"Let the days of mourning for my father draw near, I will then kill my brother Yaakov. "
Kislev 6, 5769/December 3, 2008
How do we make sense out of such senseless violence? A question we have all asked, perhaps, when confronted with deadly assaults against innocent men, women and children, such as the terror attack perpetrated this past week in Mumbai, India. The question of course, comes to express our inability to fathom the depths of hatred that must fill the hearts of those whose hands take the lives of the innocent. Yet the question itself, upon inspection, reflects a grotesque flight from morality.
Torah teaches us that there is no such thing as senseless violence, and that the true nature of evil, as daunting as it may be, must be penetrated and confronted in order for us to understand it. For understanding evil is a prerequisite for protecting ourselves from its effects, and ultimately for eradicating it from the world. Remaining bewildered and perplexed in the face of evil is to aid and abet those who preach it and perpetrate it.
Torah recognizes evil as being rooted deep in the heart of man, and does not flinch from remarking on the darker side of human nature:
"And the L-rd said to Cain, 'Why are you annoyed, and why has your countenance fallen? Is it not so that if you improve, it will be forgiven you? If you do not improve, however, at the entrance, sin is lying, and to you is its longing, but you can rule over it.'" (Genesis 4:6-7)
"And the L-rd saw that the evil of man was great in the earth, and every imagination of his heart was only evil all the time." (ibid 6:5)
"I will no longer curse the earth because of man, for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth..." (ibid 8:21)
Extraordinarily, even from the loins of our saintly patriarchs, Avraham and Yitzchak, emerged human embodiments of evil. Yishmael, the son of Avraham is described by Torah as "a wild ass of a man; his hand will be upon all, and everyone's hand upon him, and before all his brothers he will dwell." (ibid 15:12)
The true nature of Esau, son of Yitzchak, is revealed by Yitzchak himself, in the following words, and by Esau's silent response:
"'And you shall live by your sword, and you shall serve your brother, and it will be, when you grieve, that you will break his yoke off your neck.' And Esau hated Yaakov because of the blessing that his father had blessed him, and Esau said to himself, 'Let the days of mourning for my father draw near, I will then kill my brother Yaakov.'" (ibid 27:40-41)
The midrashic tradition, in its description of Esau, is much lest restrained, graphically describing an entire litany of crimes of violence and indulgence which he committed against his fellow man: murder, rape, theft and deception. Yes, Esau, the biological twin of Yaakov "a pure man, dwelling in tents," (ibid 25:27) was evil. While still tossing about within her womb, Rivka was informed that this was to be an epic struggle, a struggle of good versus evil, the truth versus a lie, living our lives in service to G-d and to others, versus living our lives for ourselves and ourselves only.
Are the contemporary Esaus that shatter the skulls of young children and slit the throats and blast out the brains of men and women, and then issue their videos and press releases calling out for justice really interested in justice? Do the highly touted "grievances" of such beasts deserve our consideration? Those who say yes succumb to the temptation that laid in wait for Cain, the temptation of accepting "alternative narratives" justifying the most heinous of crimes. Yaakov, the pure man, the man of truth, harbored no antipathy toward his brother Esau, but neither did he indulge his brother's evil. His concern was for his children and for the birthright of truth, of Torah, which he was to pass on to them.
Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivka, and all others brutally slaughtered by the sons of Esau, were true children of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, serving others and seeking only peace and truth. We, the survivors have but this to say to Esau: You can kill the righteous, but the truth by which they live their lives cannot be killed.
"Bestow truth upon Yaakov, loving kindness to Avraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from the days of old." (Micah 7:20)
May the memories of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, and the other innocent victims of unbridled hatred, be for a blessing.
Tune in to this week's Temple Talk, as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven discuss the tragic events in Mumbai, the battle being waged between the children of Yaakov and the disciples of Esau, the light-filled month of Kislev, and the battle against today's "Greek oppressors;" the New York Times, CNN, et. al. crowd who constantly crow about their fidelity to the Jewish people, but only on the condition that the Jews deny all that is promised them and expected of them by G-d and Torah.
This week features the latest Bat Melech video teaching with Rabbanit Rena Richman, entitled, Partners in Love - Part III: Matches between man and woman - husband and wife are, indeed, made in heaven. But it is up to us to invest the effort to be the best partners we can be and nourish the love that brought us together. Part three of an ongoing series exploring the Torah perspective on love and marriage. Click here to view.
Today also features the new Light to the Nations teaching by Rabbi Chaim Richman, entitled, "The Song of the Levites, part III: Maimonides' Laws of the Chosen House, chapter six: The Levitical choir was an integral aspect of the Divine service of the Holy Temple. Their vocal and instrumental accompaniment to the Daily - Tamid - service, and special holiday celebrations fulfilled a commandment of Torah and added a deep spiritual expression to the Temple experience." Click here to view.
Prelude to a prophetic dream: Yaakov, fleeing from brother Esau, had time to reflect upon the crudeness and cruelty of man. Pondering the stoney hearted people who he had met in life, and their insensitivity to G-d, he gathered rocks beneath his head, that is, he mused upon their distance from G-d. Laying down to sleep with these thoughts upon his heart he dreamed an awesome dream. Click here to view Rabbi Richman's short teaching on parashat Vayeitzei (Genesis 28:10-32:3).
Blessings from the holy city of Jerusalem,
THE TEMPLE INSTITUTE
PO Box 31876
Jerusalem, Israel 97500