Shabbat Shalom: Toldot (Genesis 25:19-28:9)
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin
Efrat, Israel – “Rebecca [Isaac’s wife] conceived. And the sons within her struggled (or agitated…” (Genesis 25:21-22)
The next three Biblical portions deal with the jealousy, enmity and strife unto death between Jacob and Esau, the twin sons of Isaac and Rebecca. The “bad blood” which sullied their fraternal relationship seems to have begun prenatally, while they were still in their mother’s womb. And the ramifications of their discord will extend at least into the next generation, with the enmity between Joseph and his tribal brothers, the sons of Jacob.
Rashi extends their struggle down through the generations: “Another interpretation: they strove against each other and they argued about the inheritance of both worlds. In other words, this was the fight between Rome [Edom] and Jerusalem, Israel and Christendom, a religious battle for supremacy in this world as well as the world to come.”
Towards the end of their conflict in the Book of Genesis, the true historical identity of these brothers is even more precisely identified. After Esau has spurned the birthright and married Hittite wives, after Jacob has deceived blind father Isaac and received the blessings under false pretenses, after Jacob was forced to leave his father’s house lest he be murdered by Esau, and after Jacob is on the way back from 22 years with Uncle Laban to return to his ancestral home in Israel, Jacob meets his estranged brother: “And Esau ran towards him, and he embraced him, and he fell on his neck and he kissed him; and they wept.” (Gen. 33:4) Here, too, Rashi comments: “And he [Esau] kissed him [Jacob]; the word ‘he kissed him’ has dots above it [in the Masoretic text]….Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai says: ‘it is a known law that Esau (forever) hates Jacob….'” The Rabbis throughout the generations have identified Esau with Christendom, employing the connection between Esau and Edom (36:9), Edom and Rome (Titus), Rome and the Vatican.
And so it was for almost two millennia: the Catholic Church led a steady program of Inquisitions, autos da fé, forced conversions and crusading death by the sword, especially targeting the Jews (but not exclusively; Lutherans as well were occasional targets). During that time, Catholicism adhered to its doctrine of supersessionism, that the Church had replaced Israel as God’s chosen people. The Holocaust could never have taken hold throughout Europe as it did, with nation after nation in large measure happily partnering with the Nazis in the cruel extermination of 6,000,000 Jews – had it not been for the accusations of deicide instigating murderous pogroms emanating from the churches for almost 2000 years.
But within the last five decades, a sea-change has occurred within the Church. Perhaps this came about as a result of the many decent Churchmen who were sincerely shocked by the murderous outcome of church anti-Semitism; perhaps because the miraculous rebirth of the State of Israel completely trumped the Church’s prior theological position that the Jews were doomed to wander stateless because they rejected the divinity and messiahship of Jesus. Perhaps it was because the hierarchy recognized that the Church could not have become the substitute Jews in God’s eyes because, since the eternal God “does not repent of His covenants” (see 1 Sam. 15:29). For whatever reason—probably for all three—the Second Vatican Council under Pope Paul VI issued its landmark Nostra Aetate (“In our time”) encyclical in 1965, repudiating anti-Semitism, rejecting the charge of deicide, and denying supersessionism by declaring that “Israel remains a chosen people”. Moreover Pope John Paul II begged forgiveness of the Jews for all the atrocities committed against them by the Church, and visited the Jewish State in the year 2000, when he met with our President and Prime Minister and prayed at the Western Wall for “the Jewish nation, his elder brother who remains the nation with whom God made His covenant.”
The fast-growing Evangelical Christian Churches, which developed in America rather than in Europe, were always very close to the Hebrew Scriptures and therefore to the Jews. They never had a history of anti-Semitism and they have proven to be the best friends we have. Pastor John Hagee of San Antonio, Texas, has initiated Christians United for Israel, through which thousands of churches throughout the world support our State financially and politically in a Christian “AIPAC”. Pastor Robert Stearns sends thousands of Christian university students to Israel in a kind of Christian “Birthright.” The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem serve as Christian ambassadors for Israel throughout the world. Ohr Torah Stone has an Institute of Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation through which we teach many thousands of Christians the Hebraic roots of Christianity and spread our united mission to bring a God of love, morality and peace to a world threatened by a god of power, suicide bombers and jihad.
Our Bible mandates that “we remember history, understand the differences in each generation”, and respond accordingly (Deut. 32:7)
Rav Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin (Netziv, Dean of famed Volozhin Yeshiva) comments on our previously cited verse, “And Esau ran towards him [Jacob], embraced him, and fell on his neck, kissed him- and they wept,” differently from Rashi: “This comes to teach that Jacob too was aroused with compassion at that moment for Esau. And so it will be in the future, when the seed of Esau will be aroused with a spirit of purity to recognize the seed of Israel and their value, then we too must be aroused to recognize Esau. After all, he is our brother”.