PERASHAT TOLEDOT: Envy and Antisemitism

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This Parasha introduces us to Isaac (itshaq), the son of Abraham. It tells us about Isaac’s difficulties in having children, the birth of his twins, the relationship between the two brothers, and so on. Then it tells us about the confrontation between Isaac and his neighbors, the Philistines. In Genesis chapter 26 we read the following: “Isaac sowed in that land, and he reaped that year a hundredfold [a hundred times more than he sowed]. HaShem had blessed him. Isaac grew rich and continued to grow large until he became very wealthy. And all the wells [of water] which the servants of his father had dug in the days of Abraham , the Philistines covered [destroyed] them, filling them with dirt.” Isaac was a hardworking man. HaShem indeed blessed him, but wealth did not rain for him from heaven. Isaac had to work very hard to sow in that arid area, and as the Tora tells us, he had to dig with much effort to obtain the most scarce and precious element in the Middle East: water.

The men of that place, the “Pelishitim” or Philistines did not sympathize with Isaac. And the Tora here uses for the first time the word qin-a (ויקנאו אותו שלשתים) which means: envy. The Philistines were envious of Isaac. It’s interesting to see what envy caused them to do. One might think that now the Philistines will imitate Isaac and work more, get up earlier, get drunk less, etc., etc. But none of that happened. The Philistines decided to channel their envy in the most cowardly way: Covering Isaac’s water wells with dirt! The response to envy was destruction. Envy led them to do the most irrational thing: to destroy water wells in the desert. Which, of course, hurt them too.

There is a big difference between two similar Hebrew words: Ta-ava (לא תתאוה, jealousy) and quin-a (envy). “Jealousy” always refers to an object: I am jealous of what you have, and I would like to have it myself. “Envy” is a deeper feeling, much more complicated than jealousy. Envy is not about my positive feelings towards a certain object, but about my negative feelings towards a certain subject. “I envy you, and if I cannot take from you what you have, I will be very happy if YOU do not have it.” Thus, “envy” becomes “hatred.” Envy is ad hominem. It is destructive and self-destructive. Therefore, with much subtlety, the Tora juxtaposes “envy” and “destruction”. As if saying: The Philistines envied Isaac, ergo, they covered the wells of water with dirt.

Ramban, Nahmanides, says that the reason the Tora goes into so many details about these events is to teach us that מעשה אבות סימן לבנים, i.e., what happened to our ancestors is not just history, but a pattern of behavior that will be repeated toward their descendants.

It is just amazing to realize how this story is repeated in our days.

On 15 August 2005, 8,000 Jews were expelled from their homes in Gush Qatif (Israel). That land was handed over to the Palestinian Authority (it is said that this event precipitated the election of Hamas in 2006, and led to missile attacks from Gaza, which already caused two wars). There is an interesting fact that relates to the Parasha of this week, which is not known much, since the media, as expected, has not shown a great interest in making it known. In Gush Qatif, the Jews built “greenhouses” with ultra-modern technology, where they planted insect-free vegetables sold worldwide, and flowers, roses, and tulips, that were exported to the Amsterdam flower market. In total, the profits of these greenhouses reached more than 100 million dollars annually. When the Jews were forced to leave Gush Qatif, the president of World Bank, James Wolfenson and some (naive) American Jews donated $14 million dollars to leave these greenhouses intact for the poor people in Gaza, who complained so much about their poverty “caused by Israel”. The idea was that the Palestinians would take advantage of these greenhouses and provide honest work to hundreds or thousands of people, and generate an income of 100 million annually. However, as soon as the Palestinians received these modern greenhouses, they completely destroyed them, “covered them, filling them with dirt” and set there bases for missile launching and for digging caves in order to attack Israel. As with the Philistines in the time of Isaac, these enemies of Israel cared very little for their own prosperity: what mattered most to them was to try to destroy Israel.

Last week this story was repeated one more time: Israel was attacked with fire. Thousands of acres of land were set on fire, which cause damages for billions of dollars. Many Arabs rejoiced with this news. Israel arrested 10 Palestinians in possession of fire accelerants , suspected of causing such fires.

Unlike jealousy, which ends once the “jealous” person gets what he or she want, envy never ends. Mike Pence, the vice-president elect, formulated this idea of envy /hatred toward Israel with very simple but profound words. And, honestly, I could not find a better way to describe the psychological roots of modern anti-Semitism. Pence said: “Israel is not hated by her enemies for what she does wrong, but rather for what she does right”.

May HaShem continue to bless and protect Israel, as He blessed and protected our patriarch Isaac and our ancestors.