In the Midst of Prayer

(Torah Portion Toldos ) In the Midst of Prayer

Wednesday morning, after twenty-four hours of trying to process the horrific tragedy that occurred in the Jerusalem Shul while men were praying, I found myself reciting the preliminary verse of the Amidah prayer, “G-d open my lips and my mouth will express Your praises.” My mind and emotions brought before me the dreadful images of men wearing Tallis and Tefillin lying lifeless on the floor and tears welled up in my eyes.

The terrorists came precisely when the congregants were praying the silent Amidah service.

I wondered where the Martyrs were up to in their prayers when their lives were taken. I began the first blessing which speaks of our Almighty G-d, the G-d of our saintly forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaacov. The recollection of our patriarchs who devoted and sacrificed their lives and beings for G-d, struck a chord – four of their descendants had sacrificed their saintly lives.

Then I came to the next blessing which speaks of G-d’s awesome power of resurrecting the dead. I thought to myself, it could be that they were in the middle of this blessing at the time of their death.

Without the fundamental belief that our soul is eternal and there will be a resurrection of the dead, there is no way that a Jew can deal with or come to terms with all the personal and communal tragedies we suffered throughout history. This belief keeps us going.

Deep down we all know and believe this; it is part of our genes we are born and bred with. Why does everyone recite the mourners Kaddish while in mourning or on a Yahrtzait? Because we inherently believe that what we are doing is connecting to and elevating the eternal soul of our loved one.

The bulk of this week’s Torah portion speaks of the twin brothers, Yaacov and Aisav.

Already in utero, their mother Rivka noticed something peculiar going on. Each time she passed a place of holy worship, she felt kicking and when she passed a place of idolatry, she felt kicking as well. Rivka wondered if she was carrying a confused child.

She went to seek guidance from the great sage Aver. Prophetically he told her that she was carrying twin boys and they would go separate ways. Sure enough Yaacov was diligent and pious while Aisav was a hunter.

The Torah relates an incident where Yaacov was cooking lentils and Aisav, coming home famished, asked Yaacov for some of the soup. Yaacov told him he would give him some if he sold his first-born rights to him. Aisav agreed, turning over to Yaacov all the responsibilities and blessings that came with the birthright.

Our Sages tell us that this was the day of the funeral of Avraham. Yaacov was home cooking lentils – in keeping with the tradition of serving mourners round food (such as eggs) upon returning from the burial of a loved one.

Aisav didn’t bother attending Avraham’s funeral and came into the house totally exhausted, for as our Sages explain on that very day Aisav committed five severe sins. He served idolatry, he defiled a girl who was engaged to be married, he murdered, he rejected the birthright and he rejected the belief in the resurrection of the dead.

In fact our Sages tell us that G-d shortened Avraham’s life so that he would not witness the wayward ways of Aisav. Through Aisav’s sinful ways, he disconnected from his ancestral roots and therefore he had no reason not to sell to his brother Yaacov the birthright and holy ancestral link to his grandfather Avraham and his father Yitzchok. Aisav fathered and represents the nations that bear grudges against us and have spilled the blood of millions of our Jewish brethren through our long history.

At the same time he sold his birthright, he disregarded the belief in the resurrection of the dead, believing that dead is dead. Perhaps his descendants wish to kill us because they do not believe in life after death. However, when his grandfather Avraham passed away, Yaacov was preparing round lentils which symbolize the circle of life – that life, in the physical and then in the metaphysical form lives on for eternity!

Yaacov stimulates us with this belief, and we cling to it dearly, especially during these frightening times.
A thought: The Torah warns us not to take advantage of a widow or orphan – those who find themselves vulnerable and subject to mistreatment. “For if you do and they cry out to me, I [G-d] will listen and lash out against you with anger.”

As a result of this massacre there are 24 orphans and 4 widows crying out to the Almighty in pain! May Hashem avenge the blood His innocent children and protect us from all evil. Amain!

Wishing you a most enjoyable and uplifting Shabbat!
Rabbi Dovid and Malki Saks and family