Friday, November 17, 2006

Chayei Sarah: The Chosen One

There is a consistent trend throughout Genesis of the younger son trumping a first-born, and continuing the traditions of his father. We find it in Isaac/Ishmael, in Jacob/Esau, and we even find it in Judah and Joseph, to name a few. Often, the father tries to pass his authority to the first-born, and is saddened or upset by the change in plans.

Rabbi Hirsch deals with this issue, and I will add my own insights to his basic thesis. Ideally, the first-born is supposed to carry on the spiritual and physical burdens of the father. However, it is the tragedy of our unredeemed world (ever since the sin of Adam and Eve), that worthiness to care for the spiritual treasures of our nation, and practical, nationalistic prowess are not found together. Too often, he that holds the sword and shield is unwilling to submit himself to the Godly idea. And so, the two naturally mutually reinforcing strengths are split up. Ishmael takes the bow and arrow, and the physical prowess, while Isaac takes Abraham's spirit as his inheritance.

The next generation continues this paradigm, with a twist. Isaac, perhaps learning from the Ishmael story, wishes for Jacob and Esau to be co-progenitors of the Jewish nation. Esau can take care of the physical preservation of Israel, while Jacob preserve the spirit. Both would draw opposing strengths from the other. However, Esau proves to be wholly unfit, and refuses to subjugate his sword to Jacob's soul. Again the powerful first-born goes off on his own, and Jacob is left alone.

But Jacob is also Israel. He is no weakling. He is complex, and he brings forth 12 different expressions of authentic Judaism. And yet, again, both physical and spiritual destinies are taken away from the first-born, Ruben, and are split up. The Jewish manifestation of strength and rulership in the secular world is given to Joseph, and Levi is given the mantle of the spirit. Judah waits on the sidelines for the two concepts to merge. When they merge briefly in the time of David and Solomon, they are both subsumed in him. Afterwards, Judah maintains the spirit, while the physical returns to Joseph.

And so it continues, throughout history. Those who are fit to protect and develop a nation of Israel, are less than fit for the spiritual destiny. And those who carry on the spiritual and religious ideas of Israel, cannot develop appropriate ways to deal with the interface of spirit and physical world.

Until the footsteps of the Messiah. As we discussed last year, Rav Kook sees the unification of the Judah side with the Joseph side as a basic necessity for the generation of the redemption. Messsiah son of Judah and Messiah of Joseph must merge into a harmonious synthesis of spirit and national strength.

And so these torah portions are a reminder to us. Every year, we must internalize the lesson of synthesis and unification. May we soon merit to see this unification, when the ideal of spirit will intertwine with the idea of national strength. Through this, we will merit the final redemption.