WWOT – Weekly Words of Torah: Parashat Vayishlach

To inspire, guide, engage, enrich, and empower Conservative Jewish Women
By Rabbi Ellen S. Wolintz-Fields, Executive Director, Women’s League For Conservative Judaism

Our Torah portion this week, Parashat Vayishlach, begins with the tense meeting of estranged twin brothers Jacob and Esau and culminates with their eventual reconciliation. For many families gathered around the Thanksgiving table, the atmosphere may be similar to that surrounding the brothers during their time of separation. Whether the subject of the table conversation is local, national or global politics, Israeli politics, religious beliefs, or even who made the best stuffing, conversations may seem more heated than the food served. So, what inspiration can we derive from this week’s Torah reading, in preparation for those potentially difficult conversations around the Thanksgiving table?

When Jacob, who has just left Laban’s house, encounters his brother Esau, he says “Em Lavan Garti.” – with Laban, I lived. Rashi, in what is perhaps one of the most famous passages in his Torah commentary, notes that the word “garti” has the numerical value of 613, and thus Jacob’s words seemingly allude to the 613 Biblical commandments. Although Jacob was not living in a Jewish home or environment, he was still living a Jewish life and followed the mitzvoth. Thus, he is able to show his brother that as a way of honoring and fulfilling these mitzvoth; he was seeking only peace with Esau.

For those of us at the Thanksgiving table, maybe just substituting those values and mitzvot from the Jewish lives we lead in place of the conflicts we might have with others can make all the difference for us, just as it did for Jacob and Esau. We can have some wine, and say the Kiddush, or we can eat some challah and say HoMotzi and express our thankfulness at these moments. Perhaps we can tell each person at the table what traits and strengths we value in them. We might also go around the table and express our gratefulness to God or describe whatever God may mean to each of us. Since it is not Shabbat, we might put out some Tzedakah boxes on the table for Torah Fund and show the Jewish value of giving charity, or we might have a discussion about how each person can show his or her gratitude by helping others, and discuss what commandments speak to us each and every day, especially as we sit around the Thanksgiving table together.

WWOT, Weekly Words of Torah will be a brief paragraph prepared weekly by our new Executive Director, Rabbi Ellen S. Wolintz-Fields, presented in our “This Week @ Women’s League.” WWOT will provide meaningful thoughts related to the Weekly Torah Portion, an event on the Calendar, a Prayer, or something of Jewish interest, to inspire, guide, engage, enrich, and empower Conservative Jewish Women. If you have any particular interest in future topics, or want to send Rabbi Wolintz-Fields an email, you can contact her at ewolintz-fields@wlcj.org. Read previous Weekly Words of Torah here.