Parsing the Parsha: A Kiss or a Bite?

In the parsha for this week, Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4-36:43), we see the reunion of two estranged brothers. After coercing his starving brother Esau into giving up his birthright, Jacob tricked their father Isaac into bestowing upon him the blessing intended for Esau. After many years, Esau and Jacob are reunited—Esau, still furious with Jacob, intends to harm him. But the text describes the moment of their meeting as deeply poignant:

Eisav ran to meet him and hugged him. He fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. (Bereishis 33:4).

This seems like a tender moment. But the midrash tells us that Esau fell upon Jacob’s neck to bite him rather than to kiss him (Bereishis Rabbah 78:9). In that moment of violence, Jacob’s neck turned to marble, and Esau wept from the pain of his teeth connecting with marble rather than from joy at the reunion.

On the face of it, this is totally confusing. It seems like the parsha is describing a moment of forgiveness, where brotherly love triumphs over past cruelty. But then the midrash seem to say that Esau was unable to overcome his anger.

So while the tone of the text and the midrash seem to be contradicting each other entirely, as a sister, I’m completely on board with this confusion.

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Thoughts — And Pictures — From Gilad Shalit Rally

Thoughts — And Pictures — From Gilad Shalit Rally
November 15, 2010
Michael Lipin

Editor’s Note: Michael Lipin is a professional journalist and a staff member of Gather the Jews. All pictures were taken by Michael.

The most significant aspect of Thursday’s Rally for Gilad Shalit on the National Mall, in my view, is the energy and enthusiasm of the hundreds of college students who attended, many of whom came from outside the district and spent weeks organizing it. As someone who organized my own event in a DC National Park earlier this year, I can appreciate the challenges they faced in renting the stage, sound and lighting equipment, raising money to cover costs, securing permits from the National Park Service, lobbying diplomats, politicians and Jewish groups for support and promoting the event  within the community. It was the first time I had seen so many young people come together for such a rally in the three years I have been living in Washington. It also was a sign that this generation of young American Jews retains a strong connection to Israel and is prepared to go to great lengths to demonstrate that commitment.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Michael Lipin.

He Who Has Sinned Can Teach

He Who Has Sinned Can Teach
November 12, 2010
Will Gotkin

Editor’s Note: Will Gotkin is a graduate of The George Washington University and is currently at a yeshiva in Jerusalem.

In his book, Rebbes and Chassidim: What they said what they meant, Rabbi Abraham Twerski, M.D. quotes the following from King Solomon: “It is better to hear the rebuke of a wise man than one who hears the song of simpletons” (Ecclesiastes 7:5). Twerski writes that Rabbi Bunim of Pschis’che pointed out that this translation of the verse is inaccurate. Instead Rabbi Bunim says that it should be read: “It is better to hear the rebuke of a wise man who has heard the song of simpletons.” Rabbi Bunim explained that when a person who has spent his entire life studying Torah, praying, and pursuing spirituality preaches this as the correct lifestyle others may roll their eyes and say things like “Of course. What can you expect from someone who has never experienced the pleasures of life?” However, suppose someone who has indulged in earthly pleasures has come to realize their futility (Note: The Torah does not advocate an ascetic lifestyle, but it does teach us to utilize everything we do in the physical world for a spiritual purpose, including physical pleasures). This individual can say “I’ve been there and it’s all worthless!” Such a person is more likely to be heard.

A person who has not always been observant of Torah and mitzvos will likely find more of a listening ear among those who are non-observant than a person who has always been a practicing Jew. Perhaps this is one reason why the Talmud teaches that in the place of a baalteshuvah (one who has become observant), those who have been totally righteous their entire lives cannot stand.

This should be an encouraging message to all those who wish to deepen their commitment to Judaism. Our sins of the past should not make us ashamed. Rather, they should give us a sense of pride for how far we have come and remind us that we have the potential to make a big impact on our fellow Jews and the world.

Tzaddikim (those who have been righteous their entire life) can only serve Hashem within the realm of the permitted. However, the baalteshuvah can turn past sins into merits. He or she can serve Hashem in ways those who have always been righteous cannot. I mentioned in a previous article that the Lubavitcher Rebbe taught that one who experiences spiritual darkness returns to Hashem with an intensity much greater than that of a tzaddik. Such a person thereby elevates the negative acts they have committed, since their misdeeds become fuel for their return (See “A Perfectly Imperfect World”).

On a personal note, I have recently started my 8-month journey at a yeshiva in Jerusalem, Israel. Many of the bochurim (students) are baalei teshuvim, myself included. It is an exciting and inspiring place and I can only hope that I will be able to take the knowledge I gain out of this experience with me and use it to make a positive difference in the lives of others.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Will Gotkin.

Machines at the Mosque

This morning, the Jewish Policy Center featured a post by Gather The Jews co-founder and director Stephen Richer.

On Sunday, November 7, Israeli authorities responded to an illegally constructed mosque in Rahat. Or, as most media outlets prefer to tell the story, “Israeli police raze[d] mosque amid protests” (CNN headline). Muslim objectors threw rocks. Israeli police responded with rubber bullets.

The human story is fraught with emotion, so this author will stick to the inanimate subject matter today—the story of the machines used in the demolition.

