Friday, November 19, 2021/15 Kislev, 5782
Parashat Vayishlach Genesis 32:4−36:43
For many, Thanksgiving brings joy as we pause from our busy lives, gather with family and friends, and offer thanks for the blessings of our lives. The Macy’s Parade, football games, catching up, lots of food, and so much more have always been a constant in my familial experience, especially lots of food. Each of our families has its own rituals for this truly American holiday. Maybe it’s a family football game, or a trip to the park to throw the ball or frisbee around. Still, for others, these family reunions can be a source of anxiety and stress. Old troubles resurface, as we see friends and family who, perhaps, we have not seen since the last major Holiday. Childhood competitions and one upmanships or embarrassing stories might resurface, as we join together for this holiday.
In this week’s Torah portion, Vayishlach, we read the story of Jacob’s reunification with his brother Esau, some 20 years after Jacob stole the birthright from his brother, and Esau threatened to kill him. Jacob is finally on his way back to the land promised to his father and grandfather, fully aware that he will have to pass through Edom, the land of his brother, to get there. He knows how much he wronged his brother, but doesn’t know if his brother still holds the same level of contempt and hurt from their childhood interaction. Anxiety almost doesn’t seem a strong enough word to describe how Jacob must have been feeling. In fact, he has a dream during which he wrestles with an Angel, only succumbing to his dream once he has been blessed with a new name, Yisrael, the one who wrestles with God. Whether it was God, an Angel, or his own guilty psyche, nobody really knows, but what we do know is that when Jacob awakens, he faces his brother, Esau, and while they don’t move on to a lifelong relationship, they reconcile and set aside their past differences.
As we join together with our families and friends, this coming week, I hope that there is no anxiety and that our time is filled with love, warmth, and very full bellies. But, if there are relationships that need to be repaired, may we be the change that is needed. We have no control over the other, just as Jacob could never have known how his brother would act, but we can make the overtures of reparation, and hopefully move on, as the Torah say Jacob did, Shalem, whole, knowing we have done all that we can to repair our relationships. May our gratitude, this Thanksgiving, include all of our loved ones, and may we all be Shalem, whole, as we embrace this holiday of appreciation.
Cantor Ilan Davidson