Page 173 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 47

Basic HTML Version

1 6 5
must give birth to new ideas in the Torah. One who does not
come up with novel ideas and interpretations is as a barren
tree which produces no fruit (Genesis 1:28). The Torah is very
profound, having many levels of meaning. Great mystics have
penetrated deeply into the To rah ’s mysteries. Average people
cannot attain such knowledge, but they should be aware of the
fact that it exists (Genesis 36:39). One should devote time to
the study of Aggadah (the non-legal portions of the Talmud)
and the Midrash. Such study deepens one’s spirituality and
one’s attachment to the Jewish way of life (Genesis 12:4).
Rabbi Huli reflected an attitude of resignation towards the
non-Jewish rulers who had power over the Jews. Being in exile,
the Jews had to accept humbly their servile position, realizing
that this was God’s will. A reed is flexible and therefore can
withstand strong winds. By bending its head, it survives. Like­
wise, Jews in exile must bend their heads before the nations.
They should be as quiet and inconspicuous as possible (Genesis
There is a considerable discussion in rabbinic literature con­
cerning the opening verses in Genesis, chapter 32. Jacob was
bringing his family and flocks back to the land of Canaan. He
feared that his brother Esau would attack him and murder his
family. To preclude this possibility, he sent many gifts to Esau
by means of messengers. He humbled himself by referring to
Esau as his master (“
”) eight times. Some rabbinic sources
take Jacob to task for his servility, saying that he was later pun­
ished by God for it. Other sources praise Jacob, arguing that
when one is in the position of weakness, he should use diplo­
macy; he should show honor to the one in power. Significantly,
Rabbi Huli only cited the opinion that Jacob’s servility to Esau
was appropriate. He did not mention the sources which con­
demned Jacob’s deferential behavior.
Rabbi Huli was writing for a popular audience. Many of his
readers were poor and intellectually unsophisticated. He wanted
to give them a sense of self-worth, a belief that they could serve
God admirably in spite of their condition. He often stressed
the values of sincerity and righteousness, values which even sim­
ple people could attain. Indeed, these values were more impor­