Originally posted Thursday, November 19th, 2015
I shared this Dvar Torah at this year's New Member Shabbat service on Friday evening, November 13, 2015/ 2 Kislev 5776. At the time we were gathered together to celebrate Shabbat and welcome new members of our congregation, we had not yet heard about the terrorist attacks that were taking place virtually simultaneously in Paris. May the memory of the victims of terrorism be for a blessing, and may we overcome the scourge of terrorism by all means necessary.
Thoughts on Toledot(5776/2015)
(Gen. 25:19 – 28:9)
Early on in this week’s Torah portion, Toledot, God addresses Rebecca as she suffers through a rough pregnancy. God tells her that she will have twins, each of whom will be the leader of a nation. Esau (also known as “Edom” because of his “Admoni” or “Reddish” complexion) comes out first. And Jacob (or Ya’akov from the Hebrew word “Ekev” meaning “heel”) follows immediately afterward “וְיָדוֹ אֹחֶזֶת בַּעֲקֵב עֵשָׂו” / v'yado ochezet ba’akeiv Eisav (“with his hand grasping Esau’s heel.”) (Gen. 25:26)
The rivalry between the two is thus established right from the start. As the parasha progresses, we read about Jacob conniving to purchase Esau’s birthright in exchange for a bowl of lentil stew, timing the transaction to take place when Esau is faint with hunger.
And, later on, we read of Jacob tricking their father Isaac into bestowing the blessing of the first born on Jacob rather than Esau.
I think the most poignant part of Parashat Toledot is the exchange between Isaac and Esau after they both realize that Jacob has stolen the blessing of the first born.
As we read in Genesis 27: 34-38 ---
34 When Esau heard his father's words, he burst into wild and bitter sobbing, and said to his father, "Bless me too, Father!" 35 But [Isaac] answered, "Your brother came with guile and took away your blessing." 36
[Esau then throws in a Hebrew pun ---]
וַיֹּאמֶר הֲכִי קָרָא שְׁמוֹ יַעֲקֹב, וַיַּעְקְבֵנִי זֶה פַעֲמַיִם
Vayomer hachi kara shemo Ya’akov, va-ya’keveini zeh fa'amayim
[Esau] said, "Is he not rightly called Jacob (Ya’akov) that he might supplant me (Vaya’ekeveini) these two times? First he took away my birthright and now he has taken away my blessing!" And [Esau] added, "Have you not saved a blessing for me?" 37 Isaac answered, saying to Esau, "But I have made him master over you: I have given him all his brothers for servants, and sustained him with grain and wine. What, then, can I still do for you, my son?" 38 And Esau said to his father, "Have you but one blessing, Father? Bless me too, Father!" And Esau raised his voice and wept.
הַבְרָכָה אַחַת הִוא-לְךָ אָבִי
Haverachah achat hi lekha avi?!
“HAVE YOU BUT ONE BLESSING, FATHER?!”
For a guy denigrated as an uncouth lout in classical midrash, Esau’s heartfelt challenge teaches us some profound Torah.
Of course! Each of us has more than one blessing to give!
And Isaac does indeed hear Esau’s plea and find inspiration in his heart to bless him as well.
The blessing is ambiguous and ambivalent and bodes continued future struggle and heartache. But it’s a start….
And as for us, we call upon God --- OUR divine parent ---- whose presence is the source of manifold blessings in our lives.
As the Sim Shalom prayer in the Shacharit Amidah expresses it --- Barcheinu Avinu Kulanu K’echad b’or Panekha --- Bless us, our parent, all of us as one, in the light of your presence.”
Just as Isaac really did have more than one blessing to give, so do we understand that the divine force that fills and rules over the world bestows an infinite multitude of blessings upon us and upon all humanity.
And each one of us is, in turn, a blessing – each in our own individual ways.
Within our congregation, we find those who are adept at prayer, those who are adept at organizing projects, those who are adept at financial management, those who are adept at teaching young and old, those who are adept at giving emotional support, those who are adept at cooking communal meals, those who are adept at fixing boilers, those who are adept at warm embraces, those who are adept at uplifting smiles, those who are adept in leading us in dance.
Each of us is blessed with a unique spirit and soul.
Our life is about how we learn to discern those gifts.
Our life is about how we find the capacity to share those gifts.
Our life is about how we discover how to make ourselves open to receiving the gifts of others that come our way.
This Kehillah Kedoshah/ this sacred community, is a place where we seek to nurture one another in the light of God’s presence, in the light of Jewish tradition and in the light of the blessings that each of us brings.
Tonight especially, we give thanks for the blessing of the presence of the new members of our congregation.
It’s a bit of a shiddach/ a bit of a matchmaking project when newcomers join a synagogue.
So, I’ll conclude with the opening words of the Jewish wedding liturgy because I believe these words reflect our appreciation for you, our new members:
Beruchim haba’im bshem Adonai.
Beyrachnuchem mibeyt Adonai
Blessed are you who have come here in the name of God.
We bless you from this House of God.
(c) Rabbi David Steinberg 5776/2015