The Words of the Wilson Family

The Disgruntled Diaspora

Andrew Wilson
November 9, 2010

Friends and colleagues,

The other day Bibi Netanyahu spoke in New Orleans to the General Assembly of the Jewish Federation, and a fight broke out with hecklers. Banners were torn up and force was used to subdue them: So there is apparently much disgruntlement and polarization in the American Jewish community, as there is in Israel, and not much room for civil discourse on the topics of Israel's peace and security.

Just across the street from UTS on River Road there's a house with a big black sign out front, festooned in barbed wire, shouting "No to the occupation of Palestine." No doubt it's the home of a Jew who is frustrated by the hard-line attitudes of her co-religionists who see any talk of concessions to a Palestinian state as selling out Israel and endangering its security.

In his speech, Bibi went on to declare, "We are ready to recognize a Palestinian state as the state of the Palestinian people, but we expect them to recognize the Jewish State as the state of the Jewish people"?,7340,L-3981661,00.html. Of course, he is probably trying to lay to rest indirectly the Palestinians' demand of a "right of return" as a pre-condition for talks, since it would make clear that any returning Palestinians would not be welcome (unless they converted to Judaism? J) I think that rather than calling for preconditions -- whether it is Abbas demanding an end to settlement activity or Netanyahu demanding that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state -- they should both just sit down and talk it all out over the peace table.

With all this posturing, it's no wonder that many Jews mistrust Bibi's intentions and doubt whether he is serious about peace. I personally believe he is sincere, but conflicted. We, the Jewish people, all are conflicted and fractured. So I'm praying in repentance for our fractious disunity. If Jews in America and everywhere would sincerely seek God's will and stand for God's desire, I believe that God will bless us.

But I'm repentant, because too often we Jews stand for ourselves and our community more than we stand for God. I know that's harsh. But it's really the old "chosen people" conundrum: for what purpose are we chosen? If we don't stand for God, what's the point of being chosen? We'd just be like every other ethnic and religious group that is stuck in the mire of identity politics.

If something is not quite right with Judaism, then to analyze the problem we had better go back to the root, to Jacob.

Jacob from his childhood has been struggling to win the birthright from Esau. His purpose was to take up his ordained role as leader of his clan, keeping the family true to the tradition of Abraham and Isaac, a tradition that God had blessed. At the Ford of Jabbok, he wrestled with God (or an angel of God) and came out the victor. At that point he was standing with God -- or limping, because his thigh had been dislocated in the struggle. But that limp stands for a certain lack of balance, which became apparent in what happened next.

Jacob met Esau with gifts, and Esau surrendered. Great! Jacob standing on the foundation of the angel's blessing could prevail over Esau, and Esau surrendered to him without violence. Thus Jacob together with Esau for the first time fulfilled the Foundation of Substance! On this historical victory, the Messiah could come to Israel. This was indeed the fruit of Jacob standing with God. Jacob had won the birthright. He was now the head of the family. But then, instead of accepting Esau back into the family, they parted and went their separate ways. Jacob took possession of the good land of Canaan, while Esau was left with the hardscrabble wilderness of Edom.

The text of their parting is obscure and filled with subterfuge (Gen. 33:12-17). Esau offered to journey with Jacob, but Jacob wanted to stay behind. We don't know quite what Esau was thinking when he said, "Let us journey on our way" (Gen. 33:12): the destination is indeterminate. Whose way? Maybe he expected that Jacob would reply by inviting him to join him in Canaan--which was the family inheritance of Abraham. But by Jacob's answer, "until I come to my lord in Seir," it's clear that Jacob understood that Esau wanted to return to Edom. Esau maybe was thinking that there in Edom he could reassert his supremacy over his brother, and hoped that Jacob would indeed accompany him. Jacob said he'll go there, but made excuses, "the children are frail," to travel apart; then he turned around and hightailed it to Succoth. Yes, he avoided begin re-subjugated by Esau. But I think that before Jacob accepted Esau's invitation to go to Edom, he should have invited Esau to accompany him to his family's lands in Canaan.

We have to ask Jacob: What were you thinking? Wasn't your blessing meant also to be shared with Esau? Isn't Esau your brother, the son of your father Isaac? Moreover, if it wasn't for Esau's gracious surrender, you never would have been able to fulfill the Foundation of Substance. Didn't Esau also contribute to that victory by overcoming his fallen nature and the desire to kill you? That wasn't easy for him to do. Can't you see that it is something admirable about your brother that you, Jacob, should have appreciated?

Abraham had been chosen "that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and Justice." (Gen. 18:19) Esau is part of the household of Abraham, and a person who should be taught the ways of the Lord by Jacob, the owner of the birthright. But instead, Jacob kept the "ways of the Lord" to himself and his family, leaving his brother Esau to languish spiritually amidst the tribes of the Edomites.

Perhaps Jacob could have done better. Perhaps he could have better understood what it means to stand with God and bequeath God's blessing to the families of the earth, as God had promised Abraham (Gen. 12:2-3), or at least to the members of Abraham's own family such as Esau. We know Esau lacked social graces. We know he was "impure," having married some Hittite women. (Gen. 26:34). But if that is sufficient reason to cast him out, then what of Joseph, who married an Egyptian (Asenath) , or Judah, who married a Canaanite (Tamar), or Boaz, who married a Moabite (Ruth), or David, who married the wife of a Hittite (Bathsheba)? I don't accept that excuse, which some rabbis in our tradition have made.

Here with Jacob we have the root of the Jewish dilemma when considering what it means to be the chosen people. Is he chosen to set himself apart from all that is non-Jew, or is he chosen to stand with God and exemplify God's love? Jacob did both; he made peace with his brother but he kept himself separate. He thus created a dilemma that has remained for all the descendants of Jacob to this day. The current disgruntlement in the Jewish community is, I believe, a direct result of this fundamental problem, of what it means to be a Jew.

I believe with all my soul that to be a Jew means to stand with God and to strive to advance God's blessings on earth. While Christianity is a spiritual religion that speaks of salvation as a spiritual reality, we Jews believe that God means to save this earth and make this earthly life a place of blessing. That's why the Jacob-Esau reconciliation (the moment of reconciliation that the Divine Principle lifts up) is so central; it exemplifies the best of Judaism, which is peace in this world. Likewise, I believe the purpose of establishing the State of Israel in 1948 is for peace: peace for the Jewish people in a nation of their own, and also world peace as the people of Israel create a model of reconciliation and living side-by-side with their Arab neighbors. But to do this, we need to discard the notion that Jewish chosenness means to live separately without regard for our brother Esau.


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