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“Suspicion and Deceit” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings

November 24, 2023 | 11 Kislev 5784

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

“May GOD watch between you and me, when we are out of sight of each other.”

Perhaps you have come across this phrase shared by two people on a necklace or a card, split in half that only becomes whole when the two individuals who have each part connect it one with the other. Often they are a broken heart made complete by uniting the two parts. It may seem lovely or trite but it is a Torah phrase from this week’s Torah portion taken out of context.

This week, Jacob rushed away from Esau’s wrath because Jacob stole his father’s blessing through deceit (and the help of his mother, Rebekah) meant for his brother. After stopping for the night and dreaming of the ladder of angels ascending and descending, Jacob ended up at a well. There he encountered the love of his life, Rachel. He met her father, Laban, his own relative. He worked for seven years to gain her as his wife. Laban deceived Jacob and put the older sister, Leah, into the bridal bed instead of Rachel. In the morning, shocked and indignant, Jacob confronted his father in law who responded in a way that let Jacob know that Laban had this plan all along: “It is not the practice in our place to marry off the younger before the older.”  Jacob did marry Rachel, as well, and worked for seven more years. Laban and Jacob’s relationship deteriorated so much that at the end of that time, Jacob snuck out without saying goodbye, taking all the wealth he had amassed including his wives and their many children. When Laban finally caught up with him, they made a pact with these words:

“May GOD watch between you and me, when we are out of sight of each other.” (Gen 31:49)

These are not words worthy of a loving relationship or friendship of two people apart from each other.  To the contrary, they reflect a contentious, suspicious, and deceitful association, one that needs a mitzpah, a watch tower image, to witness their behavior.

The story of Jacob and Laban is one of opposition. They each maneuver and manipulate around and through each other. This pact is based on suspicion, on deceit of the past and the potential perpetuation of it in the future because they have to continue to keep watch around every corner and all agreements.

There is not a straight line between this story and the one playing out in the Mideast. And yet, negotiating with a terrorist organization like Hamas necessitates suspicion and a watchful,  hesitant eye. I pray for the immediate release of the captives, held against their will, in danger until they are safely home. My prayers extend to the innocent Palestinians suffering and many others, whose lives have turned into casualties. I hope Hamas takes caring for their lives into consideration by their actions and response.

Ultimately, it can’t be God who watches over us.  It must be a desire to act in humane and compassionate ways toward one another that creates a lasting pact that leads to peace.

Shabbat Shalom!

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Rabbi Elaine Zecher