Lentil soup

One of my favorite memories of Shabbat meals at my parents’ home is the lentil soup. Hot, dark-red soup with marrow bones at the bottom of the bowl was a
sumptuous treat on those cold and wintry Friday nights.

Since then, I’ve discovered that lentils are not only delicious, they’re nutritious. Go to any Web site on healthy foods, and you’ll learn:

  • Lentils are high in fiber, folate and magnesium, and all three contribute to the prevention of heart disease;
  • Lentils help stabilize blood sugar levels, so they’re especially healthy for people who have hypoglycemia or diabetes;
  • Finally, lentils can increase your energy by replenishing your iron stores. Lentils’ red color is due to their richness in iron — a vital ingredient for hemoglobin contained in our red blood cells that transports oxygen to all the body’s cells.

Could this be one of the reasons why Jacob fed Esau lentil soup? After all, Esau had just come in from the field, exhausted after a long day of hunting. A hearty bowl of lentil soup would have been just what the doctor ordered to replenish his depleted body.

And yet, the Zohar tells us quite the opposite. The ancient text states that Jacob deliberately prepared lentils to feed his evil brother in order to weaken him, because red foods have a tendency to weaken one’s blood.

Was the Zohar simply spouting bad medicine?

I don’t think so. I believe the Zohar knew that lentils are a food that interacts with the eater’s bloodstream. Jacob knew that on a metaphysical level, by his contributing to Esau’s blood, Esau would not have the same bloodlust against his brother, Jacob. The best way to disarm your enemy is to contribute to his arsenal. The enemy now feels enriched by your gift and is thereby conflicted about using your own weapons against you.

This was Jacob’s strategy: Let me strengthen my brother, especially his blood. This way, part of me will be within him, and his strength will be compromised should he ever attempt to rise up against me.

Our sages offer another reason Jacob was preparing lentils. His grandfather, Abraham, had just passed away, and Jacob was preparing the traditional mourner’s meal. As we know, a mourner is supposed to eat a round food upon returning from the cemetery. In Europe, and later in America, that food has traditionally been round, hard-boiled eggs. But in earlier times, that round food was the lentil.

Why does a mourner eat a round food? The circle represents the circle of life, and it is supposed to remind the mourner that life is cyclical: The tragedy of death that has stricken me today will strike my neighbor tomorrow. Death is the one phenomenon that equalizes us all and spares no one. Such is the way of this world.

Perhaps, this was also Jacob’s subliminal message to Esau in presenting him with those same lentils. Life is cyclical, brother, so that “what goes around, comes around.” Bloodshed begets bloodshed. Be forewarned that should you ever be tempted to rise up against me, your violence will only come back in the future to haunt you.

Especially since the elections, we have seen Jew rise up against Jew with anger, malice and hatred. Yes, the issues are vitally important to both sides, and the passions run extremely deep. Let us remember, however, the lesson of the lentils.

Firstly, the best way to disarm our opponent is to “kill him with kindness,” that is, to offer a gift of ourselves that will be absorbed deeply into the bloodstream. The more we can imbibe of each other’s ideologies, at least to understand the other’s mindset and where they’re coming from, the more we’ll be able to commence dialoguing rationally and civilly.

Finally, remember that bloodshed begets bloodshed. No matter the righteousness of the cause, there is no act of violence or demonization against our brother that can be excused. It will eventually boomerang, and no one will be the richer for it; our people simply cannot afford it.

May we live to see the day when, despite our disagreements, despite the disparity of our views, we can live together in peace and harmony.

Rabbi N. Daniel Korobkin is rabbi of Kehillat Yavneh in Hancock Park and director of community and synagogue services for the Orthodox Union West Coast Region.

