In Genesis 25:28 we read-“Isaac favored Esau because he had a taste for game (venison), but Rebecca favored Jacob.”
The Torah describes the children of Isaac and Rebecca as follows – Esau was “red mantled and hairy all over” at birth and later became a skilled hunter “a man of the field” – while Jacob was a mild (quiet) person who preferred to “dwell in tents,” something of a homebody you could say. Isaac was perhaps both envious and in awe of Esau’s physical prowess and wild spirit, while Rebecca was more attached to her younger, more sensitive son who she could direct in the ways she saw fit.
Parental favoritism is as old as the stars in the sky and yet, we know that such partiality by parents for one child over another can lead to serious tensions and family rifts, not to mention children vying for love and attention by the less interested parent that is always, sadly, in short supply. Some would say that a direct line can be drawn from the story of Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob and Esau in the first book of the Torah and the conflict in our time between the Israelis and Palestinians – a battle with seemingly no end in sight.
Rebecca, believing that Jacob, her younger son, is the best heir apparent to the family – who will perpetuate the values and ideals of the Jewish people – schemes with Jacob to first trick Esau into selling his birthright for a bowl of soup, and then her husband into offering Jacob the blessing that will seal the deal. Even though it is true that Esau forfeited his birthright, when famished after a hunt, he still appears before his dying father asking for a blessing. When Isaac tells Esau that he has no blessing for him, that he has already given the blessing to Jacob, Esau bursts into sobs asking – “Halo Atzalta Li B’rachah?” – “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?” “Have you but one blessing, Father?” It is a heartbreaking moment, and one can almost hear the sound of that wail echoing down through the ages when Esau, in a final attempt, cries out “Bless me too Father!” but to no avail. In the end when Isaac opens his mouth to speak to his eldest son, the words come out more like a curse than a blessing.
Although we are taught that each of us is made in the image of God, “b’tzelem Elohim” we don’t always seem to remember that principle of our faith. Instead we tend to look at those outside our own tribe, race, gender or political party as “other,” as unworthy somehow of the freedoms, human dignity, and justice that we enjoy.
In a new documentary – HALLELUYAH – about the late, renowned bard and singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen and the amazing journey of perhaps his most famous song, there is a moving scene from Mr. Cohen’s last concert in Israel in 2009. This concert, advertised as a Benefit for Israeli and Palestinian peace groups in an outdoor stadium in Tel Aviv, sold out its 47,000 tickets in just twenty-four hours. In an incredibly moving moment at the end of the concert, Leonard Cohen, himself a “Kohen” (of the Priestly Caste of Israel) lifted his hands in the exact shape that the KOHANIM, the High Priests of Israel in ancient days would lift them, and he offered the thousands in the crowd the Priestly Blessing saying he hoped and prayed that all the people in the Holy Land would come together and work to achieve peace. A tsunami of cheers and applause broke out in that stadium and thousands of hand-held candles lit up the night sky. One could sense and feel the power of that moment and that blessing – given by a poet, a musician, or perhaps a modern-day prophet and sage. That blessing which begins “May God bless and keep You” in that stadium brought everyone together and offered a glimpse of what the world could look and feel like if we really could see each other as made “b’tzelem Elohim” – in God’s image.
As we celebrated the holiday of Thanksgiving, and will be together for Chanukah here in America with family and loved ones, might we consider bringing more blessings to our dinner tables before lighting candles and partaking of our holiday food? Perhaps we could remind all of our children – the quiet, the shy, the sensitive, the homebodies, the “red mantled,” the outgoing and rambunctious, the ones who are so much like us and those who are not, to say how much we love each and every one of them. Perhaps we can reassure them that there will always be enough blessings to go around for all of our children – hopes expressed that they will have the very best lives they can possibly have, with the greatest amount of love, health, success, and joy that God will grant them. And while we’re at it, might we consider extending these blessings outward into the larger world – to those who may seem different from us, but in fact, carry very similar hopes and dreams for themselves and their children as we do.
Keyn Yehi Ratzon, may our blessings be always in abundance, and may they have a far reach in our families, our homes, our synagogues, and all over this precious earth that we are so privileged to inhabit and share.
-Cantor Rita Glassman
The faded tombstone of a cohen (see image above), a Jewish priest who blessed the world Symbols were very common on Jewish tombstones in Galicia. The hands seen here represent the ritual blessing of the congregation performed in the synagogue by the “cohanim,” a small group within the Jewish people who are descended from the priests of biblical times, and who recite it with raised hands. God’s plan is understood optimistically as based on the desire to fill humanity with blessing, and the priests are a vehicle for channeling this cosmic energy to the world. But the tombstone is in poor shape: the hands are damaged, and the inscription is illegible. The blessing has faded.