Got Pride?

Friday, 9 December, 2022 - 7:43 am

This is always the time of year that – as a Rabbi – I hear the most kvetching from Jewish parents.

Yesterday it was a shocked parent seeking guidance on how to answer their four-year-old who comes home from school and asks when are we putting up our tree. Or, it’s a mother wondering where she can buy the fanciest Chanukah decorations to outdo her non-Jewish neighbors.

To all of them, I have the same response. And, it’s highlighted in this week’s parsha, Vayishlach.

But, first a passage from Tehillim (Psalms). In Chapter 47, we read, “He chooses our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom He loves eternally.”

In the Hebrew, the term Ge’on Yaakov is colloquially used to connote Jewish pride, based on this verse.  But, why is Jacob singled out for pride? The answer may lie in our parsha.

When Yaakov (Jacob) was traveling toward his brother Eisav (Esau), it was with great concern. The last time they were together Eisav promised to murder Yaakov. Now, he is marching toward his younger brother with an army of 400 men. Yaakov, traveling with women and young children, has ample reason to be anxious. And, as a responsible and trusting Jew, he prepares himself in three ways. He prays to Hashem, he prepares for an escape route in case of war, and he sends an elaborate gift to appease his brother.

Those are all understandable measures. Yaakov’s family was no match for Eisav’s militia.

But, he also does one more thing. He sends a message to Eisav, stating that he observed the Divine commandments of the Torah despite living for twenty years with their evil uncle Lavan. The entire society were idolaters and cheaters. Yaakov was the sole holdout.

Why is Yaakov intent on telling Eisav about his piety and devotion to G-d? How would that influence Eisav to go easy on him and his young family? On the contrary, Eisav would likely be infuriated that Yaakov is still the nemesis of his lifestyle! Why poke the tiger in the eye?

His message to Eisav was simple and clear: I don’t entrust my fate into your hands. My fate is in the hands of Hashem. Whether it is spiritual or physical challenges, we remain committed to our values and rituals. And, we remain proud. Jewish pride is not simply about wearing a Star of David or standing up to antisemitism. It’s about going about daily life in a Jewish way to the extent that it fills me entirely. It’s not a pride of superiority. It’s a pride that makes me completely comfortable in my own skin; that makes me immune to the ways and whims of the overwhelming majority of others. It’s a pride that has been at play for over twenty years in a hostile environment. It doesn’t ebb and flow with the isms of the day. It’s who I am.

By way of illustration, an American may not feel inherently superior to other nationalities. But, she may feel wholly fortunate, at-ease and invested in being an American. American values and traditions are something she lives with – not to show off, but as a natural flow of her identity. Real pride is demonstrated by the way we live our lives, not only by the pins on our lapel.

Yaakov’s pride and contentment with his own values left no room for worry. In simple words, he was comfortable in his own skin. And, that’s because it was a way of life. When we are filled with pride in who we are by living Jewishly, there is little room for anxiety and jealousy of others.

Throughout history Jews have faced many Lavans – those that tempt us to fit in with society at the expense of our sacred traditions. And, we have also faced many Eisavs – those that have sought to destroy us.

The solution has always been living proudly Jewish.

So, the next time your child complains about feeling singled out this time of year, please remember that putting Chanukah on steroids will not suffice. Nor should you assume that the Eisavs and Lavans of the world will quietly disappear.

The best gift you can give them is celebrating a plain old Shabbat with integrity - lighting Shabbat candles with them, week after week. Donning tefillin in front of your young ones every day. Sharing a word of Torah at the dinner table.

With true Geon Yaakov, our children will not even ask the question.

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