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A Side Order of Meaning

11/27/2019 12:55:13 AM

Nov27

This weekend, we mark the confluence of Parashat Toldot and Thanksgiving. There is actually a thread of connection between the Torah portion and the festival on the secular calendar. For many of us, Thanksgiving is about gathering with family or friends for a festive meal. In the portion this week, we see two times where shared food is entangled with complex family dynamics. First, Esau trades his birthright for a mess of red porridge (made with lentils, not cranberries). Then, Isaac agrees to bless Esau, on the condition that Esau will bring him venison from the hunt. As the story goes, Jacob takes the blessing by impersonating Esau and bringing roast meat from the flocks.

In each case in our Torah portion, love, respect and relationship are conditional on food with a healthy side order of guilt. Jacob is the cook who wonders how his efforts are to be valued. Isaac treasures the son who brings him food. Esau sees food as a substitute for status in the family. Today’s families are not so different from those of the Bible. We all know people who express feelings of love and commitment through their cooking that they are unable to express in other ways. An extra helping of stuffing may be an attempt to demonstrate additional affection. Conversely, those who are “consumers” in the relationship can make that relationship conditional on how they are served, or may struggle to find ways to reject the extra calories without seeming to reject the affection that they represent.

Of course, at the same time, all that eating can distract us from the true meaning of Thanksgiving, which is gratitude for God’s bounty, a gratitude that we are able to share with our neighbors of many faiths. This is one of the seasons of the year when eating can take on overtones of emotion that it does not deserve. Let us all be blessed with the ability to show our love for each other with what comes out of our mouths, not what we put in them.

Wed, April 8 2020 14 Nisan 5780