Parashat Toledot: Never again

Spring blooms in the Negev

Chaverim,

Water is life. Our bodies are mostly water. Our planet is able to sustain life largely due to its abundant supply of water. The symbolism of water flowing and nourishing the thirsty land is easily understandable, even by those who have never lacked rain. So, what can we learn from the image of a well, that has been intentionally filled with earth so that it no longer functions as a well? If water is life-giving, then a stopped-up well is the opposite. Why, then, did the Philistines, as we read in this week’s parashah, Toledot, fill up the wells that had been dug in the days of Abraham and tell Isaac to leave the region? Why were they ready to make the land uninhabitable?

I interpret it as an early attempt to stop Jewish life, one of many that we Jews have had to endure over history. The Greeks, Romans, Crusaders, Pogroms in eastern Europe, Nazi-Germany, and even this horrific attack on the Jewish community in Pittsburgh, they all shared one goal, making Jewish life unbearable; from preventing Jews to study Torah to forbidding Jewish rituals, from expelling Jews to physical prosecution and then to annihilation. Jewish history is full of stopped-up wells.

However, our Jewish history is also full of re-opened wells. Isaac’s digging the same wells that his father dug shows us how he reclaims his father’s traditions and ensures Jewish survival. I identify with Isaac’s actions: I have learnt to seek to reclaim the traditions handed down to us by our ancestors. I have seen how Jewish life has put out new roots in Germany. We all witnessed how Jews all over the world, us included, came together last Shabbat, mourning the victims of the Pittsburgh shooting, but more importantly, we celebrated Jewish life, too, affirming our commitment to never allow any anti-Semites to fill up our wells.

Shabbat Shalom – Rabbi Adrian M Schell

Parashat Toldot: Living For Tomorrow

One day, Jacob was making a stew when his brother Esau came in from a long day of being in the field and… „Esau said to Jacob, ‚Pour … me … some of that red stuff for I am exhausted.‘ Jacob said, ‚Sell … your birthright to me.‘ ….Esau said, ‚…I am going to die, so of what use to me is a birthright?‘ „ (Genesis 25:30-32)

Why would someone sell his birthright, which was worth an incalculable amount both spiritually and monetarily, for a bowl of stew? Esau gladly did so, and then justified it because one day he was going to pass away…

Sadly, this is a similar rationale that we use ourselves when we want to engage in any unhealthy behavior. We all live with a constant inner struggle between having immediate gratification or thinking about the future. But healthy decisions can only be made when someone lives with the awareness that their choices have a direct impact on their life. This „tomorrow filter“ is what all of your desired actions need to pass through.

Many smokers rationalise their habit by declaring that, „we’re all going to die of something … I might as well enjoy myself.“ If you push that faulty logic a little further, they might as well live their entire lives just as recklessly. How about only eating foods that are loaded with sugar or fat? Or maybe experiment with drugs after a long, hard day.

The problem with all of this is there is a tomorrow, and it’s precisely how you live today that will determine this tomorrow. Pointing out someone you know who never got sick and lived to 129 years old on a diet of whiskey, steak and cigars doesn’t give you the freedom to live recklessly and without limits. In fact, it’s actually these stories that give you true freewill to choose a correct and healthy path.

Esau cared only about what he wanted now. There was no thinking about tomorrow. This kind of thinking can lead us to do anything we feel like doing and then proudly and confidently, justify our behavior.

Our tradition teaches that we can only truly feel great when we sacrifice short-term pleasure by investing in our future and doing what’s right. Our Jewish tradition set up a system that demands that we grow; and this can only happen through being aware of temptations and doing what’s right. Then the lasting joy we‘ll own forever will be on a stratospheric higher level than the temporary and fleeting pleasure we passed up. Today for tomorrow.

Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi Adrian M Schell

(Source: Adam Lieberman / Picture: Esau Sells His Birthright for Pottage of Lentils  by Gerard Hoet (1648-1733))