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November 27, 2020 – Vayeitzei

Shabbat Message from Cantor Ron Eichaker

The Torah frequently tells us that everything we read should not be taken on its face.  Granted the Torah only says what happens and does not give us much in the way of context. The Torah is tricky that way. It allows us to read from our current point of view or from the frame of mind that has been generated however internally or externally. Yes, the Torah is loose enough to allow us to, fill in the visual or rhetorical blanks every time we read it. This is why the Torah has been so popular over the years. Year in and year out we read the same words around the same time of the year. Like watching a “Charlie Brown – fill in holiday experience here – movie, we look forward to seeing these kinds of “traditional” media performances as way of grounding us in tradition and providing continuity in our lives. The Torah does little to invoke such emotions. Our calendar, on the other hand, provides holy days and festivals to help us ritualize and preserve traditions, but the Torah inspires us to revisit, refresh, reinterpret the words according to our current personal, social  and environmental circumstances. With this as a textual “amuse-bouche”, we read about Leah, Jacob’s first wife. 

In Genesis 29:35 we read after she conceived again and bore a son, and declared,  “This time I will praise Adonai.” Therefore, she named him Judah. Then she stopped bearing. 

In this Midrash, or rabbinic explanation, the rabbis ask why Leah felt especially  thankful after the birth of her fourth child: 

Midrash Tanchuma, Vayetzei 9:4 

Why did she not say I will praise God after the births of Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and all the others, but only after the birth of Judah? This may be compared to a priest who goes to a man’s barn to collect the tithe and the priestly portion. When the owner of the barn hands the priest the priestly portion, he does not thank him, and when he gives him the tithe, he still does not thank him. But if, after he gives the priest what is due him, he adds a measure of unconsecrated food, the priest does thank him and recites a prayer in his behalf. A bystander asked the priest: “Why is it that when he  gave you the tithe and the priestly portion, you did not thank him, but when he added  only a single measure of unconsecrated food, you thanked him?” The priest replied:  “The tithe and the priestly offering belong to me, and I merely accepted that which  belonged to me, but the measure of unconsecrated food he added belonged to him,  and so I thanked him for it.” Similarly, Leah said: “Twelve tribes are to descend from Jacob, and since he has four “wives” (Leah, Rachel, Bilha and Zilpah), each of us is entitled to bear three sons. I have already given birth to three sons, my rightful  share, but now a fourth son has been granted to me; surely it is fitting that I praise  the Lord this time.” 

According to the Midrash, why is Leah thankful after the birth of her fourth son? 

Sometimes circumstances in our lives appear to be curses when, looking deeper,  provide a platform for blessings. What kinds of negative circumstances have revealed positive outcomes for you today? 

Though Leah’s obvious angst at being deemed, “the unloved wife” of Jacob, we see that she was blessed with four children. Her core attitude was to create a blessing out of something that could be viewed, by her and others, as a bad situation not of her choosing. Instead of gloating and viewing her successes as compensation for all the anxiety she has had to suffer, she calculates, first, what is fair in her familial dynamic, and was able to accept her just apportionment, in her own mind. Then,  when she receives an additional portion, she sees this as a bonus, or gift for which she feels grateful. Don’t you like her thinking here?  

At this calendrical time and season, I hope we can invigorate the spirit of thankfulness in the same way as Leah. Look at what we have and determine what more we have that comprises hidden blessings and cash them in this year. This a  unique and historic time. I’m sure you have accumulated hidden blessings that this time of world-wide challenges calls you to bring to the front of your psyche. Look around you. Take a minute (and entire sixty seconds please) and look in and around your world, internally and externally. Now shine the light of faith into the dark corners of your life and, there, you will find the hidden blessings. Bring them into the daylight of your consciousness and put them in a prominent place. Now go about this time and keep an eye on those hidden blessings and be grateful for them because now is probably the time you need them.  

Shabbat Shalom