Maggid ben Yoseif / Jerusalem Torah Voice in Exile

4 Iyar 5766 / May 2, 2006


The spiritual dimension

of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

'The Mighty and the Almighty' and Abraham's seed


In her recently published book, “The Mighty and the Almighty,” former Secretary of State Madeline Albright states that U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East must “use religion to find unifying factors.”


Traditionally, religious factors were believed to be divisive in dealing with the Middle East conflict.  The old adage that “politics and religion don’t mix,” has been the unstated policy in the State Department since the U.S. first involved itself in the Middle East. But because all three major monotheistic faiths stem from the same root -- the seed of Abraham – Albright believes there are positive virtues to explore and emphasize in negotiating peace among Abraham’s feuding families.


The prophet Isaiah expressed the same sentiment 28 centuries ago: 

“Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the LORD: look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged. Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you: for he was alone when I called him, and I blessed him and increased him.” (Isaiah 51:1-2).

President Clinton’s head of state, who learned of her own Jewish roots, is definitely on the right track. But we wonder whether the Christian, Jewish and Islamic worlds are prepared to go there?  This is because when the synthesis of the religious beliefs of ALL of the children of Abraham is understood, it will lead to … the Return of the House of Joseph, which currently is recognized by none of the three. 


We advocated Albright’s approach in 1991 the week of the Madrid Peace Conference, which initiated unilateral negotiations between the Israeli government and Palestinian leaders.  In a column for the Religion Page of The Jerusalem Post entitled, “The Speech Nobody Heard in Madrid,” we quoted the Torah portions, Chayei Sarah (the life of Sarah) and Toldot (offspring), which were read in Orthodox synagogues around the world as the Madrid negotiations commenced and ended.


An exegesis (analysis of the Hebrew text in historical-grammatical context) of Genesis 23 within Chayei Sarah, describes the “burial site” Abraham purchased for an exorbitant amount to bury his wife, Sarah. Genesis 23:4 states the tomb was an achuzat kever.  A kever is a tomb. But the verb, achaz from which achuzat is derived means to “grasp or hold.”   The tomb of Sarah in Hebron later became the Tomb of the Patriarchs, where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their wives are buried.  This tomb was the first bond or tie to the land of Canaan promised to Abraham and his progeny. It would draw him and his descendants and hold them to the land.


The attributes of God  in dealing with Abraham are emphasized repeatedly in portion Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23-25:18) as chesed v’emet. Chesed is difficult to define in one or two English words, but it is the ability to be kind to someone in spite of how they treat you or what they say about you. Emet is Truth.  There is much need for chesed between Israel and the Palestinians, both progeny of Abraham. But the Truth also cannot be ignored.


A great spiritual law affects the universe. It is called m’dah k’negged m’dah, what “goes around, comes around” or “whatsoever a man sows, that also shall he reap.” Everything in the universe revolves around this principle … including the invention of “religion.” Certain events have brought about religious ideology.


In the beginning there was only Abraham, who was neither a Jew nor a Christian nor a Moslem.  But Abraham had enemies. However, every weapon Abraham’s enemies formed against him, wound up being used against them!  Both the pharaoh in Egypt and Abimelech, the king of Gerar in the region of the modern Gaza Strip, attempted to humble Abraham’s wife, Sarah. As a consequence, the Torah states, God brought plagues on Egypt and closed the wombs of all of the women of Gerar.


“I will bless those who bless you (Abraham) and those who curse you, I will curse,”  (Genesis 12:3a).  Everything done to harm the “seed of Abraham” – be they descendants of Ishmael or Isaac -- will ultimately backfire.


When a wife was chosen for Abraham’s son, Isaac, her Aramean family “blessed Rebecca and said to her, ‘Our sister, may you come to be thousands of myriads, and may your offspring inherit the gate of its foes.’” (Genesis 24:60)  On its face, this prophecy would apply to all of the progeny of Issac and Rebecca.


Meanwhile, Chayei Sarah ends with the geneaology of Ishmael, Abraham’s son by his wife’s maidservant, Hagar, who was not allowed to inherit with Isaac.  Ishmael was sent into the desert and plains of Paran in the Sinai peninsula and married an Egyptian woman.  But God promised that he would also become a great nation, like Abraham, with descendants too numerous to be counted. But he would also be a “wild ass of a man; his hand against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him.” (Genesis 16:12)


We can conclude from Portion Chayei Sarah that the family of Abraham through Rebecca would have enemies but those enemies would relinquish their land to Isaac and Rebecca’s descendants.  Chayei Sarah points to a future conflict involving Abraham’s inheritance, the land we call the land of Israel.


