Sunday, November 7, 2010

THE MUTED VOICE OF JACOB: PARASHAT TOLDOT II 5771/2010

WESTWOOD VILLAGE SYNAGOGUE

Dr. Abner Weiss, Rabbi

 RABBI ABNER WEISS’ WEEKLY TORAH TEACHING:
PARASHAT TOLDOT II  5771/2010

THE MUTED VOICE OF JACOB

And Jacob approached his father Isaac.  And he felt him and said: “The voice [ha-kol] is the voice [kol] of Jacob and the hands are the hands of Esau  (Genesis 27:22).

The content of this verse is the elaborate subterfuge of Rebecca and Jacob.  Isaac’s wife, hearing that her husband intends to bless Esau, their first born, persuades the younger of the twins, Jacob, to masquerade as his brother. She hopes that the blind patriarch will be taken in by the ruse and bless Jacob.  The visually challenged Isaac is suspicious of the difference between what he hears and what he feels, and declares,” The voice is the voice of Jacob and the hands the hands of Esau”.

The sages insist that every letter of the Torah is significant.  A Torah scroll that omits or adds a single letter is invalid, and may not be used.  The word  kol [voice], therefore, is problematic.  It appears twice in our text.  It is first written defectively, without the Hebrew letter vav.  It is then written in its complete form, with the Hebrew letter vav.   What, they ask, is the significance of this inconsistency.

The word kol when written without the letter vav, can be read as kal – light, weightless.  Therefore, Rabbi  Berekhyah said:  “When Jacob mutes his voice, the hands of Esau dominate” (Genesis Rabbah 65:34).  In other words, evil prevails when good people are silent and, conversely, wickedness is defeated when good people refuse to mute their voices.

 I should like to share a remarkable incident that recently took place at Cambridge University. Anti- Zionism is fashionable among the intellectual elite. British University faculty organizations have consistently pushed for the boycott of Israeli academics, disregarding the principles of academic freedom and the fruitful exchange of ideas.

 Cambridge University is the elite of the elite.  Its renowned debating society is the hallowed forum for the articulation of the opinions of this elite.  Very recently, it debated the motion that Israel is a rogue nation.  Given the prejudices of the British intelligentsia in general and of the Cambridge audience in particular, the outcome of the debate was a forgone conclusion.  It seemed scarcely to matter what either the supporters of the motion or its opponents might argue.  The condemnation of the Jewish State as a rogue nation would be close to unanimous.

Gabriel Latner was one of the speakers for the motion.  Prima facie, his task was simple and his victory assured.   Indeed, he indicated as much in his opening remarks, but said he would offer five arguments buttressing his conviction that Israel was clearly a rogue nation.

 Before doing so, however, he wished to clarify the motion by defining the word “rogue”.  Among the definitions of  “”rogue” in the venerable Oxford English Dictionary and other reliable sources were: unusual; unexpected with regard to time and place; anomalous and abhorrent.   He told his audience that, using these definitions he would argue in five ways for the motion.  I shall summarize four of those arguments. 

His first (and, I believe, least convincing) was statistical.  In the family of nations consisting of 195 Independent States, the statistical probability of the existence of a Jewish State is 0.00516%.   The probability of holding a winning lottery ticket is 0.17%.  This would be twice as likely as the probable existence of a Jewish State.  In this analysis the existence of such a State is itself anomalous, unusual and unexpected, and is, accordingly, rogue.

Secondly, he argued, Israel deserves to be condemned as a rogue nation on humanitarian grounds. The civilized world is aghast at the genocide in Darfur.  Many voices have been raised and there has been much breast beating about this contemporary evil.  So horrible is the situation that, fleeing for their lives, refuges from Darfur risk starvation, dehydration and death by sunstroke in the desert, en route to supposed safe haven with their fellow Muslims in Egypt.  There they are arrested, beaten and repatriated.  Only those who reach the borders of the rogue Sate of Israel are given shelter, food, and rehabilitation.  On the criterion of humanitarian activity, the response of the Jewish State to the Darfur genocide is a radical aberration from the behavior of all the Muslim members of the United Nations.  If unusual and unexpected define rogue, Israel is certainly a rogue nation.

Gabriel Latner adduced a third reason in support of the motion.  No other nation has offered to and actually negotiated with a leader of a terrorist organization with the blood of its citizens on his hands. Can you imagine for one moment that the President of the United States would offer safe passage, sit down at a table with and yield to the demands of Osama Bin Laden, the architect of the 911 terrorist outrage and numerous other acts of terror around the world?  And yet Israel sits and negotiates with Yasser Abed Rabbo, who headed one of the most radical terrorist organizations   and was responsible for the murder of hosts of innocent civilians.  Since this is unusual, unexpected behavior, Israel is surely a rogue nation. 

The final argument adduced by Mr. Latner relates to freedom.  Freedom House rates nations as free, partly free, and not free.  Iran, Syria, Zimbabwe, North Korea, Myanmar and China are among the numerous nations rated not free.  One of the criteria used by Freedom House is freedom of expression.  Newspapers are regularly shut down and journalists imprisoned and sometimes tortured for their views in these countries.  Some even have so called “press courts” to impose sanctions on those who dare criticize official policies.  On this criterion, Israel is the only free nation in the Middle East.  It is certainly the only democratic country in the region.  It is in this respect, clearly aberrant.   A Middle Eastern country that protects the freedom of the critics of its policies and assures the freedom of religious minorities and gays and lesbians must surely be considered unusual and thus “rogue”. 

The reaction of the audience to Gabriel latner’s courageous challenge to the political correctness of British Academic Society’s anti Zionism was electrifying.  He received a standing ovation and the motion that Israel is a vogue nation was handily defeated.  Sadly, because he was prepared to raise his voice in articulate protest against prejudice, Gabriel Latner was banned for life from Cambridge Debating Union.  However, he demonstrated the truth of the midrashic insight: When the voice of Jacob is loud and clear, the hands of Esau do not prevail. 

This Rabbinic insight is a commanding imperative.  The voice of Jacob must never be muted.  Jews must protest against all evil, and their protests must be matched with action.  This is why we can be so proud of the work of Jewish World Service, which, single handedly, and almost totally alone has kept the cause of the victims of Darfur alive. 

It s also why the voice of Jacob should not be muted in the halls of Congress or in communications with the White House.  We must support the efforts of APAC   and take individual initiatives in articulating the cause of Israel wherever and whenever it is necessary for us to do so. 

Finally, we dare not mute our voices in confronting disturbing tendencies within the Jewish Community itself, fearlessly stating what we believe, even if those beliefs go against the stream.  Unless the voice of Jacob is loud and clear, we empower the hands of Esau when they are raised against us.  A courageous nineteen year old on a British campus had the courage to raise his voice in defense of his ideals.  Our text demands that we follow his example.

  




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