Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Vayishlach
Today is Black Friday! You are getting this commentary at 50% off its retail price.
I do not like this day. Yesterday, we in America gave thanks for all of the blessings in our lives. We are, or should be thankful for where we live, with whom we live, and for all that we have. As the clock struck midnight (or last Thursday on the internet), stores opened everywhere with slashed prices on items ranging from flat-screen televisions and vacation packages to foam mattress tops and athletic socks. On the very night that we all just gave thanks for blessings, people prepare for combat as they plot their assault on stores and each other, all the while preparing to load up their credit cards with more than they can afford. After praying the prayers of thankfulness for family, friends, and freedom, we add a new prayer for the day, “Thank God I have the stamina and strength to endure the shoving, pushing, line-cutting, and shopping nightmare so that I might go into horrific debt buying things simply because they are on sale.”
A friend of mine offered a sermon for Thanksgiving. He acknowledged that we were imminently upon the apocalypse, the end of the world … as we know it. He commented that the holiday was more about “Black Friday,” and Thanksgiving had become “Dark Brown Thursday.” He bemoaned the apocalypse; recognizing that the “Thanksgiving dinner,” at which we all over-eat, was now nothing more than the pre-game meal loaded with carbs and proteins preparing us to do battle.
We do these things in order to have more to share over the next month of holidays. As I hear people talk about the struggle to get through stores and be first in line to get one of a limited display of “REALLY SPECIAL DEALS,” the “gifts” seem more like the spoils of war. The gift diminishes in value if I get it because some other more vulnerable person got shoved out of line for the opportunity. Ill-gotten gifts are … “ill-gotten.”
This week, Torah provides us a glimpse into the aftermath of “Black Friday.” Jacob spent his life cheating his way into wealth. He stole the birthright from his brother. He conspired with his mother to steal the blessing, as well. Failing to see that what goes around comes around, he dismissed his own history and got mad when his father-in-law deceived him at his wedding and switched brides on him. Not to be outdone, Jacob then devises a scheme to relieve his father-in-law of his animals and wealth. In completing the task, he takes his wives, his children and his new wealth and leaves in the middle of the night.
As this week’s portion begins, Jacob, having left his father-in-law now learns that his brother (Esau) is approaching with an army. The last time he heard from his brother, Esau threatened to kill Jacob for all of his cheating ways. Jacob crafted a plan to save himself. He sent waves of gifts ahead. He sent his family (wives and children) on ahead. They would face Esau’s army before the brothers ever met up. Jacob positioned himself on the opposite side of the river, further protecting himself (and only himself) from his brother’s onslaught. His entire life rooted in controversy and he decided it was in the best interest of his personal safety to put all of it, even his “beloved” Rachel on the other side of the river. All of his amassed wealth and all the people he acquired; these assets were the ransom for his freedom from actually having to face all that he had done to other people … his family.
Our sages work hard to explain why Esau says to Jacob, “I don’t have desire for your gifts.” Tradition goes to great lengths humbly Jacob before his “abusive brother.” As I read the text, Esau is most righteous. His response to his brother is simple, “I have no need for all the stuff you got by deception, I just want a relationship with you.” Folks, we spend way too much time trying to jockey for position and buy each other’s love. As nice as the many gifts will seem this holiday season, especially with the way we acquire them; as the tenor of conversation has devolved into diabolic rancor; perhaps the only real gift that can matter now is the one that returns us to each other. It costs only pride and a little vulnerability. It saves our credit cards. It is open and honest. It is time. Ok, the big box stores may have a down year, but humanity will blossom in its stead. Shabbat shalom.