Albright states in her book that the conflict is not just about land. It is also about religion.  Portion Toldot validates her contention.


The main theme of Toldot is the birthright and two contenders for the birthright:  the first born son of Isaac and Rebecca named Esau, and Ya’acov (Jacob) who was so named because when Esau was born, Ya’akov was still in the womb but grasping the akeiv or heel of Esau with one hand.


It was a difficult pregnancy for Rebecca. In fact, the sages of Torah compare her pregnancy to the “birthpangs of the messiah.”  In other words, just before the advent of the two messiahs – moshiah ben Yoseif and moshiah ben David – these sages wrote that the conflict between descendants of Esau and descendants of Jacob would intensify.


As the intensity of the conflict between the two children in her womb increased, and they “agitated” within her, she “inquired of the LORD.” (Genesis 25:22).


The LORD’s words to her are the same words He would have for us today in understanding and attempting to reconcile this 3,700-year-old family rift. 

“Two nations are in your womb; two l’umim from your insides shall be separated; the might shall pass l’om m’l’om (from one to the other), and the elder shall serve the younger.”  (Genesis 25:23)

A l’om (plural l’umim) is a similar ideology, mindset or philosophy that unites people.  Clearly the LORD instructed that Esau and Jacob have different ideologies that will conflict.  Since this began in the Other World (the womb before birth), the sages of Torah say it will be an eternal conflict, as history has thus far borne out.


If the sages are correct, the best foreign policy would be to support two contiguous states so that the interaction between Israelis and Palestinians would be minimal. The Road Map to Peace in the Middle East advocated by the Bush Administration would place part of a Palestinian State in Judea-Samaria, the heartland of biblical Israel and the other part in the region of the Gaza. These regions are not contiguous as the modern State of Israel surrounds Judea-Samaria on three sides and lies between it and the Gaza strip.


Despite the high wall Israel is building around its borders with the projected Palestinian boundaries, it is reaching to say that these are “separate” states.  More than 170,000 Jewish settlers currently live in Judea-Samaria, the so-called West Bank (of the former Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan).


Other questions that arise from this prophecy are “What will cause the might to pass from one to the other?” Who is the elder? How shall the younger be served by the elder? Why this discrimination between the elder and the younger? And, is this in fact an eternal conflict or does it have a resolution?”


1.  What will cause the might to pass from one to the other?


The sages, particularly the Rabbi Vilna of Ga’on, wrote extensively on this topic.  They discerned that the only factor that gives the descendants of Jacob rights to the land in which Abraham sojourned instead of Esau, is “Israel’s” observance of the Torah.  This is because the l’om (separate ideology) of Jacob was spiritual, while the l’om of Esau was material.  Thus, some 2,300 years before Muhammad was given his Revelation of Islam (submission to Allah), which would place Esau on a spiritual track, the fabric of “regime change” was built into this religious ideology.


If Israel will observe its Torah, Esau cannot ascend. But if Israel does not observe the Torah, the LORD will cause Esau to rise in ascendancy over Israel. Outside of Jerusalem, Israel is largely a secular, non-spiritual state. Thus, Israel’s intensifying conflict with Esau.


But the modern Jewish religious leaders believe Esau is an offshoot of the Roman Church. Some of Esau’s migrations can be traced to Rome. In the First Century, King Herod was installed by Rome. He was an Edomite or descendant of Esau.  Because of the anti-Semitism of the Church, its identity with Esau has stuck.


One of the prophets of the Bible also was an Edomite.  Obadiah has quite specific warnings for his fellow descendants of Esau in the future.  He wrote that at the time when Jacob would reclaim his inheritances, that land would be occupied by the House of Esau. Obadiah makes specific mention of the territories belonging to the House of Joseph, the northern two-thirds of the Palestinian state proposed by the Bush Administration in Judea-Samaria (the West Bank).  

“And the House of Jacob shall be a fire and the House of Joseph a flame and the House of Esau for stubble and they shall kindle in them and devour them and there shall not be any remaining of the House of Esau for the LORD hath spoken it.”  (Obadiah 17:18)

More about this prophecy below. Whether Esau was historically associated with Rome and the Church, there is a volatile element within Esau today living in the “West Bank” inheritance of Joseph. If Obadiah is a true prophet, the House of Esau living there will be either removed or annihilated to the last man, woman and child unless these descendants of Esau heed the prophet’s warning and leave the region.


