Make a Fixed Time for Study

עשה תורתך קבע – אמור מעט ועשה הרבה

וַיִּגַּשׁ – Christmas Day, 2009

Posted by rabbiart on December 25, 2009

It might seem strange to be writing or reading a Torah commentary with the word “Christmas” in the title. During the Jewish sojourn in Europe and Russia over the last millenium, Christmas was the one day of the year that many Jewish communities abstained from studying Torah. Not in observance of Christmas, but for reasons of pikuach nefesh. Attacks on Jews were sometimes commonplace on Christmas, as marauders swept through Jewish settlements yelling (in their own language) “Jerusalem is lost”.

Although hostility toward Jews continues, and hostility toward the one country in the world with a majority Jewish population continues to be fomented, we are fortunate to live in a time when it is no longer dangerous to study Torah on Christmas Day. More recently, a number of Jewish communities have adopted the practice of performing practical mitzvot on Christmas, by doing volunteer work or substituting for Christian volunteers at hospitals and other places, so that they can devote themselves to celebrating their holiday.

In some places in the United States, Muslims are joining with Jews in this activity.  In Michigan, where the Muslim population is particularly large, Jews and Muslims are joining in “Mitzvah Day”, helping some 48 social service agencies.

It is particularly fitting that this activity should be occurring one day before we read the climactic episode of Breshit, wherein brothers who have despised each other achieve a heartfelt and emotional reconciliation.  Over the course of Sefer Breshit we have watched the painful process of brothers learning to live together in harmony.  First Cain kills Abel, and is sentenced to wander the earth the remainder of his days.  Isaac and Ishmael are forcibly separated by their parents, and come together only (as far as we know) when it is time to bury their father.  Jacob treats his brother with manipulation and deception, and the quality of their reunion is ambiguous and left to the reader to judge.

Joseph lords it over his brothers, and they respond with hatred, attempted murder, and selling him into slavery.  In his turn, having risen to power, he torments them when they come to Egypt looking for food to survive.  But this Shabbat, all is forgiven, if not forgotten, and they live out their days in peace.

How good it is for brothers to live together.  If only all of us could learn to emulate the teaching of our parshah this week, and follow the example of Moslems and Jews in Detroit, and come together to do mitzvot and repair the world.

Shabbat Shalom


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