Acts of Vengeance

Twenty thousand mourners, seething with anger, followed the bodies of Binyamin and Talia Kahane through downtown Jerusalem to the Givat Shaul cemetery last Sunday night. Most of them were Orthodox yeshiva students, admirers of Meir Kahane, the assassinated founder of the Jewish Defense League and of the outlawed Kach party. The rabbi’s son and daughter-in-law, aged 34 and 31 respectively, had been shot by Palestinian gunmen as they drove home from a Jerusalem Shabbat to the West Bank settlement of Kfar Tapuach. Five of their six children were injured.

The funeral procession rapidly degenerated into a riot. In King George Street, young men burst into a kebab bar and chased terrified Arab workers up to the second story, while the crowd outside chanted: “Lynch! Lynch!” In the Rehavia suburb, the march paused outside Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s heavily guarded official residence. “Kill the traitor!” they yelled. “Death to traitors! Hang him! Ehud the murderer!” Ten policemen were injured in the confrontations.

Baruch Kahane, the murdered man’s brother, told the mourners: “There is no exemption from God’s obligation to take revenge.” Noam Federman, a leading Kach activist in Hebron, exhorted them: “Wake up, Jews. Take your fate into your own hands.”

No one this week is dismissing their words as windy rhetoric. The Kach fanatics, reduced to a bunch of spray-painting sloganeers since an Egyptian shot Meir Kahane in New York 10 years ago, no longer feel isolated. The daily armed attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians are dragging the mainstream closer to the fringe. Settler rabbis, subdued since one of their disciples, Yigal Amir, assassinated Yitzhak Rabin, are preaching against the “treason” of ceding the Temple Mount to Palestinian rule. Opposition politicians, reluctant to call Israel’s most-decorated war hero a traitor, say Barak has “merely” gone insane.

The morning after Binyamin Kahane’s funeral, political commentator Hemi Shalev wrote in Ma’ariv: “The entire region is sitting on a powder keg, the Temple Mount is the primed fuse, and all that is missing is a match… A divided people is united in a rare consensus of despair at the present situation, and fear of what is to come.”

The Shin Bet, Israel’s FBI, is stepping up surveillance of the radical right and reinforcing the guard on sensitive sites like the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. “All scenarios are possible,” said a senior security man.

Three doomsday scenarios are being taken seriously. All three have been tried, successfully or otherwise, over the past 20 years. They are:

An attack on a Muslim shrine, like Al Aqsa mosque, which the “Jewish underground” once plotted to blow up so that the Jewish Temple could be rebuilt.

A massacre of Palestinians, along the lines of the slaughter of 29 Muslims at prayer by Baruch Goldstein, an American-born settler physician, in Hebron.

The assassination of Barak or other ministers identified with the peace process.

Prof. Ehud Sprinzak, an expert on Israel’s radical right, said this week: “The motivation of the Kahane people to strike is very powerful. They may not do it today or tomorrow, but I think they’re cooking something. They probably also feel they have a public behind them, a lot of sympathy and support.”

Sprinzak, dean of the Lauder School of Government at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center, Israel’s first private university, argued that Kach had cultivated an ideology of Jewish revenge even before the murder of Binyamin and Talia Kahane. “For them” he said, “it’s not a necessary evil, not a matter of self-defense; it’s a virtue. They believe that striking a gentile constitutes a holy act.”

At the same time, he went on, Kach had suffered a sense of guilt for failing to avenge the blood of its charismatic rabbi. This would only intensify with the death of his son and ideological heir. “They did not live up to Kahane’s legacy,” Sprinzak said. “This is another powerful drive to take revenge now.”

The professor was less sure about the broader settler right, who have surprised many observers by their relative restraint during the three-month Intifada. They were, he explained, very pleased that their job was being done for them by the army and felt they were part of a consensus.

Now, all would hinge on whether there was a last-minute deal between Barak and Arafat. “If there is, they’ll go bananas. If not, they’ll sit back and say, ‘We told you so. You can’t trust Arafat.'” Unless, that is, Palestinian terrorism pushes their patience to the breaking point.