The conflict between Esau and Jacob is also written into the religious fabric of both families. Esau, along with the descendants of  Ishmael who are of a similar anti-Israel l’om, would gravitate toward Islam.   Amazingly this is foretold or alluded to in the Torah of Moses, which defines the religious ideology of Israel.


After the LORD had Moses read a litany of blessings and curses that would follow Israel into their Promised Land, (depending on whether they observed or did not observe the covenant at Sinai), Moses renewed the Covenant in the hearing of those who survived the 40 years in the Wilderness: 

“You are standing today, all of you, before the LORD your God: the heads of your tribes, your elders, and your officers – all the men of Israel; your small children, your women, and your proselyte who is in the midst of your camp, from the hewer of your wood to the drawer of your water, for you to pass into the covenant of the LORD, your God, and into His ALLAH that the LORD, your God, seals with you today, in order to establish you today as a people to Him and that He be a God to you, as He spoke to you and as He swore to your forefathers, to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. Not with you alone do I seal this covenant and this ALLAH, but with whoever is here, standing with us today before the LORD, our God, and with whoever is not here with us today.  (Deuteronomy 29:9-13)

 On the heels of the pronouncement of the blessings and the curses, ALLAH appears here as an agent or attribute of Judgment of the LORD to enforce the curses Israel would bring on itself by failing to observe the Covenant.  This is consistent with the interpretation of the earlier prophecy to Rebecca by the sages of Torah that Israel stands only by the Torah and is cursed according to an ancient oath, if she is not a nation of Torah. That curse causes Esau to rise in ascendancy over Jacob.


2.  Who is the elder? How shall the younger be served by the elder?


The Torah states clearly that Esau was the firstborn of Isaac and Rebecca because he was the first out of the womb. However, the sages deduce that Jacob was the first to be conceived according to the same adage of a popular means of recording inventory, “the first in is the last out.” Since the elder is destined to serve the younger, this is an important question.  Before the outbreak of the Palestinian uprising in 1987, the Palestinian people were a “servant people” to the Israeli population. Much of the construction and manual labor of building Israel was the job of Palestinian Arabs.


3.  Why the discrimination between the elder and the younger?


To answer this question, we must understand the importance of the birthright and why, according to the sages, Esau was not suitable for it and Jacob was.  Keep in mind that the criticism the sages of Torah have expressed against Esau is primarily aimed at the mistaken notion that the vast majority of Esau today is solely the Roman Church and its offspring and does not include the Palestinian people.   Also, these are writings that predate the Revelation of Muhammad in 616 C.E. by at least one thousand years. Therefore, these writings were not aimed at the Arab peoples or the Palestinians when they were first penned.


The right of the firstborn to the birthright ended when Esau spurned his and sold it to Jacob for a pot of lentels in a fit of hunger. The firstborn would continue to receive an inheritance (with the inherent responsibility to accommodate other family members when necessary). But Jacob chose none of his own sons to pass on the birthright he purchased from Esau, to the next generation.  Centuries later, the prophet Jeremiah would proclaim of the LORD,  “Ephraim (the second-born of Joseph) is my bechor (firstborn).” (Jeremiah 31:9)


Of the 22 letters in the Hebrew aleph-bet, to spell bechor, one uses the 2nd letter, the 12th letter and the 20th letter, all seconds, giving the word a gematria or numerical value of 222.  Historically, neither Abraham nor Issac nor Jacob, nor Joseph nor Ephraim were firstborn although Joseph did open the womb of Rachel.


The sages concluded from this that the bechorah (the birthright) was a spiritual entitlement that entailed spiritual responsibilities. Esau, a hunter, was not inclined toward spiritual matters. Jacob was.  Esau married two Hittite women who were a source of spiritual rebellion to Isaac and Jacob.  This signed his fate because the Hittites were one of the people of the land of Canaan who Israel would later displace. Had Esau been given the birthright, the Hittites would have been legitimate heirs to the land promised to Abraham.  Also, the spiritual deficiency in Esau is noted because there is no record in the Torah of him even referring to God. This almost gave Jacob away to Isaac when prodded by his mother, Rebecca, Jacob usurped the blessing his father had intended to give to Esau.


