If only there were a simple method of controlling human behavior-preventing cruelty, wickedness and the tendency to destroy. If only we all shared a basic list of operating procedures by which we could live. How glorious such a list would be! I have an idea. Let’s post these rules on every public building in every community across the land. All we need to do is agree on the rules. Shall they govern interpersonal behavior such as conducting business fairly and being kind in daily conduct? Or might it be better to forbid cruel behavior such as murder, rape, adultery and cruelty against animals? Perhaps we should delineate simple behaviors that would be easily communicated such as take turns, wait in line and only park in parking zones. Maybe if we only kept the rules to a small number we would be more likely to see this communal initiative succeed. It would make life so much easier and better. But some will disagree with how a rule is to be applied. Come to think of it- who should be the arbiter of which rule is appropriate to be included and how it is to be enforced?
Obviously, public safety is essential and rules prohibiting dangerous behavior must be kept front and center. But rules governing emotions ( Do not be jealous) or personal lifestyle choices (Do not work on Shabbat)…? Should they be legislated in the public sphere?
This week’s Parshah introduces us to Isaac and Rebecca as nomadic parents. Twin sons, Esau and Jacob, accompany them upon their search for better grazing lands during a drought. All told, 4 Israelites and some sheep settle in Gerar, a Philistine community. Evidently, the move from the Negev was successful because Isaac prospered. The local Philistines become jealous of Isaac and conflict breaks out over access to water. The locals stop up wells belonging to Isaac and likelihood of conflict is high. The King asks Isaac to leave because the Philistines in his community feel that Isaac's family of four is taking up too much space and growing too wealthy. In other words- 'you don't belong here.' How often have we Jews experienced similar threats?
Jealousy and envy are insidious; corroding reason, self-control and proportion. When you or I succumb to jealousy we lose perspective , falling prey to comparing what we do not have to what someone else has. The Philistines were more focused on seeing what Isaac possessed as opposed to seeing how two communities could possibly live side by side. In our own society we are seeing too much of corrosive attitudes and behavior. Instead of posting rules on walls ,would it not make more sense to live as neighbors in accordance with the rules we already cherish?