November 20, 2020
With all the magnificent miracles and transcendent stories that occur in the Torah, family relationships, sibling rivalry in particular, are a recurring theme. Jealously, love, deceit, camaraderie, theft, and honesty are just a sample of the smorgasbord of feelings and values exhibited by our biblical ancestors.
The defining story of this week’s Torah portion, titled Toldot (Generations), is the great identity theft between Jacob and Esau. It is the story of one child’s theft of another’s parental blessing that sets the course for our final patriarch, Jacob, to embark on his life’s journey in search of meaning.
But how, you might justifiably ask, does this story apply to the broader Jewish community and to the mission and purpose of the Jewish Federation? Well, I am glad you asked.
The Jewish community has defined itself since the time of Abraham and Sarah as an “extended family”. It is rare for two Jews, no matter from where they arrived, to meet for the first time and not play the ancient game of Jewish Geography. “Oh, you’re from New York City, do you know…?” Never mind that there are over 8 million people residing in NYC. Or maybe it’s a game of South African Jewish Geography? “Oh, you’re from Johannesburg, I once met someone from Cape Town, do you know…?” And just in case you weren’t aware, there are over 59 million people in South Africa!!
But the point is not the outcome of the Jewish Geography, it’s the playing it. The very fact that two unknown individuals possess the instant capacity to connect and engage in the game is a sign of the hidden bonds and extended relationships that we possess with one another.
The Jewish Federation’s purpose and mission is to strengthen these bonds. It is to reinforce these ties and to build on the innate foundation of our relationships with one another. Yes, it is true that we might possess differing ideologies, we may find ourselves on conflicting sides of the political spectrum, we may even have passionate feelings toward policies and practices that make us feel like we are worlds apart. And yet, how is this different than any of the sibling stories of the bible?
The Jewish community has always encouraged individual thought and expression while simultaneously reminding us of our responsibility to one another. Whether it was the opposing views of great rabbis documented together in the Talmud, one voicing the “winning” interpretation of a great law while another shared the minority perspective, we have always been able to agree to disagree. Today, it is imperative that we remember this great ability of our people. It is essential that we embrace our ability to disagree on how we feel and what we think but not let it cost us the price of our community.
Today, more than ever, the Jewish Federation is calling on every member of our Jewish community to remember this. Although we are the generations, the Toldot, who descended from those origins of disagreement, we know that in only a few short chapters even Jacob and Esau are able to reunite and put their differences aside. So too, is my hope for our community to return to our common purpose and come together to build our San Antonio Jewish community for the next generations who follow.
The Jewish Federation is