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A D'var Torah cowritten by the religious school

11/17/2023 02:29:43 PM

Nov17

Shabbat Shalom! This week’s Torah portion is Parashat Toldot, the story of Jacob and Esau and their sibling rivalry, which is very encouraged by their parents. Because we descend from Jacob, the ancient rabbis tended to come down pretty harsh on Esau, to justify the way he ended up being treated by his mother and brother. But I always feel like Esau gets a bad rap. Some people just prefer to be out in nature, to play rough, while some people like to do domestic homestead type activities. Some people are naturally easily distracted and some people are more focused. Some people like school and study, and some people like to explore and learn with their hands. And these are all ok. 

Similarly, some people prefer to pray with the words in our prayer books, and some people prefer to pray just in their heads. And some people have trouble with prayer in general. This is also all ok. We each need to find our own ways to connect with each other, with Judaism, and with God. 

Last Sunday at Religious School, we talked a lot about prayers and blessings. We learned that prayer straight from the heart is called kavannah, and prayer from the book is called keva. We talked about the different times and reasons we might pray. Our students shared that they pray to show our beliefs in our religion and to express how lucky we are that God is great. A lot of our students and their parents shared that expressing gratitude is a top reason to pray. Others suggested that sometimes we pray also to remind us to be good, to show respect to Judaism and to God, to allow us to get closer to God. And sometimes, we pray because we like to sing the songs and show off that we learned Hebrew! 

The answers to why we pray were pretty consistent among our families. But the answers to when and where were more split. There was a sizable number of people who said that we pray in the synagogue or in other houses of worship, that we pray when we are scheduled to, in services or on holidays. There was another sizable number of people who felt that we can pray anytime and anywhere, as long as it is sincere. There was some strong emphasis on praying when you need to and not just because you want something. Sometimes it can be hard to differentiate between want and need, but I think the gist was that if you are honest and open-hearted, your prayer will be heard and your soul may be soothed by praying. 

We don’t see Jacob or Esau pray to God in this parasha. Isaac prays to bestow a special blessing over his son - the blessing meant for the oldest sibling (which would be Esau) but finagled by Jacob. In response to learning that his brother has stolen his blessing, Esau cries out, “Have you no other blessings for me, Father?” which sounds like a prayer, too, in a way. A prayer to be heard and seen by his family, to be accepted by his father’s God, to learn how to be a better leader for the would-be Jewish people. Not every prayer is answered the way we want it to be, and Esau is not granted a blessing by Isaac and does not become a leader for our ancestors. However, just because we don’t get the answer we want or were expecting, does not mean our prayers weren’t heard. Esau does have a good life. He ends up with a lot of animals and a big family, which in those days basically meant he was rich. He and Jacob do eventually make up and have a lovely family reunion. Tradition tells us that his descendants and the Israelites were friendly neighbors in the Holy Land for generations. He was blessed in his own way. 

And so may you be. May the God of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Esau and their wives, bless you and keep you. May the strength of our ancestors uplift you. And may you carry forward the Torah they have left as our most precious possession. 

Tue, July 23 2024 17 Tammuz 5784