kohanim, a priestly people praying for and ministering to all the nations.
So I ask again, what are we supposed to do about the hatred in this world? Where does this leave us?
We counter the animosity of Edom with Tzedakah. We confront the hatred of Esau, with acts of kindness. And we heal the interfaith, interconfessional rifts and brokenness of this world through the love of Messiah.
We actively remember Kristallnacht and the Shoah and the Tree of Life Synagogue, and the swastikas sent to teenage phones…
And we brush back the tears,
take a deep breath,
unclench our fists,
and we get back to work.
Hate, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said so eloquently in 1967, cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that. In these days, which at times can seem so difficult, let us continue to encourage and support one another in love. Find a way to use your gifts to help others. Whether one on one or with a group, locally or nationally, we can each make a difference towards Tikkun Olam.
And may this world be healed, soon and in our days.
B’shem Yeshua HaMashiach.