To Be Seen and Heard 
A Thanksgiving D'var by Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman 
Parashat Vayetzei

It's an odd thing- in my family, every nuclear family down from my grandparents have 2 children. Both my parents had one sibling each,  my aunts and uncles all had 2 children and all of my cousins including myself have 2 children. As a child I thought this must be a Jewish thing. My best friend was catholic and her family had 3 children and 3 Easter baskets- clearly not Jewish!

I knew from my early reading of Bible Stories, that Abraham fathered  Ishmael and Isaac,  that Isaac begot Esav and Jacob, Rebecca had one brother- Lavan, and that Jacob married two sisters, Leah and Rachel.
And I figured that if one child felt more loved more than another, this must also be a "Jewish thing."  I still wonder about this...

The stories I read as a child ingrained themselves in my psyche and the characters became strong archetypes for me.
In this parashah- vayeitzei- we meet (finally) a pair of sisters who will find themselves in competition for love- not the love of a parent like Jacob and Esav, but the love of a man- Jacob.

In parallel form there is an echo here of the very first pair of siblings- Kayin and Hevel, who competed for God's love. This primordial story of sibling rivalry comes to a tragic end for both Kayin and Hevel. Kayin's rage leads to the murder of Hevel and he, himself is left to wander the earth, disconnected from that sense of belonging, which we all yearn for.

Rachel and Leah, however, compete with one another in different ways.  Rachel is  beloved to Jacob from the start. She has his love but she does not have God's blessing of fertility.  Torah states:

When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister; and said to Jacob:
"Give me children, or else I will die.
And Jacob's anger was kindled against Rachel; and he said, Am I in God's place, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?"
(Gen. 30:1-2)

In this sense we might say- Rachel has Jacob's love but not God's love.

Leah on the other hand, does not have Jacob's love.  That is clear from the start. With each child that is born she hopes that through her fertility, that Jacob will come to love her.
Thus after Reuvein's birth she states:
"Surely the Lord has looked upon my affliction; now therefore my husband will love me." (Gen. 29: 32)

Again, with Shimon and with Levi, she hopes and prays for her husband's love.

And she conceived again, and bore a son; and said, "Because the Lord has heard that I was hated, he has therefore given me this son also;" and she called his name Simeon.
 And she conceived again, and bore a son; and said, "Now this time will my husband be joined to me, because I have born him three sons;" therefore was his name called Levi. (Gen. 29:33-34)

But it is not until the birth of her fourth child, Yehudah, that she recognizes the gift she has been given and is able to respond with gratitude to God for her blessings.

וַתֹ֨אמֶר֙ הַפַּ֨עַם֙ אוֹדֶ֣ה אֶת־יְהֹוָ֔ה עַל־כֵּ֛ן קָרְאָ֥ה שְׁמ֖וֹ יְהוּדָ֑ה

And she conceived again, and bore a son; and she said, "Now will I praise the Lord;" therefore she called his name Judah; and ceased bearing.(Gen. 29:35)

Ultimately Leah comes to an awareness of gratitude for what she has been given, rather than focus on what she is lacking. And so, with each child born successively through her handmaidens, she names them in accordance with her new found awareness of the abundance in her life.

When Leah saw that she had ceased bearing, she took Zilpah her maid, and gave her for a wife to Jacob. And Zilpah Leah's maid bore Jacob a son. And Leah said, "Fortune has come;" and she called his name Gad.
And Zilpah Leah's maid bore Jacob a second son.
And Leah said, "Happy am I, for the daughters will call me blessed;" and she called his name Asher. (Gen. 30:9-13)

Leah will ultimately never have Jacob's heart in the way she desires, but she feels loved by God. With each of her first two children she acknowledges being seen by God, (Re'u-vein ראו-בן) and being heard by God (Shim'on שמע-ון).

Rachel in contrast, has the love of her man, but lives a life of suffering and jealousy over her lack of blessing by God. With Joseph's birth, she is given a reprieve, but she will eventually die in childbirth with Benjamin, buried on the road in no-man's land. It is Leah who will be buried in the family plot- ma'arat hamachpelah next to her husband Jacob. Rachel, though physically beautiful and the favored wife becomes a tragic figure, whose image is reinforced  by later generations as the weeping mother, weeping eternally for her exiled children.

It seems to me that Torah speaks once again to the human condition that has not really changed over these thousands of years. To feel unseen or unheard whether by one's parents, one's family, by one's spouse, by one's community or by God, is profoundly painful and closes one off to the blessings that may be available. The joy that Leah expresses at the birth of her first 2 sons,  is that she has been seen and heard. It is only after this that she is able to set her aside her personal needs and express true gratitude for the gifts in her life. It is through our connection with others or with the Divine Presence that we are able to move from a mentality that sees only what is lacking, to a perspective of abundance, seeing the blessings in our midsts.

As Thanksgiving approaches, we are invited to explore the quality of gratitude; to see the abundance within our lives, including the quality of our relationships.

Let us consider that each of us has the power to affect the experience of abundance in others. We all long for validation and connection. When we provide a listening ear and a seeing eye to others, we enable  them to experience the blessings in their lives.

For many, family gatherings provide challenging dynamics.  Perhaps there are those at the table who have felt unseen, unheard and unloved. As we gather for Thanksgiving with our families, might we see this as an opportunity to shift a family dynamic? Might we seize the opportunity to write a new narrative in which every family member feels seen and valued; where all can rejoice together in thanks for the abundant blessings in our lives.

Travelers fan out
Into the wilds,
And in that jungle
Of strangers
Rings out
While the bustling train
Changes countries,
Sweeping away borders.
Then spasibo
Clinging to pointy
Volcanoes, to fire and freezing cold,
Or danke, yes! and gracias, and
The world turns into a table:
A single word has wiped it clean,
Plates and glasses gleam.
Silverware tinkles,
And the tablecloth is as broad as a plain.
                                           ~Pablo Neruda

Watch (out) for Earth! : A Mini Film Festival
Sunday, November 29 | 4:00pm 
First Congregational Church | 4 Main St. Stockbridge, MA 
A celebration of the beauty and wonder of our planet to send a strong message to the climate negotiators in Paris: we are watching!  
Screening: Planetary at 4:00PM 
The Creative Universe at 6:00PM
We welcome your support at any level. 
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