Friday, December 13, 2019 /15 Kislev, 5780
Parashat Vayishlah Genesis 32:4-36:43
It is a pleasure to be writing to you from the Union of Reform Judaism’s Biennial conference in Chicago. There are eight members of our Temple present. For the past couple of days, each of us have prayed, learned, and engaged in meaningful conversations about Reform Judaism’s future. We heard the inspiring words of Rabbi Rick Jacobs, Cantor Barbara Ostfelt (the first female cantor), and so many others. Along the way, each of us have had the chance to get to know a diverse group of committed Reform Jews throughout North America, and beyond.
Whether in the 20-minute line at Starbucks, in break-out sessions, or even in the hallways, we have had the opportunity to connect and learn from one another. I have heard stories of Jews of color, and of different sexual orientations work to find their place within the movement. I’ve learned that every one of the thousands of conference attendees brings unique stories, passions and dreams for the future of Reform Judaism, and I am enriched by each person I have come to know. In the words of this week’s portion, to see their “face[s] is to see the face of God.”
The context of these words of Torah is significant. Jacob and Esau had been estranged for decades. After stealing Esau’s inheritance and blessing, Jacob fled from Esau’s wrath. Since that fateful day, Jacob had grown into a husband and a father, a shepherd, a leader. Esau, likewise, had become a more mature family man. As they approached their reunion, both brothers were anxious and afraid. After a parade of gifts and family members, at last the brothers approach one another, falling into each other’s arms. Jacob looks into Esau’s eyes and declares “to see your face is like seeing the face of God.”
The two brothers, once strangers, had reunited. They saw each other for the first time in years. And in one another’s faces they saw the face of God.
Last night Rabbi Rick Jacobs spoke about the importance of acknowledging the diversity in our Reform communities. We are diverse in color, sexuality, interests, politics, language, profession and so much more. Rabbi Jacobs led the community in a Talmudic prayer: “Blessed are you, the sage of all secret things, for their minds are not similar to each other and their faces are all unique.” Each of us is unique, the Talmud reminds us, and our diversity should be celebrated.
At Biennial, all eight of us have had the opportunity to look into the faces of old friends and new ones, and to see the face of God. If Jacob could see God in the face of his estranged brother, so may each of us see God in the faces of all those we have not yet had a chance to know, and those whose perspectives we never before considered. When we share our stories, strangers become partners in building the more inclusive community we envision.
Rabbi Cassi Kail