Thursday, November 22, 2007

THE BEST LAID PLANS . . . For Thanksgiving and Homecomings.

Coming together is a blessing... Arel Mishory recognizes that with her metal Amulet for a New Beginning. Each of her pieces is unique and is embellished with tzotzkes she has picked up in her travels. I hope that for those of you celebrating Thanksgiving today it is a day of blessing for you and your family. I am thankful for you my readers, for my family, my health and FOR THE RAIN which we so desperately need here in Georgia!!!!!

This year, we in the United States read Parashat Vayishlach on the weekend of Thanksgiving. During one of the most congested periods of the year, people from all over the country will be journeying "home." For most of them, the traveling is merely a means to an end: All their planning is geared toward reaching their destination, which many of them call "home."

Parashat Vayishlach recounts another kind of homecoming, that of our ancestor Jacob. After having spent twenty years working in Paddan-aram for his uncle Laban, Jacob is about to return home to Canaan. It is there that he will reunite with his family, including his brother, Esau, who twenty years earlier intended to kill him. (Genesis 27:41)

As Rabbi Silverman recounts, the parashah begins with Jacob making "carefully choreographed preparations." First, Jacob sends his messengers to offer Esau gifts "in the hope of gaining [Esau's] favor." (Genesis 32:4-6) Then, upon hearing that Esau was coming to greet him "with four hundred of men" (Genesis 32:7), Jacob becomes "greatly frightened." (Genesis 32:8) Realizing that the gifts he had offered wouldn't impress the commander of such a large group of men, Jacob strategizes for the possibility of battle. (Genesis 32:8-9) Finally, having exhausted all other options, Jacob prays. (Genesis 32:10-13) After having taken care of these and other different types of preparations, Jacob crosses a river and is "left alone" on the night before he is to meet his brother. It is at this point that he wrestles with an unidentified man until daybreak. (Genesis 32:25-32)

Jacob's preparations for the reunion are intense, elaborate, and exhausting. After planning and praying, Jacob is finally ready to meet his brother. When he and Esau do meet, they hug, kiss, share some gifts and small talk, and then head in different directions. That's all. No battle. No murder. Not even any displays of anger or recrimination. Nothing but a pleasant, short reunion.

Carrying twenty years' worth of sibling baggage, Jacob knew only one thing — that Esau was approaching with four hundred men. From that moment on, his mind could focus solely on this piece of information. He could imagine only the worst-case scenario for his reunion with Esau. It took frantic and extreme preparations, including prayer and solitude, on Jacob's part to enable him to put this reunion into a proper perspective.

So what can we learn from Jacob in this instance? How can planning for a homecoming or a reunion be helpful? When can such plans be misguided? What time do we set aside for reflection so that our preparations are internal as well as external, proactive and not only reactive?

As you travel home or welcome friends and family into your home on this or any other holiday weekend, remember: If you're carrying baggage with you (and who among us isn't?), your family "issues" will need to be addressed in various ways. Jacob and Esau leave each other in peace, but the cost for Jacob was a permanent disability — a strain in his thigh. (Genesis 32:26) All family conflicts exact some price, but achieving peace between siblings is well worth it.

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