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11.17.2017 Weekly Torah Portion

PostPosted: Fri Nov 17, 2017 9:44 pm
by RabbiMark
Our tradition tells us that Torah, as a repository of divine wisdom, is perfect and unblemished. It is understood that no letter, let alone any of its words, is misplaced or superfluous. Nonetheless, there are numerous episodes that make it difficult for me to accept Torah as perfect. In the narratives of this week’s parashah, the imperfect choices made by many of the characters provide a murky basis for discerning moral guidance.

This week’s parsha forces us to confront a whole host of moral contradictions involving some of our tradition’s most highly-esteemed characters. The stories revolve around the life of Isaac, his wife Rebecca, and the arrival and upbringing of their twin sons, Jacob and Esau. Amongst the members of the family, Esau’s character is the most maligned. The Torah describes him as brutish, unsophisticated, and impulsive; and many commentators offer an even harsher perspective on him (and his offspring), associating him with the Romans and connecting him to many of their idolatrous and indulgent ways. However, compared to Isaac, Rebecca, and Jacob, who each engage in a whole host of devious and morally questionable behaviors, I would argue that his actions actually serve as a model for upfront and transparent intentions.

These types of family dynamics lead to stress and unresolved issues. Growing up in this type of environment makes it difficult for children to know who and what they can trust, and to develop a healthy sense of self. This family demonstrates so many patterns of dysfunction! For example, the Torah explicitly describes each of the parents’ persistent favoritism towards one son over the other; Rebecca withholds a Divine prophecy from the rest of the family; Isaac deceives the outside world as to the nature of his marriage; Jacob acquires the family birthright by chicanery; and finally the parashah ends with Rebecca and Jacob employing coordinated fakery to obtain Isaac's blessing - at the expense of Esau. The implications of these dysfunctions (inherited from several previous generations) continue to reverberate throughout the brothers’ lives and are passed down to their own children and beyond…

All the way to our generation, where living amidst (and contributing to) these types of dynamics is quite familiar to many of us. Paradoxically, since the Torah mirrors these aspects of our reality, it's within these shards of a broken family that I can find some of its wisdom. One such source of inspiration comes by further examining Esau and his actions. His simple and straightforward approach directs me to see the significance in being grounded in the “real” of my own experience. Rather than becoming entangled in the chaos of others, if I accept the truth in what I’m going through, pain and all, I’m better able to take responsibility for my role in the struggles I’m facing.

I see this through Esau’s reaction after being out-maneuvered to obtain his father’s soulful blessings. The text describes the intensity of his reactions, as Esau is said to have “burst out in wild and bitter sobbing.” Notably, the wording of this “wild and bitter sobbing” is similar to the language that is used to describe the crying-out of the Israelites just prior to their liberation from enslavement. Both of these instances speak to the role that authentically crying out, from a place of true distress - with complete openness, transparency, and vulnerability - can have in moving us from a place of narrow stuck-ness towards a space of more expansive freedom.

It is also worth noting that the story shows us that this act of crying out is often only the beginning step for a journey of liberation. In the text, despite Esau’s initial wailing, Isaac was still unable to “hear” the pain that his son was in by responding with a blessing. It wasn’t until Esau was forced to further surrender, continuing to weep tears of sadness, that Isaac provided a response. In Isaac’s own entrenched blindness, he was unable to see to that Esau had earlier opened up to him from his soul.

Unfortunately, when we cry out from our soul there is always the potential to encounter another’s blindness. However, I have learned that when I am finally willing to acknowledge my brokenness, I have begun to take part in my own redemption, and this helps me have faith to let the process further unfold.

May we all continue to learn and grow from the delicate moments of our own and others’ brokenness.

Shabbat Shalom!
Chaplain Adam Siegel