By: Rabbi Mark L. Winer, President of the
Florida Democratic Party Caucus of American Jews
and President of
FAITH: the Foundation to Advance Interfaith Trust and Harmony
“A Time for Healing”
The American presidential campaign has been painful. A mutual demonization of the opposing candidate has left many Americans feeling angry, distrustful, saddened, and disunited from fellow citizens of the United States.
Unfortunately, such political and social conflict is inherent in the electoral process of democratic nations. In fact, the intensity of interpersonal animosity we’ve experienced is not even an aberration within social democracies. Having lived also in the U.K and Israel, I’ve witnessed gut-wrenching conflict underlying both countries’ elections. Each time, after the votes were counted, the deeper conflicts were not fully resolved. It will probably be as excruciatingly difficult to resolve the rift in America.
Democracy, as Winston Churchill once said, “is the worst form of government, except for all of the others.”
Still, now with the presidential politicking behind us, there’s much each of us can do to heal the rift with our neighbors, relatives, friends, colleagues, acquaintances— a rift which is ultimately, unsettlingly, within our own hearts.
My friend Katy Radford has much to teach us. She’s devoted her career to conflict-resolution in Belfast—where the acrimony is considerably more acute than in America. Years after the peace accords, Protestants and Catholics often remain walled off from each other, with barbed wire atop the walls. Pubs are designated for Protestants or Catholics—one’s entry into the pub of the other risks a severe beating.
Katy says that while her ultimate goal is reconciliation, she finds it an elusive objective. Reconciliation requires both sides to come around to an impossibly distant position of openness toward the other.
She finds instead that intermediate steps toward reconciliation are more obtainable and constructive. The most useful approach, she says, is to help each party in the conflict seek “resilience.” Resilience doesn’t depend upon anyone else. It’s the integration of the inner self—the arrival at that place of internal reconciliation where passion can be peaceful within the soul.
From internal resilience, Katy notes, an adversary can come to prefer incomplete resolution to the continuation of “blood-letting.” And if both parties experience that resilience, steps can begin towards reconciliation between them.
This week’s Torah portion,
, offers a wonderful model of resilience before reconciliation. As a young man, Jacob stole his brother Esau’s blessing. Fearing for his safety, Jacob flees to his mother’s brother Laban. He goes on to marry Laban’s two daughters, fathers 12 children, and amasses wealth in the cattle business.
Twenty years later, their father is dead and the brothers must bury him. Jacob returns to Canaan. Frightened to learn Esau has 400 armed men, Jacob divides his camp in half, and prays to God to rescue him from Esau. He then sends gifts to Esau.
That night he wrestles with an angel—Is this his conscience? Jacob prevails, but is wounded in his hip. He also receives a new name, Israel—Is this a new beginning? Foreshadowing his encounter with Esau, Jacob perceives he has seen the face of God and lived.
Jacob thus acquires self-resilience. Wrestling with the angel/himself, he transforms his identity from Jacob the deceiver to Israel the struggler with morality. His transformation is not easy or complete—he’s crippled in the process.
The new Jacob approaches Esau humbly. He bows down to Esau seven times. In an act of
(repentance), he refers to himself as Esau’s servant.
Esau then runs to Jacob. They hug each other, Esau embraces Jacob, and they kiss and cry together. Calling Jacob brother, Esau graciously informs him that gifts are unnecessary; he already has so much. Jacob insists, explaining that seeing Esau is like seeing the face of God; since God has been gracious to him (just as Esau has been gracious), Jacob wishes to bequeath presents to him. Esau accepts. They part in peace.
Jacob thus moves from fear, to personal responsibility, to
, to resilience, to a sense of redemption—and only then to reconciliation with his brother. Reconciliation is ultimately possible because Esau, too, has arrived at resilience. He appreciates his own life’s fulfillment; he’s free of the resentments that ruled his childhood.
Their reconciliation is a source of hope for me. This ugly period of American history can pass in time—especially if we seek resilience too.
We must never give up, no matter how hopeless the situation may appear. After all, the work of
– repairing the world – is ongoing and never-ending. And, always, it begins with the inner
, meaning fixing or rectification—our own resilience within.
Here, then, is my prayer:
Please, God, grant us wisdom and patience to arrive at resilience within ourselves. Keep us ever focused on Tikkun Olam as our objective. Endow us with the courage to seek reconciliation by seeing Your face in the other. AMEN
About the Author
Mark served as a full-time synagogue rabbi for thirty years in the New York area and thirteen years in London, England. He and his wife Suellen live in Boca Raton, Florida.