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Parashat Vayishlah

November 27, 2015

‘Til I Send For You

Hazzan Marcia Lane

A couple of weeks ago we read in Parashat Toledot that Rebecca sent Jacob away to the country of Haran, to hang out there with her side of the family until his brother Esau cooled off. Just for “yamim ahadim“–a few days, maybe a week or two. And then she said, “v’shalahti ul’kahtikha mi-sham.” I will send for you and bring you from there. (Gen. 27:45) But months and years go by, and Rebecca does not send for him, and Jacob builds a life in Haran. He marries (twice), fathers many children, builds wealth, and his mother never sends for him to come home. In fact, Rebecca vanishes from the biblical narrative when Jacob leaves to go to Haran. Instead God speaks to Jacob and tells Jacob to “return to the land of your fathers, where you were born, and I will be with you.” (Gen. 31:3) In God’s call to Jacob there is no indication that Esau’s anger has abated, but Jacob decides to return home anyway.

In this week’s parashah, Jacob–with his wives and concubines, his children, his flocks and his cattle and his servants–does indeed return home. And it is Jacob himself who sends word to Esau to let him know of his impending return. Then he arranges his return in such a way as to both impress his brother with his wealth and to shield his most precious things, his wives and his children (especially Rachel and Joseph). And, although they haven’t spoken or seen each other in decades, Esau runs to embrace his brother. In the Torah scroll, over the word “vay’ishakey-hu,” and he kissed him, there are tiny dots or diamond-shaped marks, what David Weiss Halivni called ‘maculations.’ Nobody really knows what they mean. That is the realm of midrash, the art of inventive biblical interpretation. Some biblical commentators, eager to cast Esau as the bad guy, say that he didn’t really kiss his brother; he tried to bite his neck! But Rashi reports that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said that, despite the tradition that Esau hated his brother, “his compassion was moved and he kissed him wholeheartedly.” The narrative then tells us that Esau and Jacob travel in different directions, and you might imagine that they are destined to be estranged, but two chapters later we learn that they come together to bury their father. (Gen. 35:29)

Families are complicated organisms. Siblings have complex relationships. They can go for months without talking and yet still feel close. Or they can talk at cross-purposes for years, always feeling estranged. They come together at weddings or b’nai mitzvah or funerals, and maybe they drive home with their spouses saying they wish they were closer, or maybe justifying why the other is wrong about some long dead argument. It’s easy for decades to slip by–as they did between Jacob and Esau. Imagine the opportunities missed. This week we will celebrate a day of simply being grateful. Families will gather and try to avoid the touchy subjects that set off arguments. But perhaps if one sibling just impulsively embraces the other, truly expresses love and gratitude, then the years of fear and anger and anxiety can be erased by the knowledge that we are destined to care about each other. May you have a wonderful, loving Thanksgiving.


Cantor Marcia Lane is the Director of Education and Engagement at the United Jewish Federation of Greater Stamford, Darien, and New Canaan.