Rabbi Safman’s Weekly Message

Nov 9, 2018 - Toledot 5779

As my younger son Sasson has reached a more assertive and articulate stage, the dynamics between him and his older brother, Yair, have shifted – not always for the better.  Many an evening, as I am trying to get dinner to the table, I hear their voices from the next room, the volume and emotion rising to a crescendo until erupting, inevitably, into a crash or sob.

“Time out, both of you!” I scream, as I close the distance between us and prepare to frog-march the boys to their rooms for a few moments of quiet reflection (at least, as I imagine it).  Almost inevitably within a few minutes time, I hear one or the other creeping quietly into the other’s room and resuming play more amicably.

The value of a “cooling off period” is attested to in this week’s Torah portion.  Parashat Toledot relates the murderous hostility that grows up between the twin brothers, Ya’acov and Esav (Jacob and Esau), after the younger of the brothers (Jacob) manipulates his father into bestowing on him the elder’s birthright. 

Fearing for his life, Jacob departs for an extended sojourn with his uncle Laban.  But after an absence of many years, he yearns to return home, his growing family in tow.  As he draws closer to the reunion with his brother, Jacob anticipates the worst.  What revenge is Esau intending to extract on Jacob and his family?  But when the two brothers actually meet, they immediately embrace.

It is quite likely that over the course of our own lives, we will at some point find ourselves at odds – perhaps even in extreme conflict – with someone we care about.  When this happens, conventional wisdom suggests that we need to “bury the hatchet” and approach the individual with whom we have differences peaceably.   

But in point of fact, emotions have a life of their own and can’t always be laid to rest just by setting our minds to it.  Sometimes it is necessary to give ourselves – and our antagonists – some space to both process what has happened and to move away from it emotionally, letting our most vitriolic feelings dissipate before re-engaging on different terms.

Shabbat shalom.

Rabbi Rachel Safman