Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Fear of Family Reunions: Thoughts for Parshas Vayeshev

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My mother recently spent two Shabboses (Shabbatot) with us here in Israel.  In her honour, I actually put together an unprecedented TWO divrei Torah in a row.  This is the second one, which was not too fancy because I was just planning to say it over privately over lunch but then we ended up having guests, and I think it went over nicely.  Sorry it’s too late for this year – I was too busy visiting to post!

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Last week’s parsha, Vayeitzei, ended in sort of a cliff-hanger, as Yaakov set off to reunite with his brother Eisav. As this week’s parsha opens, we see that Yaakov is preparing for his meeting with Eisav – and he is very, very afraid.

This fear reminds us, as it should, of several parshiyos from now, when the shevatim go down to Mitzrayim and are afraid of Yosef when they realize who they have been dealing with there.

There are many similarities here anyway: parting on bad terms, a separation of decades, a reversal of fortunes (Yaakov, the mild-mannered son, has become the leader of a large family and a person of great wealth; Yosef, the wimpy little prognosticator, has become the ruler of Egypt.).

Here’s another similarity: When Yosef reveals himself to his brothers, וַיִּתֵּן אֶת-קֹלוֹ, בִּבְכִי, “he wept aloud.” And Eisav, too, the big bad Eisav, bursts out in tears, as it says, וַיִּבְכּֽוּ, - and they wept. Both of them. All of the other similarities between these stories suggest that Eisav, too, is sincere, at least in that moment (though a midrash goes on to say he bit Yaakov’s neck).

But an earlier question must be asked: why is Yaakov afraid when Hashem says not to be? Hashem has already said go back to eretz Yisrael וְאֵיטִ֥יבָה עִמָּֽךְ: / and I’ll make it good for you.

To understand this,

Motherhood, Broken Hearts, and Dreams: Thoughts for Parshas Vayeitzei

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My mother recently spent two Shabboses (Shabbatot) with us here in Israel.  In her honour, I actually put together two divrei Torah.  This is the first, which I said over at a kiddush we also made in her honour.  Sorry it’s too late for this year – I was too busy visiting to post!

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So my mother is here visiting Israel, and I actually felt more like talking about last week’s parsha instead of this week’s, because of a line we mentioned in our shiur that says so much about motherhood:

כח וַיֶּאֱהַב יִצְחָק אֶת עֵשָׂו כִּי צַיִד בְּפִיו וְרִבְקָה אֹהֶבֶת אֶת יַעֲקֹב:

"Isaac loved Esav because he ate his game; but Rebecca loved Jacob." (Genesis 25:28)

The actual Hebrew of this verse reads that Rebecca "loves" Jacob, in the present tense.

According to Rabbi Isaiah HaLevi Horowitz, we can understand this verse according to a teaching of our sages in Chapters of the Fathers (5:16). "Any love that is dependent on something will vanish when that thing vanishes. But a love that is not dependent on something will never cease."

Isaac's love for Esav is described as contingent on the food that Esav provided - that's why the love is spoken of using the past tense. But Rebecca's love for Jacob was not tied to anything, it was unconditional and therefore described in the present, ongoing sense.

Ha, so I guess I did talk about last week’s parsha after all. But when I looked, I realized that of course, this is the most appropriate parsha in which to honour my mother. After all, we have not one but FOUR mothers in this week’s parsha: Rachel, Leah, Bilha and Zilpa.

10 newest solutions for better sleep on buses and planes: a sleeeeeepy Mamaland guide…

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Know what this crazy world needs?  A better way to look dorky on airplanes.

Okay, actually, not planes, but buses.  I travel by bus more often than I like to admit, and it's tough getting comfy on those long hauls.  I've tried bunching up a sweater against the window, I've tried a standard-issue "travel" neck pillow (on planes, not buses), I've tried just grinning and bearing it.

And let's face it, sleeping while you're travelling is terrible.  And it is also one of the biggest missed opportunities I can think of.  Two hours with nobody needing me for anything?  No chance to do work, except for the occasional text or email?  (When I go by train, I usually use the whole time to get work done, but bus = sleepytime, as far as I’m concerned… sleepytime WASTED because I’m so uncomfortable!)

With so much serious stuff going on in the world, I felt that what was needed was a hard-hitting investigation into ten of the newest and most amazing ways I can make my head and neck cozy while I travel.  Science has been working on this problem for a while – or it ought to have been – so I wanted to see what they’ve come up with.

(If you have any suggestions for this list, I’d love to hear about them!)

And why now???  I’ve been keeping all these windows open on my browser for about 2 weeks waiting for the right time to post, and after spending an hour up with a sick kid last night, and then waking up much too early in the morning, I have decided – in the midst of my sleeeepy haze – that today is the day.

A number of these offerings come from Kickstarter, and some are not available for sale the regular way.  In fact, “things to help you sleep” seems to be one of the more popular Kickstarter genres.  And no wonder – sleep is so delicious.

So “without any further adieu,” as they say, here they are, in no particular order:

1. THE FACE CRADLE

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If that doesn’t look cozy enough, this successful Kickstarter project has an even dorkier-looking full-face mode:

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Their slogan is “upgrade to sleeping class.”  I agree!  Mmm… sleeep…

2.  THE NOD TRAVEL PILLOW

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Another successful Kickstarter project.  This one, however, looks less appealing, since essentially you are strapping your neck to the seat.  The product’s FAQ includes a claim of a “a saftey break away in the event of an emergency.”  Confidence-inspiring, but this one seems less likely to win my approval.

3. THE J-PILLOW

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You can’t really tell from the pictures, but a careful analysis of this product on Amazon suggests that this is basically a regular U-shaped travel pillow with a J-shaped extension sticking out perpendicular to the pillow.

However, Amazon reviews seem to suggest that this isn’t really “grippy” enough on its own to hold your head up if you’re sleeping in an upright position, like on a plane… or a bus.

4.  THE ZZZBAND

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Like the Nod Travel Pillow and a number of other offerings, this Amazon product straps your head to the seat behind you so you can’t shift while you’re sleeping.  Some of the reviews are kind of iffy, however, suggesting that it doesn’t hold firmly enough to the seat back, and (duh) it makes it tough to get up and go to the bathroom.  (Which I suppose wouldn’t be a problem on Israeli buses, because there’s no such thing as a bus bathroom in this country.)

Another strapping-in option