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So this week was the American Thanksgiving Day holiday -- and so much more. The assassination of John Kennedy and we are still trying to heal from September 11. I was one of the leaders in an interfaith service held in Canton (as you may have realized from the pledge email I sent to this list Wednesday night). I had an interesting response to that pledge email -- I was labeled as an extreme leftist. Now, I really didn't think that the pledge was all that political. I thought it was mostly an affirmation of supporting the ideals of America. He saw it quite differently.
And that person and I (he has been a personal friend for years) exchanged a few long emails over the course of the day, neither of us moving the other in position even one bit. And that's okay. We ended the day as friends, wishing each other a happy day and a happy Chanukah.
I wish he thought differently and I hope that not many feel all of the anger and hatred he feels -- but as long as he does not turn that into action, I must respect it as his opinion. I am confident that he wishes I would see the world with the same clarity that he experiences.
And there has been a lot of anger and animosity on various lists to which I subscribe. And there is just a lot of emotion swirling everywhere in the wake of 9-11. Pain, hurt, anger and hatred on all sides.
But is it because of 9-11? No. Perhaps the lines have been more sharply drawn, as they often are when we feel afraid and vulnerable -- after all, this threat did come out of the very blue sky. Yes, we are vulnerable. But the truth is, we always were and, of course, we still are. Our anger is not so much at the actual pain inflicted, great as it was, it is about having the fact of our vulnerability thrown right in our faces and forcing us to quit lying to ourselves that we are sole masters of our fate.
There is a lot of effort right now at trying hard to prove a few points -- one is that we control our own destiny completely. We don't. We can influence, but the equation is much more complex. Another false concept is that we can "prove" everything within the confines of science. We can't. We can learn a great deal and the principle of cause-and-effect is valid -- but again, the equation is much more complex.
I appear to be exposed to many interfaith dialogue/discussions recently and have been reading some very interesting books recently -- including Constantine's Sword by James Carroll (I HIGHLY recommend it). This coupled with my very varied training in language has made me painfully aware of how much time and energy is spent in talking past each other. We do not always listen to what is really being said before we respond. There is a desire to say to ourselves, "I know what he is going to say anyway, so I'll just be ready to zing him as soon as he shuts up long enough." And when we are talking -- can we really expect that the other person is any better at listening than we were?
I would like to believe that this doesn't happen often, but I see it every day. Part of it comes from adrenalin from the heightened fear, anger, etc. Some of it comes from ego. All of it distances us from the Holy One. Those who know me personally know that I do not get angry often -- I am much more often saddened inside at my own frustration to be effective at helping people listen for a minute instead of posturing, responding, etc. However, when I do get angry, it is impressive. It is better, much, than when I was younger. And one of the ways that I work at it to pay attention to what happens when I get angry.
I notice the increase in pulse and I can actually feel the heightened tension in my muscles as the adrenalin pumps through me. I believe that I can feel the increase in my blood pressure and other similar effects. I have also noticed that while I am perceived as being very measured and precise when angry, I know that I am not able to see all of the options and that my ability to concentrate on the bigger picture is impaired. I also find it difficult to focus properly on other tasks or thoughts besides the focus of my anger.
Does this mean that I should avoid any situations that can cause me to become angry? That's not practical -- that could even lead to a very fearful life if one is not careful. And it has its own traps associated with it. So what I can do is face each day/event as openly and as candidly as I can and listen as carefully as I can -- and take a long breath before I decide on any action. And I look for the real issues under peoples words -- can the needs be met -- perhaps through something not completely expressed in the wants. And sometimes, like Ya'akov did, it is best to leave the discussion/agrument and come back to it another day.
1. Parsha details: Gen 18:1-22:24 [Haftorah II Kings 4:1-37 (Seph to 4:23)]
2. Questions and a few observations
Summary: Ya'akov leaves for Haran and has the stairway dream. He meets Rachel and comes to Laban's house, where he stays a month. Then he contracts with Laban to work seven years for Rachel as wife, end ups married to Leah and agrees to another seven years for Rachel (who he marries the week after Leah). Many sons(11) and one daughter are born. Ya'akov and Laban agree on wages for continued service. After the mood changes, Ya'akov flees while Laban is out for several days shearing the sheep. Laban chases him because Rachel has stolen the Terefim and he is searching for them. He does not find them and there is a truce between Ya'akov and Laban -- but there will never be community between them again.
What insight into the characters of these accounts. Ya'akov is definitely conflict-avoidance, but quite astute and observant. There is also a great deal of information about the role of money and what everyday life must have been like in those days. So let's look at Ya'akov a bit more.
Some times our own fears are what really gets us to acknowledge that we don't control everything -- some times we cannot know what will happen next. It seems that in Torah and in life, these are the moments that we can most see the Divine, as Ya'akov does in his dream that lonely night with a rock for a pillow. In fear for his life, Ya'akov flees his home and runs to Laban's. In fear and not anger. Anger would have had him to fight Esav and one of them would most likely have died.
But fleeing made Ya'akov see his own vulnerability in a way that he had never seen it before. And in that fear, he went to sleep that night. And the stairway to heaven appears in his dream. What an incredible dream and in it he receives the promise of protection and good fortune.
Now, surely Ya'akov knew of the God of Avraham and Yitzkhak. Surely he had worshiped with them. Perhaps he had never, in fact, really experienced God on his own prior to this? As a dweller in tents and not the great outdoors like his brother, perhaps he had come to believe that God could only be approached in certain places and ways. And he probably didn't view his brother as taking God very seriously -- perhaps there is no God away from the family tents. Certainly he sees different practices among neighboring peoples, so he perceives a difference with the God of Avraham and the Fear of Yitzkhak.