Israel typically uses armored Caterpillar D9s for its urban renovation projects, but it’s hard to tell what type of machine led the charge in this instance. None of the articles on the subject make explicit mention of machinery, and from the few pictures available it looks like there might have been a few tractors (obviously not D9s) and even something that looks like a Hitachi excavator.

Given the reputed efficiency of such Israeli operations, it seems like a wonderful branding and advertising opportunity for machinery companies. After all, if Caterpillar’s machines can withstand Palestinian protests and still demolish structures in impressive time, then just imagine how effective they could be in road work or mining in the Western United States.

So why do companies prefer to avoid the spotlight? …

Click here to read the rest of the article.

Rally For Gilad Shalit — Why You Should Join.

Before this month, I’d never RSVPed ‘yes’ to a rally for Gilad Shalit. It was not that I didn’t find his kidnapping and conditions outrageous or didn’t hope for him to come home safely.  It was just that I’d been living in Israel and didn’t understand what could possibly be achieved by lobbying the Israeli government on this issue.  After all, the Israeli government had an inherent interest in getting Shalit back and, simultaneously, an extremely low level of influence over the Hamas captors holding him.  The important rallies were the ones abroad: They highlighted, in a world screaming about the importance of human rights, that no such rights were being made available to the kidnapped Israeli soldier. They reminded leaders of Western countries that, with their economic power and international influence, they did have some ability to influence Hamas’ behavior.

The rally at the National Mall tonight aims to “focus on the humanitarian issues, such as Hamas’ refusal to allow the RGilad Shalited Cross to visit Gilad.”  Its location on the government’s doorstep serves as a call to action to actors who have far more power than Israel to lean on Hamas.

This rally, which almost 1,500 people have already pledged to attend, would not be possible without the active involvement of the U.S. Jewish community.  Jewish groups have been e-mailing and posting information about this event in their newsletters.  Jewish campus organizations at universities across the mid-Atlantic have arranged to bus participants to DC to take part in this event.  And, tonight, Jewish presence has the potential to send an important message to someone with actual leverage.  In this capacity, diaspora Jews have added value over Jews in Israel. What Israelis cannot achieve by pressing government officials in Jerusalem, Americans can accomplish by pressing officials in DC.  It is important that they capitalize on this comparative advantage.  On this Veterans Day, I encourage all Jews to come join us on the Mall!

Editor’s note: Noa Levanon is a GTJ staff member and a doctoral candidate at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced and International Studies (SAIS). The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Noa Levanon.

TODAY 1600 for 1600 – Humanitarian Rally for Gilad Shalit

Gilad ShalitToday, from 6:00 to 8:00 pm, hundreds (and hopefully thousands) will meet on the National Mall to Rally for Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who has been held captive by Hamas for the past 4.5 years.

The speakers will include Ambassador Michael Oren (Israeli Ambassador to the U.S.) and New York Congressman Eliot Engel.

Please join GTJ and support this humanitarian cause today.  The rally will take place between 3rd and 4th streets, and is accessible via Federal Center SW L’Enfant Plaza, and Archives-Navy Memorial-Penn Quarter Metro stations.

Official facebook event page for more details and information:

Gather the Jews — The Next Generation

Welcome to the next major revision of!

GTJ logoFor the past 36 weeks, Gather the Jews has provided up-to-date information on all young professional Jewish events in Washington, D.C.  Our weekly email newsletter is now sent to approximately 1,500 young Jewish professionals, and our comprehensive calendar tracks the events of over 30 Jewish social, religious, cultural, and political organizations.   In addition to these informational tools, we’ve managed to have a bit of fun through our blog and our popular “Jewish Girl/Guy/Mitzvah Maker of the Week” feature.  It’s been great working with such a vibrant Jewish community, and we thank you for your support.

We’re now launching the next generation of Gather the Jews.  The new GTJ includes:

  • A new website with an improved design and calendar;
  • Our weekly newsletter featuring the best Jewish events;
  • Monthly GTJ events where attendees can meet other community members and get information on upcoming Jewish activities (These will be like our last two events at Café Citron and Current Sushi that had attendance of 125 and 175 people, respectively);
  • A revamped blog to serve as the voice for the D.C. Jewish community;
  • An exchange board to find a kosher roommate or a teammate for your dodgeball league;
  • And an upcoming contest to name our Jewish Guy and Girl of the Year!

We hope that you’ll find this new iteration of GTJ even more useful than the last.  If you have any questions or suggestions for GTJ, or if you want to be part of the team, please email us at


~GTJ Crew

Away We Go Travel

Away We Go Travel presents

Atlantic City at the Tropicana Casino and Hotel!

December 25th and 26th:
(departure 7:30 AM Dec. 25th at 6th and I Historic Synagogue, DC)
(return 8:00 PM Dec. 26th at 6th and I Historic Synagogue, DC)

(Baltimore departure available, call for rates)

Double or triple occupancy: $249 per person
Single: $299

Package includes: Bus, hotel, all taxes and Casino Gratuities, light breakfast served on bus
1st day: Dinner and Tropicana casino rebate
2nd day: Breakfast and 2nd casino rebate
(casino to be determined)

Deposit: $50 per person
Balance due: December 1, 2010

**No refunds after December 1, 2010
**All casino packages subject to availability

Please contact: Marilyn at 410-486-3888 or