Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Parashat Vayishlach: Thanksgiving is Family

By Melissa Shaw

Verse Per Verse

My mom just called me from the market to inform me that my grandmother is not to know that she is not using Miracle Whip in the chopped liver and what else did you say you needed from the produce aisle?

It’s Thanksgiving and my mother is wrestling with Tomatoes that cost $1.99 a pound, gravy, and my vegetarianism.

Thanksgiving, whether we like it or not, is about family, family that we choose not to go home to see or family that insists that you try the canned Jellied Cranberry sauce instead.

Angry, stuffed, happy, or disappointed family is family. You don’t pick yours, they don’t pick you. You get thrown into a big mess that you weren’t ever anticipating. Divorce, car payments, children- no one ever played house thinking about therapy bills. This time of year gives us the opportunity to get together with people we thought we might not be able to talk with again. It is an opportunity to heal old wounds, come out of the closet, and eat.

In this Parsha, Jacob is reuniting with his Brother Esau. No one is quite sure how this family reunion is going to go. Are you still mad about that little thing that happened when we were young where I stole your Birthright and changed your life forever? No, ok, than please pass the mashed potatoes. Maybe.

When we meet Jacob, after he has wrestled with the Eesh, the angel, and perhaps even his demons, we see a man with new injuries, new understandings, and a new name. He goes into his meeting with Esau as that man. A man now called Israel; one who wrestles with God.

Jacob, prepared with offerings, comes face to face with family he has not seen in years. A brother who could have easily killed him as welcomed him. But Esau, wouldn’t you know it, accepts his brother, tells him there is no need for reparations, and to go with God.

But Jacob responds:

No, I pray you; if you would do me this favor, accept from me this gift; for to see your face is like seeing the face of God, and you have received me favorably.

Jacob would know. Jacob had just seen it.

So can we make the leap that family is the face of God? Maybe we can.

Who are these people we come into the world with? These people who help us and make us crazy. These people who know us in ways that no one else can? They could very well be as much God as the flowers, trees, Scriptures, and angels. They certainly know how to get us in and out of trouble.

In Chapter 34 we hear that Dinah, Jacob’s daughter with Leah, is caught and defiled by Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, chief of the country. Jacob hears the news and remains calm until his sons return. Her brothers return, hear, and are less than calm.

When Hamor comes to them and asks for Dinah’s hand for his son, no one is thrilled with the prospect. However, Jacob says, thinking his request a deal breaker, that their families will only be allowed to intermarry if Hamor, his son, and their whole family, become like them and go through circumcision.

Hamor makes an announcement to the people of his community, all in ear shot agree to the terms and are circumcised. You know, to blend.

Now here’s where we learn something more about Jacob’s family. While everyone is recovering from the loss of their foreskins, undoubtedly packed with the biblical-desert equivalent of an ice pack, Levi and Simeon slip into the village and slaughter everyone.

I think they were trying to let everyone know that they hand changed their minds. Jacob was not happy with the deeds of his sons and chided them. Levi and Simeon did not mince words. They said to their father, “should our sister be treated like a whore?”

What happened in the land of the Hitvites was the ultimate big brother show down and perhaps a reminder that blood is thicker than water and is certainly thicker than forced circumcisions.

So family matters. Whether it is long lost brothers who surprisingly welcome you after decades or who take revenge for rape.

So, is family the face of God? Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t. But at the very least, they have your back and if you are lucky, accept that you are not going to eat the turkey on the second to last Thursday of November.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, family matters. What is intersting about the word PANIM - 'face' as in the face of God or the face of Jacob's brother - is that the same word can also be read as PENIM -'inside' or 'interior' - the face reveals the internal drama, the soul's truth. Funny how when we are with our families we so often try to put on our good face but often end up betraying our real selves, and, like it or not, deal with the real challanges and conflicts that make us who we are.