On Shabbat night there’s a tradition to bless one’s children. To our sons we say, “May God bless you like Ephraim and Menasheh. To our daughters, we say, “May God bless you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.” We do this for all of our children. What would the family dynamic be like if we only blessed some of the children? What would the world look like if some communities, ethnicities or countries felt beloved while others felt rejected? They’d feel jealous and awful about themselves and violence would be prevalent. Much of the aggression we see across our country and the planet are certainly due to such feelings of jealousy and rejection.
Unfortunately, favoritism is pervasive in many of our foundation stories. Abraham has two sons, Isaac and Ishmael. In the episode of the Akeidah, God tells Abraham (Genesis 22:2) “please take your son, your only one, the one you love…” Our version of the story ends up specifying “Isaac”. The Islamic version though reads “Ishmael”, for if only one son can be the chosen and loved one, each ethnicity is going to promote their own forefather.
As we enter the next generation, Isaac has two sons, Esau and Jacob, born seconds apart as Jacob emerged from the womb holding onto the heel of his brother. Yet, Isaac has just one blessing. Isaac is a father who believes that he has to choose between his older and younger sons, he can’t imagine blessing both. Even after unknowingly blessing Jacob, he tells Esau “But I have made him master over you: I have given him all his brothers for servants, and sustained him with grain and wine. What, then, can I still do for you, my son?” (v. 37). In the end, he concedes to bless Esau, but only on the condition if Jacob fails with his divine task.
This behavior carries into our third generation as Jacob blesses his children in the same detrimental way. He openly favors Joseph in his lifetime, causing poisonous jealousy among the brothers, and on his deathbed he mainly blesses Judah and Joseph, while the first three sons don’t even receive a blessing.
Moreover, there’s a wild midrash that speaks mountains about inequality in our initial mankind story. The first chapter in the Torah reads, “And God created man in His image, male and female he created them. And God blessed them saying to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and develop it.” Clearly, man and woman were meant to be equals.
The Chapter two story, on the other hand has Adam being created first and then Eve being made to save him from loneliness. “And God said, ‘It’s not good for man to be alone, I’ll make for him a proper helpmate.’ And God built the rib that he took from the man into a woman and He brought her to the man.”
Why do we need two Creation stories? One midrash says the first story is about Adam and his wife Lilith. She wanted equality in the relationship but Adam refused, so she left. Adam is lonely and then God creates Eve. Eve accepts her secondary, supportive role.
But as a progressive religion, we hope for equality and blessing for all. That’s why most new siddurim have amended the Shalom blessing in the Amidah and Kaddish to include peace for all peoples. Additionally, the days of “behind every great man is a great woman” are gone, for that relationship is currently reciprocal; both spouses need to support each other ( especially to be able to live in Nassau county!)
At one time in history, it was thought that only one can be on top, only one brother can receive the blessing. Such inequality brought about only jealousy and bloodshed. We now see God’s love and the Earth’s abundance in a more generous light. Without anyone losing out, we can all be blessed.