Often enough, people are confronted with wickedness and injustice; but instead of standing tall in opposition to the perpetrators of evil, people bow their heads. They lose self-confidence. They think: I am too small and too weak to resist. It’s best to go along or to stay quiet. Resistance can be unpleasant, even dangerous. Thus, evil continues to spread.
Angel for Shabbat
The Torah reminds us not to judge success or strength by external numerical standards. The Israelites were not strong even though they multiplied in prodigious numbers. A hollow oak tree is not strong even if it is ancient and massive. No nation, community, institution or individual can be deemed to be strong unless the inner life is healthy.
Human greatness often entails loneliness and alienation. It is nurtured by successes and failures, by trials and errors. It is fostered in an environment of quiet thoughtfulness. The greatest people often are the most humble and self-effacing.
Somewhere within each of us is “a corner of certainty,” a hard kernel of identity that we abandon at our own peril. Alienation from others is painful. Alienation from oneself is disastrous.
The Talmud (Yoma 9b) suggests that the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed due to the sin of sinat hinam, baseless hatred. Yet, “baseless” hatred seems to be rare, if not impossible. Whenever people hate, they don’t think their hatred is baseless.
For many centuries, Jews became accustomed to an attitude of passivity and defenselessness. They relied on prayers or on material gifts to those in power. In the modern period, Jews have added the strategy of political and military power. Our task today is to maintain a proper balance that includes all three dimensions: prayer, diplomacy, military strength..
It is really amazing how much calumny is aimed against the Jewish people. The basest lies are spread against us; the vilest charges are leveled against Israel. No matter what we do or how good we really are, it seems we are destined to be vilified.
Coming together as a mahaneh is our way of saving our lives. Coming together as an edah is our way of saving our way of life. Even when we are seemingly at peace, we must see the angels of Mahanaim and be prepared to defend our lives from enemies. Even when we are in the midst of battle, we must never lose sight of the angels connecting heaven and earth.
Joseph is a classic example of the “assimilated Jew”—a person who is alienated from Jewishness but knows that Jewishness is a deep part of one’s basic identity. Should he/she maintain the veneer of non-Jewishness; or should one reclaim the Jewishness at the root of one’s soul?
Angel for Shabbat, Parashat Toledot
by Rabbi Marc D. Angel
""...and by thy seed shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves" (Bereishith 26:4).