Vayeitze 5783 – Hachamah
First impressions matter. But sometimes we mess them up and just wish we could have a do over. Can you think of an encounter or interaction you had where you said or did something you wish you hadn’t and just want to hit the reset button and try again? This might be how God is feeling in this week’s parsha, Vayeitze. If you remember from a few weeks ago, God totally ruined a first interaction with Isaac, traumatizing him for life. Now God is gearing up for a first encounter with Jacob and just wants to get it right.
So what does God do? God pulls a Nathan Fielder. Fielder, a Jewish comedian, created and released a new show this year called “The Rehearsal.” In it, he helps ordinary people rehearse difficult conversations or life events through the use of sets and actors hired to recreate real situations. The situations can be trivial, like confessing to a lie about educational history, or more complex, like raising a child. He commissions extravagant sets with every detail recreated and hires actors to practice different dialogue trees with his clients over and over again. I recently watched the first episode and it is both incredible and very uncomfortable. It just feels unnatural to rehearse a real human interaction in such a way as to be able to predict and force an outcome.
But back to God. Jacob has run away from his parents’ house and his brother Esau after stealing his blessing. The Torah then writes,
“וְיִפְגַּע בַּמָּקוֹם… כִּי בָּא הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ… (בְּרֵאשִׁית כֹּחַ:יא)”
“And Jacob came upon a certain place and stopped there for the night, for the sun had set (Bereshit 28:11).”
The Midrash teaches that the Holy One caused the sun to set earlier than its proper time in order to speak with Jacob privately. Like a parable of the lover of a king who comes to visit the king occasionally, and when the lover arrives the king says, “put out the lights! Extinguish the lamps! For I would like to speak with my lover privately.” (Breishit Rabbah 68)
God sets the stage for the perfect date. Almost like God has been practicing this encounter every day like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. We humans don’t have the luxury of doing this, but we do have a similar opportunity every week as we prepare for Shabbat. Every week the Shabbat Queen arrives in our homes and communities, and we can choose how we greet her! The more we can prepare for the moment, the better we’ll feel when she arrives and the more we can take advantage of all Shabbat can offer. Instead of just letting Shabbat hit us where we are on Friday afternoon, tired, worn out, and frazzled from a long week of work, what if we were able to freshen up, dim the lights, and go out to greet her with our family and loved ones, and enter into Shabbat the way we truly WANT to enter into Shabbat.
That is what this poem by Chayim Nachman Bialik reminds us to do. It fits liturgically right before Kabbalat Shabbat, and we sing this melody (composed for this text originally and then set to Lecha Dodi) to set the tone and the mood for our ideal encounter.
Each week we are lucky enough to approach this same moment again, how will we greet it? This week (and every Shabbat that follows), I hope we can each find a way to make Shabbat be what we need it to be for us.