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Parashat Vayetze 5777: All about dust…

What can the people of Israel be compared with? Our history and our influence as a nation are unique. When other nations lost their independence and their land, those peoples simply abandoned the stage of history, the People of Israel survived, on the contrary, for two thousand years despite not having a homeland of their own, no independence nor an army. There is no one today who would identify as a Phoenician, Edomite or Philistine. In merit of our religious civilization, that mix of art, ritual, laws and wisdom; we Jews kept out identity through history and Diaspora. Despite our small numbers in the World, our ideas changed and formed the Western World: the relationship between ritual and moral, the monotheistic faith, the belief that God is more merciful than a harsh judge and that every human being has been created in God’s image. Therefore, our Parashah does not compare us with any other people in Earth… rather says that we are like… dust. Full of fear of his brother Esau, Jacob runs away to his extended family in Haran. Somewhere, north of Beershevah, he falls asleep and dreams. There is a stairway in the dream, angels going up and down and God promises that Jacob and his descendants will inherit the Land of Israel. “And your progeny will be like the dust of the land” says God in the dream. What does it mean to be like the dust of the land? Couldn’t God choose an allegory more… inspiring? A metaphor nicer? You will be like the drops of the blue sea, or like the streams of air in the clear skies, or as appeared before in Bereshit, like “the stars of the sky”. The dust of the earth is just so… dirty! Not flattering at all! The Midrash in Bereshit Rabbah offers an interpretation to this not flattering choice. After thinking of our long history of persecutions and hardships, the Midrash gives us a message of hope between the grains of dust. It says that as the dust of the earth cleans every utensil, even a metal one, but it does remain afterwards forever, in the same way your children, God says to Jacob, survive over everyone else and exist forever. As the dust is stepped on by everyone, so your children will be stomped on by the powerful nations of the World. For generations, the people of Israel, descendants of prophets, kings and sages, “were stomped on by the powerful”. We were hated everywhere we settled: in Europe, in Asia, Africa and America. The sad truth is that we were stepped on so often that we really are a little like the dust, like dirt. However, dust stays forever and like dust we prevailed beyond the most powerful empires. The proud Alexander the Great, the cruel Roman Empire, the arrogant Byzantine Empire. They all believed themselves to be eternal, they all disappeared. We, as dust, remain. The dust is also universal. We will find it in every corner of the World, as it is with the Jewish people, that despite low numbers can be found all over the World. They still tell our honored history, still wave the flag of our revolutionary values that fill the Torah, the Talmud, and later works. Values that ask for a better World, claim that it can be better, that humankind can improve. After all… maybe is not that bad to be like the dust of the land…

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