Category Archives: Torah

Change of Fate?

Every 3rd Saturday of the month I run the Family Learners Minyan (prayer space) & Torah study, as part of our religious school program  at Mishkon Tephilo in Venice Beach. Here parents join their 2nd-3rd grade children, and we dialogue, experience and learn prayers together, learn some Torah, then we join the community for a lovely kiddush after.

This week was parshat Vayishlakh, where we learned about Jacob having to face his brother Esau for the first time in 20 years after Jacob “stole” Esau’s birthright. First we studied the lyrics to The Song for Parshat Vayishlakh (click here to listen)

Song for Parshat Vayishlach


Yaakov returned to the promised land
With children, wives and riches grand
Yaakov’s fear of Esav was so strong
Esav was angry for so long

Chorus: Vayishlach Yaakov Malochim L’fonov
And Yaakov sent messengers to Esav

Esav was coming with four hundred men
Yaakov davened to Hashem
For milchama we must prepare
He told his family, “Have no fear.”


With Esav’s Malach, Yaakov had a fight
It lasted throughout the night
Yaakov won, the malach did fall
Yaakov’s name was changed to Yisroel

After we read through the song and translated all the Hebrew, we were ready to sing the catchy, klezmer song. What a fun way to learn about the parsha!
Then we turned to a little Talmud (Rabbinic Literature) for us all to ponder over.

And Rabbi Isaac said [further]:  Four things cancel the decree against (fate of) a person, and they are: charity, crying out [in prayer], changing one’s name, and changing one’s conduct.

Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 16b

But what ended up happening? Did Esau take revenge? Or is it possible that Jacob changed his fate? When we look back at our story, we find that Jacob not only cried at to God in prayer, but his name was changed – AND he changed his conduct (fear/no fear) – These are most of the ingredients, that according to Rabbi Isaac of the Talmud, Jacob was able to change his destiny – and in the end, his brother met him with love – and even a kiss! What a beautiful reminder that change really is possible…and that it might actually be in our own hands!
Our wonderful service concluded with a Shehekhiyau blessing, when a mother whom I had asked to open the arc to return the Torah, announced to us all that she had never done that before in her life.  It was such a profound moment, watching an orthodox-raised mother, trying to teach her own daughter Judaism in a non-traditional world – walked up proudly, open the arc (for the first time ever in her life) and cried beautiful tears of joy and awe. I stopped the entire community in our tracks and announced that this was the perfect time for a blessing over a special moment in time. Together we sang words of gratitude to our Creator for bringing this moment of time to existence.  She held the Torah as we sang Eitz Chayim He, (It is a Tree of Life), then carefully placed it back in its spot inside the arc, closing it softly. She had just been transformed, and we all were so blessed to have witnessed it.