I’ve always loved Thanksgiving. The Thanksgivings of my youth were quiet days. Everything in the neighborhood was closed! My mother either cooked or one of my aunts did. It was a great time to spend with my cousins and the food was always good. And as the youngest grandchild I could also appreciate that there was no performance piece to do — think Passover and you’ll understand!
As I became older, and began to celebrate Shabbat regularly, I saw Thanksgiving as a bit of Shabbat, but I could do the things that I couldn’t do on Shabbat. The city was quiet, we could sleep late, instead of a chicken there was a turkey, and as an added bonus, there was a parade to watch in your pajamas! What could be better.
So I was horrified to see that my quiet day in NY has become an ultimate shopping contest, fit for reality t.v. In the past years, malls and stores have gone from opening at normal time on the Friday morning after Thanksgiving day to 5am that day, to midnight the night before, to 9pm on Thanksgiving day itself. It’s all about getting the best bargain, seeking out something for the latest, shiniest toy for the lowest price, and snatching it up before anyone else can. As someone who understands the idea of shopping as sport, I can relate just a bit. But this has become extreme. Thankfully, many stores have made some adjustments after the hazards faced last year.
The NY Times reported
“While most malls and stores were packed but relatively calm, in California, a woman pepper-sprayed fellow Wal-Mart shoppers, apparently to keep them from grabbing an Xbox she wanted. Two other Wal-Mart shoppers, in San Leandro, Calif., and Myrtle Beach, S.C., were shot in the stores’ parking lots, while police arrested shoppers who were fighting over products in Wal-Mart stores in Milford, Conn., Rome, N.Y. and Kissimmee, Fla.”
This is madness. We just want more, more, more, and we use our winter religious holidays as a justification. Where could people possibly have learned to use such trickery for their own gain?
In this week’s parasha, Vayetze, we see the worst kinds of trickery and deceit to date in the saga of Bereshit. Jacob leaves his home, running from his brother whom he deceived in last week’s parasha, and going to his uncle Lavan, Rebecca’s brother. When Jacob tells Lavan his story, Lavan responds “you are truly of my bone and flesh.” This is Lavan’s recognition of Jacob as a kinsman. But I cannot help thinking that what Lavan is really saying is, “You are like me.” And they are more alike than they ever would have expected.
At first, Lavan welcomes Jacob into his house, but it’s not too long, just a month, until Lavan says, it’s all well and good that we’re related, but what are you going to do for me? Jacob willingly enters into a deal to work for Lavan for 7 years in return for Rachel’s hand in marriage. In fact, it’s Jacob’s idea! Lavan agrees, but trickery ensues. Lavan realizes that he likes the work that Jacob has done and wants more. So Lavan switches the brides and Jacob marries Leah by mistake and doesn’t notice this until the next day. I’m not even going to wonder how this could happen! Jacob enters into another agreement to work another 7 years so he can marry Rachel. Like with the store opening times, the terms of the agreement keep changing.
The competition continues with Rachel and Leah as they compete to see who can have the most children. Leah is in the lead so Rachel, who cannot bear children at this point, tells Jacob to lie with her handmaiden Bilhah (where have we heard this story before). And she has two children, so Leah has to do the same, for two more with her handmaiden. In total, this parasha bring us 12 births, 6 boys and 1 girl for Leah, 2 boys for each of their maid servants, and 1 boy, Joseph, for Rachel.
Jacob then tries to dissolve his financial relationship with Lavan and made a deal to seemingly take the weakest animals from the flock for himself. But through what can only be called “magic,” the weakest, the ones with spots and stripes, multiply like crazy. Selective breeding, dominant traits, God’s blessing? Who knows the cause. But of course, now that the runts are worth something, Lavan wants them back.
Jacob and his family hightail it out of town and Lavan follows them a few days later. And in the weirdest vignette, it turns out that Rachel stole the household Gods, idols. Why? We do not know. Perhaps she wanted something of her own from the house she grew up in or she wanted to do her own bit of trickery on her father for all that he had done to her. How might her life been different if she had just married Jacob first?
Lavan, of course, accuses Jacob and Jacob is shocked! How could Jacob do anything that deceitful? Stealing, trickery? Guess he forgot what he had done to his own brother. Is this anymore deceitful than stealing a birthright, or a blessing?
So what can we learn from the scheming of Jacob and those around him? Would they have been the first ones on line at Walmart on Thanksgiving eve, or would they have spent the day with their children and grandchildren, enjoying the time together?
As we approach Hanukah, just a few weeks away, I encourage you to fight the retail madness and find a way to say thanks for your family, friends, and our non-retail riches and enjoy the richness of life.