Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Toldot

I wonder what family meals were like in Isaac and Rebekah’s house.   Isaac favored one son, Esau.  Rebekah favored the other, Jacob.  There was, I would imagine, palpable tension between their children.  On one occasion Esau returned home after hunting for game.  He was terribly hungry.  Jacob refused to give him some of the lentil stew he was preparing until Esau agreed to sell him his birthright.  Esau was so hungry that he spurned his birthright?  Jacob was so devious that he took advantage of his brother’s weakness?  Where was Rebekah while her children fought?  Where was Isaac?

On Thanksgiving we gather with family and friends.  In every gathering there are similar tensions.  There might be the aunt who always asks too many personal questions.  There could be the distant cousin who appears to sit in judgment of everyone else.  Take comfort from the Torah.  Tensions were part and parcel of every family, even our first Jewish family.

In this week’s Torah portion we see how Isaac handles these tensions.  Isaac is now old and blind.  As he confronts his mortality he wants to give his sons some words of advice and a final blessing. He instructs his son Esau to go hunting and prepare his favorite dish.  Rebekah overhears the request and quickly prepares the dish instead.  She pushes their other son Jacob toward Isaac, dressing him in Esau’s clothes and covering his arms with animal fur so as to trick her husband into thinking it was hairy Esau.  She hands Jacob Isaac’s favorite meal to present to his father.

Isaac appears to sense something is amiss.  “Isaac said to Jacob, ‘Come closer that I may feel you, my son—whether you are really my son Esau or not.’  So Jacob drew close to his father Isaac, who felt him and wondered. ‘The voice is the voice of Jacob, yet the hands are the hands of Esau.’  …He asked, ‘Are you really my son Esau?’  And when he said, ‘I am,’ he said, ‘Serve me and let me eat of my son’s game that I may give you my innermost blessing.’” (Genesis 27:21-25) 

Isaac then blesses his son Jacob.  Esau soon returns from the field and is distraught to discover what has transpired while he was busy hunting.  He bursts into tears and is overcome with anger, threatening to kill his brother.  Jacob runs to his uncle’s to escape.  On his journey Jacob discovers far more about himself than he did while remaining in his mother’s over-protective care.  But that would be the subject for the coming week.

I continue to believe that Isaac knew the truth of who stood before him and that his blindness was willful.  He chose not to verbalize the trickery he suspected.  Isaac knew it was his son Jacob who kneeled before him to receive the prized blessing.  I am certain that our forefather could distinguish his wife’s cooking from his son’s.  I could most certainly discern the difference between Susie’s cooking and Ari’s with my eyes closed!  Isn’t it then obvious that the meal Rebekah prepared was the unspoken signal between husband and wife? 

The lesson is that not every truth needs to be spoken.  Sometimes when it comes to family it is better to choose not to see.

Too often our choice is to tell family members what we really think, to tell the annoying aunt what is really on our mind and what has been bothering us for these past ten Thanksgivings.  Too often we choose the righteousness of the prophets and not the willful blindness of Isaac when sitting with our families.  Isaac’s choice seems the better option for our families.  The prophets are more apt for correcting the failings of our society at large.  When sitting with our family peace and harmony are always more prized.  What appears as a weakness, namely his blindness, might in truth be Isaac’s greatest strength.

I wish you an enjoyable Thanksgiving celebration.  Enjoy the company of family, especially if it is with a child returning from their first months of college.  Try not to allow that annoying family member to get under your skin.  Instead relish in family.  It should always be a blessing to be celebrated. 

Take a moment to thank God for the blessings of this country.  Across this great land people of many different faiths will be begin their meals with words of thanks in Hebrew, English, or Arabic, Russian, Chinese, or Hindi.  All will thank God for the freedoms of this country.  Take a moment to remember these blessings.  Recall as well those who are less fortunate.  Enjoy the bounty of your meals but pledge to redouble your efforts to help others.  And of course if you are driving, drive safely.

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