19 July 2011

The War with Eisav

17 Tamuz 5771

On a day when we recall what our enemies did to us in times past, I am declaring war on their descendants who are still at it after all these years and this is a call to rally the troops.

Today, everyone knows we are engaged in a physical war with Yishmael, but few seem to understand that we are also in a spiritual war with Eisav.

“It’s a war for hearts and minds.”

“It’s a halachah, Eisav soneh et Yaaqov.”

I'm referring specifically to the Christians who "love" us with consequences for the Jews who love them.

This is not the first time in history that a group, realizing that they could not defeat us militarily, decided to destroy us through “friendship.”

In the matter of Baal Peor at Shittim: [A Moabite girl lures a Jew into her store]…Following that the girl says [to the Jew], “You are like one of the family. Sit! Choose what you like!” And a jug of Ammonite wine is sitting by her. The wine of the nations has not yet been prohibited. The girl comes out in jewelry and perfume, and entices him, saying, “Why do we love you, but you hate us? Take this vessel for free! Surely we are all descendants of one man, Terach, father of Abraham.” (Tanchuma, Balak, 18)

“I have separated you out from among the nations to be Mine. If you are separated from the nations, then you are Mine, otherwise, you belong to Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylonia and his associates.” (Torat Kohanim, Kedoshim, 9)

“…our sages said, “If someone makes a partnership with a non-Jew, it is as though he worships idols and forges a covenant with him.” (Tanna Devei Eliyahu Rabbah, 7)

“Blessed are You, Hashem our G-D, King of the Universe, Who separates between holy and secular, between light and dark, between Israel and the nations, between the seventh day and the six days of labor….” (Havdalah prayer)

It’s clear from these examples that one thing has nothing whatever to do with the other. Holy and secular, light and dark, Shabbat and weekdays are mutually exclusive. Then it follows that Israel and the nations would also be intended to be mutually exclusive. They share nothing in common.

Excerpts from When Christian 'Love' Can Hurt Usby Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen

… I will begin with the insights of Rabbi Shmuel Bornstein, a noted Chassidic sage of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These insights are found in his work, Shem MiShmuel, which provides a commentary on the weekly Torah portion.

… Rabbi Bornstein discusses a deeper meaning of the following words from Yaakov's prayer to be saved from the harmful plans of his brother, Eisav: "Save me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Eisav." (Genesis 32:12)

…Why does Yaakov first refer to Eisav as "my brother" and then refer to him by name? Some commentators explain that Yaakov was more frightened of Eisav as a brother and friend than as Eisav - the one known for his violence. This is because Yaakov was concerned that Eisav might attempt to become close to him in order to draw him to Eisav's harmful philosophy and distorted ways. This was potentially very dangerous to Yaacov and his family, for it could lead to the end of the spiritual mission to which Yaakov had dedicated his life. We are therefore told that Yaacov primarily feared his "brother," and only then "Eisav."

…The idea that Yaakov, our forefather, was first concerned about spiritual survival is also found in the Beis HaLevi - a commentary on the Torah by Rabbi Yosef Dov Ber Soloveitchik, a noted Lithuanian Jewish sage of the late 19th century. Regarding Yaakov's prayer to be saved "from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Eisav," Rabbi Soloveitchik points out that it would have been sufficient for Yaakov to say, "from the hand of my brother, Eisav." Why, then, did he refer to two hands - the hand of his brother and the hand of Eisav? Rabbi Soloveitchik explains that Yaakov was concerned about two facets of Eisav's strategy - the hand of brotherhood and the hand of violence. He first mentions the hand of brotherhood, for he recognized the serious danger posed by the "love" of Eisav when its goal is to wean Yaakov away from the right path.

Rabbi Soloveitchik cites the teaching, "All the actions of the forefathers are auguries for their descendants;" thus, the prayer of Yaakov, our forefather, is relevant for each generation of our people. Rabbi Soloveitchik points out that there are descendants of Eisav who deal with us in the same two ways as Eisav sought to deal with Yaakov. Initially, they promulgate brutal decrees designed to convert, persecute and even destroy us; however, when HaShem, the Compassionate One, does not allow them to eliminate our presence as a people, then they seek to live in peace with us. Through this strategy, they hope to distance us from our path and our faith.

Rabbi Soloveitchik then cites various midrashim that describe how, in a later stage of our history, these descendants of Eisav will ask us to modify our tradition so as to lessen the distance between their religion and Judaism. Rabbi Soloveitchik explains that they will even adopt certain tenets of Judaism in order to tempt us to give up some of our heritage.

Who are these descendants of Eisav that will seek to tempt us in this way? An answer can be found in the concluding passage of the Torah portion for this Shabbos, where we find a list of various rulers that descend from Eisav, including "the chief of Magdiel." (Genesis 36:43) The classical commentator, Rashi, writes: "Magdiel - this is Rome." (cited in Pirkei D'Rabbi Eliezer 38)

According to Jewish tradition, Rome became the kingdom of Eisav, and the Christian civilization, which became centered in Rome, is a continuation of this kingdom. As Rabbi Soloveitchik reminded us, this kingdom of Eisav initially tries to convert us through force and when this fails, it will conspire to distance us from our way of serving HaShem by developing peaceful and brotherly relations with us.
Aishdaas article by Meir Levin:
The rabbinic identification of Rome with the Biblical figure of Esau is basic to the traditional understanding of much of the relevant sections of Chumash Bareishis. Esau's faults and shortcomings as well as his complex and tortured relationship with his brother Yakov was seen by the Rabbis through the prism of this identification, so much so that the conflict of these two brothers typifies the struggle for spiritual and moral supremacy between Rome and Jerusalem.

