Torah Fax

Friday, December 17, 2004 - 6 Tevet, 5765

Torah Reading:  Vayigash (Genesis 44:18 - 47:27)
Candle Lighting time: 4:11 PM
Shabbat ends: 5:16 PM
Get It Together
When the Torah records the number of Jacob's progeny that entered Egypt it uses the singular form for souls: "shivim nefesh-seventy soul." By contrast, when the Torah listed just six of Esau's progeny it employed the plural form of "souls." Rashi, citing a Midrashic interpretation, offers the following explanation: Jacob's progeny worshipped one G‑d, they are thus referred to in the singular; Esau's progeny by contrast worshipped many gods, therefore they are referred to in the plural."
This interpretation calls for further clarification. Granted that Jacob's family members were monotheists and Esau's were not, but what has that to do with the way they are counted? A large family is still a large family and a small family is still a small family.
Shouldn't the language of the Biblical text reflect that fact? In other words, what does their belief system have to do with the way the family members are characterized?
There are three ways we can look at monotheism vs. polytheism. The first is theological, or the way we relate to G‑d.  The second is sociological, or the way we relate to others. And the third is psychological, or the way we relate to ourselves.
Theologically, paganism, at the very least, is a most blatant lack of loyalty to G‑d.  Having more than one G‑d is not simply false-for there is only one G‑d-it is like adultery. It means that you don't even have one G‑d, you are loyal to no one. For this reason, on the two tablets given to us by G‑d, .the commandment not to have other gods (on the first tablet) parallels the commandment to not commit adultery (on the second tablet.)
Sociologically, when we realize that we have one G‑d who is our Creator and Provider, we feel a kinship that makes us feel that we are part of one family. And even though family members often feud and can be just as fractious as total strangers, there is obviously a natural propensity to feel connected to a close relative. Belief in one G‑d does not preclude division; it simply puts our relationships with one another in perspective.  Moreover, when we have one G‑d, our mode of behavior is directed towards serving that one G‑d the way He prescribed. The unity of purpose and conduct engendered by the belief in one G‑d has the salutary effect of having us share experiences and goals thus further cementing our unity.
The belief in many gods was frequently a worship of oneself. Instead of believing that we were created by G‑d in His image, the polytheist creates gods in his many images. The polytheist takes his human passions and projects them on a god. In many instances it was the person's way of justifying his vices. If he was a bloodthirsty murderer, he can look to the pagan god that symbolized bloodshed. If he was a person with the loosest of morals, he had a convenient god that stood for that as well. When a person's religion is really a means to rationalize and even worship one's own instincts and vices, there will inevitably be serious clashes between one human being and another. One cannot coexist with others when each one has deified his or her own interests and passions. Inevitably the self-worship is going to lead to serious divisions and undermine the stability of a society.
Belief in one G‑d, on the other hand, provides us with the ability to transcend our own selfish interests. This doesn't mean that we can never follow our interests, needs and desires; it just means that when there is a clash between our desires and G‑d's, G‑d's will prevail. And since our theological foundation is not self-serving, there is more room for people to get along with each, without any egocentricity.
And this unity is also good for our psychological health. Life is often difficult and hard to cope with to a large extent because of how we are pulled in so many different directions and so many conflicting emotions. When our lives are coordinated and harmonized by a
belief that all of what we do leads towards one goal-serving and relating everything we do to one G‑d-it instills a comforting sense of harmony in our lives. We are not going in opposite directions for everything leads towards one uplifting goal. Without the sense of fragmentation we can then even enjoy the changes and variety of experiences in our lives.
Jacob's children, while they numbered seventy souls, are therefore described as having one soul, because their belief in one G‑d affected the way they related to one another and the way they related to themselves. By having many gods, Esau's children, could not enjoy the benefits of unity in their social and personal lives.
We can now also appreciate why, of all the positive things the Torah tells us will occur in the Messianic Age, the one that is highlighted is the fact that all humanity will worship one G‑d. It is the belief in one G‑d and following in His commandments that will bring the most cherished unity that will bring all the other blessings in its wake.
Moshiach Matters
Every Jew should exemplify the teachings of the Chanuka lights in actual practice.
This will hasten the fulfillment of the Divine prophecy of "even if darkness will cover the earth and a thick cloud the nations, but on you will shine forth G‑d." As in those days, we should merit to kindle lights in the Third and Eternal Holy Temple — with the coming of Moshiach. (L'Chaim)

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