Much talk going on these days about the trans-Atlantic
split between the United States and Europe exposed over impending
war with Saddam Hussein. The immediate disagreement is over
Iraq and over the general approach to terrorists and weapons
of mass destruction. But, as experts have already pointed
out, the divisions in the West run far deeper.
Many reasons are being given to explain the underlying
differences between Europe and the United States from
the historical to the political, from the balances of power
to the differing views on G-d and religion.
During the cold war the West was united against
their common enemy called Communism. With the fall of the former
Soviet Union over ten years ago, the same ties no longer bind
the West and their deeper rifts are now beginning to surface.
Robert Kagan, in an article published last summer
in Policy Review, and now expanded in a new book, Of Paradise
and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order (Knopf,
2003), attributes the great divide to two primary factors. One
is that Americas enormous power allows it the confidence
to take on any global challenge, presently, Iraq. Europe on
the other hand does not wield such power, so they inevitably
take on a more conciliatory and compromising stance. Second,
due to Europes unique experience in World War II, Europe
rejected balance-of-power politics and instead embraced reconciliation
and multilateral cooperation as the principal means to maintain
peace following the worlds most devastating conflict.
With time Europe came to see this approach as its new mission.
Americas power and its willingness to use it constitute
a threat to Europes new sense of mission.
Some have applauded Kagans thesis, while
others have criticized it as a form of caricature (Americans
are from Mars, Europeans from Venus) and over-generalization.
Other theories about the rupture of the West have
been posited as well. In the last issue of Newsweek, Christopher
Dickey presents the religious angle. Europeans simply cannot
comprehend the religion of America. Religious faith in America
is increasingly tied to individuality and freedom of choice,
while in Europe the exact opposite is true: Religion has always
been state imposed. Dickey writes citing various European
scholars and writers: To most Americans it seems natural
enough that President Bush
would incorporate religious
references into his speeches. His Manichean descriptions of
good versus evil, with us or against us, are rooted in his reading
of the Bible and strike many in the U.S.A. as strong, righteous
and decisive. But all this sounds to Europeans very much like
the kind of theology or ideology that led then
to slaughter each other for centuries.
I would like to submit a few thoughts on the cultural
divide between the USA and Europe by addressing some of the
roots of their conflict, not just their symptoms.
To do so we must first go back to a wedding that
took place 3,615 years ago.
In Genesis 28:9 the Bible tells us that Esau
went to Ishmael and married Machlath daughter of Abrahams
son Ishmael. Esaus intention in marrying Ishmaels
daughter was not that simple. The Midrash explains, that Esaus
plan was to ensnare Ishmael in a plot: You Esau
said to Ishmael kill your brother Isaac. I will kill
my brother Jacob. Then we will become one nation and remain
sole heirs to Abraham and inherit the entire land! Ishmael refused:
Am I then like Cain who killed his brother?! No, I will
not do as you suggest. Esaus intention was
to then kill Ishmael, and he would remain the sole heir. When
Esau sees that Ishmael declines from joining him in the plot
against Isaac and Jacob, he refuses to go to the chupah
and abandons his bride and his own wedding! Only to return 23
years later (after Ishmaels death) to go through with
This strange wedding among all the other
aspects of the tense relationship between Ishmael, Isaac, Esau
and Jacob plants the seeds of the interactions and battles
that their children would encounter through the ages. Just imagine
the psychological implications of Esaus encounter with
Ishmael on his wedding day!
The entire history of confrontation between
the Arab-Muslim, Western/Christian and Jewish worlds can be
understood by tracing back to the roots of their conflict
in Biblical times, the battles between Ishmael (father of
the Arab/Muslim world), Esau (father of the Christian/Western
world) and Jacob (father of the Jews) as I discussed
at length in my articles last year, following September 11th
By no means was the conflict isolated to Isaac
and Ishmael or Jacob and Esau. As Esaus infamous wedding
attests, Esau and Ishmael had their own share of differences,
besides their commonalities. Both their mutuality and their
conflicts would affect their future progeny and the wars they
would wage with and against each other.
Esau was clearly a cunning warrior. But as terrible
as Esau was, he also had another side. Being the son of Isaac,
Esau in his soul had powerful strengths. On a root level Esau
was directly bound to the tzaddik Isaac, and by this virtue
he maintained a profound spiritual integrity.
Esau in other words had two faces, two sides.
