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Jewish World Review
Jan. 9, 2003
/ 15 Teves, 5764
In defense of separate but equal
Rabbi Berel Wein
The secret of survival
The last seventeen years of the life of our forefather, Jacob, are years of
contentment and serenity.
- His family has been reunited, albeit in the
foreign land of Egypt, and the rift between Joseph and his brothers has
somehow been repaired.
- Jacob studies Torah with his grandsons, even those
who were born in Egyptian exile, far from the holy home of Jacob in the Land
- He basks in the glory of the achievements of his beloved son
Joseph and in the accomplishments and students of the school of Torah
established by Judah in the land of Goshen.
- He is finally at peace after
his long and difficult life of struggle, enemies and heartbreak. As the L-rd
promised Jacob, "Joseph will place his hands over your eyes."
and success of Joseph soothes Jacob's later years.
But Jacob is aware that the success and prosperity of his family is illusory
and temporary. He sees in his prophetic vision, the exile of Egypt unfolding
and how it will become progressively bitterer. The baleful scene that his
grandfather Abraham witnessed in the dream of his "descendants being
strangers in a land that is not theirs, and that they will be enslaved and
tortured there" until G-d redeems them, is a living reminder to Jacob of
what the future of Egypt will hold for his descendants.
Jacob knows that
difficult times are ahead and that his dream of the creation of the people
of Israel will be contested by the very Egyptian nation that has proved so
kind and hospitable to him and his family during his lifetime. Jacob's concern,
therefore, is how he can help prepare his descendants for the ordeal that
What are the weapons of inner strength that Jacob can bequeath to
his descendants that will enable them to withstand the centuries of physical and
psychological degradation that face them? The nature of a father and/or
grandfather is to protect and support his progeny. Jacob is therefore
undoubtedly determined to help his children. But how?
I think that the answer lies in the final blessings that Jacob grants to his
children before his death. Jacob addresses each one of his children
individually. And though each one of his sons has merits and talents, Jacob
is not reticent to point out their shortcomings of personality, as well. But
what is apparent, is that Jacob's intention is that each one of the sons develops
in fact, concentrates on their inner strengths and particular
It is as if the salvation of Israel lies in its diversity, its individual independence and human differences, rather than in a sense of conformity and unnatural sameness.
Our teacher, Moshe, in his final blessing to the nation of Israel, also follows the
pattern of Jacob. He does not bless the people as a whole, nor does he blur the differences of outlook, professions, and personalities within the nation. Rather, e blesses and strengthens the particular talents and ways of each of the individual tribes, thereby guaranteeing a healthy, balanced and strong Jewish people.
Jacob knows that without the individual strengths of each of his sons
separately being reinforced and put to constant use, the Egyptian exile
could very well overwhelm the Jews. Therefore the Psalmist phrases the
redemption of Israel from Egyptian slavery as being the moment "When Israel
left Egypt, the House of Jacob [departed] from an alien society." Israel, as
a united nation and people, left Egypt. But it was only able to do so because
it remained "the House of Jacob," individual personalities and distinct
This insight into the blessings of Jacob remains valid today.
It was the great Rebbe of Kotzk, who said it perhaps best: "If I am I because
I am you, and you are you because you are me, then I am not I and you are
not you. But if I am I because I am I and you are you because you are you,
then I am I and you are you!"
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Rabbi Berel Wein is one of Jewry's foremost historians and
founder of the Destiny Foundation.
He has authored over 650 tapes, books and videos which you can purchase at RabbiWein.com.
Comment by clicking here or calling 1-800-499-WEIN (9346).
© 2004, Rabbi Berel Wein