When asked how he was able to so quickly find game and prepare it, Jacob told his father, “Because the LORD your God arranged it for me.”  If Rebecca had not made him wear the skin of goats on his smooth arms and neck, Isaac would not have been deceived:  “The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are Esau’s hands.”


The oral traditions recorded in the Talmud also allude to Jacob leaping in Rebecca’s womb when she would be in proximity of a place of study.


The sages also wrote that Jacob had intended to give the birthright to his son, Joseph. But after Jacob was reunited with Joseph in Egypt, thinking he had died some 22 years earlier, the various spiritual functions of the birthright were divided. On his deathbed Jacob decreed that Judah obtain the scepter of the king until Shiloh comes.  Levi was destined for the priesthood.  Prophets would come from any of the tribes.


Traditionally, Shiloh is a mystical name associated with the messiah son of David.  However, Shiloh is located in the inheritance of Ephraim and this prophecy may allude to the split of the Kingdom of Israel into two houses, Judah to the south and Israel to the North, ruled by an Ephraimite descendant of Joseph named Jereboam. The coronation of his kingship was at Shiloh.


It appears conclusive that the birthright was made of spiritual fabric and it did not fit Esau.


4.  Can this “eternal conflict” be resolved?


As Obadiah stated plainly, “None from the House of Esau shall remain.”  For our U.S. State Department to attempt to accommodate Esau in Judea-Samaria is akin to taking the birthright from Jacob and returning it to Esau. This merits a curse, under which every facet of American experience is currently laboring.


But those Palestinians who will renounce the character of Esau and relocate from Judea-Samaria (for which the LORD has other purposes – mainly to reconcile the descendants of Joseph and the descendants of Judah) do have a future and a bright one.


The prophet Zechariah wrote that in the contiguous region of Gaza, Ashdod, Ashqelon and Ekron, the Palestinian people would “remain for our God.” But God would first “take away his blood out of his mouth, and his abominations from between his teeth” and  would “cut off the pride of the Palestinians (Heb. P’lishtim).”  This all appears prefaced by a judgment of some kind in Syria and Lebanon that would cause the Palestinian people to “see and fear” and “be sorrowful” and “see that her expectation hath been ashamed.” (Zechariah 9:5-7)  All of this is to occur, according to Zechariah 9:1 “when the eyes of man as of all the tribes of Israel shall be toward the LORD.”


As Isaac was blessing Jacob, thinking he was Esau, he told his son, “Peoples will serve you and l’umim will prostrate themselves to you; be a g’vir to your brother, and your mother’s sons will prostrate themselves to you; cursed be they who curse you, and blessed be they who bless you.” (Genesis 27:29)


This means that other ideologies are destined to join with Jacob’s or at least pay homage to it. It means also that Isaac charged Jacob to “be a man” (g’vir) to his brother Esau and then Esau would also bow to him.


The question becomes how can Israel “be the man”?  As we wrote in 1991, part of the answer is in the words Isaac later spoke to his son, Esau, when he learned of the ruse perpetrated by Rebecca to secure the first blessing for Jacob. 

“Behold a g’vir have I made him over you, and all his brothers I have given him as servants; with grain and wine have I supported him, and for you, Where – What can I do, my son? (Genesis 27:37).

Note carefully the question, Where? This implies that the land Isaac would later connect to Jacob in a blessing yet to come, would be different than the land Esau would “inherit.” Yet, the responsibility of the birthright to care for the needs of your other kin, defines and in my mind clarifies that the descendants of Jacob should “be a man” to the descendants of Esau.


Given Isaac’s fondness for Esau and his game, he spoke to Esau:  Behold of the shemen (oil) of the Earth shall be your dwelling and of the dew of the heavens from above. By your sword you shall live … but your brother you shall serve; yet … it shall be that when you are tareed, you may farak his yoke from upon your neck. (Genesis 27:40)


Now the question before a father who does not want to play favorites between his two sons is whether all of this is fair. Despite the kind words he summoned from his reserve, he sentenced Esau’s descendants to servitude. But Isaac left a reserve clause.


When not if descendants of Esau are tareed by descendants of Jacob, that verdict of servitude ends.


