Sharing The Blessing

Isaac's decision to bless both of his sons gives us hope for achieving a peaceful solution to the conflict between Jews and Palestinians.

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Provided by SocialAction.com, an on-line Jewish magazine dedicated to pursuing justice, building community, and repairing the world. The following article is reprinted with permission from SocialAction.com.

Even by biblical standards, few statements are as stark as God's words to Rebekah after the matriarch had conceived twins. "Two nations are in your womb," God explains, "And two peoples shall be separated...And the elder shall serve the younger."

Indeed, few Biblical struggles, few familial conflicts--in a book filled with stories of intra-family struggles--are as tragic as the confrontation between Jacob and Esau.

Family Legacy

It seems that from that moment, the twin brothers clashed and competed over the family birthright and legacy. The twin grandsons of Abraham and Sarah were, from their birth onwards, locked in a constant struggle over inheriting the prophetic mantle of Abraham and Sarah, inheriting the leadership over the family, and of course, inheriting the riches of the land which God had first promised to Abraham.

As the Torah portion Toledot unfolds, we witness Jacob, the younger brother, gaining through guile what had first been granted to Esau by virtue of being born first. Together, Jacob and Rebekah successfully conspire to transfer the blessing Isaac had intended for Esau over to the younger brother. More than being mere words, Isaac's blessing was critical because it served as the instrument for bestowing the family legacy, leadership, and ownership of the land.

Yet, in the end, we read that Isaac also rejects playing a zero sum game and grants an alternative blessing to Esau. Although the two blessings are not identical, Isaac, nonetheless, chooses to depart from the tradition of granting a single blessing to his eldest son and instead blesses both of his children.

Some of the sages are puzzled over the multiple blessings, while others attribute Isaac's actions to a father's compassion for a grieving child. But whatever the reasons, Isaac's deed offers us an important lesson in the contemporary struggle for peace. Far from being a perfect analogy, there are still many elements in this story all too reminiscent of the conflict between Jews and Palestinians.

An Eternal Struggle

This present-day conflict is also the story of two nations at war with one another from the moment of conception. And as the tragic violence continues between the contemporary nations, we are also reminded that Jacob and Esau also fought over being blessed with the Land. Finally, we are reminded that along with Jacob and Esau, Jews and Arabs are also descendents of Abraham. Like Jacob and Esau, today's conflict seems unsolvable, and we lament over being locked into what appears to be an eternal struggle.

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Rabbi Dan Bronstein

Rabbi Daniel Bronstein was ordained at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and is presently a Ph.D. candidate in Jewish History at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. He also presently serves as a Program Officer and Educator at the Jewish Life Network, and counts Rabbi Yisroel Salanter and Groucho Marx as among his two greatest influences.