Jerusalem, 15 Kislev 5758 (14th December, 1997)
His Holiness the Pope
"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
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
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.