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Jacob and Esau

Based on a Torah reading from Genesis chapter 33, verses 1 to 14
Jacob and Esau have been fighting since before they were born. By the time this passage takes place, Esau has held a grudge against Jacob for many years because Jacob tricked their father Isaac. Jacob told Isaac that he was Esau and stole Esau’s blessing. Of course, Esau was mad because the blessing Isaac gave to Jacob put Jacob in charge of the entire family. Esau was the firstborn, so that was supposed to be his blessing. Esau planned to kill Jacob because he was very mad, so Isaac their father blessed Jacob again and sent him off to find a wife. Jacob found a wife – in fact, he found two wives and their two maidservants, and he had children with all of them.
In the passage I read, Jacob finds Esau coming after him with 400 men.  He sends many gifts to Esau because he’s afraid that Esau is still angry with him. After the gifts, Jacob sends his people: first the maidservants and their children, then Leah and her children, then Rachel and Joseph last. Esau comes up to him and hugs him, and Jacob tells Esau who the people with him are. They agree to travel together, even though Jacob may travel slower.
One of the interesting details of the story is how Jacob sends his family to meet Esau –first he sends his servants and their children, who are also his sons. Then he sends Leah and her children, and then Rachel and Joseph. It’s pretty easy to figure out that he is putting who he likes the best in the back, so they will be the safest. He puts the servants and their children first because he doesn’t care about them as much as Rachel and Joseph, whom he puts last.
From this part of the story, you can learn a lesson for Humanistic Judaism. If you had been in front, you wouldn’t have liked it, but in the story they don’t say anything. In Humanistic Judaism, it is important to say what you believe, even if others disagree with you. You have to stand up for what you think. While Jacob was lining them up, they were probably too scared to say what they thought, or maybe they thought that because he was the father and husband, he could tell them what to do, but they should have spoken up anyways.
This part of the story with the wives and children might also be related to why these stories were written. In the Bible’s story, the 12 sons of Jacob will later have families, and their families will grow into the 12 tribes of Israel – remember, Israel is
Jacob’s other name. In Jewish history, it’s likely that the tribes existed first, and they made agreements with each other by inventing a shared family tree – if their ancestors were related, they would be natural allies. And the most important tribes could take the most important positions in that founding family. Would you rather claim to be the son of a wife, or the son of a maidservant? Obviously, the wives’ sons, or those tribes, were stronger. Even in America, we talk about our Founding Fathers and call George Washington the Father of our Country. Knowing this history about Jacob and the tribes doesn’t change the drama of the story, but it helps us understand where it really came from.
If I had to pick the most important lesson from this story as we have it today, it would be that it’s always good to forgive people. Even if somebody does something you don’t like, you still have to live with it, and learn to forgive them for what they did. If you never forgive them, then you’ll always be fighting and you won’t be able to have a good relationship with them any more. My brothers and I fight about stupid things, but in the end all is forgiven. Even if we’re in the middle of an argument, when we hear one of our inside jokes, we just start laughing and forget that anything was ever wrong.
Part of getting older is learning to forgive and to move forward. To me, celebrating a Bat Mitzvah means getting older and helping out in the community more, like my community service project. As you get older, you have to do more for the community, and having a Bat Mitzvah represents the transition – it’s not like you didn’t do anything before and now you have to do everything, but this is the moment to recognize this progress. It also represents beginning to have more responsibilities, and that not everything will always be done for you.
For my Mitzvah community service, I helped the Glass Slipper Project. They collect new or gently used formal dresses for teenagers who need dresses for prom and cannot afford them. I helped them collect dresses and other items such as makeup. I sent letter to people I know asking for donations, and I also sent letters to makeup companies asking them to help out. I chose the Glass Slipper project because if I were not able to afford a dress, I would be grateful for that help too. Just because someone doesn’t have a lot of money doesn’t mean they should miss out on prom. The Glass Slipper project helps them have a night to remember and made me feel good to be a part of it. There’s even a parallel out of Jewish history – when a young woman didn’t have parents to give her a dowry when she wanted to get married, then the Jewish community would give her a dowry, and this would enable her to get married. This is like the Glass Slipper project: both help young women get ready for and enjoy important events, even if they can’t afford it.
I found three connections between my Torah passage and my community service project. First, Jacob gives Esau many gifts, and the Glass Slipper project is another kind of giving. In fact, giving old dresses that don’t even fit any more to someone else who could use them and feeling good about it doesn’t cost you anything and just makes sense. Second, when Jacob tricks his father Isaac, one of the things Jacob does to seem like Esau is to wear Esau’s clothes – and, unfortunately, Isaac sees the clothes and not the person inside them. It shouldn’t matter what you wear on the outside, but unfortunately, sometimes it does, which is why making sure that girls who cannot afford nice dresses can still have them. And last, when Jacob is old, he makes the mistake of giving a special coat to his favorite son Joseph – of course, all of the other sons are jealous. If THEY had also gotten special coats from a group like the Technicolor Dreamcoat Project, no problem.
In some way, all of my Mitzvah work can be related to telling stories – memories of a prom with a great dress, the story of Jacob and Esau, even the story of how the story got written in the first place. And now you have a story to tell too – the story of my Bat Mitzvah. Because the story of my life is just beginning a new chapter.
Follow the links below to read other B Mitvah speeches.
Wed, July 24 2024 18 Tammuz 5784