A TIMELY MESSAGE ABOUT THE “OTHER”
We need to rewrite history!
Many of us know the story of Jacob and Esau, twins born to Isaac and Rebecca. Jacob is the boy of the tent; Esau, the boy of the field. Jacob is favored by his mother; Esau, by his father.
Esau sells his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of lentil soup. And, in the end, Jacob becomes the father of the Jewish people. Esau is cast aside by our tradition as an evil person, one not worthy of the mantle of patriarchy.
As Rabbi Aaron Panken, President of Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion, writes, the story of how we have treated Esau in our historical rabbinic texts is an object lesson for today. It is the story of the outsider vs. us (the insiders).
Rabbi Panken writes: “Esau..wanders out of the frame of the Torah’s view, and the Edomites/Idumeans who bear his name continue to be a competing and sometimes hostile neighboring people long after the Torah’s stories are committed to parchment. Long after the writing of the Torah, this people disappears into the mists of history, and aside from some fascinating archaeological remains, there is little to tell their story nowadays. Familiar with their early character and their later outcome, our commentators stress how alien their progenitor Esau is from his very birth, and make him out to be an evil individual at every opportunity.
Sadly, this tendency is still operative today. How often have we cast a critical eye on the outsider, when we should have looked critically at ourselves? How easy is it to cast a negative assessment on someone we truly do not know, when it is our own behavior that could use adjustment? When relating to new members of our community, new immigrants to our country, or those with different political, economic, sexual, or religious orientations, our behavior is highly predictable: human characteristics are exactly the opposite of those we hope to see in our God. We are quick to anger and slow to forgive, considering ourselves first and being less generous to others. To redeem Esau is to look at him again and try to see him anew. Not to whitewash his problems, for, like any human, he has them. But to truly redeem him, we must first look at ourselves and ask why we treat others-outsiders-the way we do.In redeeming Esau, we have a chance to redeem ourselves.”
Perhaps it is time – in our world, in our community – to begin to redeem the outsiders. For in truth, they are the same as us…just different. Whether the “other” is of a different color, a different faith, a different political persuasion, a different economic status, we are all related. For we are all the children of God. They are our cousins. We just need to see them as such and not cast them outside.