December 2, 2012
“To make peace where you dwell!” Vayeshev and Thoughts following the UN Resolution
I am grateful to my colleague Rabbi Victor Reinstein for the central idea of this d’var Torah. When he was a senior rabbinic student at HUC in New York, he offered a drash on the first two words of the Genesis 37:1 - Vayeishev Yaakov “And Jacob dwelled,” and suggested a midrash: Ein omrim vayeishev Yaakov (“Do not say ‘And Jacob dwelled;”) Ele vayasheiv Yaakov (“Rather, and Jacob made peace.”).
If we re-vocalize the verb yod-shin-vet from the paal construction to the piel construction, yashav can be understood in the sense of lashevet (“to dwell”), as it is usually translated in our portion. Or it can be used as l’yasheiv (“to settle a dispute”), as in yishev sikh’sukh. The same Hebrew root means, based on verbal form, “to dwell” and “to make peace!” The close relationship between them suggests the deeper purpose of dwelling - that when we dwell in a place we are meant to make peace in that place.
Each of us simultaneously dwells in at least two places - in our own “place” (i.e. lives) and in the world. The greater challenge of va-yashev/va-yeishev is for us to seek to to make peace in both.
In the Talmud “Rabbi Yochanan said, ‘Every place where it says va-yeishev, this is in the language of pain; ‘And Jacob dwelled in the land of his father’s sojourning – it’s written after that, ‘and Joseph brought evil report of his brothers unto his father.”” (Talmud, Sanhedrin 106a)
Jacob (and Joseph in his early years) dwelled, but they each failed to make peace where they dwelled. Jacob allowed his family to be torn apart by jealousy and hatred resulting in much pain and despair. However, when we unite through peacemaking, we create a new language of hope.
“Ein omrim va-yeishev Yaakov, ele va-yasheiv Yaakov”
“Do not say ‘and he dwelled.’ Rather say, ‘and he made peace.”
This teaching challenges us to think and act responsibly in the wake of the successful UN General Assembly Resolution vote raising Palestinian status to that of a non-member state.
There are those in our community and in Israel, led by many in the Israeli government, that want to punish the PA by building more settlements in E1 thereby closing off any possibility for a contiguous Palestinian state in an eventual two-state solution, to withhold taxes collected by Israel and intended for the PA from a cash starved Palestinian Authority, and in Washington, to close down the Palestinian Authority Mission should negotiations become stalled for any reason.
Not only are these actions reactive, they are strategically foolish. After all, the PA used diplomacy, not terror and war, to advance its cause at the UN. Regardless of what we might think of the UN, they had the legal right to do so.
We American Jews who love Israel and recognize that she must remain both Jewish and democratic should be doing everything we can to encourage the President of the United States and our Congressional leaders to not “punish’ the PA for taking the diplomatic route. To do so is to give up hope for a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Further, it is tantamount to giving the nod to the terrorist organization Hamas and to endless war.
We American Jews should be doing everything possible to encourage President Obama, the Quartet, and the international community to bring a viable plan based on passed negotiations and agreements to the Israelis and Palestinians so they can negotiate an end-of-conflict two-state solution before it is too late.