A Bissel Torah: Vayetze: Pilgrims and Thanksgiving

[Parenthetically, I have received so many emails asking about my son, Yosef Yeshaya ben Sara Leah.  BH he is stable, but still in need of our prayers.  Thanks so much for your outpouring of love and kindness.  I am so grateful for your tefilot and concern.]

It is believed that the Pilgrims came to America for greater religious freedom.  The ability to practice as they saw fit.  The natural elements almost killed them, but they survived their first winter, settled in America, and made a content life for themselves here.

Many who are reading this are first/second generation Americans, having come to America to live as you see fit, religiously, or otherwise.  Religious tolerance was not generally in practice until fairly recently, mid 1900s, when religious tolerance laws were passed, which required employers, government and the general population to tolerate those who did not practice religion as they did, who were not the same color as they were, who were female and other minorities, in short, equal rights under the law.

Even as recently as 30 years ago, when I started practicing law, I volunteered at the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs (COLPA), and just about at this time of the year, we would get daily phone calls from those who were religious and wanted to leave early on Friday to reach home in time for shabbos, and whose jobs were in the balance if they did.  I was shocked that in recent history we were still dealing with employers who would not permit their employees to leave early on Friday for the Sabbath.  I worked on 65 such cases in two years.

Those who left their countries, homes and family, tore themselves from their roots to come to a new country and acclimate themselves to a new culture, did not have it easy.  Many left for religious freedom or from religious or ideological persecution.  Vayetzei, and he left.  New path, new journey.

Jacob left Lavan, his father in law, sneaking out to avoid confrontation with him.  Unbeknownst to him, his wife Rachel, stole her father’s idol, to save his soul, not for her own use.  When Lavan caught up to them, twice he asked why Jacob had stolen his idol.  Jacob then swore that he did not steal the idol and that the person who did steal the idol would die.

So it was, that when Rachel was giving birth to her second son, she died in childbirth and was not buried with the other forefathers and foremothers, but was buried in what is still a remote area on the way to Bethlehem.  We ask ourselves, does no good deed go unpunished?  Rachel is attempting to save her father’s soul by taking his idol, and she dies young and denied burial with her beloved Jacob?  Rachel who gave of herself by permitting her sister to marry Jacob first, having to wait an additional 7 years before marrying Jacob?  It was Rachel’s relinquishing her night with Jacob for Leah’s son’s Dudaim, that denied her the right to be buried with Jacob.

It seems so unfair to Rachel.  If we were to watch this movie from the beginning of the scene that Rachel gives Jacob water and brings him home, until the death of Rachel, we would say that Rachel’s death was a tragedy.  We yearn to believe that we understand what we see.  That we know what is going on and know it all.  Yet, the saga of the world is 5,778 years old or older, and the future appears to be infinite.  G-d drops us into this world, into a scene in the longest saga ever, and we don’t know what has truly happened before us, what will happen after us, and our purpose in life for the time that we are here, other than to be ethical/moral people.

In the last few weeks, I have written how pieces of different centuries and millennia in the Torah come together to fit into G-d’s game plan as revealed in the tanach, 24 books of Jewish religion.  This week, as well, we see the beauty of G-d’s hand.

Even though Rachel is punished for selling her bed for an evening for Ruben’s dudaim, and punished for stealing her father’s idol, we still see how G-d makes it work out for the best.  EVEN PUNISHMENTS work out for the best.

Rachel lived in about 2175 of the Jewish calendar.  It took over 1,100 years for us to discover that the tragedy of Rachel’s death and burial, turned out to be blessing for the Jewish nation.  Jeremiah hears tears over the horizon, Rachel is crying as she watches her children, the nation of Israel, forced, expelled from Israel.  She is buried, FORTUITOUSLY, on their path towards exile, and when she sees them, she cries out to G-d to save them.  She pleads on their behalf so very convincingly, that G-d comforts her by telling her that her prayers are not for naught, in her merit, the Jews will return to rebuild the second temple.

Even though she was punished for two sins, Im kol zeh, gam zoo l’tovah/with it all, it turned out for the best.  That is the test of faith.  That even when something appears bad, even when it comes about as a punishment, G-d always creates it for the best.

Leaving the comfort zone, whether home or in life’s journey, growth always comes when one reaches beyond her comfort zone.  When she tests herself to try different endeavors, fail, reach higher, try it a different way and with different people, take the path less travelled, that is where one finds growth.  Any decisions one makes, there will be ying and yang, positive and negatives.  The challenge is to do the best we can on the path we have chosen and ask G-d’s help in achieving goals that are proper and truly good for us individually, as a community and a nation.

Vayetzei, and he went out.  The Pilgrims left their home for a better life.  Most of us have come from immigrants looking for a better life, and with G-d’s help, we landed in a country that has as part of its motto, life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.  Thank you G-d for landing us on this path, to a community where we have 10s of shules and restaurants and stores which permit us to thrive in our religion and religious pursuits.  Thank you G-d and the United States of America.

Shabbat shalom.


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