Tareed is the second person, masculine singular form of the verb “to flatten, stamp or beat.”  It also means to “beat out, beat down or subdue.” Neither the Torah nor all of the Prophets nor all of the Writings (the entire “Old Testament”) nor the New Testament mention this tareed by descendants of Jacob against descendants of Esau occurring. In fact, when Jacob and Esau are reunited, all of Jacob’s sons and Jacob and his wives bow to Esau.  The same writings are replete with instances when Jacob’s descendants were the victims of Esau’s descendants.  These include documented acts of aggression from a family of Esau called the Amalekites. Esau-Edom also celebrated when the Kingdom of Judah went into Babylonian exile and when the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed.  In modern times, there have been celebrations in Ramalah as Scud missiles fired from Iraq fell on Tel Aviv and other parts of Israel. Less we forget, Ramalah also celebrated when the Twin Towers fell.


Some would argue that Israel’s response with guns to rocks and with tanks to guns is overkill and may define tareed, making the Palestinian intifada a just cause to farak the yoke on Esau’s neck.


Farak is the verb to cast off some type of yoke or oppression. It appears in Lamentations and in the Psalms as “to deliver.” It would appear to be a legitimate term to express the Palestinian intifada or uprising.


But …  even the Arab leadership in the Middle East would argue that “being a man” means “being in a position of strength” as a deterrent in dealing with one’s enemies.  The Palestinian National Charter contains a plank calling for the annihilation of Israel. The new president of Iran is sounding the same call. Hamas, an Islamic government supported by Iran, is now in charge of the Palestinian leadership.


So maybe responding to rocks with guns and to guns with tanks is a matter of preservation for the modern Jewish state. And Israel cannot be cited for overkill without charging the U.S. with the same crime in Iraq.  Subjugation and occupation come with their own rules in the Middle East.


So now, the question becomes, “How does one make peace with his enemy?”


Isaac answered the question. “Be a man,” he said, “and your brothers will bow to you.”


One of the first things that became apparent to me in 1987 when I first lived in an all-Moslem “West Bank” village was the segregated educational and public transportation systems. There was an Israeli bus station, centrally located, modern, clean and efficient. The Arab bus station was dimly lit and smelled like urine.


There were Israeli schools and Palestinian schools. Israeli settlements in the “West Bank” are lighted with quartz halogen lights; Palestinian villages … not as bright. The quality of roads, infrastructure and security was far inferior in the Palestinian sector while it was administered by Israel.


I don’t intend to blame the government of Israel for these inequities. Much of the responsibility lies with the United Nations who built refugee camps for the Palestinians after the 1967 War for Independence, which turned out to be inadequate.


A popular diddly that the smallest elementary school children in that West Bank village would sing as they would skip home from the bus stop could be translated, “First there will be no Saturday and then there will be no Sunday.”  That sounds confusing until one realizes that Friday is the Moslem Holy Day.  The mayor of this small village, who allowed me to live on his son’s rooftop for several months, expressed it better than anyone I’ve heard:  “Our kids are going to hell.”


Because Israel had failed to “be the man” by failing to integrate its school system, an ideology has been allowed to bud and sprout and ferment and rot the minds of a generation of Palestinians with hatred and dreams of martyrdom as suicide bombers.


I was sent there in 1987 – by God – to deliver a message to about a dozen Palestinian men who would visit around some picnic tables where they would smoke water pipes outside a small grocery store adjacent to the mayor’s son’s house.


“God is bringing home Israel,” I told them in broken Hebrew yet, “and if you do not oppose what God is doing it will go well for you, but if you resist, it will be like 'spitting' against the wind.”  (See the account of the “sign” that accompanied this Word).  But about six months later the Palestinian uprising began. Two days before the violence broke out, some of my Palestinian friends visited me on my rooftop and told me I must leave the village; that there was going to be trouble.  Two days later, Palestinian youths from that village were rolling huge boulders down the mountainside aimed at traffic below.


Later, as I was writing the Speech that Nobody Heard in Madrid, I got the same sense that Isaac had after he had spoken to Esau.  “Now Esau harbored hatred toward Jacob.” (Genesis 27:41a) The seeds of hatred sown by Esau millennia ago had come home to roost and words  alone would have no effect.


Maggid ben Yoseif


As many are astonished concerning you thus: "an outline from a man!" ... "his features mirror the sons of Adam!" Thus he shall startle many nations. Concerning him, kings (rulers) shall shut their mouths because that which was not told to them they shall see and that they had not heard they shall meditate to themselves.

Radio interviews with Maggid ben Yoseif, on Torah To The Nations with David Mathews, Hebrew Nation Radio Network.

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