In some ways, it seems that we were just all together for the High Holidays, but it has been a number of weeks. Summer weather seemed to go on far longer this year than most years, but finally we have begun to feel the cool crispness of Fall in the air as we move toward Thanksgiving and then on toward the Winter Solstice and Hanukkah. And if you are feeling anything like me, the abrupt shift to an earlier end to daytime each day continues to be something to get used to as 5:00 often feels like 9:00.
While it is getting colder and darker, this Shabbat gives us a chance to gather together for our first service since the High Holidays. And while the UU is getting a facelift and may be a little chilly—as part of the renovation process—we will surely be able to feel the warmth of our community as we spend time in prayer, study, and a potluck lunch together.
The Torah portion this week is Toldot in the book of Genesis. In this portion, we encounter a grown up Isaac and his wife Rebecca, struggling with infertility. Isaac prays for her, and she becomes pregnant with twins. Rebecca is told that “two nations are in your womb and two states. They will be divided from one another, starting from within you…” One pregnancy in one family, prefiguring a history of negotiation and strife between two peoples. The twins, Esau and Jacob, are vastly different from one another. Jacob is an honest man who prefers to study and stay home; Esau is a bit of a wild man, a hunter, a man who greatly enjoys his food. In this parshah, we have the famous scene where Esau, starving after hunting in the field, begs Jacob to give him some stew in exchange for Esau giving him his birthright. With the help and manipulation of his mother Rebecca, Isaac receives his father’s blessing and becomes the master over his older brother. When he realizes what has happened. Esau is determined to take revenge on his brother, but his mother sends Jacob away to find a wife, saving him, for the moment, from his brother’s wrath.
There is so much in this parshah to consider. The dymanics of twins who are so different from one another, and the delicate dance that parents often do not to favor one child over another, are themes presented to us in this Parshah. There is trickery and manipulation and deception, as Rebecca, the ultimate Tiger Mother, tries to get exactly what she wants for her favored son.
But within all of the manipulations and plot twists to get everyone where they need to be in our parsha, is a story of people following their passions and trying to shape their destiny in accordance with their strongest values. For all we might critique Esau for letting his appetite for dinner persuade him to give up the birthright, we can also try to understand the importance Esau placed on eating well, and feeling physically strong and robust. After all, he was a hunter, and these concerns take on an additional importance for one who spends his days in active pursuit of game. Likewise, Rebecca follows her passion. It is of utmost importance to her that her son Isaac, a homebody, a quiet man of study and domestic concerns, become the inheritor of his father’s blessing. This is so crucial to her that she goes to great lengths to fool her husband into giving her favored son his dying blessing.
Everyone in this story has a strong passion, a strong drive to bring their agenda to fruition. We can be troubled by the bargaining, the bribing, the deception, on the one hand. But on the other hand, we can be impressed by the single-minded focus of each of the characters in this parshah. And we can be inspired by the lengths that they will go to to see their dreams fulfilled.
This story beckoning us to look at our own passions. What moves us and drives us in our lives? For what do we pray? For what do we hope? What do we want badly enough that we would consider making extreme sacrifices. Ultimately, what is the “stew” for which we would “sell our birthright”?
This week, we will consider the lessons of this parshah, and pose these questions for ourselves, as we move forward into the opportunities this year can provide for us to identify, name, and act on our passions. We will consider, as a community, where we want to place our energies as we seek to be the change we want to see in the world. Come and join us and bring your ideas and passions to the table (which will be set with the offerings of the food we bring for our pot luck lunch!) as we consider what directions we would like our SOP energies to go to in this important year. As the famous line in Pirke Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers) teaches us: It is not imperative for us to complete the work, but neither are we free to desist from it.
Come join us for our service in which we will consider these ideas as we pray, talk and sing (extra singing this Shabbat, accompanied by our own Brian Tucker and Lillian Israel—who graced us with the beautiful rendition of Kol Nidre this Yom Kippur).
I look forward to seeing you on Shabbat, at 10 am at the UU! And again, do wear warm clothing as the building renovations cause a temporary reduction in heating in the building. Please bring a contribution to a potluck lunch so we can all have a chance to eat and talk together about our passions, dreams, and hopes for what our community can bring to the world around us.