April 19, 2024
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Vayishlach: Eisav Lovers of the World Unite

It started out innocently enough. A few students were seen wearing red ribbons to school on Monday. By Tuesday, a few red shirts were noted in the hallways, defying the Nachmanides School dress code. But by the Wednesday before Parshat Vayishlach, the red EWAGG buttons started to appear, and Rabbi Rosenthal knew he had a crisis on his hands. The teaching staff had been picking up rumors that a movement was building in the school, but the buttons were indisputable proof. Over 30 students had them on, and the number was sure to grow. EWAGG, Eisav Was a Good Guy.

There was a countermovement, of course. The blue EWE buttons were also circulating (Eisav Was Evil). And resentments were starting to build. One girl received detention for calling her classmate an Edomite. The teacher felt that was crossing the line. Rabbi Rosenthal had seen such crises before. A fistfight had once broken out in the hallways of the school over whether Noah was truly a tzaddik or only in his generation. And the debate over whether Moshe deserved not to enter the Holy Land because he hit the rock was a point of contention every year. Even Aaron’s role in the making of the golden calf had been known to stir up controversy among the student body. But no one at the Nachmanides School had ever seen the likes of the Eisav crisis.

Apparently it had begun as a class discussion in Mrs. Weiner’s fifth grade Chumash period. David Stein had suggested that according to the text, Eisav wasn’t really such a bad guy. Mrs. Weiner loved to foster free thinking and encouraged David to elaborate. By the end of class, a faction had formed that agreed with young Mr. Stein. Eisav was innocent! He had been framed by the commentators! It was a 3,000-year-old conspiracy! Soon the idea spread through the school like a bright red wildfire.

Rabbi Rosenthal knew it was time to intervene when he walked into the lunchroom on Thursday and the split between blue and red at the tables looked like an electoral map of the United States. Families were divided. Friendships were at risk. The rabbi called David Stein as the EWAGG representative and Melissa Rabinowitz as his EWE counterpart into his office for a pow wow. They agreed to a public debate the next day. The entire middle school would attend, and Eisav’s status would be resolved once and for all.

They gathered on Friday in the auditorium. The ground rules dictated that all students were to wear white shirts to avoid factionalism, but everyone knew where they stood on the issues. David had brought Shani Schulman and Mordy Rosenstrich as his debating partners, and Melissa had countered with Jordan Katz and Ayelet Baum. The moderator was Rabbi Rosenthal himself, though no one knew his personal point of view regarding Eisav.

David opened the discussion. “Let’s face facts. Eisav loved and respected his father. He was Yitzchak’s favorite, and we’re talking a forefather here! He was tricked out of his birthright, and he lost his blessing. And does he hurt Yaakov? No!”

Melissa jumped in. “Sure Eisav loved his father, but let’s not forget, he sold his birthright for a bowl of soup. Soup! And when Jacob stole the blessing, Eisav vowed to kill him!”

“But he didn’t do it!” Shani jumped in. “He didn’t kill his brother, despite the overwhelming odds in his favor. Instead, he hugged and kissed him.”

“Now, no interrupting the other speakers,” the rabbi interjected.

“Sorry, Rabbi Rosenthal,” Shani said.

“You say he hugged and kissed him,” Jordan said, “but we all know Eisav really tried to bite his brother’s neck, and it turned to stone.”

“Says who?” Mordy asked.

“Says all the extra dots over the word ‘Vayishakeihu, and he kissed him,’” Melissa responded. “The pasuk reads, ‘Vayaratz Eisav likrato, vayichabikayhu vayipol al tzavarav vayishakeihu vayibku.’ Eisav ran toward him, embraced him, fell upon his neck, and kissed him; then they wept.’ The Torah puts lots of extra dots over the Hebrew word for kissing, and most commentators say that is a sign that Eisav’s kiss was insincere.”

“Ha!” David responded. “Everyone knows that an authority no less than Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said the kiss was sincere.”

The debate went on for twenty more minutes before Rabbi Rosenthal ended it. The EWAGGs emphasized Eisav’s offer to travel onward with Yakov and his family at their pace as a sign of his kindness and also discussed the unfortunate association that developed over time between Edom and Rome, tarring Eisav’s reputation. The EWEs pointed to all the commentators who felt Eisav was bad and kept going back to his reputation as a hunter and to his violent nature. When it was all said and done, Rabbi Rosenthal rose to speak.

“Boys and girls, thank you so much for participating in our debate. I must say that all the energy and emotion you brought to the parsha did my heart good. Clearly there were no losers today, but if I had to chose a side, I must point out that a vast majority of the commentators feel that Eisav was not the nicest of individuals.”

The EWAGGs groaned in disappointment.

“Now, don’t feel bad. I think you can hold your heads high and feel good about all the important issues you brought up. And speaking kindly of any individual can only be good.

“When I was a rabbinical student, I once went to my Rebbe with a question that I found particularly perplexing. I told him that if I didn’t find a satisfactory answer, I couldn’t go on learning Torah.

“My Rebbe smiled at me and said, “Shmulik, your question is an excellent question, but don’t be so arrogant as to assume that the correct answer is the most important thing. It is the answers to our questions which separate us, but it is the questions themselves which unite us.”

And with that, all the Israelites in the auditorium shook hands, and the debate was resolved.

Larry Stiefel is a pediatrician at Tenafly Pediatrics and author of the parsha story blog MaggidofBergenfield.com.

By Larry Stiefel

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