His material side was an aggressive warrior, ready to kill and
destroy. His other face was connected to sanctity.
Now, lets turn the clock forward. Isaac
and Jacobs children go on to receive the Torah at Sinai,
the blueprint of how G-d wants us all to live. The process that
begins with Abraham comes to fruition seven generation later
at Sinai, and then consummated and implemented in the Temple,
which is erected in this weeks Torah portion.
1,300 years later, in the 1st century
of the Common Era, Esaus descendants (Rome) would begin
to return to Abrahams original teachings, as documented
in the Bible. Six centuries later, so would Ishmaels children
with the birth of Islam in the year 622 c.e.
Yet this was just a start, barely. The conflicts
between these nations children of Ishmael, Esau and Jacob
was just to begin. History is witness to the massacres
carried out in the name of religion. No one will ever know how
much blood was spilled in the European rivers all in the name
of faith. Yes, originating in Rome, all of Europe became the
source of so much destruction, spreading to the Middle East,
and of course Israel.
Centuries upon centuries passed. Despite all the
persecution and darkness, the Torah values of Abraham endured,
flourished ultimately refining the world. Finally, after
all these years, Esau/Edom was beginning to be tamed. With the
American Revolution with the support of France, mind
you a new stage in history began. Esau finally began
to embrace the true values of freedom and justice. After years
of despotism and monarchial control, the fundamental equality
of all human beings was being recognized. Esau established a
country built on the Divine right of each human being to be
free as declared at Sinai a little more than three millennia
But the other part of Esaus personality
was not gone. People dont change that quickly. Esaus
second face reared its head from time to time, or perhaps more
often than that. European Esau was still to perpetrate its greatest
assault against the children of Jacob with the genocide
in the 20th century, using all the tools of modern
Yet Esau is as complex as he is enduring. His
two faces keep emerging.
Perhaps the time has come to finally tame all
of Esau. This is possibly the root cause and deeper meaning
behind the deep rift in The West the split between Europe
and the United States. After years of celebrating their alliance,
Esaus both faces are emerging, instigated by Esaus
Perhaps the West today children of Esau
is suffering from the anguish Esau felt on his wedding
day so many years ago. The effects of Esaus confrontation
with Ishmael whether to align himself with Ishmael or
not still linger on today.
The two faces of Esau surface yet again. On one
hand Esau wanted to betray Ishmael. On the other hand he did
offer to join forces with him, but it was Ishmael who refused
the offer. Then again, Esau ultimately did marry Ishmaels
daughter. What offspring were born of this union? What forces
were unleashed by this marriage?
Sooner or later everyone has their day of reckoning.
Esau has to now account for the fact that he went to Ishmael
for his alliance or battle with Ishmael. Which one will
The divergence of the United States and Europe
is an unprecedented opportunity for both sides of the ocean
to do a sincere soul searching in understanding their true roles
in history, and finally make peace between both sides of Esau
and with his brother Jacob, his father Isaac and grandfather
Balancing power, justice and peace has been a
struggle that has plagued nations throughout history. How do
we reconcile between a higher moral standard while leaving room
for diverse approaches? The struggle has also included the battle
between religion and science, between faith and individuality
between G-d and the universe.
The West has split into two camps the two
faces of Esau. Two views on politics, power, justice and even
G-d and religion.
Europe is still holding on to one face of Esau
the one that is still struggling with G-d and justice.
Europe, perhaps as a result of their long bloodstained history,
is still afraid of addressing these issues head on. Instead
they opt for ignoring G-d or just making Him irrelevant to daily
secular life. After seeing how religion can be a destructive
force, when abused and controlled by the corrupt, this side
of Esau is terrified of addressing good and evil and is afraid
of confronting Ishmael for its iniquities after Esau has wreaked
so much havoc and shed so much blood in the name of Christianity.
The second face of Esau emerging in the
New World, on the other side of the ocean in a new hemisphere
this side is not afraid, and on the contrary proudly
carries the banner of G-d together with freedom and liberty.
[America, unlike Europe, had to fight a war for its freedom
of religion and expression. Europe fought a war for its life,
but has yet to fight for its own true beliefs]. Indeed it is
because in G-d we trust that we have the guarantee
that all men [read: people; hey this face of Esau is also
still in need of some market corrections
] are created
equal. It is precisely this faith in G-d that gives us
the right to defend freedom and not allow any tyrants
religious or not and any religious fanaticism to dictate
the terms and kill whomever they consider to be infidels.
