Talking Turkey

Thanksgiving is next week. The occasion (and the holiday season in general) offers a wonderful opportunity to talk about family dysfunction and conflict – situations the Torah’s entire Book of Genesis is full of! This week’s chapter offers no exception. In Parashat Vayeshev (Genesis, chapters 37-40), we read the story of how Joseph came to be sold into slavery – ultimately ending up in Egypt. 

A self-confident and arrogant 17-year-old, Joseph’s mere existence taunted his ten brothers. They were infuriated by the stories of his dreams in which they presumably bowed down to him. They were envious of the beautiful coat of many colors – given as a gift from their father – in which Joseph paraded like a peacock displaying its plumes. They were incensed by the fact that he was their father’s favorite; born to Rachel and not to their less-loved mother, Leah.  A tattletale and goody-two-shoes, Joseph’s brothers resolved to kill him. Good ole sibling rivalry…can you blame them?

To offer the “Cliff Notes” version of the story, the brothers (thankfully) don’t kill him. They throw Joseph into a pit instead and then sell him off to a caravan of Ishmaelites; who then sell him to passing Midianite merchants; who then sell him to Pharaoh’s captain of the guard, Potiphar, in Egypt. In the end, we learn that Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams enables him to rise from a prison cell to a position of power and prestige in Pharaoh’s court, and thankfully reunites with his father and brothers as they come to Egypt for help during a time of famine. This was all part of God’s plan.

Isn’t it fitting that this story of family feuds and petty jealousies comes as we prepare for Thanksgiving? Lots of family drama and issues with food, huh? 

With this as a backdrop, I have two points to make, as well as a suggestion.

Number One: In life, we face conflicts – professional or personal. We must deal with relationships – professional, social, or familial – that may be uncomfortable and/or not function very well. Some around us may know of our challenges, but most do not. Therefore, these experiences may be depressing, frustrating, or even isolating. And, since a seemingly random drive-by shooting is not an option, we must be willing to communicate openly and honestly – and listen actively and intentionally – to expose the real issues, explore meaningful solutions, and enable the healing process. Social workers, teachers, mentors, or Dr. Phil can offer good advice and education.

Number Two: On Thanksgiving, as we all know, the custom is to eat turkey.  So, here’s an interesting piece of trivia…In Hebrew, the word for “turkey” is hodu.  But, the word hodu also means, “give thanks.”  (It comes from the liturgy – Hodu laAdonai ki tov, ki l’olam chasdo – Give thanks to the Lord for the Lord is good.) So, while Thanksgiving is an American holiday, Jewish values and ideas are seamlessly embedded in the day.

Suggestion: As we spend this weekend shopping and preparing for Thanksgiving Day, I encourage us all to do so with an open heart and home. In the vein of making our world a better place, let’s vow to make peace with all of those who are in our lives. Let’s be the bigger person and take the first step toward understanding, compassion, and forgiveness. Think about who you’ll be celebrating with and decide what you’d like to say to him or her; make your feelings known. And, let’s take time to reflect and give thanks for our many blessings.

Now, go get some turkey!

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