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Toldot: This Most of All, To Thine Own Self Be True. November 10, 2018

Rabbi Randall Konigsburg

וַיֶּאֱהַב יִצְחָק אֶת-עֵשָׂו כִּי-צַיִד בְּפִיו וְרִבְקָה אֹהֶבֶת אֶת-יַעֲקֹב

Isaac favored Esau because he had a taste for game; but Rebekah favored Jacob  
(The Hebrew כִּי-צַיִד בְּפִיו (ki tzayid b’fiv) can be translated literally as “for that which is trapped was in his mouth,”)
A.     We know that within Esau too there were holy sparks from which Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Akiva, Shema’ayah, Avtalion, and other converts were born. But Esau would arrest all of the holy sparks in his mouth, for he was afraid to allow them down into his body lest they coerce him and return him to good. This, then, is the meaning of “because he had a taste for game,” suggesting that since the sparks were quite literally captive within him, they were only in his mouth and not in his inner embodied being. This is why Isaac was mistaken about Esau, for when Esau would speak with him, Esau would express the holy sparks that were in his mouth. This is also the meaning of the verse, “A cheat is roasted by his own game” (Prov. 12:27).
(Rabbi Meir is purported by the Talmud to be a descendent of Nero; Rabbi Akiva is thought to be a descendent of the Philistine general Sisera (see Judges Chapter 4); Shema’ayah and Avtalion were the preeminent leaders of the Pharisees in the 1st century BCE. Both were converts who descended from king Sennacherib of Assyria.)
B.      Esau, the man of the field, the man with game in his mouth, is thus recast as a person who is willfully out of touch with his own body for fear that the information it contains will compel him to change his life and turn toward the good. Our teaching, then, recasts Esau as someone quite familiar to us—we, too, tend to process our experience verbally without allowing ourselves to feel it fully in the body. Like Esau, we are people of the field, spending much of our time in outwardly-directed avoidance so that we don’t have to confront and process the hidden and often unpleasant parts of our being and the difficult truths they hold. In thus fooling ourselves, we do ourselves harm by repressing those parts of us that badly need our attention so that we might heal and grow into more conscious beings. What’s more, our teacher was aware of the very real possibility that we might bring the habit of using words to avoid difficult inner truths into our prayer life. We might fill our mouths with holy words without ever sensing their impact in the body or allowing them to transform us from the inside out. And we might spend years of our lives rattling off words from the siddur without ever attending to the contents of our own minds and their somatic expressions. Used in this way, prayer can serve as a distraction, pulling us farther away from a deep examination of our inner lives. Given that the very verb for prayer—p-l-l—is reflexive, connoting self-evaluation, such an orientation to prayer falls well short of the true intended purpose of prayer as tefillah.
[Selections from Sefer Torat Ha’maggid: Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezritsh by Rabbi Sam Feinsmith, IJS Torah Study for Toldot 2018]
Think About It:
1.       Do we use our words to avoid knowing what is deep inside us? How does prayer try to synchronize our bodies with our words?
2.       What are the words of prayer supposed to do? How are we to engage the words in our Siddur?
3.       Why do we avoid what prayer is trying to teach us, to reach us?
The Blessing of Unanswered Prayers
- Unknown Confederate soldier
I asked for strength that I might achieve;
I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health that I might do greater things;
I was given infirmity that I might do better things.
I asked for riches that I might be happy;
I was given poverty that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men;
I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life;
I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I had asked for,
but everything that I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself my unspoken prayers were answered;
I am, among all people, most richly blessed


Sermon given by Rabbi Randall Konigsburg at Beth Sholom B’nai Israel on Saturday, November 10, 2018.

Fri, May 24 2019 19 Iyyar 5779