Rabbi Miriam's Blog
By Rabbinic Intern, Greg Metzger
The wisdom of peace and brotherly love are among the blessings to be found in this last parsha of the first book of the Torah. Since the very first parsha, this book of Torah chronicles our attempts and failures to act as our brother’s keeper.
As Jacob prepares to die, he offers the blessings of his wisdom to his children beginning with Joseph and Joseph’s children. “. . .God, before Whom my fathers, Abraham and Isaac, walked, God Who sustained me as long as I am alive, until this day, may the angel who redeemed me from all harm bless the youths. . .in the midst of the land” Breishit 48:15-16.
Jacob, who began by viewing life as a zero-sum game and took his brothers birthright, stole his blessing and ran away…Jacob who wrestled with beings human and divine, prevailed by gaining wisdom through the successes, failures and struggles – his own , as well as those of his children. In the end, he learns that true abundance does not come from violence, but from brotherly love and that these blessings are available even in the midst of great material scarcity. And he teaches that the future depended on brothers being brothers, on sharing blessings, not stealing them, on coming closer, not running further away.
Jacob witnessed terrible violence and great loss during his life and was able to see that violence does not make up for loss. The slaughter of all the men of Shechem by Jacob’s sons, Shimon and Levi, in response to the rape of Dinah, haunted Jacob. He made a connection that we often fail to see today. Acts of violence, no matter the motivation, leave profound scars on everyone, even the perpetrators. Whether in defense or vengeance, the act changes them forever. Many, especially children develop an unnatural cruelty and perform equally brutal acts on others. The innocent are struck down along with the guilty and new victims become new perpetrators.
In blessing each of his sons, Jacob admonishes Shimon and Levi and condemns their use of violence. “. . .when angry they slay men, when pleased they maim oxen.” ( Breishit 49:6) Jacob recognizes the problem, but it is not until the time of Moses that God reveals a solution. In Bamidbar, the tribe of Levi is given a new and higher purpose –a way to serve and make a positive contribution to the community. Helping people transition from violence involves reorienting from destroying to creating, from taking to giving, from cursing to blessing. The tradition of blessing our children on Shabbat has its origin in this parsha, with the blessing of Efraim and Manasseh – The blessings that they live like brothers who are their brother’s keepers.
From this we learn that for blessings of peace to be truly impactful and transformative, we must offer blessings that provide opportunities to serve each other and our communities – blessings that restore purpose, meaning and dignity. We must offer more than just a handout that leads to a cycle of poverty, violence and reliance on ongoing charity. We must present people with a way to be a blessing in their community and to elevate themselves and lift up others, creating new and positive cycles.
This Shabbat let us recommit to the Torah’s vision of unity and service to the greater community. Let us each take an action to bless all the children of the world with purpose, meaning and dignity. And may we be blessed to recognize our power to be God’s partner and to bring blessings and miracles to those we serve.
Ahavat Torah of West Los Angeles
About Rabbi Miriam
Rabbi Miriam E. Hamrell MHL, M.Ed., has served as our religious and spiritual leader at Ahavat Torah Congregation and helped it grow since it was founded in 2003.