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Temple Israel of Scranton

Temple Israel of Scranton

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Parashat Vayishlach 5781

Posted on December 4, 2020

From the Rabbi’s Desk

Parashat Vayishlach 5781

Our Torah portion this week begins Vayishlah Yaakov, Yaakov sent messengers with gifts to his brother Esav in preparation for their reunion after being apart for twenty years. Hanukkah begins at the end of this week; many of us are likewise sending gifts to family members we have not been able to see for longer than we would like (as well as to those whom we have seen). Yaakov sent what he had on hand: goats and sheep, camels, cattle, and donkeys to his brother. Very few of us are culling our flocks and sending them to those on our Hanukkah lists; would that it was that easy!

Our rabbis have mixed feelings about Yaakov’s gifts and his approach to his brother. On the one hand, some rabbis are very impressed with the size of the gift — it was an astonishingly large number of animals. On the other hand, some rabbis think that Yaakov gave too big a gift and was too obsequious to Esav. They are afraid that Yaakov’s deference opens the door to Esav lording it over him and by extension, us. They summarize this view in one terse sentence: “He who acts like a kid — the wolves devour him.”

Yaakov himself had mixed feelings. He was excited, he was afraid, he was unsure. He sent the gifts in stages, not all at the same time. We relate. Giving gifts can be rewarding and fun. But it can also be stressful and fraught. We might find ourselves asking questions like: Is my gift large enough? Is it too large? How does my gift to the grandkids measure up to what the other grandparents are giving?

Instead, let’s consider questions such as, What are some of the best gifts you have ever given over the years? What made them particularly memorable gifts? What do you wish you could give this year and how close to it can you get? What Jewish book or another item might you include in the package? What message do you want your gift to convey?

Gift giving on Hanukkah is a longstanding American Jewish tradition. As we go into the darkest part of the year, may our gifts help brighten the night, and may they inspire warm feelings in those whom we love. 

Sermon for tonight: “Rabbi, What is your position on miracles?”

The first night of Hanukkah falls on the following nights, with the following frequency:

Sunday 27.9%

Tuesday 22.0%

Friday 18.4%

Motzaei Shabbat 11.5%

Thursday 10.1%

Wednesday 10.0%

Monday never