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Manners Matter

11/04/2021 03:25:57 PM


One of the most meaningful moments of shabbat and holiday observance is sharing a meal with friends and family. Growing up in a rabbinic family, my parents would invite congregants to our home to get to know them better and to enjoy each other’s company. My parents once invited a family over that had rambunctious children. At one point, one of the children was acting like a vilde chayeh (Yiddish: a wild animal) and the parent called out, “That’s not how you behave in the rabbi’s house!” Now, my parents are pretty informal. However, I remember my dad commenting later, “that’s not how you should behave in anyone’s house!” 

There are a few insights we can glean from this parent’s comment to her children. Since the parent qualified her statement that the child’s behavior was inappropriate for the rabbi’s house, it presupposes that it is something that is tolerated elsewhere. Additionally, the statement demonstrates the parent’s embarrassment of the child’s behavior. 

These two elements of her statement – that her child has negative behaviors, and that she doesn’t want the rabbi to know – are echoed in this week’s Torah portion. In Parshat Toldot, we read how Isaac plans to give a blessing to his son Esau. However, not believing that Esau is deserving of the blessing, Rebecca and Jacob devise a ploy to have Jacob steal the blessing from his brother. Worried that the ruse won’t work since Jacob is not as hairy as his brother, Jacob says, “If my father touches me, I shall appear to him as a trickster and bring upon myself a curse and not a blessing” (Genesis 27:12). But what does he mean he would appear as a trickster? He is precisely a trickster! He just doesn’t want his father to know that. 

As we go through life, we masquerade as people who are a little different than who we are when we are alone. The rules and etiquette of our society dictate who we are supposed to be in public and more often than not, our public image is better than the version of ourselves that lies underneath. But if we are wise enough to know that we should be acting differently so that we can be seen as better people, shouldn’t we also be wise enough to just be better people at our core as well? If Jacob doesn’t want his dad to think he is a trickster, then he shouldn’t trick his father in the first place. Similarly, if we want our children to behave in the rabbi’s house, then we also must teach our children to behave properly no matter where they are. My hope is that if ever we find that we like our public selves better than our private ones, then I’d challenge us to grow our private selves to a place that makes us prouder. 

Shabbat Shalom

Fri, June 14 2024 8 Sivan 5784