<I>Vayishlach</I>: When Christian 'Love' Can Hurt Us

Should we be concerned about our supporters?

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Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen,

לבן ריק
לבן ריק
צילום: ערוץ 7
There have been articles in the media about the growing efforts of many Evangelical Christians to convert Jews in Israel and the Diaspora to Christianity. These Christians also tend to be very supportive of the State of Israel, and this raises the following
An answer can be found in the Torah portion for this Shabbos.
question: Should we be concerned over the fact that these supporters also seek our conversion?

According to a number of our sages, an answer can be found in the Torah portion for this Shabbos, and I will begin with the insights of Rabbi Shmuel Bornstein, a noted Chassidic sage of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These insights are found in his work, Shem MiShmuel, which provides a commentary on the weekly Torah portion.

In his commentary on the Torah portion of this Shabbos - which describes the encounter between Yaakov (Jacob) and his brother, Eisav - Rabbi Bornstein discusses a deeper meaning of the following words from Yaakov's prayer to be saved from the harmful plans of his brother, Eisav: "Save me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Eisav." (Genesis 32:12)
 
The following is a summary of Rabbi Bornstein's commentary on this prayer:
 
Why does Yaakov first refer to Eisav as "my brother" and then refer to him by name? Some commentators explain that Yaakov was more frightened of Eisav as a brother and friend than as Eisav - the one known for his violence. This is because Yaakov was concerned that Eisav might attempt to become close to him in order to draw him to Eisav's harmful philosophy and distorted ways. This was potentially very dangerous to Yaacov and his family, for it could lead to the end of the spiritual mission to which Yaakov had dedicated his life. We are therefore told that Yaacov primarily feared his "brother," and only then "Eisav."

This episode teaches us a great lesson. For the sake of our spiritual mission, we must try to emulate Yaakov and ensure that our priorities are correct in all eras of our history. We must remember that spiritual life is always preeminent.
 
Throughout the generations, there were Jewish men and women who emulated Yaakov and who gave priority to the spiritual raison d'etre of our people. They resisted all the attempts to convert them; thus, their spiritual priority helped to ensure the survival of our people.
 
The idea that Yaakov, our forefather, was first concerned about spiritual survival is also found in the Beis HaLevi - a commentary on the Torah by Rabbi Yosef Dov Ber Soloveitchik, a noted Lithuanian Jewish sage of the late 19th century. Regarding Yaakov's prayer to be saved "from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Eisav," Rabbi Soloveitchik points out that it would have been sufficient for Yaakov to say, "from the hand of my brother, Eisav." Why, then, did he refer to two hands - the hand of his brother and the hand of Eisav? Rabbi Soloveitchik explains that Yaakov was concerned about two facets of Eisav's strategy - the hand of brotherhood and the hand of violence. He first mentions the hand of brotherhood, for he recognized the serious danger posed by the "love" of Eisav when its goal is to wean Yaakov away from the right path.
 
Rabbi Soloveitchik cites the teaching, "All the actions of the forefathers are auguries for their descendants;" thus, the prayer of Yaakov, our forefather, is relevant for each generation of our people. Rabbi Soloveitchik points out that there are descendants of
Yaacov primarily feared his "brother," and only then "Eisav."
Eisav who deal with us in the same two ways as Eisav sought to deal with Yaakov. Initially, they promulgate brutal decrees designed to convert, persecute and even destroy us; however, when HaShem, the Compassionate One, does not allow them to eliminate our presence as a people, then they seek to live in peace with us. Through this strategy, they hope to distance us from our path and our faith.

Rabbi Soloveitchik then cites various midrashim that describe how, in a later stage of our history, these descendants of Eisav will ask us to modify our tradition so as to lessen the distance between their religion and Judaism. Rabbi Soloveitchik explains that they will even adopt certain tenets of Judaism in order to tempt us to give up some of our heritage.
 
Who are these descendants of Eisav that will seek to tempt us in this way? An answer can be found in the concluding passage of the Torah portion for this Shabbos, where we find a list of various rulers that descend from Eisav, including "the chief of Magdiel." (Genesis 36:43) The classical commentator, Rashi, writes: "Magdiel - this is Rome." (cited in Pirkei D'Rabbi Eliezer 38)
 
According to Jewish tradition, Rome became the kingdom of Eisav, and the Christian civilization, which became centered in Rome, is a continuation of this kingdom. As Rabbi Soloveitchik reminded us, this kingdom of Eisav initially tries to convert us through force and when this fails, it will conspire to distance us from our way of serving HaShem by developing peaceful and brotherly relations with us.

In our day, for example, there are millions of Evangelical Christians proclaiming their "love" for us with the hope of persuading us to convert to Christianity. They want us to follow them by abandoning our direct worship of HaShem and replacing it with a human intermediary that Christians deify. Although there are also Christian denominations that no longer seek to convert us, the Evangelical Christian denominations are growing in numbers and influence.
 
In addition, some of these large denominations openly target Jews in their missionary work. One of their methods is to start churches that preach the Christian doctrine, but which are disguised in "Jewish" garb in order to attract Jews. For example, they call their churches "synagogues"; moreover, they incorporate some traditional Jewish prayers and customs into their service which are dedicated to the human intermediary that they have deified and whom they also view as the Messiah.
 
Our sacred scriptures record Divine promises indicating that they will not succeed in their missionary goal; moreover, instead of asking us to follow them, they will seek to follow us. For example, HaShem promised our people that in the messianic age, "nations will go to your light." (Isaiah 60:3) The following Divine promise concerning this new age can serve as another example: "Thus said HaShem, God of the hosts of creation: In those days, it will happen that ten men, of all the languages of the nations, will take hold, they will take hold of the corner of the garment of a Jewish man, saying, 'Let us go with you, for we
Scriptures record Divine promises indicating that they will not succeed in their missionary goal.
have heard that God is with you.'" (Zechariah 8:23)
 
In this age of universal enlightenment, the eternal message of our people will be vindicated, and the conflict with Eisav will finally be over, as it is written in the portion of the Prophets that we chant on this Shabbos: "Then saviors will ascend Mount Zion to judge the mountain of Eisav, and the kingdom will be HaShem's." (Ovadiah 1:21)
In his commentary on this messianic prophecy, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains that our people will fulfill our mission to become the saviors of humankind, and he adds: "They will go up to Mount Zion not as the 'saved' ones, but as the 'saviors' - the bringers of salvation."
 
This will cause "Eisav" to realize that he has misjudged "Yaakov" and to finally recognize his brother's universal mission. As a result, states Rabbi Hirsch, "the fight between the brothers has come to an end - there is only one height on earth and that is Zion's height. And there is only one kingdom and that is the Kingdom of HaShem."

Notes
For further study, see the following works:

1. Shem MiShmuel, published in English by Targum Press.

2. Beis HaLevi on the Torah (Genesis and Exodus), published in English by Targum Press.