Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Vayishlach: Thanks for Nothing/Everything


One of the greatest gifts that I have ever received is the gift of independence. Looking back, not having someone there to support me at every minute forced me to develop skills of self-sufficiency, confidence, and creative thinking. Of course, I have enjoyed the enormous love, support, and care of countless people, but just as important as their concern was the space others left for me to grow and define myself.

In this week's portion, Vayishlach, Jacob indicates that all of God's love and support might not have been as helpful as God had intended. Jacob says to God in Genesis

32:11:

11. I have become small from all the kindnesses and from all the truth that You have rendered Your servant, for with my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps.
יא. קָטֹנְתִּי מִכֹּל הַחֲסָדִים וּמִכָּל הָאֱמֶת אֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתָ אֶת עַבְדֶּךָ כִּי בְמַקְלִי עָבַרְתִּי אֶת הַיַּרְדֵּן הַזֶּה וְעַתָּה הָיִיתִי לִשְׁנֵי מַחֲנוֹת:

Rashi interprets this verse:

I have become small: My merits have diminished because of the kindnesses and the truth that You have rendered me. Therefore, I fear lest I have became sullied with sin since [the time that] You promised me, and it will cause me to be delivered into Esau’s hand[s]. — [from Shab. 32a, Ta’anith 20b, Ber. 41]

קטנתי מכל החסדים:

נתמעטו זכיותי על ידי החסדים והאמת שעשית עמי, לכך אני ירא, שמא משהבטחתני נתלכלכתי בחטא ויגרום לי להמסר ביד עשו:

Who could ever complain about too much kindness and truth?! Don't we all want more of both in our lives? Of course we do, and the more kindness and truth we receive from God and loved ones, the more we consider ourselves to be blessed. However, all good things, even these two values, have their limit. God's care was so great that Jacob ceased to take accountability for his own sins and weaknesses. He would have been better served with fewer blessings so that he could grow more as a son, father, brother, husband, and leader.

One of the greatest challenges of parenthood and leadership is knowing when we are giving so much that we end up taking away from the people we love. Sometimes, less is more. We need to take the risk of not doing everything for the person we love so that they have the freedom, the room, and the incentive to grow. Vayishlach teaches us that even God struggles with where to draw that line, and his beloved Jacob suffered from God's abundance.

This week let us all focus on taking the risk of not doing it all and not giving everything we have, so that the ones we love and with whom we work have the potential to take accountability for their own lives and assert their unique and valuable gifts.

Shabbat Shalom!