Thought for Shabbat – November 17, 2017
It is almost 50 years ago when I first read this week’s Torah portion at my bar mitzvah. I knew the words inside out. My father had taught them to me on an almost daily basis for a year. I understood the basic story of sibling rivalry and deception, although I did not take the time to critically analyze the words. I didn’t need to know that stuff at 13 years old. Or so I thought. Jacob was the good guy and he “won” the birthright from his brother. I was fine with that at the time and no one challenged me on that topic.
As I got older, I began to wonder if Jacob really was the “good guy”. I wondered if taking advantage of his brother’s hunger was the right way to “win” anything. And once I started thinking about that, I had no choice but to wonder if the converse was also not true. Maybe Esau, who embraced his brother after being wronged, was not just a “bad guy”.
Our entire scripture describes people doing bad things. Some of the people are generally well-meaning like Jacob and King David, and others are not. By seeing them at their most human and vulnerable, we can see them as real people and be inspired by their stories and deeds. And in retrospect, we can look at their lives in balance and despite their mistakes, still be inspired by them. There is no such thing as a person who always does the wrong or right thing.
Instead, what we have are people who are challenged on a daily basis. Every mentor, teacher, parent or other role model we have ever had has been challenged on a daily basis. And while they did not always rise up to the challenge, for the most part they did. They taught us things through their words and actions and even through their mistakes. Like our ancestors before us, on balance they gave us an example to follow of good deeds and perhaps even faith.
Just like we admire our mentors and ancestors, we should know, whether we are conscious of it or not, that there are those who look to each of us for those same lessons and examples. The challenges we face are not made in a vacuum. There are always others, either personally or professionally, who look to us for inspiration and education. It may not be every single time, but there are enough instances that we must be aware of our own roles as mentors and role models when we face the challenges that life has to offer. Will we be right every time? Not likely. Will we always make the right choice? Probably not, but hopefully on balance. Will we be the good guys? Sometimes, perhaps even usually. Altogether, that is a challenge worth facing not just for ourselves, but for anyone who may derive inspiration from our lives.
Rabbi Yaier Lehrer
Please take advantage of our new start time for Shabbat morning services. We will begin at 9:45 tomorrow morning. Tonight will be the first ever installment of “Adat Shalom Shines” as part of our Shabbat celebration. Our November Lunch and Learn will take place at the office of Bud Kahn on Monday, where we will study the topic of “Being a Good Person/Jew in a Difficult World”. Please let me know if you plan to attend Lunch and Learn so that we can order lunch for you.