I think it is interesting that it is Fear and not Awe that describes Yitzkhak. Certainly the Akedah would have left an indelible mark -- perhaps Avraham went too far too fast there -- and the result was Fear, not a recognition that God is the saving force. Perhaps that is why he preferred Esav whom he would have seen as fearless as he faces the animals he hunts. Ya'akov, the quiet, conflict avoidance one, reminds Yitzkhak too much of himself.
And in living with Laban in Haran -- Laban changes his wages 10 times -- if Ya'akov thought that was wrong, why didn't he say something about it? It took being married to the wrong woman for him to say something about that. And that took him all night to decide to say something. There is the interesting point made in Torah that when Ya'akov decides it is time to leave, it is because Laban's countenance was different -- things were going to come to a head about why Ya'akov's flocks were stronger and healthier than Laban's. If I were Laban I might want to know why, too. Perhaps it was becoming obvious that Ya'akov was doing something different for his own flocks. Perhaps that would have been considered acceptable, but probably not in Laban's eyes. And so there was a head-on conflict brewing -- so Ya'akov decides to flee again.
Now, he does a pretty good job of handling things when Laban catches up to him -- he can stand up. Although I do find myself wondering what he would have done if the terafim in Rachel's tent had been discovered. In any event, they are able to make a formal peace agreement and part ways. Perhaps this recognition that he could deal with conflict and handle it peaceably helped him see the angels and face up to making peace with Esav in the next Parsha.
3. Some Observations
The Tikun shows us that this account is solid throughout -- there is not one break in the text. This indicates a solid, well edited, often told account. It comes into Torah as a solid piece with all of its details intact (somewhat like the Balak piece). And so it is among our oldest memories, told and retold, time and again. It would have been part of the standard memory set of growing up.
There are some interesting subtle points in it. Laban names the witness stones in Aramaic and Ya'akov names it in Hebrew. Now, they were the same family, right? Ya'akov's mother was Laban's sister and Abraham and Nakhor, Laban's father, were brothers. Hebrew was the private family language -- Aramaic the broader, wider language. Was this perhaps a reflection that Laban was in a "tell the world" place and Ya'akov was in an internally directed place?
The other thing that I notice in the telling is what is missing. Now, if Ya'akov was purely innocent, why would the confrontation between him and Laban been so hostile to start. Torah does say that Ya'akov tricked him in leaving without telling him (32:20), so there is obviously something afoot here. Now, it might be that there would have been some serious negotiating about what Ya'akov could take with him and what he might owe Laban for the privilege of being part of his household -- that could be. However, we do not hear about Laban laying any claims on him when he catches up to him -- so if that had been the only issue, I think we would have heard something about it.
The expressed concern was over the terafim -- and perhaps that was a serious concern. Laban certainly talks about it and Rachel lies about it and Ya'akov is surprised about the claim. What were they really? Hard to tell. However, Ya'akov is braver after Laban fails to find anything of his household goods -- did he realize after he made his bold proclamation that perhaps somebody had taken something? Or did someone run and tell him that Rachel had done it? How calm was he as Laban went from tent to tent to check things out? How calm would you be?
4. Expanding Grounding
In this Parsha we can see the experiencing of Khesed or mercy in the world of the Ya'akov and many of the others in the account. The grounding is the bringing of the expansion of the Divine into our world, into our daily lives. Just as the Parsha talks about money and day-to-day activities, the Divine is part of that day, part of our own experiences. If we look around, afraid or not, we can see the evidence of that Presence everywhere.
And we, through our day-to-day activities can be the channel for that Mercy to enter the everyday world. The people in this account were far from perfect and they had failings -- especially Laban. And even he was open enough in the quiet of the night for the Presence to be experienced. Especially in fear and when facing a challenging moment, open up and see what happens -- are there staircases there or simple clear moments of advice. And then, will you remember to listen to them?
1. Stairway: Just before you fall asleep, imagine the connection between the earth and the heaven. Then realize that the connection goes through you and that you act as an amplifier. The Energy that flows back and forth is affected by you and you are affected by it. Or are you an observer? We all have that choice and we make that choice every day. Where are your thoughts as you lie down at night? Will you actions tomorrow reflect what you learn during the night?
2. Kindness: These were rough times -- as all times can be. What can we do to help others feel the Kindness of the Divine. When are you a messenger, an angel and when do you need one? Is one there for you? How many can you count? How many times can you be one?
3. Thanksgiving: There is much to be thankful for and much to appreciate. We can chose to focus on the loss of things we had or on the treasures these things gave us. Laban focused on the loss. When we remember the good things that happen and give thanks, we honor the good things and good people in our lives. No person lives forever and no thing survives forever, but what we do with and for their memory is the reason that they were here in the first place.
ADS: ALEPH -- the Alliance for Jewish renewal. www.aleph.org If you aren't a member yet, please give very serious consideration to joining. The magazine, New Menorah, alone, is worth whatever you give. (Plus it helps pay for the rabbinic program where I am studying!)
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There are many traditional interpretations of the parsha that I neither talk about nor mention. That is done from a position of space. I trust that the average reader is either familiar with these or can find many of them easily in other commentaries readily available.
Thanks for reading this. If I have offended you, please forgive me -- that was not my intention. If you found some joy or happiness in reading this, thank you for allowing me to be a part. If you found a reason to think about something more deeply - kol hakavod and thank you!
And to the people giving me feedback thank you so much! I enjoy all of it. (Including the typos) You have made this weekly practice wonderful.
(c) 2002 Candy Lobb All rights reserved