Mergers and Acquisitions

Mergers, they’re everywhere. When I came to Ner Israel, the pay phones (What are those? Ask your mother.) said they belonged to an organization called C & P Telephone. It wasn’t long before Bell Atlantic was the name of the payphone owning company. Bell Atlantic owned them for a while at least, until GTE merged with them, and the merged entity took the much cooler superhero-like name of Verizon.

Do you remember Maryland National Bank? I don’t. Their business cards make excellent bookmarks. The Bank was bought out by NationsBank, which was bought out by Etcetera Bank which was bought out by the Bank of America. Or was it NationsBank that bought Bank of America? I can’t remember.

Cities are merging in a lot of places as well. A few years back the Government of Ontario decided to merge Toronto and its suburbs into a “Mega-City.” The same thing occurred in Montreal, with a backlash that led some suburbs to reclaim their “independence”.

Mergers happen because it makes sense to merge. Merging saves a ton of money in overhead costs and needless duplication of all sorts of jobs. Two companies that merge into one have the same amount of assets but need fewer vice-presidents. , and don’t need to spend as much to outsell the competition. This brings more profits and happier shareholders. This hurts smaller stores. The mom-and-pop drug store is undercut by Walmart-like giants. The unemployment lines are longer and some families suffer in the short term, but that’s neither here nor there…

Ethnic groups and countries find it convenient to merge for similar reasons. The United Kingdom is a merger of Great Britain, itself comprised of England, Wales and Scotland; and Northern Ireland. England is an amalgamation of the Angles, the Saxons, Normans and other forgotten tribes. When they all got together, they did so for obvious advantages of not having to constantly kill one another and maintaining enough peace and harmony to live normal lives. Tribes are formed of clans, or large families, that band together with other clans for mutual benefit at the expense of some autonomy. They are trying to pull this off in Europe now, where the powers that be have selected a President of Europe, a former Prime Minister of Belgium which is itself is the story of a merger in which two or three ethnic groups got together to form a buffer zone between France and Germany.

Merging is a macrocosm of, and as natural, as building a family. All of us make decisions in the course of our lives about who to merge with and how much to merge.

This of course is the theme of Parshas Vayishlach. Allow me to summarize: Yaakov sends a delegation to Esav in Seir. The purpose of the delegation seems to be good will. Yaakov sends a major gift to his estranged brother. Yaakov then spends the night alone, wrestles with an “Ish” all night and starts his morning with a limp. He and Esav embrace and engage in some small talk. Esav attempts to refuse the earlier gift. Yaakov won’t hear of it. He insists that his brother accept this gift of good will. Esav follows up with “Brother, do you want to travel together?” Yaakov responds, “No, I’m waaay too busy. The kids still walk slowly and those sheep are awful on mileage.” Esav, who can only wonder at the sudden change in tone, follows that with “I can have some of my men assist you in your travels.” Yaakov responds by saying “Why bother? Don’t call me. I’ll call you.”

How rude! And how strange. Imagine a man giving a well-to-do classmate a new tie. The classmate accepts the gift and then asks his generous gift giver if he wants to be his friend, only to be rebuffed and treated like a stranger.

This is how I see it: After twenty years, Yaakov is returning to the land of his birth to start the next stage of nation building. His father Yitzchak envisioned Klal Yisroel being founded by both his sons. How should Yaakov proceed? Should he incorporate with Esav and his growing family? Yaakov must struggle with this issue – He must WRESTLE with this idea on the eve of his encounter with the most obvious first choice in clan building. He starts a new day, resolved to go it alone. Klal Yisroel is physically damaged by the choice – but only for a short while. Yaakov tells Esav to “march on ahead” (read: Take a hike), and lives alone. Esav moves on. WE can now understand the very end of the Parsha, in which Esav’s family is described as having merged with the Clan of Seir HaChori.

I believe this gives the additional context we need to understand the next story in the Parsha, the story of the City and man both named Shechem. Yaakov comes to the city of Shechem in a state the Torah describes as Shalem- Whole – and sets up shop, gracing the city with his economic presence. His daughter Dina sets out to make some friends. The tragedy of the story is that it is the first attempt by an outside group to attempt a hostile takeover of Yaakov’s family. It should be pointed out that Shechem’s attempt at a merger is nothing new or unusual in history. The legendary history of ancient Rome contains a story very similar to that of Shechem and Dina, with one big difference. In the Roman story, the two sides make up and merge. Look up “Sabine Women” in an encyclopedia to see a story that is eerily similar to that of Dina, with an alternate ending. Shechem and his father Chamor could not fathom that the sons of Yaakov would object to such a fair arrangement. Shimon and Levi let the whole world know:”Thanks but no thanks”. We’re not interested. If there will be a hostile takeover, we will be doing the taking over. They set the terms of any future mergers.

We have struggled with this issue for centuries. We often fare poorly. Our prices are often not competitive and our selection is relatively meager. There were four million Jews in the USA in 1920. Ninety years later, the USA has about six million Jews. From a demographic perspective, that’s pathetic. We limp along, knowing that like the corner store with higher prices than Target, we can’t offer quantity or security- so we will have to content ourselves with the quality and Eternal Lifetime warranty of our product – the Torah. Our intransigence will prove worth it when “The Saviors will ascend Mount Tzion and judge Esav’s Mountain, and the Kingdom will belong to Hashem.”

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Just do it.

Chovav – Yisro – Reuel – Chever – HaKeini.

Who are these people? Are they all the same? Are they members of one family? What is their significance?

Moshe pleads with his in-law, “Please come with us. We’ll be good to you.”

“No. I’m going to my homeland.”

Yisro and his family mean something to us. They are with us, but they go back home. They come back, but hang out with Amalek.

Why can’t they commit?* In a way, it’s sad.

Beware this inability to commit.

Jump in the pool.

*Now many of them did eventually join. Osniel/Othniel, one of the early Judges, led a group of them to commit.

What is this? Why primogeniture is so important.

The meaning of all the Firstborn mitzvos we have is well-known. It is a group of Mitzvos that reinforce our connection with Makas Bechoros, the Plague of the Firstborn, which is what led to Yetzias Mitzrayim, our national founding moment.

A bechor is what turns a living being into a parent.

It is the first moment of another generation.

It is the second “dor” in the well-known phrase “L’Dor Va’Dor”.

It is the cure to the Death Decree issued in Gan Eden, because perpetuation is the very cancellation of mortality.

All signs of immortality belong to God. He made his claim on them.

The bechor class of an immoral society perpetuates the immorality and death.

Killing them in Makas Bechoros is Hashem telling Mitzrayim: How dare you use the symbol for immortality to perpetuate your immorality. It’s as obscene as bludgeoning someone to death with the Philosopher’s Stone.

So Hashem reclaimed the birthright for Himself. What he takes He gives to His servants. Thus, the Cohanim (and Leviim according to Parshas B’haalosecha) are entrusted with the firstborn mark.