Rabbi Dr. Raymond Apple
Rabbi Dr. Raymond AppleCourtesy

Rabbi Raymond Applewas for many years Australia’s highest profile rabbi and the leading spokesman on Judaism. After serving congregations in London, Rabbi Apple was chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, for 32 years. He also held many public roles, particularly in the fields of chaplaincy, interfaith dialogue and Freemasonry, and is the recipient of several national and civic honours. Now retired, he lives in Jerusalem and blogs at http://www.oztorah.com


TO BE A SETTLER

Abraham’s self-description was "settler and sojourner" ("ger v’toshav": Gen. 23:4).

Today the phrase "the settlers" resonates in anti-Israel sloganism. Jews who live anywhere in Israel are tarred with the "settler" brush, even those who live in big cities like Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa. Hijacking the word "settler", the critics imply that Israelis are usurpers.

Other words too are hijacked; terrorists are called freedom fighters, murderers are called desperate underdogs.

To go back to the "settlers", we find that human beings as a whole are described by God in the Tanach as "strangers and settlers with Me", indicating that God is the only being who has proprietary rights and a permanent presence on earth whilst human beings inhabit the earth as tenants (look at Psalm 90 for evidence).

One of the great Jewish gedolim was visited by someone who was surprised to see that the gadol lived in one sparsely furnished room. The visitor said, "It looks like you don’t really live here!" "No, I don’t," was the reply, "I’m only a visitor in the Almighty’s world".

Visitors are endowed with a blessing from On High. Settlers are not usurpers; they are visitors in God’s world.

To be a settler is a compliment, a challenge, a privilege, a blessing - not a sneaky means of besmirchment.

THE SILENCE OF ABRAHAM

Moses speaks constantly, but Abraham doesn’t. Very rarely does Abraham utter a word. It’s not that he can’t speak but that he doesn’t.

Kierkegaard says, "When I speak, if I am unable to make myself intelligible, then I do not speak" There are some people who can speak on many subjects but on other subjects they cannot open their mouths.

When things happen which one cannot understand or explain, the best advice is given by Pir’kei Avot (4:18) which says that when one is faced with the ultimate questions it is better not to utter a word. At that point it is silence that says it all.

In silence one says there is nothing one can say. All that has happened has happened and one cannot (as Omar Kayyam says) undo it or cancel even half a line.

Nevertheless no-one is powerless. Real strength comes from realistic acceptance that facts are facts. Real power comes from asking oneself, "How do we handle the event? Where do we go from here?"


GENERATIONS THAT LOOK ALIKE

The commentators ask why, at the commencement of the sidra, the Torah text tells us that Abraham was the father of Isaac and Isaac was the son of Abraham. They explain that father and son looked alike and had similar mannerisms and opinions.

A similar comment might be made when father and son, or mother and daughter, enter the synagogue together. It’s not like two strangers coming into the building. In that case what unites them is probably their shared Jewishness. If parent and child walk together (as Abraham and Isaac did in the story of the Akedah, Gen. 22) the observer can recognise their bond.

The Ten Commandments have a particular take on the father-son/mother-daughter situation. The Second Commandment says that God "visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children", which indicates that if the parent sins and the child continues the sinfulness, the Divine punishment is not limited to the parent… but if the child has the moral courage to break the chain and choose a life of merit, the effect of the parent’s sin and degeneracy does not continue into the future generations.


ONLY ONE BLESSING?

When the parental blessing is awarded to Jacob, Esau asks whether there aren’t any blessings left for him (Gen. 27:36).

True, Esau was not a very nice character, but he was Isaac’s son after all and surely justice and logic should dictate that there should be a blessing reserved for him.

Rashi says that Esau had a conscience after all and deep down he realised that Jacob despite his defects – was really more entitled than he was to their father’s blessing.

Isaac was on the other hand wracked with uncertainty as to whether he might have done the wrong thing in giving Jacob the blessing.