August 7, 2018

Family is Family (Devarim)

Parshat Devarim is Moshe’s ‘Last Lecture’ where he reviews the journey of the Jewish people, highlights where they erred, and reviews the laws and values that they should follow upon entering the Land of Israel. Yet, as Rav Shimon Schwab observes, Moshe uses a strange phrase when recounting one particular story that previously occurred.

To explain, we are told (see Bereishit 36:1) that Edom are the descendants of Esav the brother of Yaakov, and that the people of Edom refused passage to the Jewish people (see Bemidbar 20:21) as they travelled towards the border of the Land of Israel. Yet, when recounting these events in Parshat Devarim, Moshe repeatedly reminds the people that Edom are ‘descendants of your brother Esav’ (see Devarim 2:4, 8). Moreover, this fact is made even more explicitly later on in Devarim where we are told that ‘you shall not reject an Edomite, for he is your brother’ (Devarim 23:8).

Though it may seem strange to emphasise the bonds of brotherhood between Esav and Yisrael at this stage of Jewish history, Rav Schwab explains that the first instance where we read that Edom began worshipping idols is found at the end of the Tanach (see Divrei Hayamim II 25:14, 20), which leads him to conclude that until that point, Edom recognized G-d as the Creator.

What we see from here is that despite the ‘bad blood’ between Esav and Yisrael – which as we know included harsh disagreements and even the threats – Moshe deliberately emphasized the brotherly bond between Esav and Yaakov to remind the people that while idolatry cannot be tolerated, family is family and the Jewish people must continue to regard Edom as brothers despite the tension between them.

As we ebb towards Tisha B’Av when we mourn the loss of our Temple and the cause of this loss, this message is particularly timely. The Jewish people are a family, and while at times it seems as if we are a very dysfunctional family, family is family, brothers are brothers, and sisters are sisters. If Moshe was prepared to refer to the people of Edom as brothers, we certainly should be prepared to refer to other Jews – even the most disagreeable – as brothers and sisters…because that’s what family does!

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