I once heard someone compare people who live on the East Coast with people who live on the West Coast. He said that on the East Coast, if you ask them to do you a favor, they’ll usually say, “Sorry, I’m too busy,” but then they go and do it for you anyway. On the West Coast, if you ask them to do you a favor, they’ll usually say, “Sure, no problem,” but then they don’t follow up.
I’m not sure there’s any truth to that generalization, but we all know people who “go the extra mile” for you and those who don’t.
In this week’s Torah portion, Tol’dot (Gen 25:19-28:9), we read about Isaac and Rebecca and the birth of their twins, Jacob and Esau. Because Esau came out of the womb first, he was entitled to the special privileges granted to firstborn sons, including the inheritance of their father’s estate. These privileges were referred to as his “birthright.” Jacob coveted this birthright and tricked his brother into giving it to him in exchange for a bowl of stew. Later, when Isaac was old and preparing to die, he wanted to give Esau the special blessing reserved only for the firstborn son. Again resorting to trickery, Jacob presented himself to his blind father as Esau to surreptitiously receive that blessing. When Esau showed up afterwards, it was too late.
Isaac did give Esau a blessing, but it wasn’t as special. We might wonder why Isaac couldn’t have just reprimanded Jacob and taken back his blessing, but that wasn’t possible in ancient times. Once a promise or blessing was spoken, it couldn’t be revoked. There were some exceptions, such as vows made by women which could sometimes be nullified by their fathers or husbands (in Numbers 30:3-17). And we know that Kol Nidre speaks of nullifying vows we made and could not fulfill. But what stands out in this story is the fact that, in biblical times, a person’s word could be counted on.
Today is an important day for fulfilling promises. If you have ever pledged support to any local non-profit (including Temple Israel!), Give Miami Day makes it easy and gives us incentives to make good on those pledges. I made donations to TI and a few other organizations, and fulfilled my annual pledge to the Greater Miami Jewish Federation today. This is still time, from now up until midnight, for anyone else to make a donation here.
There is one other promise I wanted to fulfill today. Almost everyone who has frequented Temple Israel over the past 15+ years has met members of our maintenance staff, including Wisley, Jeanine (that’s how she spells her name), Louis, Marie and Abdet. They have been a blessing to our congregation and I believe what makes them so extra special is their faith. They derive much inspiration from their church and they work so hard to sustain it.
Their annual concert/fundraiser was cancelled earlier this year because of Hurricane Irma. They have rescheduled it for this Saturday. Some of us are going. You can contact me for details if you’d like to join us. But I also promised Jeanine that I would let our Temple family and friends know that it is a fundraiser so that we could all show our love by supporting their efforts. If you can’t come but would like to make a donation, they are graciously accepting them here through Radio L’Evangile.
When Isaac blessed Jacob, he concluded his blessing by saying, “Blessed be they who bless you.” Wisley, Jeanine and the rest of our maintenance staff have certainly blessed us. I have made a donation to their church and hope, through our Temple’s support, we will bless them in return.
R’ Moshe Tom