Torah Tidbits

Living with Diversity
Shabbat Parashat Vayishlach
November 16, 2013 – 13 Kislev 5774

Living with Diversity

How do we respond when disaster strikes?  This week we have been painfully aware of the path of pain and of destruction that has left so many people in the Philippines in an awful predicament.   We can help!  Our weekly email included links to two Jewish organizations (JDC and AJWS) that are providing assistance to the people of the Philippines.  If you have not had the opportunity to donate to this cause, please take a moment to be a part of this mitzvah.

Our weekly Torah portion of Vayishlach recounts an interesting chapter in the story of Jacob and Esau.   After decades of estrangement from one another, the brothers finally  re-connect and establish a renewed and more positive relationship.   One of the things that Jacob says to his brother upon his return to the Land is “Im Lavan garti [I lived with Laban]”.  While this might simply be a biographical detail that Jacob is sharing with his brother, Rashi, the classical Bible commentator expands Jacob’s words, putting in his mouth the following words: “Im Lavan garti, v’taryag mitzvoth shamarti [I lived with Laban, and I observed the 613 mitzvoth].”  Based on the fact that the Hebrew words garti and taryag are composed of the identical Hebrew letters, Rashi is reading into Jacob’s ostensibly simple statement of fact, that even though he lived with Laban, a person of a completely different culture and values system than his own, Jacob retained his Jewish identity and values represented by the 613 commandments of Torah.

Rashi’s insight is so relevant to our lives.  We live in a world of diversity both near home and as “citizens” of the broader world which surrounds us.  Like Jacob, we live with Laban, often aware of, and surrounded by, much diversity.  Yet, our relationships with people of all faiths, races and creeds are guided by our Jewish identity and values.  Our 613 mitzvoth tell us that we can and we should help those in need, whenever possible.  So, yes, it is a mitzvah to help the people of the Philippines in their time of need.  And, if we can help through Jewish organizations, we also help to raise awareness of the beauty of Torah values that teach us of  the sanctity of life and of caring and of respect for all human beings!

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Gilah Dror