On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted his 95 thesis on the door of the Catholic Church in Wittenberg Germany thus starting the process of Reformation, at the same time as he started a wave of antiemetic rhetoric that would eventually lead the way to Nazi Germany. Now, anti-Semitism was nothing new even in Martin Luther’s time (he was, after all, nine years old during the expulsion from Spain in 1492), but he raised it to a whole new level in his writings from 1543, even encouraging Jewish synagogues to be burned down. This type of hatred existed since the beginning of Christianity, and if you believe the rabbis commentary from this week’s Torah portion, Toldot, since the time of Isaac and Rebecca. In chapter 25 of Genesis, the Torah describes twins in Rebecca’s belly fighting with another. These twins will go on to become Jacob and Esau, the forefathers of both Israel and, according to the rabbis, Christianity. The Midrash (early rabbinic writing) describes Esau’s unborn fetus pining for idol worship as Rebecca walks along the way, while Jacob’s unborn fetus pushes toward the study hall. The contrast is great, and it is clearly meant more at a slight on Christianity than on Esau himself.
According to the rabbis, it is all very one sided, with Jacob always on the side of good and Esau always on the side of evil. Yet, the actual story in the Torah is much more complicated. Jacob tricks his brother out of his blessing and his birthright, and Esau is more of a bumbler than an evil doer. And, then there is the climax of the stories a few weeks from now when, instead of fighting, the brothers reunite and embrace. This is the part of the story I tend to focus on and having taught side by side with Rev. Bill Hennessy from North Presbyterian this past week, delving into the complexity of the relationship between our two communities of faith, I am proud to live at a time where we share much more in common than not.