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April 21, 2014

Andrew Silow-Carroll: Passoverkill? Suggestions to make next year's seders even more culturally sensitive

Sara Israelsen Hartley: Seeking the Divine: An ancient connection in a new context

Christine M. Flowers: Priest's execution in Syria should be call to action

Courtnie Erickson: How to help kids accept the poor decisions of others

Lizette Borreli: A Glass Of Milk A Day Keeps Knee Arthritis At Bay

Lizette Borreli: 5 Health Conditions Your Breath Knows Before You Do

The Kosher Gourmet by Betty Rosbottom Coconut Walnut Bars' golden brown morsels are a beautifully balanced delectable delight

April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review Dec. 18, 2008 / 21 Kislev 5769

The Final Battlefield

By Rabbi Yonason Goldson


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Jewish tradition's prophetic tale of a flax merchant, a blacksmith, and the fall of Western Civilization


http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Last week's Torah portion concluded by listing the progeny of Esau, the wicked brother of Jacob, together with the generals, the rulers, and the empires that would descend from him. Most notable among them is the kingdom of Edom, the ideological descendants of which would ultimately produce the Roman Empire.

Our Torah portion this week begins with the words: And Jacob settled in the land of his father's wanderings, in the land of Canaan (Genesis 37:1). This seemingly innocuous verse acquires a wholly unexpected and enigmatic significance based upon an interpretation by the 11th Century Talmudic genius Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (Rashi), the most authoritative of all classical commentators.

Says Rashi: Jacob foresaw [prophetically] all the generals listed in the previous verses and stood in awe, saying, "Who will be able to defeat all of these?" Recognizing that the contention between him and his brother would continue throughout future generations, Jacob despaired at the mighty armies and nations that would one day rise up against his offspring.

Rashi prefaces these remarks with a curious parable: A merchant [enters town] leading camels laden with flax. A blacksmith wonders in astonishment, "Where will he unload all of this flax?" A clever fellow answers him: "One spark going out from your bellows will burn all of it up."

The message of the parable seems reasonably clear — that within Jacob's children there will reside a spark of spiritual power sufficient to send all of Esau's might up in flames. But the parable itself appears nonsensical. Why does the blacksmith care where the merchant will store his flax? And what kind of answer is it to suggest that setting fire to the entire load of merchandise will solve the problem?

THE BATTLEFIELD OF FREE ENTERPRISE
It is an axiom in the world of commerce that businesses either expand or contract. By expanding, they continue to succeed; by contracting, they wither and die. And as successful enterprises grow ever larger, they take over more and more space, pushing out smaller businesses that are in competition for the same property.

The blacksmith in the parable recognizes the precariousness of his circumstances when he sees the enormous cargo of flax brought into his town. All that merchandise has to go somewhere, and if the flax merchant needs more space, it's only natural that he will overrun smaller enterprises — quite possibly the blacksmith himself.

If this is the blacksmith's concern, what is the meaning of the clever fellow's answer? Rabbi Zev Leff explains his meaning as follows: The blacksmith ought not be impressed by the enormity of the flax dealer's merchandise. In order to acquire it, the flax merchant has had to borrow against everything he owns, and only if he sells it all will he be able to pay off his debts, after which he will start over again, each time making only a modest profit. If, in the meantime, anything happens to his merchandise, he loses everything he owns and is out of business.

The blacksmith, however, has something of intrinsic value. His anvil and his tradecraft make his business solid and secure. Nothing can happen to them, so his livelihood is not in danger. In contrast to the flex dealer who may appear large and wealthy, the blacksmith is not threatened by the whims of fate, for possesses something that will certainly endure.

Similarly Jacob, momentarily awed by the future might of Esau, came to recognize that the grandeur of the Kingdom of Edom and the vast power of the future Roman Empire were in fact nothing but the fleeting illusion of greatness that would cast a giant shadow upon the world for a time and then vanish from the earth. Rome itself would fall, and in its place would rise up Western Civilization's culture of superficiality and self-indulgence, the twilight of Esau's dominion upon the earth.

A VISION OF THINGS TO COME
Understood this way, Rashi's parable provides an uncanny foreshadowing of the tremors of financial instability that have shaken the economic foundations of the western world. As markets soared and the Dow passed 5000, passed 10,000, and approached 15,000 points, few stopped to consider whether their profits represented real wealth or merely an inflated illusion of limitless bounty.

In headlong pursuit of profits, speculators literally mortgaged their futures, bundling paper money to be sold and resold for marginal profits like a Ponzi scheme on steroids. The buying and selling of stock and commodity futures generated market motion that was the source of market income, a perpetual motion machine in which short-term profits increased far beyond the value of any true capital. Businesses thrived in a service economy that was sustained by a cyclical market of rotating revenues, with nothing of any intrinsic worth being produced at all.

In hindsight, it seems obvious that such a system couldn't possibly continue. But in the frenzy of rising incomes and expanding personal wealth, no one wanted to pay attention to the telltale signs or the change in the weather. Finally, and inevitably, the winds of change fanned the sparks of reality and sent the whole grand illusion up in flames like a mound of flax.

This is the contemporary battleground — and the final battleground — of Jacob and Esau. The modern-day infatuation with everything and anything that is bigger, more powerful, and more complicated, the attraction to external grandeur at the expense of internal substance — this is the merchandise of the descendants of Esau, with which they seek to bury the spirit of mankind beneath a mountain of empty promises as worthless as a camel-load of straw.

But the resilience of the human soul is beyond measure, no matter how persistently the vanities of the material world may besiege it. A spark of spirituality always survives, waiting for the opportune moment as we approach the End of Days, when glory of Jacob will light up the world with the funeral pyre of Esau.

All that is left for us to ask ourselves is what we want to play: will we contribute to the spark, or to go up in smoke along with the dry and deceptive kindling of unprofitable dreams.

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JWR contributor Rabbi Yonason Goldson teaches at Block Yeshiva High School in St. Louis, MO, where he also writes and lectures. Visit him at http://torahideals.wordpress.com .






© 2008, Rabbi Yonason Goldson