hazzan Diana Brewer was ordained through the aleph ordination program. she leads prayer services regularly at the jewish community of amherst, and is on the staff of the davvenen leadership training institute.

VAYISHLACH: Reflections Before a Family Reunion

I hear my brother is coming back to our homeland. Funny, I had just set out to find him, too. It’s been an awfully long time - twenty years or so. What a journey. To say I’m looking forward to seeing him would be to put it strongly, but I feel ready. I feel deeply ready. I’m curious to know how he’s been fairing. It can’t have been easy, suddenly having to make his way in the world after all that coddling when we were young.

I have no idea what to expect, so I’m prepared for anything at all. I’ve brought my best men with me. My greatest hope is that they will be on hand to be of service, but as I’ve said, I’m prepared for anything. I will know what I face when I see him, but make no assumptions until then.

Oh, I resented him for so long. As my father predicted, I lived by my sword. I went over each moment in my head and my heart again and again - re-experiencing all the hurt, all the jealousy and envy of our youth together. Each time I re-felt the pain, I made another step in my plan to hunt him down and take his life, as I felt he had taken mine. I never could understand how he just kept having things laid out before him, as I walked through life in our family working twice as hard to be half as acceptable.

I envied the long talks he had with our parents. I didn’t think the way he did. I knew how things made me feel inside, but never really knew how to express it. I couldn’t keep track of the types of details he could. They admired that so much. So did I. Sure, they appreciated my hunting abilities, but it never felt the same. They would thank me heartily for bringing home the meal, and then continue the conversations with Yaakov over dinner and just let me fade once again into the background.

And the jealousy! It was like love was a finite resource. Every time I saw how our mother loved him, I was sure there just wasn’t enough to go around. And maybe there wasn’t. Who’s to know?

My father and I did share a connection about life in the fields - up to a point, anyway. He had this thing about going out to meditate. It was quite amazing, actually. My mother told us of the first time they met. She saw him there, all aglow. She actually fell off her camel at the sight! I’ve seen him look that way once or twice - maybe two or three times. The sad part is that I think I always came up short in his eyes right at the place we could have met. I’ve always loved being out in the field, but it was different for me. He so much wanted to share that experience with me, the way it was for him. He couldn’t understand that I was having my own rich experience. It’s taken me all this time to understand that different didn’t mean not as good. I wish he had understood that.

The day my brother received the blessing of the firstborn was a turning point for me. Many think - and I certainly did too - that he robbed it from me, but I think our father knew what he was doing. He may have been blind in the eyes of his body, but we all know that people have other ways of seeing. That day, I made a decision to do something for the first time that was neither designed to please nor to nettle anyone else. It was that day - the day my heart cracked open with the hurt of a lifetime of trying to measure up - that I made a decision to leave home, too.

I went to my father’s estranged brother, Yishmael. I knew little about him, only that he wasn’t popular in our family. As unpopular as I felt in our family, I wondered if maybe I could find a home with my uncle, if here was a place I might fit in. I had no idea how much I would find there.

It turns out that he and his birth mother, my grandfather’s handmaid Hagar, were cast out in a fit of jealous rage. My grandmother, Sarah, told my grandfather to send them away, and he did, just like that. Or so the story goes. It’s alway hard to know just what to believe. I guess jealousy runs in our family. Sarah always thought Yishmael was mocking my father. He says he could never understand why she thought every time he laughed or was just off enjoying himself, she thought it was about her and the baby. Where do we learn that there’s not enough love to go around?

They were sent off into the desert with some bread and one skin of water. After they had gone some time without food or water, and they were sure they would perish, an angel of YHVH - the same god my father kept trying to teach me about all those years -  appeared to them. This angel showed them an oasis, and ensured their survival. As it turns out, not only did they survive, they thrived.

Because of their experience, Yishmael and Hagar took up very serious devotion to YHVH, although most others around them served Ba’al. He taught me their ways of communing with this great spirit. He did not exclude worship of other gods, however. He also taught me of Ashera, YHVH’s consort. What a world that opened for me. I had a mother at last.

Yishmael was, of course, considerably older than my father, so I didn't have very many years with him. He took me in as family and gave me his daughter Mahalath to be my wife. He worked with me to develop my strengths as long as he was able, and I began to experience myself as the capable man he saw me to be. He understood me - firstborn, outcast, cast out, recipient of a double-edged blessing. Through his understanding, he helped me to understand. Just being with him, watching him live his life, I understood that I did not have to be trapped by what had happened to me. I had found a home. I began, little by little, to be freed of the yoke of my inner servitude to my brother, as my father’s blessing had foretold.

My marriage to Mahalath was somehow different from my marriage with my other two wives, the Hittite women. I guess it has to do with the timing and circumstances. After all, I chose those women because I knew it would aggravate my mother. Mahalat’s particular way of loving me allowed me to see yet more parts of myself with acceptance and even appreciation. Sometimes the way she looks at me makes me think of my mother falling off her camel at the sight of my father. I had always wondered what it was like to be loved like that.

I hope that Yaakov, too, has been able to find his strength in this time. I hope we can see each other panim el panim. I think it may be possible.

Sacrifice. Just what is it, anyway?

By your sword you will live: The power of resentment