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“Denouement” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings

December 9, 2022 | 15 Kislev 5783

Welcome again to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we move toward Shabbat. You can listen to it as a podcast here.

When this week’s Torah portion opens, Jacob prepares to meet his brother after a forced separation. The last words he heard his brother utter had to do with Esau’s desire to murder Jacob for stealing his blessing from their father, Isaac. Jacob leaves quickly. He stops, dreams, and then arrives at his mother’s homeland. In the intervening years, Jacob will marry, twice, and bear many children. All of them are with him as he strategizes how to save them and himself from the potential wrathful reaction of Esau.

Though Esau arrived with his own retinue of protective forces, there doesn’t appear to be any enmity between them. They embrace, and exchange riches and gifts. Though they each try to refuse, the other is persistent. It might appear that the climatic moment arrives when Jacob pleads with his brother:

“Please accept my present which has been brought to you for God has favored me and I have plenty. And when Jacob urged him, Esau accepted.   (Genesis 33:11)

The power of this exchange is better revealed in the Hebrew, which can also be translated:

קַח־נָ֤א אֶת־בִּרְכָתִי֙ Please take my blessing. (33:11)

It is as if Jacob thought he could return the blessing he stole those years ago.

And perhaps, Esau thought he could receive it.

We could end here and feel great about the complicated childhood home of Esau and Jacob finding resolution. They may have been twins birthed from the same womb, but their characters differed throughout their lives. Finally the reconciliation has occurred. Or has it? What happens next seems to me the most revealing. It may be the most intriguing part of the story, the denouement that puts all the pieces in place.

Perhaps, Esau thought the exchange had transformed their relationship. He makes an assumption that they will now travel together.

And [Esau] said, “Let us start on our journey, and I will proceed at your pace. (33:12)

Jacob hesitated and blamed the slow pace on the children and the animals.

“Let my Lord go on ahead of his servant, while I travel slowly, at the pace of the cattle before me and at the pace of the children, until I come to my lord in Seir.” Then Esau said, “Let me assign to you some of the men who are with me.” But he said, “Oh no, my Lord is too kind to me!” (33: 15)

Esau started back toward Seir, but Jacob headed in the other direction.

Jacob journeyed on to Succoth, and built a house for himself and made stalls for his cattle; that is why the place was called Succoth. (33:16). It appears he never intended to end up in the same place physically or spiritually.

Jacob arrived safe in the city of Shechem which is in the land of Canaan—having come thus from Paddan-aram—and he encamped before the city. (33: 17-18). When the text states that Jacob arrived safe, it uses the word, shalem. The commentator, Rashi, defined shalem as whole in a physical, material, and mental state.

Jacob has finally ended that chapter of his life. It probably haunted him as he watched his own children grow and interact with one another. Or perhaps, he wanted to put it all behind him. He felt whole enough to settle, build a house, and stalls for the cattle.

The name of the place where he settled provides a clue to the coming chapters. A sukkah is a fragile structure.

More struggling is on the way.

Shabbat Shalom!

  • Join us for Qabbalat Shabbat at 6:00 p.m. with Scholar in Residence Dara Horn who will deliver her opening lecture “Agreeable Jews, Dead Jews, and the Challenge of Diversity.” Qiddush will be recited by Callie Offner. Gather with us onsite or online viaZoomFacebook Live, or livestream on our website. If you are participating online, stay on Zoom for our online oneg.
  • Tot Rock Shabbat gathers online at 5:00 p.m.
  • Torah Study at 10:00 a.m. with Scholar-in-Residence Dara Horn will examine the question: “Does Holocaust education prevent antisemitism?” Onsite or online via ZoomFacebook Live, or Temple Israel’s livestream.
  • The Village for Families with Young Children will be holding a Chanukah Puppet Show: “Chanukats” onsite at 10:00 a.m. Learn more. Questions? Contact Heidi Smith Hyde.
  • A Study Session and Havdalah with Scholar-in-Residence Dara Horn will be held at 3:00 p.m. onsite.  RSVP to participate.
  • Gather online to say goodbye to Shabbat with lay led Havdalah on Zoom.

Rabbi Elaine Zecher