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Strangers at the Table


We are told in the Torah, 36 times in fact, to care for the stranger among us. 

For instance we are told:

“You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress them, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 22:20) “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love them as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Leviticus 19:34) “You shall have one standard for stranger and citizen alike: for I the LORD am your God.” (Leviticus 24:22) "You shall not subvert the rights of the stranger or the fatherless; you shall not take a widow’s garment in pawn." (Deuteronomy 24:17) 


Through these instructions, we learn that equity is important. That even the stranger should be included. We have known what it is like to be strangers— outcasts, pariahs, targets of hatred. We must not do this to others. 


The Torah portion this week, Toldot, describes the situation when siblings are estranged from one another.  Isaac has grown old and has two sons—twins in fact—but their birthday is about all that they have in common.  


Esau, the elder twin, was a skillful hunter, a man of the outdoors—a Marlboro man type of guy.  But Jacob was a mild man who stayed in camp—today we might call him a homebody.  


Well, the fault of Esau and Jacob’s father, Isaac, was that he played favorites to one son over the other based on the type of people they were.  The text says that Isaac favored Esau because he had a taste for game.  Actually, the text says that Isaac ye’ehav—Isaac loved Esau. ….where is the mention of love for Jacob?

Each of us can imagine what happens to siblings who are so different, and a parent clearly favors one?  Or what happens when any family member is favored over the others—unfortunately we might know this from first hand experience—what happens to the others?  They get lost in the shuffle.  


And, with Thanksgiving coming up, these dynamics might be right around the corner.  For many of us, those feelings that we might be pushed to the side and have to play second-class citizen to a more popular or favored relative begin to come up.  Anxiety may begin to make its way into our consciousness.  We begin to analyze every gesture—every interaction. Why does all of the conversation seem to revolve around his life or work rather than mine or hers?  Why can he arrive late and get away with it? Even the most prideful individual can be reduced to childlike worry in family situations around the holidays.  For some of us, the Thanksgiving dinner coming up brings these confusing feelings to the fore.  

So, what do we do?  Well, this Shabbat, we might stop and take a second and contemplate our own family situation:  If we are a parent, perhaps we can consider our treatment of our children—is it fair? Do we spend quality individual time with each child or have we tended to favor one child over the others?


If we see ourselves as an unfavored child, perhaps we can consider our own role in the treatment—can we express to our parents that we would like some quality time with them without our sibling or siblings so that we can bond?  Can we let go of some of our anxiety which freezes us up and closes us off from real connection?


If we are a favored child, perhaps we can consider including our family members who may not enjoy as much attention?  Perhaps we can make room within the conversation to learn about them and engage them in questions.  Can we take interest in their hopes for the year?

Unfortunately, many of us know what it’s like to be lost in the shuffle.  To not be seen for who you are… and for people to play favorites to others and appear to discount your own experience. 


What would it have been like if Isaac would have valued the individuality in each of his children and appreciated them each for who they uniquely were at least once a year?  And, what would it be like to appreciate people in every sector of society— honoring what they each uniquely bring to the table? This season, let us rededicate our appreciation of each and give thanks for who each uniquely is: an expression of Divine love. Amen. 



The above is a reflection by Rabbi Heather Miller on this week's Torah portion, Parashat Toldot, Genesis 25:19-28:9. Please visit keepingitsacred.com to subscribe and follow on social media.

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