Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Two-Minute Torah: Two Camps

Jacob has not seen his brother Esau for about twenty years. Jacob knows that Esau is coming with his retinue to meet him, but he doesn't know what Esau's intentions are. They had, of course, parted on bad terms, with Jacob having cheated Esau of his birthright. Is Esau coming to seek revenge?

On the chance that Esau has mayhem in mind, Jacob decides to split his own family and property into two camps. This way, he rationalizes, if Esau decides to attack, he will only kill half of Jacob's family and destroy or capture half of his property. The other half will remain.

While the particulars were different in biblical times, the concern and the strategy itself are familiar. I am sure that you know families (I certainly do) where they are very careful not to have both parents travel on the same flight. The fear, or course, is that the plane will crash; and this way, at least one parent will remain. (This of course ignores the fact that air travel is much safer than car travel, and I don't know any families that make sure that both parents don't travel together in the same car.)

Is this concern applicable to a people as a whole? Within Zionism, there is a long-standing debate on what is known as "negation of the Diaspora." What is the purpose of Zionism? While some say that it is to create a Jewish state for those Jews who choose to live there, others believe that all Jews should live in Israel. According to the proponents of "negation of the Diaspora" the existence of a people where more than half live outside its national state is unnatural. The Diaspora, according to this theory, will ultimately disappear through either assimilation or antisemitism, and those Jews who care about their descendants' continued existence as Jews should move to Israel as soon as possible.

One wonders if the patriarch Jacob would have agreed. Is it a wise idea to put all our eggs into one basket? History is cunning and unpredictable. Is Jewish survival best served by concentrating our entire people in one place? Or are we better off with some of our people in Israel, some in the United States (far and away the two largest Jewish communities) and some in other places like Argentina, France, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Eastern Europe? What do you think?

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