Is it possible that in America Esau has finally
evolved and matured to the point that G-d and right and wrong
can be integrated into life without compromising our diversity
and personal liberties? Is it possible that this above all things
is Americas true calling?
How interesting it is that after all these thousands
of years Esau and Ishmael resume their negotiations that began
on their marriage day 3,615 years ago. And that it is Ishmael
who is forcing Esau today to confront himself and his attitude
to G-d, justice and truth?
And in turn, Esau is impelling Ishmael to confront
his beliefs as well.
Esau and Ishmael are both compelled to ask the
question: What would our father Abraham say to us today? Is
our father Abraham proud of our behavior? What would he want
us to do, how would he want us to behave?
And how appropriate is it that we read this week
(Pekudei) about the erection of the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary
in the wilderness, which was the precursor for the Holy Temple
Following the exodus from Egypt and the revelation
at Sinai, the children of Jacob build the Mishkan, from the
cedars planted by Jacob years ago.
We dont really know where the children of
Esau and Ishmael were at the time. What we do know is that years
later, Rome the children of Esau (Edom) destroyed
the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. And we know the immortal and powerful
words of the Midrash: Had the nations of the world known how
much they benefit and are blessed by the Holy Temple they would
have surrounded it with legions of armies to protect it from
The Temple in Jerusalem was a window between heaven
and earth. It infused us with the power to integrate spirit
and matter G-d and the universe. Had the nations known
that, they would have appreciated how much they
were in need of the Temple how it could have helped Esau
and Ishmael to find their way to G-d.
Yet they didnt consciously know, so they
destroyed the very force that would have been their salvation.
But they only destroyed the physical structure, not its spiritual
essence. The holiness of the Temple remains on that spot forever.
This eternity is manifested in the Western Wall [West yet again,
hmmm]. Especially evident when it snows over the Wall (as I
And this eternal sanctity works its way, perhaps
slowly, but persistently throughout history.
The nations may not have known the power of the
Temple, but something in them sure does sense the power of Jerusalem.
Just witness the battles Ishmael and Esau have fought for control
of the center of the universe.
Today there are children of the West that stand
firmly behind Israel. In Israel I met an entire group of Christians
who came from Texas and Oklahoma to help the Israeli army and
show their support and solidarity for Israel. Yet we need no
reminder of Esaus other face
The split between Europe and the United States
gives us hope that Esau is coming around. Like all rifts, this
one has the power to reveal a deeper truth.
Each generation is like a link in the chain of
history. Each generation has its role in the unfolding drama
of integrating the material universe with its purpose and mission
statement. The United States today can play a special role in
this work. The foundations of this country are built on absolute
principles of faith and trust in G-d. The USA is not just a
country of economic opportunity. The success of corporate America
and unprecedented prosperity is a result of an unwavering mission
statement: All equal, in G-d we trust, diversity and individual,
e pluribus Unum under one G-d.
This country must align itself with its mission
the business of this nation must reconnect to its higher
calling. Then and only then does this country earn the right
to hold itself out as an example to the world. Simply being
a nation of great wealth and enormous military muscle does not
by any means give it the moral high ground. Other nations, religions
and peoples have much longer traditions and histories than the
relatively new world of the United States. But this country
can demonstrate something unique to the world. As a country,
it can rise above its own national issues and serve as a beacon
of light teaching the world the universal principles of all
humankind the principle upon which this nation was founded
how to live in peace with G-d.
Not its firepower, but its selflessness earns
this country the right to serve as an example to other nations.
After all the years of American prosperity and
resulting complacency, perhaps the United States is on the threshold
of a new revolutionary war the final frontier. And it
is indeed a great honor and merit and responsibility and gift
to be part of this drama and affect its destiny.
Had the nations of the world known how much they
benefit and receive from the Holy Temple in Jerusalem they would
have surrounded it with legions of armies to protect it from
any harm. What a haunting question: Had they only known?
But do they know today?
 Midrash Or Haafeilah at the end of our portion (cited in
Torat Shleimah note 27). See also Bereishis Rabba 67: 8. Midrash
 See Abarbanel, Mayonei Yeshua (intro to Daniel), 2:3.
 See Likkutei Sichos vol. 15 pp. 192.
 Bamidbar Rabba 1:3. Tanchuma Bechukosei 2. See Talmud,