A story we have heard since we were very young.
Yaacov and Eisav, two brothers, two nations, two world views.
On a basic level we understand that Yaacov was the ancestor of the Jewish people, the last of the Avot, and the start of our transformation from the individual into the Jewish Family and then eventually the Jewish Nation.
Eisav on the other hand marries outside the community which leads to his grandchild being Amalek who would eventually be the nemesis for the Jewish people.
Throughout history the brothers have clashed. They clashed again last night and will again tonight.
Yaacov is described as ‘Ish Tam yosheiv ohalim’ – ‘a simple man who dwelt in tents.’ The Rabbis explain that this refers to his spiritual pursuits, his learning and his engagement in maintaining the values and ideals of the Avot.
Last night we followed Yaacov’s example with the launch of the Thursday night Student Bet Midrash at Kinloss. A joint initiative between Bnei Akiva, Young US and Mizrachi which saw a packed Bet Midrash of students of all ages coming together to learn and then to hear the Chief Rabbi’s wonderful address.
At the exact same time, upstairs in Kinloss, the 86 members of the Tribe Poland trip had their reunion of their inspiring yet difficult trip to the concentration and death camps of Auschwitz and Majdanek just a few weeks ago – the deadly work of Amalek’s descendants, the Nazis.
And then of course tonight we commemorate the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht – the Night of Broken Glass. A series of coordinated attacks against Jews throughout Nazi Germany and parts of Austria on 9th–10th November 1938. The attacks left the streets covered with broken glass from the windows of Jewish-owned stores, buildings, and synagogues. At least 91 Jews were killed in the attacks, and 30,000 were arrested and incarcerated in concentration camps. Jewish homes, hospitals, and schools were ransacked. Hundreds of synagogues were burned and over 7,000 Jewish businesses were destroyed or damaged. It was the beginning of the end for the Jews of Europe.
There is a beautiful custom that shuls across the world leave the lights on tonight, symbolising the light today from our shuls as a response to the darkness that emanated 80 years ago from Nazi Germany.
However, I believe we can do more.
Light is not simply a physical entity, as far as we are concerned it is a spiritual force which can illuminate lives and bring the Divine into our lives and others – that light is Torah and Mitzvot.
Tonight on Shabbat Kodesh, let us learn a bit more, daven with more kavannah, sing an extra Zemer at dinner – increase the light on the anniversary of the start of the darkness.
And it goes even further than that because we have to make sure that the darkness never returns, of course that means learning about the Shoah and defending ourselves against those who wish to harm us.
However, there is a beautiful Rashi that shines light on how we can achieve that.
How we can bring Yaacov and Eisav together?
After the events of this week’s Parsha – Eisav swears to murder Yaacov. At the start of Vayetze Yaacov weeps when he meets his future wife Rachel (29:10). Rashi explains that his weeping was that he had nothing of value to give her. He had nothing financially because Eliphaz the son of Eisav had pursued him to kill him at his father’s orders; he (Eliphaz) overtook him, but since he had grown up in Yitzchak’s lap, he held back his hand. He said to him (Yaacov): “What shall I do about my father’s orders?” Ya’acov replied: ”Take what I have, for a poor man is counted as dead.”
The eventual father of Amalek is merciful due to the influence that his Grandfather Yitzhak had all those years ago.
The lives we lead, the values we teach can have such an impact – both for light and darkness, both for the Jewish and non-Jewish world.
We must realise that it is ‘Yitzchak’ who can bring Yaacov and Eisav together. It is the light of Torah and the values that the Avot bequeathed to us that have the power not just to bring two brothers together but a world that is busy ripping itself apart chasing values and ideals that are antithetical to Torah.
However, all we can do is live our lives and teach the eternal lessons to our children and grandchildren.
And make sure that light we are keeping on is internal as well as external.
Rabbi Andrew Shaw