September 22, 2019

JACOB’S STEW – IN SEARCH OF AN ETHIC FOR SHARING OF FOOD BETWEEN MUSLIMS AND JEWS

[Editor's note: This piece was submitted in response to the one published last week on Abraham's Children, concerning Jews and Muslims working together with regard to the sacred rituals related to preparing our dead for burial. This piece expands on that by way of a 'drash'.] 

[The opinions expressed are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of the editor, Kavod v'Nichum, the Gamliel Institute, or the L.A. Jewish Journal.] 

                      The Book of Genesis speaks of the death of the Patriarch Abraham, whom the Muslims refer to as Ibrahim, father of Isaac and Ishmael. After breathing his last at a good old                          age (Gen. 25:8), Torah describes how “his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, which is before                              Mamre” (Gen. 25:9). In what seemed to be a final act of reconciliation the two brothers stood side by side at Hebron, burying their father Abraham, mourning his death. 

In the very next chapter in the text, we come across a passage describing the culinary activities of two of Abraham’s grandsons. “And Jacob cooked pottage; and Esau came from the field, and he was famished. And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I beg you, with that same red pottage; for I am famished. The text then informs us: “Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentils; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way.” (Gen. 26:29-30; 34) 

As it turns out, the meal Jacob was cooking was not just an ordinary lentil stew. According to Midrash Tanhuma (Buber, Toldot 3), Jacob was preparing food for mourners after the death of Abraham. We can imagine he carted a large pot of pottage to Mamre, specifically for those mourning Abraham’s death. And who were the mourners? His father Isaac and his Uncle Ishmael.  This was clearly to be a meal of comfort and reconciliation.

Isaac and Ishmael, symbolically the progenitors of Judaism and Islam, not only buried their father together, but shared Jacob’s lentil stew, and probably bread and drink. And, we might assume that as mourners in the sharing of sacred food they were brought more closely together in their grief and loss. Jacob’s stew was a healing meal between two alienated brothers. Hinei matov u’manayim, shevet akhim gam yakhad. For the well-being of the planet, it is my hope that over time the Children of Abraham, Ibrahim, will find ways to sit at the same table, learning to share food with one another. 

Today it’s difficult to imagine Jews and Muslims sharing a meal at Hebron. The Cave of Makhpelah, where Abraham is buried, is a battleground of Jewish nationalistic fervor, and a hotbed of political violence. It is a statement of the obvious to say that relations between the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael, particularly in this century, have not been all that fraternal. Truth be told, there is a dire urgency for healing in the relations between Judaism and Islam, in the Middle East and throughout the world.  We pray that the descendants of Ishmael and Yitzhak may soon be able to share food together once again in the spirit of healing that brought them together at the time of the death of Abraham, Ibrahim.

 

Reb Simcha Raphael, Ph.D. is Founding Director of the DA’AT Institute for Death Awareness, Advocacy and Training (  

   


 

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