When Brothers Fight

Shabbat is supposed to be a day devoted to family and community - a day when we greet each other with a message of peace. That peace was shattered in Pittsburgh. The horrific attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue diminished our confidence for the safety of our communities and our belief that Shabbat will forever remain a haven of tranquility. It forced us to face the harsh reality that not everyone is our friend.

This week's Torah portion, Tol'dot, tells the story of Esau and Jacob, two brothers who found it impossible to become friends. They were twins who, even in utero, did not get along - forcing their mother Rebekah to seek divine counsel about her painful pregnancy. G-d informs her that the twins she is to bear will be at odds with one another in life, just as in the womb. 

We can still see this kind of brotherly struggle being played out today, albeit on a much larger scale. Families and friends are at odds over their beliefs and the values that go with them.

The Torah portrays the relationship between Esau and Jacob as an inevitable, unalterable course - a lifetime of unresolved conflict. Here is where the Biblical story and our modern story diverge. Today, we have the power to influence the course of events.

If we are serious about restoring peace and tranquility, we need to take more responsibility for our relationships - even when there are significant differences that separate us. This requires a deep commitment to listen to, and seek understanding of, the other. We must loosen our firm grip on deeply held positions and consider not only other viewpoints but also their origins. So often, deep divisions arise out of fear and hurt. Only by seeking to understand can we begin to repair the breach and achieve reconciliation.

This is difficult work. It is much easier to simply accept permanent disengagement. But our community, our nation, and our world deserve better. This is a time for courage and for outreach. Only by healing our wounds and finding common ground will we achieve the society we all want to live in.

May the memory of those who died these past two weeks at the hands of hate and bigotry inspire us to press forward toward a world that embraces love.

Shabbat Shalom.


Howard Sovronsky
President and CEO

Image: "Meeting between Esau and Jacob" by Giovanni Maria Bottala (c. 1636)