In our age of Facebook and Twitter, we know all too well how fast words can spread. When I was a kid, we played the game telephone, passing a word or phrase around the circle by whispering it into each other’s ear, knowing that by the time it went all the way around, it would probably be transformed into something completely different — that was funny!
Jacob returns to Canaan, where 20 years earlier he fled his brother Esau’s wrath after stealing his birthright. But time does not seem to have healed the wound.
As I am the father of twin sons, this parasha, where we learn of the birth of twins Jacob and Esau, has a special place in my soul. Esau sells his birthright, and Rivka helps her favored son, Jacob, “trick” Isaac into a blessing.
A funeral director once said, “In all the funerals I’ve attended, I have yet to see a hearse with a U-Haul trailer attached.” But while it’s true that “you can’t take it with you,”meaning material possessions, I’m not so sure about emotional possessions. How many of us have walked behind a casket where lay the body of a relative or friend with whom we were still talking? Or, wrenchingly, with whom we never had the conversation we meant to have?
Parshat Vayechi (Genesis 47:28-50:26) God is constantly evolving, constantly becoming, and so should we.
Parshat Vayigash (Genesis 44:18-47:27): It was brief. Jacob, head of the House of Israel, met with Pharaoh, King of Egypt
Parshat Vayetze (Genesis 28:10-32:3) Men equate the inability to solve a problem with weakness, so when men are in the same situation they feel that they must solve the problem.
The story, of course, turns out to be one of reconciliation and not hostility. But the overarching lesson of the story is the one that played out in Jacob's mind and soul. The way up in life is to firmly commit ourselves to a self-identity of spiritual and moral excellence, and then to demand that we actually live the self-image we have created. It is true that our past errors will become magnified as a result, and our conscience will not remain silent. But this too is part of the way up.
God's light is within all personal darkness; were we only able to relinquish control on fixing it our way, our path would illuminate the gates of heaven, where it is already exactly as it ought to be. The worst-case scenario for our ego becomes the passage of miracles for our souls in the instant we surrender -- sending our fears up the ladder into the transformative arms of Reunion.
This week's Torah portion contains a story that most of us skipped in Hebrew school -- the story of Dina.
I reached back to cover the asparagus fern I had placed just behind the front seat. (At that time I was told no out-of-state plants were allowed.) The car swerved, ran over the embankment and careened down a ditch at top speed.
There is logic to honoring one's parents. There is a rationale for not stealing or murdering. But for purification in a ruddy, bovine shower, why would God ask such a thing of us?
I'll be honest with you. I don't know. But neither did King Solomon, the wisest of men. It seems that this is part of the definition of a chok, that its raison d'etre remains a mystery.
Wherein lies the power of the Judah personality? Is this the same Judah who initiates the sale of his brother and whose conduct in the Tamar episode raises troubling questions? Equally remarkable is the haunting silence of Judah's siblings. Why is it Judah alone who stands tall in the face of the hostile viceroy who wants to seize Benjamin? Are they not all certain of the consequent early demise of their father Jacob?
Even in the best of families, relationships are enormously complicated. Some of the stories rabbis hear, all too frequently, of families in crisis are excruciatingly painful: parents who disown their children because of radical disappointment with the life choices their children have made; siblings who refuse to be in the same room with each other because their anger is irreconcilable; courts clogged with family members fighting over contested wills, and so forth. The possibilities for family chaos are almost endless. When things go wrong, they often go very wrong.
Darkness is frightening. It is the realm of uncertainty, with everything enveloped in a state of unified oblivion. The world we call "real" -- based on substance, physical existence and visible actuality -- is nullified by the blackness of night.
For The Kids
Everybody's good at something. The trick is to discover what it is.
If you were told that you had only a matter of days to live what would you do? Write out a will? Eat your favorite meal? Try to repair troubled relationships? In our Torah portion this Shabbat, Jacob knows he is dying. Faced with this knowledge, there is only one thing he wants to do: bless those he loves.
A number of years ago, during the O.J. Simpson trial, I had a conversation with a non-Jewish merchant who told me that right after Simpson was arrested, he met a good friend of Simpson's at church. At the conclusion of the service, the merchant happened to stand right behind this man as he thanked the minister for his homily and then asked him, "Reverend, would you please pray for O.J."
After 22 years of separation, believing his beloved son dead, Jacob was startled to hear that Joseph was not only alive but that he ruled the land of Egypt.
Not long ago, on a trip to Israel, I heard the following story about an Israeli doctor and patient.
Every marriage has painful moments. Even the most loving marriages do. This fact of life is confirmed by the opening of chapter 30.
One of Rabbi David Aaron's favorite biblical analogies derivesfrom the story of Jacob's dream, in which the patriarch saw a ladder stretching from earth to the heavens.