Whether the sages of the Talmud or today’s Knesset members, Jews have always argued. This is even truer right now, when Israel is at war and the whole Middle East is in turmoil. Every Jew has an opinion. Some speak their minds honestly and respectfully. Others sound pious, but a second look reveals that they are superficial and sanctimonious.
In this week’s Torah reading, Vayetze, we read about the arguments between our patriarch Jacob and his father-in-law, the devious Laban. After two decades of being cheated time and again by Laban, Jacob decides to leave Haran and make a new life for himself. He leaves without informing Laban, lest Laban stop him in his tracks. Sure enough, Laban comes in hot pursuit and confronts Jacob. Towards the end of the Torah portion, we read that, after some to and fro, they agree to disagree and go their separate ways. To formalize the agreement, they build a monument of stone.
The parshah states, “Jacob said to his brethren, gather stones” to help build the monument. Later, it adds, “Jacob called to his brethren to partake of a meal.”
Thus, Jacob uses the word “brethren” twice. Rashi, the famous Torah commentator, gave two different and seemingly contradictory definitions of the word. In regard to the call to gather stones, Rashi defines “brethren” as referring to Jacob’s “sons who were like brothers to him, coming to his aid in times of trouble and war.” But regarding the invitation to dine together, Rashi defines “brethren” as Jacob’s “friends who were with Laban.”
Why did Rashi differentiate between the two uses of the word?
I once saw an interesting interpretation: Some of our brethren are here for food and fun, while others are willing to take on the task of being there in times of trouble and war.
Many shuls around the world have people who don’t get to the service in time to pray with the congregation, but they do come in time for the Kiddush. We joke about it and call them “JFK” Jews—“Just for Kiddush.”
But then there are our “brothers in arms.” They are committed and roll up their sleeves when there is a job to be done. They are the true sons of Jacob.
I can’t help thinking about how perfectly Rashi’s interpretation applies to the situation today.
We were all inspired by the unprecedented unity displayed at last week’s March for Israel in Washington, D.C., which attracted Jews and non-Jews of all shades and stripes. In the words of the Psalmist, “Behold how beautiful and pleasant it is when brethren dwell together.” Indeed, it was beautiful to behold.
But how sad and disappointing it is to see this wonderful unity already beginning to fade.
It’s all very nice to attend fundraising dinners and especially to contribute financially and otherwise to the cause. But Israel is at war right now. We’re not being asked just to come for supper. Much more is expected of us.
I live in South Africa, and today I wince when I see so-called liberal Jews signing petitions for a ceasefire and playing into the hands of South Africa’s anti-Israel government, which has lost all sense of balance and fairness. The haters gloat over the actions of these Jews and use them as proof that Israel is morally wrong. Biased local media happily listed the names of the over 200 signatories as if they represent the “real” Jews who oppose Israel. Would they list the tens of thousands of Jews who would happily sign a counter-petition? I doubt it. The media would be too terrified to admit that their 200 Jews are completely and utterly unrepresentative of the sentiments of the overwhelming majority of South African Jewry.
It is horrible to see how blind and foolish our co-religionists can be. They appear not to realize that they are serving as useful idiots for our mortal enemies. They cannot understand that theirs is not a moral voice but a very sad and shameful voice of delusion.
They should remember that the Nazis murdered even the most assimilated German Jews; Jews who considered themselves more German than Jewish and had even fought in the Kaiser’s army. None of that made any difference to Hitler and his henchmen.
Our seemingly enlightened brothers who support Hamas by signing such petitions may ingratiate themselves with the world’s antisemites today. But tomorrow, God forbid, they could well be killed alongside the most zealous of Jews. Indeed, on Oct. 7, we saw peace activists who had collaborated with Palestinians in goodwill butchered together with IDF soldiers and right-wing Israelis alike.
It may sound controversial, but in my humble opinion, these sophisticated collaborators are no more acceptable than the lunatic fringe of Neturei Karta, who march with pro-Hamas demonstrators and meet with Iranian leaders while sporting kaffiyehs over their beards and peyos. Their counterparts on the left are playing into the hands of Hamas and are, quite frankly, just as cringe-worthy as the maniacs in their shtreimels.
My dear brothers and sisters, I beg of you, please don’t be deceived. Don’t allow yourselves to be exploited by our sworn enemies. Let us be with our brethren in Israel in both the good times and especially in times of crisis.
We should not be there only to eat but also to gather stones, to build and, if necessary, even to fight.