It is somewhat unclear, though, what supports this identification. The voluminous Roman chronicles do not appear to contain any awareness of descent from Esau[2], although a memory of such an ignoble descent certainly could have been lost[3] or suppressed. Our tradition does preserve the particulars of Roman descent from Esau.

"The great kingdom of Rome was built by Zepho, son of Eliphaz, son of Esau. Tirtat of the land of Elisha attacked him and killed him (Yelamdeinu, Batei Midrashos 160)."

The Malbim in his commentary to Obadia 1,1 suggests that in addition to genealogical descent, the identification of Rome and Esau is also based on the "founding of their faith by children of Edom, as R. Isaac Abarbanel wrote to Isaiah 34, with proofs."

This comment of the Malbim may lead us the supposition that identification of Rome as Esau rests on the very visible traits that Roman, and subsequently Western civilization, shares with the character traits of Esau as he is described in the Chumash. In fact, it is my impression that midrashic collections seem to highlight especially these cultural qualities when they discuss Esau. The limitations of space do not allow a full treatment of this subject, which in truth deserves a book length treatment; we can, however, manage to briefly focus on two or three of them.

Among such traits is the individualism and disdain for tradition and authority that is such an obvious feature of Western civilization and also of Esau who was a "self-made man". Esau willingly gave up his birthright in order to build his future with his own toil and effort. "Esau showed to others that (in his opinion) the institution of birthright is not morally correct. Rather one who is more talented, of his own right should be honored above others. Many great leaders of the nations of the worlds followed Esau 's opinion and disparaged the status of birth; rather, (they held) everything depends on the natural abilities of each individual (Netsiv, Haemek Davar to Genesis 23,34).

One trait of Esau that few will fail to recognize in the civilization and culture of the West is the emphasis on the image over substance, leavened with a good measure of hypocrisy.[4]

He (Esau) was a hypocrite (Shocher Tov 14,3).

Esau would hunt him (Yitshak) and deceive him with words (Genesis Rabbah 63,10).

Nevertheless, the emphasis on the appearances brings a certain measure of outward nobility and aristocratic bearing which is evident in the outside trappings of Esau's civilization, his architecture, art, music - the brilliance of classical Western culture. The Maharal writes: " The verse "two proud ones in your belly" alludes to the wide view of Israel and Edom, not just Rebbi and Antoninus alone (see our Midrash Toldos for a technical discussion of this statement) - that they possess a specific substance. They have a live force of substance and they comport themselves with worth in their eating. This means that there is one who eats like an animal, without raising himself in it but Israel and Esau do not conduct themselves so. They prepare a proper environment to make their eating more important. So also Esau comports himself in his clothing to this day to honor himself in his dress and to raise his self respect above that of other nations, also through great buildings. Not so Ishmael - they do not care about their clothing, cuisine, bathhouses[5].... this means that they (sons of Esau) have a self-worth in their life-force[6][7] (Gur Arye, Gen. 25, 24).

The following midrash typifies the personalization of Rome and the West as Esau while not sparing his hypocrisy.[8]

In the future Esau will wrap himself in a tallis, sit down next to Yakov and say to him, "You are my brother"....Yakov will say to him, "My brother, you will not be like me. "I will lead you to death, I will be the pestilence that leads you to Sheol (Hoshea 13,14). Had I upheld degrees that you promulgated against me, I would have been guilty at the eyes of Heaven. Had I violated them, you would have killed me? (Yalkut Shimoni, Yirmiahu 333)

"That was Esau's intention when he told Yakov, "Let us travel together and I will go before you (Genesis 33,12). He wanted them to join together in both this world and the world to come, to meet each other halfway, with each modifying his conduct until they were alike (Yalkut Shimoni, Genesis 133). Indeed, Esau will even adopt certain tenets of Judaism-such as monotheism, the Divinity of the Torah, and reward and punishment-but only if Israel will give up some of its heritage. Similarly, according to Tanna D'Bei Eliahu Zuta(19), Esau proposed. "Give up some of the mitzvos that divide us. You will thereby enjoy this world and still have half the world to come. Isn't that enough? (Bais Halevy, Vayishlach).

Can one see relevance in these ancient writings for the world of today? Do we not see the pinnacle of Esau's civilization, the country that is the utmost embodiment of his values of individualism and superficiality/ image, offering this bargain to sons of Yakov, and most of them have taken it. In return, Esau has placed his political and military might in service of common goals, in support of the so-called "Judeo-Christian" values. Will this friendship continue when Esau sees that Yakov returns to his Law and rejects his extended hand and his conditions of friendship?[9]

To summarize, the Chazal were keen observers of human nature and the political and social cultures that surrounded them. They unerringly ferreted out the personality traits of Biblical figures that they were then able to match with national characters and identify one with the other. In this way, aided by received traditions, they were able to predict how these nations are likely to behave down even to our time.

If you are a Christian "lover" of Israel or a Jew who denounces his brother whlie clinging tot he Christian---consider yourself warned. If you are a Torah faithful Jew, I adjure you to join the battle.