Birthright For Blessings: Reframing The Arab-Israeli Conflict Via A Spiritual Approach


One reason for the enduring life of the Bible is its function as a resource for highlighting the perennial difficulties that continually beset us from generation to generation until we recognize the messages of these archetypal stories and the answers they provide.

An “archetype” is a model or a prototype that shows us an aspect of the way we live our lives; it shows the correspondences between characters and events of the past and their analogous appearance in our current lives. In investigating these correspondences we  are NOT seeking solutions to problems, as this method generally, if not invariably creates more problems. 

In reframing the arab-Israeli conflict through the lens of the Bible, I am looking for sources of difficulties (the moral issues at play), not the causes of difficulties (the factual, cause and effect reasoning); and suggesting a true compromise = promising together  =  or including, without compromising = sabotaging, bringing disrepute, or undermining one or another party to the advantage of the other or disadvantaging the other.  In this way we seek to change controversy to conversation and conflict to collaboration.  Without reframing the conflict and addressing its roots – that our biblical fathers and mothers were well aware of – there can be no end in sight of the trouble.

For approximately 3,800 years a never-ending enmity has been sustained, first between the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael and later by the rift created by Isaac’s children Esau and Jacob. Ishmael and Esau became the fathers of the Arab and Islamic worlds, while Isaac and Jacob became the fathers of the Israelite/Hebraic world, later called citizens of Judea or Jews.  

Esau & Jacob

In the Biblical recounting of the story of Esau and Jacob, Jacob succeeds in wresting the birthright, i.e., material inheritance, of his family from Esau who exchanged it for a bowl of porridge.  Afterwards, Jacob succeeds in “stealing” the blessing, i.e., spiritual transmission, when he impersonates Esau before the blind Isaac, who colludes  in giving the spiritual secrets away to Jacob.  These offenses – the “unfair” exchange of goods, conning daddy and pilfering from his older brother - have never been forgiven by Esau’s descendants. Likewise, they have not forgiven Sarah for getting rid of her stepson, Ishmael, in favor of her biological offspring.  This latter story is not as clear cut as Ishmael exhibited a serious character flaw, as we shall see later. 

  After striking out on two counts, Esau leaves the community and with God’s promise  becomes the  master of a large land mass in the country of Edom.  Many years later, Jacob, fleeing from his father-in-law Laban, must cross Esau’s land to return to his own homeland.  Jacob’s beloved wife, Rachel, has stolen “valuable” icons from Laban who is now coming after them to retrieve the idols. Jacob sends Esau a large trove of valuable goods hoping they will appease his brother whom he reckons is still  holding an “accounts receivable” against him; he hopes the gifts will mellow Esau to permit Jacob and his family to pass through.  Esau allows Jacob to go unabatedly on his way without incident.  In essence, Jacob’s gifts are an offering and gesture to restore the birthright.  There is no mention of Esau demanding back the blessing.  Material goods served to be sufficient.  He gave Jacob his blessing to cross through.

Fast forward to our current day. The Arabs and Jews are still at it. The Arabs want a restored birthright. They are not demanding the Jews’ blessing - their spiritual heritage, the Torah - but are contented with the Koran.  Taking the Esau-Jacob story as a model (since the Torah speaks to all situations for all times), let Jacob restore the goods – a birthright portion of land - to the Arabs in return for their blessing to/for Israel, namely, acknowledging and affirming Israel’s right to exist, given both orally and in writing, eliminating the paragraph from their constitution calling for Israel’s extinction, and teaching their children to live in peace with Israel. Finally, we have the possibility to bring closure on this 3,800 year-old feud.  In spiritual terms, time is not a determinant of the truth of any event. It doesn’t matter when the situation emerged, or how long it has lasted.  There is no time lapse.  It is what it is and must be resolved.  Justice must be served. Jacob has to do his part (as he did) and Esau must do his part (as he did by NOT going to war against his brother).  Each party has a responsibility to bear and the message of how to do it has been made loud and clear in this ancient/contemporary, timeless story.

Ishmael & Isaac

Ishmael and Isaac are half brothers, both sired by Abraham. Ishmael hopes that by the laws of inheritance governing the Judeo-Islamic world that he as first born will receive the lion’s share of the birthright (material goods) passed on by his father Abraham.  However, he displays a seriously disturbing characteristic of mocking his younger brother whom he feared would displace him in his father’s eyes. His disparaging of Isaac did not go unnoticed by Sarah, Isaac’s mother,  who viewed this trait - a sign of jealousy -  as dangerous. Jealousy is the seed genesis of murder.  As a prophetess in her own right, Sarah understood and acted to protect Isaac.

Sibling Wars & Supercessionism in Western Monotheistic Traditions

War between the brothers, where the younger seeks to displace or unseat the elder, is a recurrent theme of Western civilization and continues to play itself out in current times with the Arabs’ attempt to overcome the Jews (and the Christians) as the true religion. This parallels Christianity’s attempt to do  the same 2,000 years ago through its notion of supercessionism.  As the younger brother of Judaism, it uses the hebraic platform to elevate itself above or  supercede the Torah to claim its teaching as more legitimate. (By the way, this doctrine was  only rescinded by the Vatican in the last two decades). Arab Muslims,  the youngest branch of the three, a mere 1300 years old, equate Jews (and Christians) as infidels who are literally unfaithful to the only truth – Islam. Going down a layer,  Christianity equates the Jews as beneath them and can be saved only if they embrace  Jesus Christ as the savior. Together, the aspirations of these two theological traditions form the roots of anti-Semitism and the murderous urges and actions they inspire.

A Non-Political Answer

Coming back to the Palestinian-Israeli and Arab-Jewish conflict: The Israeli-Jewish approach – fueled by love of neighbor as oneself and the voice of conscience (caring for the other’s needs) - needs to honor the birthright in a sincerely loving way, while demanding, in good conscience, the blessing of the Arab neighbor to live in peace. That said, in a shame based  culture such as Islam - highly sensitive to being offended and requiring a restoration of honor,  need not to be responded to by confrontation, but by acceptance of the legitimacy of the claims, ceding to them in return for a blessing ( whilst removing the destruction of Israel clause from their charter) and stopping the unconscionable violation of the ninth cosmic law or commandment of lying through their constant distortion of the truth via their world-wide propaganda networks.  The Muslims rationalize this network of lies by pronouncing that  the infidels are not accorded the same privileges of the 10 Laws as they apply ONLY to Muslims. However, their lies are offensive to those outside listening to them.  Islam needs to realize the adverse effects of lying, even if it is convenient to hide behind the veil that infidels don’t count.  All that does is to provide an atmosphere of confrontation (through the urge to convert others to Islam by intimidation), exactly an unacceptable attitude with which to approach the Jewish community.

However, what is good for the goose is good for the gander.  Otherwise, there is no possible room for accommodation between cultures with different world views.  Without it, war becomes inevitable.  It is a cultural gulf  that no political or governmental institution can possibly settle, since they are part of the problem and contribute to war’s inevitability.  Without the accommodation, acceptance of the birthright-blessing axis, and loving attitude of/for one’s neighbors, the enmity of Jacob-Esau and murderous rage of Ishmael to Isaac can never be turned to amity.  

Do the Right Thing

Do the correct thing toward each other and God/Allah will do the rest.  Have faith, defined here as  the certainty of action taken in the present without knowing where it is going.