Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Tol’dot
Our tradition teaches that the gates of atonement are always open. The only thing that bars our entry is our unwillingness to turn our behaviors for the good. In fact, we are not allowed to hold a grudge. If someone hurts us, our tradition requires us to look past it – not for his/her benefit necessarily, but for our own. Holding a grudge serves only to poison a person, holding him/her hostage to the pain or indignity that someone else did.
That said, we are really good at holding grudges. We justify it in a host of rationalizations, manipulate facts to make our points seem morally superior, and often forget why we were holding the grudge to begin with – knowing only it must be real because we are.
Torah’s purpose in this world is simple. It teaches us how to live meaningful lives. Sometimes the lesson comes to us in positive ways, while other times, we learn them through the most challenging stories. In this one week of Torah, we get the entire back story on a patriarch we revere, but who lived a horribly unethical youth and early adult life. Chapter 27 of Genesis is challenging, at best.
Jacob steals the birthright from his older twin brother over a bowl of soup. He cheats his brother out of the blessing by helping his mom lie to his blind father. When he gets caught, he runs away. This is not Patriarch material.
Along his journey, God lets him know that the opportunity for change is always there. Even as God reveals divinity to Jacob, Jacob remains unsure. Over the course of the next few weeks, we will watch Jacob mature in faith. I can’t say that he ever fully comes clean from his indiscretions. He still holds one wife (Rachel) as more loved than the others and lords her son (Joseph) over the others. I certainly know that his sons learned some horrific behaviors from him, but what makes him worthy of greatness is that he really tried to overcome himself. He could not fix all the damage he caused, but the text demonstrates that he grieved what he had done and made every effort to atone. Elevating him to the status of beloved patriarch does not speak of his life’s moral resume. Rather, we acknowledge that even the most failed of humans can make heroic efforts. When we perceive someone trying, all the more so, our tradition requires us to appreciate their efforts and let our angst go. We cannot help people repair themselves if we refuse to acknowledge them.
If God can let Jacob’s past go (a “do-over),” we have to think about the things we hold on to. Imagine God holding grudges against everyone who had erred in the world. Spending that much time and energy on hate destroys lives. We hold God to a higher standard – as such, we ought to hold ourselves to a higher one, as well, especially the one who carries the hate with them). We need to allow and help people to heal. In the process, we free ourselves from the burden of carrying around someone else’s garbage alongside our own. We can live emotionally pain-free and change the world.