Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4-36:43)

How to Deal with Anti-Semitic Supermodels

(Introduction: After living with his deceitful father-in-law for twenty years, Jacob decided to depart with his family. He was informed that his brother—Esav—was on route with 400 to kill him.)

If you were Jacob, what would you do when hearing about the impending danger? He did three things.  1) He got ready to fight, 2) he prayed, and 3) he sent a gift to Esav, hoping to buy him off (Genesis 32:9,10, 22).

Why was preparing for battle the first thing he did? Wouldn’t praying be the first thing on his list? The second logical course of action would be to send a gift, because buying Esav off is a better option than fighting him and his 400 men strong posse. Why did Jacob prepare for combat before praying or attempting to gift his way out of danger?

If one wants to make peace with an evil person, you must first show him that you’re willing to fight. If not, he won’t take you seriously. Giving gifts to a bully is far more effective when the gift is being given by someone the bully knows will give him a good fight. He (the bully) might reason, “why fight, let me just take the payoff.” But if the gift is coming from weakness, the bully has nothing to lose by continuing to bully. This idea is fundamental to understanding diplomacy in the modern State of Israel. Every time a concession is made, the Arab world knows they are dealing with a country with a well-trained army and the possibility of nuclear warfare. A show of strength is one of the best tactics in any form of negotiation. Before sending a gift to Esav, Jacob wanted to make sure his side was ready for battle so that the gift would be taken more seriously.

Still, why prepare for war before praying? When G-d gives a person a challenge, it is to send a message that the person needs to change in some way; things don’t just happen randomly. The effort you make in dealing with a negative situation is part of the change. You need to show that you aren’t running away from the message, you are willing to accept it. Only then can you pray that the message will come in an easier way.

When one encounters a challenging situation, a person might misuse prayer as a way of not wanting to deal with the situation. For example, one might be given a terrible medical diagnosis but be in denial. She doesn’t want to deal with the reality of the situation and just prays—G-d, please make me better—to avoid understanding the severity of the situation. Mere utterance of a prayer might simply be a psychological mechanism to avoid having to deal with a situation but when one first embraces the reality of the situation and only then realizes that she can’t do it herself, then she will truly understand how much she needs G-d.   

        We are witnessing alarming rates of anti-Semitism in the world today and especially in American universities. We fight this war by lobbying for the Jewish causes, educating students, going to the authorities and even attempting to take legal action. But why isn’t prayer part of the action we take? No amount of Facebook, twitter, or Instagram posts on behalf of Israel at the UN, or other PR have helped to stem the tide of hatred of Israel and Jews but we keep on doing the same thing without getting the intended results. A ceremonious prayer for peace is nothing more than not taking the situation seriously. We need to realize that we don’t have a solution to the barrage of Jew hatred out there. (Supermodel Bella Hadid has 45 million Instagram followers; that’s more than twice the world’s Jewish population! When she posts calling for Israel’s erasure and says “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” it’s pretty serious, and she’s only one source of public Jew hatred.) Jacob took the impending danger seriously and prepared to fight, but he also prayed. We too need to do everything in our power to stop modern day enemies but realize that we can’t do it alone. We need to pray in a way that demonstrates—at least to ourselves—that we are serious.

Jewish survival is one of the miracles of history. Major world empires from Babylon to Greece to Rome to Communist Russia to the Nazi’s have tried to annihilate us. They’re no longer here but we are. We are a people who for almost 2000 years haven’t had a homeland or national language. No army or allies but we still exist. Instead of denying the miracle, it’s time to embrace and be proud of it and remember the Source of it all.    

Good Shabbos