Jerusalem, 15 Kislev 5758 (14th December, 1997)

His Holiness the Pope
The Vatican

Your Holiness,

"And Isaac entreated G-d for his wife, because she was barren ..." (Gen. 25:21)

After many years of barrenness, Mother Rebecca has become pregnant, but her pregnancy causes her great pain: "And the children struggled within her, and she said: 'If it be so, wherefore do I live?' And she went to inquire of G-d. And G-d said unto her: Two nations are in thy womb, and two peoples shall be separated from your bowels ...'" (Gen. 25:22)

How does G-d's answer address Rebecca's condition? How does the Divine response provide any comfort? If anything, G-d only confirms an ongoing battle between the two opposing ideological concepts and powers to whom she is about to give life. The Divine response should have only intensified her anguish.

Commenting on the words, "Two nations are in thy womb," Rashi illuminates the issues that lie beneath the surface of the text. Our Mesora (precise biblical textual transmission) records that although the usual biblical word for nations is Goyim (gimmel, vav, yud, mem), in our context it is Gayim (the vav replaced by a yud), which means "exalted or noble peoples." Thus the text can mean "Two noble and exalted peoples are in thy womb."

With this understanding, Rashi's citation of the Midrash makes G-d's consolation to Rebecca perfectly clear. The Matriarch knew she was carrying twins; but she was desperately unhappy at the thought that they represented divergent ideologies and that her two sons would be at eternal war with each other.

And indeed, Rome and Jerusalem, Esau and Jacob, Christianity and Judaism represent two opposing world-views, with Rome having succeeded in destroying the Holy Temple, in removing Jewish national sovereignty from Israel for close to 2,000 years, and in having forced the descendants of Jacob to wander in exile and persecution over the face of the globe.

The Almighty comforts Rebecca by telling her that the clash between her sons will end in harmony, respect and love.

Just as Rabbi Judah the Prince, great conveyor of the Oral Law, will dine with, teach, and learn from Emperor Marcus Aurelius, so Judaism and Christianity will learn to live in peace: "My Temple will be a Temple of Prayer for all nations," in the messianic age.

The two nations will reestablish their brotherhood when "from Zion shall come forth Torah, and the word of G-d from Jerusalem." (The esteemed Rabbi Shlomo Riskin - The Jerusalem Post, Friday November 28, 1997)

Your Holiness, as we enter the age of accountability and reconciliation, we follow daily the trials and tribulations of the reconciliation between Isaac and Ishmael.

We have witnessed the unilateral move toward reconciliation by Esau towards Jacob, to which Jacob has yet to respond.

It is this spirit of reconciliation that is prerequisite to the coming of that Great Day to which we all look forward.

One thousand nine hundred and twenty eight years ago, the descendants of Esau decreed that the descendants of Jacob could no longer give their Half-Shekels to G-d, and as they had not yet known G-d, they demanded of Israel to give their Half-Shekels to Jupiter.

One thousand nine hundred and twenty eight years later, in celebration of the fiftieth year of restored Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel, we are resuming the giving of the Half-Shekel tax required of us by G-d, through Moses His servant.

In setting aside the decrees of Titus, Vespasian and Hadrian, we are now able to effect the Tikkun, the Fixing, that will allow for reconciliation between the two noble and exalted peoples, Esau and Jacob, enabling a brotherly spirit of harmony, respect, and love to comfort our mother Rebecca.

May we intensify our prayers for a peaceful reconciliation between Isaac and Ishmael. May all the descendants of Abraham rejoice together soon in the Great Day that cometh.

It is in this exalted spirit of reconciliation that we humbly present you with this year's Holy Half-Shekel.

G-d Bless,

Reuven Prager
Beged Ivri

Secretariat of State
First Section - General Affairs

From the Vatican, 27th January, 1998

Dear Mr. Prager,

His Holiness Pope John Paul II has asked me to thank you for the gift which you sent him through the good offices of the Apostolic Nunciature in Israel. He is very appreciative of your thoughtful gesture and of the kind sentiments it manifests.

His Holiness invokes upon you abundant divine blessings.

Yours sincerely,

+G.B. Re

Mr. Reuven Prager
P.O.Box 28052

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