Parshat Veira 5777
Rabbi Steinhardt's Sermons

Parshat Veira 5777

You know what I’ve heard…and read?

I heard there are people who will not be able to sit down with family members this Thanksgiving because they so disagreed on the election. I’ve heard there are families that are so divided that they won’t come together.

How sad – I hope that’s not your family. I hope your family has people with different ideas and different personalities and, perhaps, people who voted differently, but can sit together.

It’s been said that at the dinner party you should stay away from politics and religion. So what does that leave us with? Either forbidden gossip, talk about your neighbor, or sports…or maybe aches and pains. I know that’s a popular one.

My family spent a lot of time talking about the food…how was this made…best stuffing ever! Remember Tante Martha’s plum cake? That sort of thing. What are we going to eat later?

I was reading piece in the NY Times:

“Happy Thanksgiving? We’d like to wish our readers a joyous day of food and familial bonding. But we suspect some teeth will be used for gritting and not chewing, based on the responses to Brendan Nyhan’s article on how to discuss politics at the holiday dinner table.”

And many of the comments that followed were also tongue in cheek.

William Whitham of Massachusetts said, “Amongst the invaluable lessons my parents taught me, one does not bring up religion or politics in polite company.”
To which another reader, Susan, replied, “Yes, but we’re not talking about ‘polite company,’ we’re talking about relatives!”

Repasts and Recriminations

Gary, Ohio Politics? I thought the classic Thanksgiving dinner conversation was all about dredging up old resentments within your family. Who needs politics?

My family are experts at both. — Bobcat108, Upstate NY

Which is why more wills are rewritten soon after the holiday. — Dr J, Novato, Calif.

Talking politics is just an icebreaker to deeper interior familial conflict and discord. — Meadows NY, NY

I solved that in my home. I use the children’s blocking feature on the television to block out Fox News, MSNBC or any other channel with talking heads. Whoever picks up the remote can’t get to their favorite opinion channel. — Tom, Midwest

Simply say something that you know will send your family over the edge and when they try to respond say that you don’t want to talk politics. — Thomas, Houston

If you can’t talk about politics, you’re going to be stuck with sex and religion. How boring 🙂 Happy Thanksgiving. — Frank Walker, 18977

Conversation at the dinner table? While everyone is on her/his smartphone. I don’t think so. Welcome to the 21st century. — Dermot, Babylon, Long Island

Red States, Blue States, Black Moods

If you are lucky enough to have relatives who have genuinely different opinions than your own, say you’re a New Yorker visiting your evangelical Christian cousins in Texas, take some time to listen to them and understand what drives their opinions. You might learn something. — Ginger, Delaware


Yes, you’re absolutely right. And of course it’s also true that the evangelical Christian cousins should take the time to listen to their elite atheist cousins from New York. They might learn something as well. See what I’m driving at? — Peter, Massachusetts


The dinners that I fear may be at high risk of becoming highly acrimonious this Thanksgiving are those populated by at least two generations of Amherst, Princeton and Yale (Calhoun College) alums. When the present generation of family members attending these august bastions of higher learning starts in on the horror of singing Lord Jeffrey Amherst, or that deplorable racist Woodrow Wilson whose name should be erased from all that is Princeton, and the insistence about the renaming of Calhoun College, some wills may well be changed on Friday and threats made of withholding tuition payments for the second semester. It’s SUCH an easy way for that freshman to show his newfound independence and rebel against everything the family has stood for generations. — India, Midwest


Bob of Indiana – Do you people not watch football? The N.F.L. was invented for people like me — raised up by Goldwater G.O.P. parents but I’m somehow a Bernie-loving, Obama-voting progressive. Football on all holidays keeps me out of the gun closet — which my parents have, proudly, upstairs, unlocked.

Pay the Fine, Please

My brother and family are Massachusetts liberals while his wife’s relatives are from upstate New York and are arch conservatives (and Bills fans…sorry about the outcome with the Pats). After unpleasant political arguments one Thanksgiving, my sister-in-law imposed a $25 fine on anyone who brought up politics. Ah, a peaceful Thanksgiving at last. May all the readers of this comment have a peaceful Thanksgiving. — Aurel, Rhode Island

I have another thought…here’s a conversation:
Does tryptophan in turkey make me sleepy?
If you really want to annoy your family and friends, you can debunk this myth as well. In reality, there isn’t enough tryptophan in a few servings of turkey to make you especially sleepy. The reason you want to lie on the couch after Thanksgiving is simple: You ate and drank too much (possibly while trying to avoid all the political talk). Happy Thanksgiving!

But in truth, I know there are people who believe that the current state of affairs is so risky, so precarious and so dangerous that they simply can’t tolerate to be with those who believe that there is something good in the outcome of the election.

I don’t want to be so flip here as to say that there is not real danger out there – the unleashing of hatred against all sorts of populations, including Mexicans, Muslims and Jews is of the deepest concern. These have to be our concerns. So way beyond the Thanksgiving table, we need to be vigilant and have work to do in our communities in the arena of legislation and the protection of civil rights.

But somehow, I think that there are bonds that bind us together that are sacred. The place we are in is the place we are in. And we will have to move forward.

I am a believer in the incredible capacity of this country to remain in balance. I know there are times where we have tipped one way or the other, but we can remain hopeful. More than that, we must be engaged in work, in the interfaith work I have spoken so much about, in helping minorities, fighting hatred and reaching out to immigrants amongst us. We know that there are millions of people that will stand for the defense of freedom and our constitutional democracy. We remember we were immigrants; we know this is a nation founded on lofty principles by people who they themselves migrated.

Having said all that, let me turn to our Torah to help us as we approach the table. And you don’t have to talk religion at your table, but you can, and you can use it for peace! But I’d like you to listen to an insight from our religious tradition as we approach our tables.

This is what I see…or don’t see!

In this week’s parsha, Parshat Vaeira, there are a number of times where we see that word Vaeira meaning, “And he or she saw.”

I want to speak to three of these moments.

One is at the beginning of the parshah. It says, “God appeared to Abraham and he lifted his eyes and saw. God was there.”

Later in the parshah, Hagar is not able to see her son, Ishmael, die of thirst in the wilderness. And she puts him down a distance from her and imagines he will die. But God opens her eyes and she saw a well of water. He was there, as well.

The third moment finds Abraham on the top of Mount Moriah. He is about to sacrifice his son, Isaac. At the last moment, he is told not to do such an act, and Abraham looked up and saw a ram in the bush. The ram was there.

In all three cases we see that something is present yet not perceived. Something is there and yet, not seen.

Perhaps there is a message here for all of us. None of us see it all. How often do we hear, “I didn’t see it coming.”

We live in a nation where we don’t see them and they don’t see us.

So let this guide us – swallow a dose of humility and understand that you don’t see it all and haven’t seen it all yet. There may be something in front of you that you don’t see. The other at your table may see something you don’t see and vice versa – you see something they don’t.

But this all will take a bit of humility…

So as we approach Thanksgiving, I warn you be careful what you say and what you don’t say.

On other big holidays people talk about the rabbi’s sermon. I hope you remember this by Thursday.

And if you have obnoxious, self-righteous folks across from you, just remember – that may be why God created football….or let the tryptophan and wine put you to sleep…

Seriously, enjoy the day.

Shabbat Shalom