According to an article in today’s Huffington Post (and this has been noted by others before) the biggest terror threat to New York City is the possibility of an attack on the Subway system. It’s happened already in Madrid, London and Minsk, and there have been foiled attempts in New York. So now it’s simply routine in the subways to see security cameras, random bag checks, motion detectors, as well as a large police presence armed with high-powered rifles, radiation detectors, and bomb-sniffing dogs. Patrons hear loudspeaker messages reminding them “If you see something, say something”.
Clearly these security measures and strategies are necessary. But will it ever end? Is New York and the rest of the world doomed to a future of endless fear and suspicion? Perhaps not. Bin Laden is gone. Leon Panetta recently said that a successful end to the war on terror is in sight. Might we eventually win this battle, and return to a safe, secure world, where cruelty and hatred are replaced with vibrancy and joy?
Not by police, military, or political actions alone – though these are certainly necessary (we cannot be naïve or drop our vigilance). But ultimately, the different world we seek is only possible if we become different people, i.e., different on the inside. So the real long-term question is whether this is possible. Can enemies come together and become friends? Throughout history this has happened – we’re now friends with Germany and Japan for instance. And yet, the Middle East conflict seems so intractable! Is it conceivable that the Israelis and their allies could ever have a peaceful, friendly, beneficent relationship with the Palestinians and their allies? What hope do we have?
Soon after the Sacrifice scene in Genesis, Sarah passed away and Abraham arranged for Isaac to marry Rebecca. As Rebecca arrived, we are told that “Isaac had just come back from the vicinity of Beer-lahai-roi” – which means ‘the well of the Living One who sees me’, and was so named many years earlier by Hagar (Abraham’s concubine and Ishmael’s mother). The Bible then tells us that Abraham also now remarried, this time to a woman named Keturah, and he lived another 37 years. When he passed away, Isaac and Ishmael together buried him, and then “Isaac settled near Beer-lahai-roi.”
According to the Oral Tradition, preserved in the Talmud, ‘Keturah’ was another name for Hagar. Before Rebecca arrived, Isaac had been in Beer-lahai-roi – which strongly suggests that he had been living with Hagar and his brother Ishmael! And after Abraham’s death, Isaac returned again and “settled near Beer-lahai-roi.”
So what is this story telling us? On a psychological and family level, the story suggests that it is never too late for broken families to come back to each other and heal their wounds. On a social and political level, given the immense importance of this particular family for all of western history, it clearly tells us that since Isaac and Ishmael could reunite as brothers, there is no reason why their children, Jews and Muslims, cannot do the same.