It is an old story: the battle of good over evil, the struggle between the powerful forces that define who we are, how we live and how we relate to one another.
This week's Torah portion, Toldot, tells the story of Jacob and Esau, twins born to elderly parents, Isaac and Rebecca. From the time of conception, the two boys fought a bitter battle, with Jacob representing righteousness and Esau representing the lack thereof. Our great sage Rashi asked the question, How do two perfectly virtuous parents produce an offspring who is evil from birth?
Rashi comments that Esau's wickedness is not a product of upbringing but the result of Esau's own failure to overcome his negative inclinations. Esau chooses to favor the material over the spiritual, a bowl of pottage over his birthright. In essence, he has free will and he uses it badly.
As I ponder this interpretation, I think back to my days as a social worker. A number of the people I met and counseled had been labeled wicked and unredeemable. It's a convenient way to pigeonhole those who have made mistakes - sometimes very grave mistakes - that fly in the face of society's values and norms.
And this leads me to ask: If we accept that we have free will, then don't we also have the ability - indeed the duty - to help one another make good choices? When confronted by an Esau, shouldn't we find ways to help this individual conquer the powerful forces that lead him or her down a personally and socially destructive path?
Our world is not made of simple distinctions such as good and evil but of many shades of gray. It is in these "in-between" spaces that change can occur. We can use these opportunities to be a force for good and to help others overcome the powerful forces of indifference and hatred.
We have the biggest impact when we work together. That's why the Federation and the Jewish Community Relations Council are actively engaged in the broader community, connecting with other faith groups and organizations to create strong bonds of friendship and mutual respect. By building coalitions of people and organizations that hold similar values, we can help to ensure that - as with Jacob and Esau - righteousness ultimately prevails.
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