A Tale of Two Brothers

The reunion was to take place the next morning. Each of the brothers, alone within his own encampment, struggled with his own fears – and his own memories.

Esau, the older, was sure that his younger brother would be up to his old tricks. He remembered how he had done everything his father had asked of him. He remembered the stay-at-home, mommy’s boy, Jacob who hardly contributed anything to the family. He could not forget the treachery, instigated by their mother, which led to trickery and the loss of his birthright. He remembered that was the way it always had been with Jacob – trickery and treachery. Esau was afraid of the morning.

Jacob, the younger, was certain that his older brother would come to the reunion with anger and revenge on his mind and in his heart. He knew that 400 men accompanied Esau. He was sure that this boy who “lived by the sword” (Gen. 27:40) would fulfill his vow to kill him (Gen. 27:41). He was convinced that reason, negotiation, peacefulness had no place in Esau’s world. He remembered that was the way it always had been with Esau – passion and violence. Jacob was afraid of the morning.

Two brothers, twins, with two different stories; two different views of reality. Even though they had grown up in the same family, their memories were different. So they had different narratives and different expectations. But their reunion was to happen and they had to learn to live together, or apart, on the same land.

Such is the familiar narrative at the beginning of our Torah portion this week. (Gen. 34.) Perhaps there are parallels to the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Each side has its own narrative.

This week, as a part of the terms for renewing the talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Israel released 26 more long-jailed Palestinian prisoners. This was a decision of the Israeli government, which could have acknowledged the 1967 borders or frozen settlement construction instead of releasing prisoners.

A New York Times article of October 29 headlines the “Emotional Gulf” between Israelis and Palestinians. In Israel, many were angered by the release of the prisoners. At the same time, Palestinians rejoiced in their return. They were greeted as heroes in Ramallah. They were scorned as terrorists in Israel.

Two people; two narratives. Terrorists in Israel are “freedom fighters” in Ramallah. Can these two stories ever be reconciled?

Like Jacob and Esau, the Israelis and the Palestinians remember their histories in different ways. There may be no need to accept the narrative of the other as one’s own, but there is a need to know it, to try to understand it and to let it be simply another version of the past; another narrative. It is necessary to allow the others to have their own story; to allow them to celebrate it; to respect it, even when there is disagreement. Then, perhaps, like Esau and Jacob there can be a kiss, not a bite and, like them, two peoples can live their lives in peace upon the same land.


Rabbi Floyd L. Herman is Rabbi Emeritus of Har Sinai Congregation in Owings Mills, MD.