Dear Readers: I am going to begin a new addition to my blog. I will invite people who have something to say (in about 1200 words) to submit them to me. Regrettably, I will be the sole judge of usability. While I plan to run guests on Wednesday I thought this piece by Rabbi Daniel Levin of Temple Beth El of Boca Raton, Fl was so good and so relevant that I am replacing my piece with it today.
There were close races aplenty, recounts in many parts of the country. However, only here in Florida are those involved throwing the tantrums of 3-years olds on steroids. Read the message below.
In his famous debate with Stephen Douglas in 1858, Abraham Lincoln famously prophesied: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” America, he understood, needed to resolve the moral question of slavery, and could not sustain different truths in different states.
The motto of the United States has long been E Pluribus Unum – “Out of many, one.” From the thirteen original colonies, forged by different peoples of different beliefs, we would forge one nation. It is a paradox of national life: will our differences destroy the house we built together, or can we forge from that difference a national unity?
This is the question that lies before us in this week’s Torah portion. Isaac and Rebecca bear twins. The Torah teaches that the two struggled even from within the womb.
In the womb, humanity is formed from difference. From two separate individuals, one human being emerges. Life is formed from a divine process of unification and division. From two cells is formed one organism. But an organism only grows to its fullness through a constant process of division and integration. Cells divide and differentiate, they grow to become our liver, our spleen, our heart, and our lungs, but though they become distinct and different, together they contribute to one unified whole.
A healthy womb nurtures this process of division and integration. A healthy womb allows for healthy differentiation so that one organism can integrate all that difference. A human being is not destroyed by all the different elements that lie within – it lives only because all that difference works together in a finely-tuned integration of collective purpose.
We just returned this week from Temple Beth El’s culinary tour of Israel. One of our teachers told a story of a famous chef who wanted to understand Israeli cuisine. So he went down to a local eatery and asked what was good. The cook said his breaded chicken – schnitzel – was fresh. So he ordered his schnitzel in a pita bread – added Hummus, Baba Ganoush (eggplant salad), Sauerkraut, Harif (a hot spice), French Fries and Tahini. The cook gave him his meal and he sat down and stared at it.
The pita bread came from Arabia, the Schnitzel from Austria, the Hummus from Lebanon, the Sauerkraut from Germany, the Baba Ganoush from Turkey, the Harif from Yemen, the French Fries actually come from Belgium and the Tahini from Iraq. The sandwich he held in his hand – a staple of Israeli cuisine – was really the blending of all the different cultures that make up the diverse history of Israelis themselves.
So often we look at difference as something to be erased or expunged. Either we demand that difference be dissolved into the whole, or we fight to eradicate it from our midst. And there are times when moral questions demand that we resolve our differences, and embrace one transcendent truth.
But more often than we realize, the transcendent truths we seek are not found in homogeneity and the erasure of distinction, but in the integration of difference toward the achievement of a larger purpose.
A mosaic of all one color stone expresses nothing, and a sandwich made from just one ingredient is not very tasty.
When Esau realizes that his father gave his brother the blessing meant for him, he implores his father: “Did you not reserve a blessing for me … Do you have but one blessing, Father? Bless me too, father! (Genesis 27:34, 38)”
Isaac’s family is destroyed because he had only one blessing to give. In his blindness, he could not see that he needed to bless both his sons.
And in our blindness, we seldom see the blessedness in difference. The anguish we find in this week’s Torah portion explodes exponentially throughout history in the carnage of subjugation and war.
A house divided against itself cannot stand, but a household that embraces difference can truly find that e pluribus, unum.