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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A (Belated) Poetic Midrash for Parshat Toldot. How have we inherited the sibling rivalries of Genesis/Bershit?

Dear Online Hevre/community,
I read this poetic midrash this past Friday night, but have been continuing to edit it.  As it is still a work-in-progress I would appreciate any comments you might have.

In response to the horrific terrorist attack at the synagogue in the Har Nof neighborhood of Jerusalem last week, which killed five people, including four rabbis, I joined so many other rabbis in trying to figure out the best way to address the occurrence at services.

As has been the case in the past, I really believe it is my job to present some kind of a theological response to the tragedy, rather than to talk politics.  Of course, when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and terrorist attacks, it is impossible to be apolitical.  I have learned that the hard way.  So, even if my intention is not political, there are certainly political implications.  But I will leave it to the reader to draw her/his own conclusion.

In ancient times, the rabbis did not write systematic theology.  Rather, they used midrash (rabbinic tales based on biblical texts) to portray the relationship between God and humanity.  In these tales, one can discover their ideas about that relationship, and about the nature of God and the human beings created in the divine image,

I decided to write a midrash based on the birth of the twins Jacob and Esau, and the sibling rivalry which existed from the start, but was certainly exploited by their parents.  I related this sibling relationship to that of Isaac and his half brother Ishmael.  The two relationships were very different, as they are portrayed in Bereshit/Genesis.  

People often speak of the latter sibling relationship because the Jews are the descendants of Isaac and the Muslims and Arabs are the descendants of Ishmael.  However, perhaps the other sibling rivalry is a better description of the situation.  I'll leave that for each of you to decide.

As I am writing this, here in America we are watching the reaction to what occurred in Ferguson, Missouri, and the discussion about racial inequality and prejudice which still exists today in America.  I can't help wonder whether or not the same issues I raise here could also be raised in relationship to race relations in the USA and, if so, how would they apply.  I would be interested to hear any thoughts on this subject.

L'shalom - in Peace,
these are the generations.....this is the heritage

two brothers emerge from one womb    
struggling from the start      vying for attention
sibling rivalry in utero
continuing through the pain and struggle
of being birthed into a world
where without any choice
one knew he was bound     to be subservient to the other
their positions determined by the chance of birth
leading to a lifelong struggle
for father's blessing    father's fortune    father's approval
for mother's love     mother's attention       mother's guidance

a generation ago        two other sons had also been born
born of the same father but
different mothers    different wombs     different circumstances
one born of desperation necessity resignation
one born of divine miracle blessing salvation
they were not twins     not linked to one another from conception
not bound together for life even when they tried to drive each other away
with their jealousy and murderous desire     as this pair is to be

those sons were merely brothers     not rivals or enemies
God had made it clear who was to be most blessed       who was to inherit divine blessing
but his mother did not have enough trust faith in the promise
made by an invisible deity speaking only to her husband

in spite of all the miracles she had witnessed     including her son's birth
her belief was overshadowed by her fear      of the other
the other boy      the other woman       the others who might take
what belonged to her to her son
perhaps event  take some of the love of the man
the one through whom the two woman    were chained to each other

the struggle of mother against the other       mother against mother
became mother against      the other's son 
it was never brother against brother       until her fear made it so
for the two boys were pawns        not players
as mother forced father to turn    the others away       perhaps to die
but this was not to be
for both sons had a blessing         both were destined to become great
though the younger would be greater than the elder

years later
the two brothers came together in peace to honor their father
       the man who gave them their names    their blessings     their curses
together they buried him next to  her
                    the mother who had created the rivalry where none had been
the other mother     also a victim of her fear
    was to remain separated       remain other       even in death
together they pray that they bury with their father the struggle     which he allowed to occur
that harmony will has been returned    to the family   the people   and the land

lifetimes have passed since then   until today
the struggle continues     brother against brother      sister against sister    cousin against cousin      neighbor against neighbor       blessing against blessing curse against curse
yet which of these struggles have we inherited

by rights      by heritage     by our names      it should be the latter
Isaac and Ishmael         the struggle between two brothers      
 forced upon them by their parents        which they never desired
a struggle more easily resolved          a peace more easily achieved

instead  it seems  we have inherited the other struggle        never meant to be ours
Esau and Jacob     a struggle from before birth 
      two linked to each other         struggling with each other
each desiring everything       one tricking the other        the other filled with  murderous rage
this struggle is not easily resolved    this peace impossible to achieve
for it was fueled by jealousy   rivalry     desire    manipulation    mistrust  hatred

why has this become our struggle      when it should not be
we are not twins of the same mother     rivals from birth       or perhaps we are      in our minds
each believing we were given birth by the same small piece of land
each believing that our parent in heaven desires us to remain on that land at all costs
each ready to fight      to die      for the cause         to defend their birthright

but some are also  ready to kill       not only in defense      but simply out of hatred for the other
they kill not only soldiers      who are prepared to die
they murder innocent women   men   toddlers   teens    children   elderly    infants
murdering  men praying to God      the parent of both       of all humanity
cutting them down      giving no thought to their actions
never really asking if this is truly what God would want       though we know it is not

as the righteous are cut down    their blood sinks into the ground
yet it cries out to God      why
as their souls of the righteous ascend to heaven    returning  to their source
they look down on earth     together   with the angels
they weep tears of suffering and sadness       for God's children below
for the family still torn apart     by the hatred of millenia

God asks these souls why they cry
for they are now at peace       they are with the angels       with God
the souls cry out          we weep for those we have left behind
we weep for the loved ones of those who have taken this journey before us
we weep for those who shall make the ascent in days and years to come

and we weep too for the others    those who have shed our blood
for the enemy who has   murdered us       and for their families
for we are all your children     though they seem to have forgotten
we mourn the loss of their humanity         we cry for their souls
which they have tainted      by their actions

and God we weep for you as well
for the misunderstanding    the misuse     the perversion      of your teachings
which have led them to commit these atrocities
in the name of the source of peace    they bring terror
in the name of the source of love     they preach hatred
in the name of the mother of compassion    they practice cruelty
in the name of the father of justice     they let vengeance guide their actions
in the name of the one who brought Isaac and Ishmael together to bury their father
        they come wishing to bury the other's children
as Ishmael weeps    together with the angels     with Isaac     with the souls of the righteous

Jacob and Esau look down on the land and wonder if their legacy   of brotherly animosity
is the source of the struggle       the hatred
but the people forget     that eventually   they embraced    reconciled
filled with forgiveness        each content to accept the other as they were
so that they could each live in peace        even if not together

Isaac and Ishmael look down on the land and wonder if their legacy
     the rivalry and mistrust    spawned by their mothers     which tore them apart
is the source of the struggle     the hatred
but the people forget that they too came together in peace
to bury their father         the true link between them
who never desired them to be enemies          but didn't know how to stop it

Looking down on the land which gave birth to them all       and to the struggle
they know that there are those on both sides who understand this      
those who want to follow in their fathers' footsteps     reconcile       and live in peace
at this moment      these voice praying for    shalom   salaam      can be heard on high
are so difficult to hear  below  over the din    of hatred    fear   mistrust    violence

 our ancestors look down with the angels     with God      with the souls of those who died
for the sanctification of God's name       even if it was not their choice    
they wonder     why this must happen        what is to become of their loved ones below
they wonder     when the hatred     the violence     the mistrust      the terror     the atrocities
will end       or if they ever will

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