There are certain confrontations in life that are seemingly unavoidable.
Yaakov flees from his parents' home in order to avoid confronting Eisav
over the matter of the birthright that Yaakov purchased from Eisav and the
blessings that Yitzchak bestowed on Yaakov. But after twenty years of
separation and avoidance of Eisav, Yaakov now confronts Eisav, not knowing
what Eisav's response to Yaakov's gifts and flattery will be. But Yaakov
knows that there is now no escaping the confrontation and he therefore
steels himself for it with gifts to Eisav, with prayer, and with even
preparations for conflict. Eisav cannot be permanently finessed. He demands
answers and policies and Yaakov cannot ignore him permanently.
In the Torah reading of Vayishlach, Yaakov successfully disarms Eisav by
showering him with gifts and compliments. He does not really have a serious
discussion with him about their outstanding differences. Yaakov is
convinced that Eisav will react negatively to his placing all of their
differences out in the open. Therefore, Yaakov employs diverse tactics to
really avoid Eisav once more. Eisav knows that he is being had but chooses
to let the matter rest temporarily. In the long history of the Jewish
people, Yaakov has consistently attempted to avoid dealing directly with
Eisav. Whether Eisav too, in the guise of Roman Emperor or Christian Pope
or German Kaiser or Russian Czar or Commissar, Yaakov always attempted to
appease Eisav and not confront him. This was always the political policy of
the Jewish community and our survival is certainly indicative of its
soundness. But there has arisen over an Eisav in a different guise who will
not be put off with gifts and blandishments, who demands the confrontation
that Yaakov dreads and postpones. This guise of Eisav may be entitled
"modernity". It is the modern world of democracy and freedom, of new ideas
and constantly advancing technology, of not only freedom of religion but
freedom from religion as well. What does Yaakov have to say to this new
Eisav? The main problem in Jewish life over the past two centuries is
exactly that - how does Judaism, the Jewish people, the individual Jew,
confront the problems raised by modernity?
There is a section of traditional Jewry, which until today emulates the
tactics of our father Yaakov and avoids confrontation with the modern
world. It simply attempts to shut that world out from its life and society.
This approach has met with varying degrees of success and has not been
universally adopted, even in the Orthodox Jewish world. At the other end of
the spectrum there has been an attempt by a section of Jewry to embrace and
include the ideas of modernity and even the life style and attitudes of the
modern world into its Jewish life. This trend has also experienced many
failures and problems and has many times been overwhelmed by the modern
world to the detriment of its Jewish component. There are now and there
have been till now, many attempts to find a middle ground between
traditional Judaism and the ideas of modernity and behavior of the modern
world. But, the truth be said, no universal successful formula for
confronting the modern world has as yet been formulated by the descendants
of Yaakov. Meanwhile, the modern world and its ideas are ripping gaping
holes in the fabric and population of the Jewish people. Not everyone can
and/or should divorce one's self from the modern world swirling about us.
And, again, not everyone can successfully reconcile a Torah life-style and
commitment to the realities of the modern world. One thing, though, is
clear and that is that the traditional Torah way of life should be given
priority in Jewish affairs, both public and private.
David Ben Gurion came to see Rabbi A.Y. Karelits (Chazon Ish) in the
beginning years of the State of Israel. He asked the venerable rabbi, "How
shall we live together in our new state? Who should give way to whom?"
Rabbi Karelits responded by saying that the Talmud posits a case where two
camels meet on a narrow road. One is laden with cargo and the other is not.
The Talmud's decision is that the loaded camel has the right of way. The
traditional, even isolationist, world of Jewry is laden with the load of
3,400 years of Judaism and Jewish life. It certainly is entitled to
appreciation, recognition and support, if not even to the right of way.
Rabbi Berel Wein
Text Copyright © 2000 Rabbi Berel Wein and
Project Genesis, Inc.