D’var Torah: Rabbi Gilbert S. Rosenthal (Vayishlach)

EMERGING THROUGH CRISIS  

Jacob was terrified: he was on the eve of meeting, after many years of estrangement, his brother Esau. And now, after all these years, Esau was about to catch up with Jacob and accompanied with 400 of his men to boot (Gen. 32:7). It was a terrifying encounter because Jacob had “cheated” Esau out of his birthright for a bowl of stew (Gen.25:1ff.).

Jacob had good reason to be terrified. After all, Esau had a reputation as a man of violence whose life was stained with blood; who lived by the bow and arrow. Jacob prayed to God for salvation. Jacob was so terrified that he divided his family into two camps so that if Esau attacked one, at least that other would escape (Gen. 32:9).

But God did not forsake Jacob: Esau’s passion for vengeance abated and instead of killing Jacob they embraced and kissed. All was not forgotten—but all was now forgiven.

So Jacob returned shalem (Gen.33:18), “whole,complete, at peace.” The rabbis note the phrase and have a beautiful comment on it: “Shalem—ba-guf (whole in body); shalem be-mamon (whole in his wealth) and shalem be-Torato)—whole in his faith in God and commitment to the Jewish people (see Rashi at Gen. 33:18).

Here we have the key to Jewish survival. We endured the destruction of our two Temples; we suffered through the Crusades, expulsions, ghettos, religious persecutions and forced  conversions, martyrdom and all means of persecution. And we survived the Holocaust. How can Am Yisrael continue to march on its path to salvation? By returning to its roots, by reiterating its expectations as a Jewish people; by consecrating our wealth and possessions for good purposes—not just for levity and ostentatiousness, and by retaining, enriching and spreading our commitment to Torah (Jewish learning) and Jewish living by Jewish principles.

These three bases of Jewish civilization have enabled us to outlast our persecutors and survive as an Eternal People—Am Olam. Will we now abandon these saving, vital elements?

I pray not. In America and Israel we are blessed as no other Jewry in the past. May we always live up to the challenge!

Rabbi Gilbert Rosenthal, Schechter Grandparent

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