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Toldos: The Book Or The Blade? From Where I Stand

By Rabbi Yossy Goldman
“The voice is the voice of Yaakov but the hands are the hands of Eisav.”
—Bereishis 27:22
Who are we? Who were we? Who will we be? The Jewish People are called the Children of Israel; the name derives from the original Israel, third of our patriarchs, our father Yaakov. In this week’s parashah, we read how Yaakov impersonated his brother Eisav in order to be blessed by his father Yitzchak. He wore the goatskin garments of Eisav, prompting the blind Yitzchak to exclaim in wonderment, “The voice is the voice of Yaakov but the hands are the hands of Eisav!”
Our tradition has always understood these immortal words to have meaning far beyond the literal story of Yaakov’s charade. The voice of Yaakov means the voice of Torah study, the sound of prayer, and, generally, refers to the gentle, spiritual sound of the peace-loving People of the Book. The hands of Eisav, on the other hand, represent the fist—fighting, war and violence, physical might, and brute force.
And the question today is whether we are perhaps forgetting who we are and what we are meant to symbolize as a nation.
Our society is an Eisav society. Our children are constantly bombarded by the box, by television, movies, video games, and a media madness that glorifies the physical and, yes, even violence. Never mind the news, which is bad enough. How many thousands upon thousands of murders will the average child witness in all their gory details before his bar mitzvah? Parents need to think twice and three times before allowing themselves the luxury of such an electronic babysitter.
Today we see the results. Just watch how kids play, even in nursery school. I remember going on a house call for a family and being attacked by their young son who had an AK-47 and, as I walked through the door, peppered me with bullets. Thank G-d, it was only a toy. How I cringed when his mom said, “Stop it, Ryan, you mustn’t shoot the rabbi!” Once upon a time, kids played Cowboys and Indians. If you were a good shot, one Indian would get knocked off his horse. Today, one victim is nothing. Thanks to modern technology and computer games, we can decimate armies. Battleships, spaceships, whole planets are being smashed into smithereens by a seven-year-old on his PlayStation.
A few years ago, I was on a plane where the in-flight program offered the following enlightening choices of entertainment: Terminator 3, Planet of the Apes, Return of the Mummies, and a martial-arts film in a foreign language. So much for our cerebral society.
The same people who decry shechitah say nothing about hunting for sport. In England it might even be the sport of kings. Eisav is described in the Chumash as one who knows hunting, a man of the field, but Yaakov is the sincere man and dweller of tents—a reference to the tents of Torah. Yaakov was the quiet scholar while Eisav was the wild hunter. Jews kill for food; for Eisav it is a sport.
How about boxing? Whoever beats the other guy to a pulp gets the coveted prize and is crowned world champion. Human gorillas, sometimes convicted criminals and rapists, become international celebrities. Listen to this logic. If someone pinches your parking space and you kill him in an act of road rage, you are a murderer. But if you kill him inside a ring with 25,000 witnesses cheering you on, you are a hero, and the millions come pouring in! I won’t even mention the bizarre and barbaric world of “entertainment” wrestling!
This is the sad reality of our world. When it comes to making a buck, there is no conscience and no morality. If your child wants to buy a gun, it is guaranteed there will be someone to manufacture it. There might be some form of quality control to make sure it won’t hurt his hand, but, unfortunately, it will still harm his soul. All the above social phenomena are deadening our sensitivities and threatening to wipe out our refined Yaakov character, spawning a generation of crude and coarse Eisavs.
The Talmud says, “When there is a book there is no sword, but when there is a sword there is no book.” We cannot be a nation of thoughtful, intelligent, noble scholars or Nobel Prize winners if we are playing with the sword. We have always been the People of the Book. Jews should want their children to pick up the book and drop the sword.
“A violently active, dominating, brutal youth—that is what I am after.” Do you know who made the above statement? It was a fellow named Adolf Hitler! That is what he wanted for the children of his country. We want our kids to be like Moshe, or at least Einstein. When Moshe saw two Jews quarreling he said, “Rasha, wicked one, why should you strike your fellow?” At that stage the man had only raised his hand. He hadn’t yet made contact, but already in Moshe’s mind, he was behaving like a rasha, a wicked person.
If young Jews are being threatened by anti-Semites or if Israel is in mortal danger from murderous neighbors, then obviously we need to be able to defend ourselves. Self-defense classes are kosher and the Israel Defense Forces protects us from another Holocaust, G‑d forbid. But let’s not turn brute force into a new value or an ideal to aspire to. We must teach our children Torah and the pursuit of Jewish wisdom. When the voice is the voice of Yaakov, then no hands of Eisav will harm us. Please G‑d, we will continue to be a wise and sensitive nation of character, secure in our inner strength, and proud of who we were and will, hopefully, always be. v
Rabbi Yossy Goldman was born in Brooklyn and was sent in 1976 by the Lubavitcher Rebbe as an emissary to serve the Jewish community of Johannesburg, South Africa. He is Senior Rabbi of the Sydenham Shul and president of the South African Rabbinical Association. His sefer “From Where I Stand: Life Messages from the Weekly Torah Reading” was published by Ktav and is available at Jewish book shops or online at

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Posted by on November 20, 2014. Filed under In This Week's Edition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.