Why Can’t We Get Along?

Why Can’t We Get Along?

We recently finished reading the first of the five books of Moses, the book of Genesis. What is the central theme of Genesis?

Some would say creation, but that is only the first two chapters of the book.
Some would say the story of Abraham and his descendants, which is certainly important in Genesis.
But my own sense is there is a major theme running through the entire book, from Cain and Abel to Joseph and his brothers. The theme of Genesis is about sibling rivalry.

At the beginning of Genesis, Cain in an act of jealousy murders his brother Abel. As the book continues, we have tension between the two half-brothers Isaac and Ishmael, who in Jewish tradition came to symbolize Jews and Moslems.

Then there is even greater tension between the twins Jacob and Esau, who in Jewish tradition came to symbolize Jews and Christians.

There is tension between the two sisters Leah and Rachel. Leah is the unloved wife with all the children, while Rachel is the beloved wife who cannot have children.

The book foreshadows the tensions in the world that continue to our own day.

The longest story in the book tells the story of the hatred between Joseph and his brothers, who finally are reconciled at the very end of the book. The brothers are worried that Joseph will take revenge against them. Joseph speaks kindly to them saying, “Fear not, for I will sustain you and your children.”

In my mind, the central theme of Genesis is how brothers and sisters can learn to get along. Or to quote the book of Psalms, Hinei Ma Tov u’Ma Nayim, Shevet Achim Gam Yachad – “Here is what is good and is pleasant, for brothers to dwell together in peace” (Psalms 133:1).

What is the central theme of Genesis? I believe it is the famous quote by the late activist Rodney King, “Why can’t we all just get along?”

Certainly, Genesis is about biological brothers and sisters who cannot get along.

But later the prophet Malachi would famously say, “Have we not one father? Has not one G-d created us?”
All human beings are brothers and sisters. When brothers and sisters fight with one another, particularly as adults, it causes great pain to their parents. In a parallel manner, when humans fight with one another, it causes great pain to G-d.

We are living at a time of rising tension between human beings. We certainly see that in the growing acceptance of anti-Semitism today, which is rearing its ugly head more and more often. We saw that in the horrible synagogue massacres in Pittsburgh and Poway, the beating of Jews on the streets in New York, the murders in a kosher market in Jersey City, and on Hanukkah the
horrible stabbing of a number of Hasidic Jews gathered at their Rebbe’s home. But it is not simply a hatred of Jews. There is a hatred of “the other,” whether people of color, gays, immigrants, or anybody different.

Today we also see a coarseness in our public discourse. People who disagreed politically used to be able to find common grounds, compromise, and work with one another. Today people cannot even speak with one another. I know families who refuse to invite other members of the family to holiday dinners. It is sad that a supporter of President Trump and an opponent of President Trump cannot sit at the same Thanksgiving table.

Recently, I have seen small signs of hope. A few Sundays ago, Jewish people in New York City and many other parts of the world marched to declare they were “proud and Jewish.” Many Christian and Moslem leaders marched with them and expressed solidarity. The message was clear – we will not tolerate anti-Semitism or any other kind of hatred. Every human being of every faith, every nationality, and yes, every political persuasion, was created in the image of G-d. Genesis begins with a brother killing a brother and ends with a brother forgiving his brothers. That is central message of Genesis, if only the world will learn to hear it.

Rabbi Scolnic