Turn It and Turn It

by Arliene Botnick, December 1, 2019

From Rabbi Ben Bag-Bag (Mishna Avot Chap.5)

Turn it and turn it, for everything is in it

Each week, as we read from the designated verses of Torah, we are told not only of events and stories in our past, but we also are given words of wisdom that still have a powerful impact on our lives. How we live today as Jews, how we celebrate, which rituals we follow are all in Torah. And especially in the books of Genesis and Exodus, we learn about relationships, parenting, sibling rivalry and love.

Beginning in Genesis, the recurrent theme of sibling rivalry is introduced as Cain slays his younger brother Adam. This theme of rivalry amongst brothers continues with Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, and of course with Joseph and his brothers. And in each of these examples, it is the older brother that is jealous of the younger because the younger is ”the favourite”. Even in the story of Moses and Aaron, Moses, the younger, has more honour and responsibility placed on his shoulders that his older brother Aaron.

Sibling rivalry – the older child being jealous of “the younger”. Sound familiar?

Of course, that rivalry is fueled often by parents who have favourites and show favouritism. God (the heavenly parent), looks more favourably on Abel’s sacrifice than on Cain’s. Abraham casts out his elder son Ishmael and leaves Ishmael and his mother Hagar abandoned. Jacob’s own mother encourages him to deceive his father in order to capture the blessing from Esau. And, there is Joseph, who is sent by his father to spy on his brothers, and is later given the coat of many colours. Parents, do we have favourites, and do we somehow show in our actions and attitudes who the favourite child is?

And next, the theme of love. We know very little about the actual relationships between our matriarchs and patriarchs but we get glimpses.

Abraham had to, needed to purchase land so that Sarah’s burial place would belong to him. A sign of love? We are told that when Rebekah is chosen to be Isaac’s partner, because she has the inner beauty of compassion and generosity. She is not told to go with Eliezar (the matchmaker, servant of Abraham), she is asked if she is willing to go. Relationships cannot be forced. And when she sees Isaac for the first time, we are told (for the first time) that Isaac loved Rebecca. Later on, we learn how much Jacob loved Rachel and that she was his favourite. Love for one (even in polygamous relationships) is powerful. All the more so, love as a bond between one partner and another should be strong, powerful, all encompassing. Our marriage ceremony Kiddushim (holiness vows) tells us that it is with that one special person we should have that one holy relationship.

Our Tanach, our bible is a book we keep reading because “tun it and turn it, for everything is in it”.


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