THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK

ISRAEL AMONG THE NATIONS

In this week’s portion we see a change in the relationship between a Patriarch and the surrounding community. Whereas Abraham is admired by his Hittite neighbours as “a prince of G-d you are in our midst” (Genesis 23:6), and they are prepared to offer him a choice burial plot for no charge, Isaac finds that the Philistines seek to undermine him. They are jealous of his wealth and prosperity. They sabotage the wells that he has dug. Indeed, from the name that Isaac gives to one of his wells (Sitnah) it indicates that there is even an unconcealed hatred for Isaac in the eyes of the populace. As for Jacob, who, at the end of this portion flees to Haran, many years of his life are lived in servitude and his descendants will suffer brutal slavery. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, (1808-1888) the great nineteenth century leader of German orthodoxy, lived in a time of growing civil emancipation for Jews, and was, himself, a Deputy for the community in the parliament in Moravia. He saw in these interactions of the Patriarchs with those around them a paradigm for the relationships their descendants will experience in the lands of their dispersion. There are times when they will undergo servitude. There will be times when they will have envied power, and times when they will enjoy respected greatness. There is a bitter irony in Rabbi Hirsch’s words, written in the nineteenth century, before the spectre of Nazism was ever envisioned: “Jewry...not so long ago, suffered trials of misery... and triumphed over them. Its current phase consists in living free and independent among the nations, without having to fear … opposition and jealousy...Then we can look forward to the last stage of the exile, to win the respect and admiration of the nations, as did Abraham.” We now see that the experiences of the Patriarchs do not constitute a paradigm of linear progression in the lives of their children. They can occur simultaneously. In a pre-Messianic age, at any one time, Jews, or, for that matter, other ethnic or religious groups, may be experiencing misery or respect, hatred or admiration. Even in our country, today, where the government roundly condemns antisemitism and islamophobia, there will be pockets in society where such attitudes persist. May we speedily merit that time when Jews and Gentiles, in every part of the world, will be able to live together in mutual respect, harmony and peace.