November 5, 2021
A few chapters ago we read of Abraham’s two sons from different mothers. Ishmael, son of Hagar, and Isaac, son of Sarah. These two “half-brothers” never form a relationship with one another, and in fact, father two diverging faiths, traditions, cultures, that have literally battled with one another for thousands of years since their inception.
Then we get to this week’s Torah portion, Toldot, where we would assume that the two brothers, twins born of the same mother, would absolutely have a close relationship, one of love, friendship, and dependency. But we could not be any more wrong.
The “in your face lesson” the Torah teaches us this week is that we should never take any relationship for granted. As readers of the text, we might have empathized with Ishmael a few weeks ago when Abraham sends him and his mother away at the bequest of Sarah, but because our lineage is through Isaac, we are much more interested in his story and simply accept the resulting family breakup. However, did you know that many of the greatest rabbis, the esteemed Rashi included, believe that following Sarah’s death Abraham and Hagar reunite and live out their days together? Yet, we never read of Isaac and Ishmael ever reconnecting. As far as the Torah is concerned, these two brothers never cross paths again.
And how about this week’s siblings Jacob and Esau? These twins are already fighting in utero. Before they take their first breath in this world, we are already told of their conflicting nature.
No relationship should be taken for granted. Relationships require investment, candor, and an acceptance that it might be ok to agree to disagree. Relationships require commitment, and they necessitate the need to be exposed and trust that this vulnerability will not be taken advantage of. Cultivating relationships is hard work!
But the rewards and benefits of building these relationships are plentiful. The research overwhelmingly shows that having real and genuine friendships, trusting partners, and friends who place your needs as priorities in their lives extends people’s life expectancy. This might genuinely be the reason why our biblical characters lived well beyond today’s lifespans. Maybe they simply had healthier relationships with their friends and neighbors.
Coincidentally, I had the pleasure of attending a celebratory birthday lunch for a 105-year-old community member last week, which was right on the heels of another birthday celebration for a 104-year-old friend of the community. I share this because I really do believe that San Antonio exhibits the characteristics that nurture the cultivation of these kinds of close relationships.
In fact, during the last two weeks of the worst local public displays of antisemitism in recent years, our interfaith friends and neighbors have shown an outpouring of love and support for our Jewish community. The Jewish Federation, as well as many of our local synagogues and other Jewish agencies, received spontaneous calls, emails, and public announcements of support during these trying times.
Next week we will be commemorating the 83rd anniversary of Kristallnacht (“The Night of Broken Glass”). This day is recognized as the turning point in the genocide of the Jews of Europe because up to this point antisemitism was primarily based on words and messages of hate, including legislation that separated and limited Jewish communal operations. However, Kristallnacht was the night that tested the local community’s and world’s tolerance for physical aggression toward the Jews… and the world failed!
In commemoration of the 83rd anniversary of Kristallnacht, we will join in unity, next Tuesday, November 9th at 6:15 pm, on the Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Campus of the San Antonio Jewish Community. We will proudly come together with local elected officials and neighboring interfaith leaders to show that San Antonio is a city of upstanders who will not stand by when hate is bellowed in our city streets.
Relationships matter because we are…