Parashat Vayera

Blessings for All

We no longer need there to be unchosen children.

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The disempowered do not thrive "elsewhere," nor do they dwell apart in their own suffering. Rather, the entire human system becomes contaminated with enmity, distrust, and violence. We, the privileged, must realize that our destiny is bound to our brothers'. All the power, all the wealth in the coffers of the privileged, cannot purchase peace in the absence of justice and equity.

In an Economy of Plenty

For the latter Hebrew prophets, peace came only through fidelity to God and through communal application of justice and righteousness to society. God is not the One who will compensate the underprivileged for their suffering, ensuring that they receive their rightful share of the blessing and bounty of the world. That job has become ours. The ethical imperative is upon us. We are, of course, bound not to perpetrate injustice against the marginalized. We are even expected to prevent violence against them. But even more so, we are bound by an imperative to share the blessing and bounty that benefit us.

Once we acknowledge this, we come a step closer to the root of Sarah's misdirected actions. Perhaps they are borne not out of ill will, but out of a fundamental misperception. She could not see that God's blessing is, itself, an unlimited resource. Like the children's matchbox cars, so numerous I couldn't walk across the room without stepping on one, God has enough blessing for both children. 

In this economy of plenty, Ishmael should no longer need to compete with Yitzhak--to be m'tzahek--by imitating and threatening to beat his brother at his own game. Nor will Ishmael's success seem so threatening to Sarah that he and his mother must be banished. In a home, and a world, with One Chosen Child, there must be an unchosen child. In a world of plenty, there is enough space, enough love, for both children.

For me and my young friends, the morning's matchbox car altercation ended not with mutual destruction or with bitter tears, but rather with the discovery that the truly precious resource was not the cars, per se, but the feeling of having something precious. Fortunately, love is not a limited commodity. Learning this, we left the heap of cars forgotten on the floor. We sat together on the sofa reading a book, giggling and shouting at the silly amphibians, the best friends who couldn't get along.

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Evan Wolkenstein is the Director of Experiential Education and a Tanach teacher at the Jewish Community High School of the Bay in San Francisco.