Sign In Forgot Password

Sermon: Parshat Toldot, 11/20/20

12/09/2020 09:29:24 AM


Rabbi Charlie

Shabbat Shalom!

Our very own Richard Baratz knows how to draw a caricature. For those who don’t know, Richard is the caricaturist at Sardi’s in New York City, a restaurant famous for it’s caricatures. In a caricature, certain features are made to be more obvious and others are toned down. By definition, a caricature shows us a small part of a person. In the right hands, caricature is great art, but caricature never defines a whole person.

Far too many people treat people as caricatures rather than people. They pick out one small thing about a person and that will be the only thing that matters. Turning people into caricatures has been around a long time.

Esau, who get’s born in this week’s Torah portion, along with his brother Jacob, becomes a caricature in Rabbinic tradition. He gets accused of the worst kind of behavior. In one of the more creative stories (Genesis Rabbah 63:12, 14), our Rabbis claim that Esau told Jacob that Jacob had to feed him. So Esau opened up his mouth like a camel and told Jacob to keep packing the food in. It’s right out of a Looney Tunes cartoon. It was wrong then and it was wrong now.

Fortunately, caricatures weren’t the only stories that were told. In a very different type of midrash (Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer 24), Esau is hunting a gazelle in a field. Nimrod saw him and approached. Nimrod considered himself king over the ancient world and he felt like all the world belonged to him. Nimrod asked Esau, “Why are you hunting in my forest?” He demanded that Esau fight him the next day.

Esau was very worried. Nimrod was known to be an invincible warrior. He went to his brother, Jacob, who was the wisest person he knew to get advice. Jacob told Esau that as long as Nimrod was wearing Adam’s garments, there was no way to defeat him. “You’re going to have to convince him to take them off, and then fight him.”

It turns out that Adam’s clothing was legendary. God gave Adam and Eve special clothing when they left the Garden of Eden that protected them from the environment. It turns out that they were pretty good in battle, too.

So the next day, Esau follows his brother’s advice. He not only convinced Nimrod to take off Adam’s garment, Esau was able to slip them on. Because of that, Esau prevailed. It still took a lot out of him - Esau returned to Jacob’s exhausted where he shared a meal with his brother.

Instead of a cartoon of Esau who literally had his face stuffed with food, this version of Esau was a full person. He worried; he asked for help. Instead of being enemies, Esau and Jacob work together to overcome a powerful ruler. When there are so many stories about how bad Esau is, it makes it hard to see him as anything more than a caricature of evil. But in this story, Esau’s not a bully or a pig - he’s a person.

On television, at the movies, in all forms of media – we see caricature after caricature. There may be times when we turn our coworkers, our friends, or even our family into caricatures. And when there’s difficulties and anxiety and stress – we can even feel like a caricature ourselves. We need to know that there is so much more to us than that.

Almost everyone I know at one point or another is amazing and flawed, wise and foolish, generous and selfish, kind and abrupt – in other words – we’re human and we’re all trying to do the best we can in challenging times. Our humanity is something to be appreciated. The humanity of others is something to be appreciated – even if we’re having a hard time with someone at the moment.

As a very different kind of Thanksgiving approaches, appreciation and gratitude is a good place to focus our energies. I pray that we all can find good health, joy, and appreciation on this Sabbath Day and in the week ahead.

Shabbat Shalom!


Thu, January 21 2021 8 Sh'vat 5781