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A Brief History of History

Vayechi (Genesis 47:28-50:26 )

by Rabbi Stephen Baars

"Friendship is one heart in two bodies."(Ibn Ezra - Torah commentator)

The book of Genesis is really the history of the world. It is the pained and, unfortunately, consistent story of brothers not getting along. It starts with Cain's famous question: "Am I my brother's keeper?" (Genesis 4:9) and only ends when two brothers finally figure it out, "Yes."

Of everything there is to learn from this story, maybe the most important thing to learn, is why is it so hard to learn? To paraphrase Santayana, people who don't learn from history have little to look forward to.

Let me try and explain. The First World War was originally called "The Great War."

Do you know why it was called that?

Because it was supposed to be the war to end all wars. After WW1, mankind pondered, what can we learn so that we don't do this again?

They sure got that one wrong. Obviously. Because we got WW2. And a lot of bad war movies.

But mankind still didn't learn, even after WW2. By all accounts, the Cuban Missile Crisis should have been WW3. If it had, there wouldn't have been a WW4.

"I don't know what will be used in the next world war, but the 4th will be fought with stones" -- Albert Einstein.

So, why is it so difficult to learn from history?

Simply put, the first step to learning from history is not to blame the other guy. If we aren't willing to accept responsibility for what happened, then we will surely repeat it.

The reason the Cuban Missile Crises was not WW3 is not because people "got it," but rather technology, or I should say, God, came to the rescue.

The Atom Bomb should have been, by all accounts of history, the last thing man invented. Mankind always, always, used its most potent weapons. No matter how deadly. No country ever developed a better gun or missile just for show.

But even though both countries, Russia and America, were ready, willing and able, to duke it out, Kennedy and Khrushchev decided to try something different.

And that is basically the story of Genesis. Instead of what should have been, according to the flow of history, another battle of brothers, Ephraim and Menashe, figured it out.

The story goes like this, Jacob, before he dies, blesses his grandsons, Ephraim and Menashe (Genesis 48:12-20). In the process, he deliberately gives the younger son the greater honor. This is something that in every previous time started another sibling battle. This time, however, it ends, as we are finding in our own time, with a greater blessing to mankind.

As Rabbi Noach Wienberg ZT"L explains, the reason we bless our sons that they should be like Ephraim and Menashe, rather than like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (our Patriarchs), is that more than we want our children to be great, we want them to find peace.

Remember this message as you educate your children and push them to "be all they can be." It was not for a lack of very clever and well accomplished people that mankind continually fought with each other. Not genius, but the spirit of peace has achieved much more than anyone could ever imagine.

Being great is good, living to your potential is wonderful, but living together in peace is better. In other words, it doesn't matter how smart you are, living together in love and friendship will achieve much more.

Or, put another way, if you want your children to succeed in life, teach them how to get along.

"Behold, how good and how pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity." (Psalms 133:1)

* * *


Point 1: "There are only two sides to an argument. That is, when you aren't one of them." Everyone, in every dispute, thinks they are in the right. This kind of thinking isn't wrong, but sometimes peace is more important, and apologizing will lessen the pain of conflict.

Point 2: Remember, when you are in the wrong, apologizing is just the right thing to do. A hero apologizes when he is in the right. For the sake of peace.



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