Vayetse – Finding Our Rosebud

November 12, 2018
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Vayetse – Finding Our Rosebud

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The movie Citizen Kane has been voted by many film academies and publications to be the greatest American movie of all time. Though the film’s cinematography was cutting edge in 1941, these are certainly not up to the technical capabilities of today’s films, so it is rather the penetrating story that has kept this classic on the top of the experts lists for over half a century. It is loosely based on the life of William Randolph Hearse, but it is really a searing look into human desire for love, acceptance, success and peace. Read more »

Toledot – The Power of Blessing

November 6, 2018
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Toledot – The Power of Blessing

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We tend to think of people; who lived long before us as primitive and less intelligent. Yet, contemporary Americans have made the alternative medicine industry a multi-billion-dollar throwback to the ancient craft of herb treatment. Studies have shown that the age-old practice of therapeutic massage has amazing healing results. And despite the obvious benefits of e-mail, blogs and social media, there truly is no substitute for the human voice and especially face-to-face contact. It would appear then that sometimes the “old-fashioned” way is the best way. It behooves us then to try to understand why both Jacob and Esau seemed to place such a high price on their father’s blessing. Read more »

Chaye Sarah – The Ongoing Miracle of a Life Well Lived

October 30, 2018
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Chaye Sarah – The Ongoing Miracle of a Life Well Lived

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It is noteworthy that this week’s portion, which is entitled, Chaye Sarah, the life of Sarah, actually chronicles the matriarch’s death and burial, and her husband’s contemplative mourning. It begins though with a one sentence retrospective of her life. “Sarah’s lifetime was one hundred years, twenty years, and seven years: the years of Sarah’s life.” (Breshit 23:1)

Rashi explains that the repetition of years divides Sarah’s life into three periods, each with its own uniqueness. At one hundred she was as sinless as a twenty-year-old, for until the age of twenty, a person does not suffer Heavenly punishment, and at twenty she still had the wholesome beauty of a seven year old, who does not use cosmetics and whose beauty is natural. Rashi’s creative exegesis points out that each latter stage of Sarah’s life was indelibly tied to each preceding period.

It should also be noted though that the conclusion of Sarah’s life would be equally tied to the life of Rebekah, who would succeed her as the matriarch of Abraham’s household and the wife of her only son Isaac. It has been said that which a caterpillar considers the end of life, the Master calls a butterfly. So it is with a righteous person and their progeny. Not one of us can view the full value of our lives, but time will measure our lives as they continue in the lives of those we touch.

One of my favorite movies to watch is Frank Capra’s delightful fantasy “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The protagonist of the movie George Bailey, weighed down by the trials of life wishes that he was never born. His wish is mysteriously granted by a challenged junior angel named Clarence who allows George to see how many lives would have been severely impoverished had he never existed. What he truly sees is the tremendous value of his life, a life well lived, and how it continues in perpetuity in the lives he loves. George mostly is allowed to see the small miracles that happen when souls touch in the passage of life. So did the souls of Rebecca and Isaac touch each other, and by no coincidence continue the life of Sarah. Read more »

Lech Lecha – The Syntax of Silence

October 17, 2018
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Lech Lecha – The Syntax of Silence

These are anxious times. Many people are facing significant changes in their lives and the long-standing institutions that help inform their lives and lend them a sense of security. People often feel insecure regarding their safety, their finances and the social structures they have come to depend on.  Divisive politics have divided neighborhoods, communities and even families. Wars, rumors of wars and natural disasters proliferate, and social media casts blame and aspersions on everyone.  At times like this it is easy to ask, “where is God?” and “why is He so silent?”

A terse reading of Torah might unintentionally suggest that our biblical role models heard from God unceasingly and as a result proceeded on their journeys without question or doubt. In fact, our modern sensibilities understand faith as the absent of doubt. But the Torah instead demonstrates that our ancestors were filled with doubt. Abraham was filled with doubt. They worried about their lack of heirs, their relationship with neighbors, and the health, safety and welfare of their families. But over the long haul they continued despite long periods of apparent silence from Hashem. According to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel there is “syntax” to that silence, and when we learn it we can hear the voice of the soul and the voice of our God.

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Noach – Dominion after the Deluge

October 8, 2018
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Noach – Dominion after the Deluge

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B’reishit offers us unique insights concerning humankind’s responsibility to be both sovereign and servants over creation, and the lessons that we might learn about compassion from our furry friends who are the “other white meat” on this planet. Some might be surprised to learn that this week’s parasha Noach offers more of these insights and still others that we might deduce such as self-control and self-limitation. But first let us review last week’s lessons.

As described by the first two commands given in Genesis, humankind was given the responsibility of being the image bearers of God in this world in two distinct ways. First, humanity is commanded to have dominion in this world. “Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it; and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on earth (Gen. 1:28).” The second divine charge to humanity is to “till” (l’avdah, literally to serve or to worship) the ground (2:15). While the command is very much the same as the first command, it is actualized quite differently. In the first, humans mirror the image of God as kings, but in the second, as servants. Dominion or mastery does not suggest unbridled freedom to ravage, exploit and exhaust the rest of the animal kingdom, rather as the only beings created in the image of God, humans are expected to be benevolent rulers, serving the creation.

It would appear from the Creation narratives of Genesis 1-2 that animals were originally intended for a more intimate relationship with humaWhy nity than a mere food source. In Genesis 2:18 God declares, “It is not good for man to be alone; I will make a fitting helper for him.” But there is a gap between this declaration and the creation of the women from the rib of man in verse 21. In between, in verses 19 and 20 God creates the animals from the dust of the earth just as he did the man. Also the animals are brought before the man who is given charge to name each of them, “but for Adam no suitable helper was found.” From this we might ascertain several thoughts. First, this reiterates the idea of man as the benevolent ruler. Although the animals were created much as he was, only the human is able to participate in the creative task of naming. Second there is a clear intimacy between Adam and the rest of the creatures, not only does he know the animals well enough to give them suitable names, but there is an implied potential for one of them to be his special mate. Whatever the unstated process of evaluation was, the Torah is clear that it is only after eliminating the rest of the animal world, as suitable mates, that God provided one that Adam could say was “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh (v.23).” Read more »

B’reishit – Facing Our Other Side, East of Eden

October 1, 2018
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B’reishit – Facing Our Other Side, East of Eden

As we begin to explore this story of humankind outside the Garden of Eden, we like Cain should be uncomfortable with our first encounter being fratricide.  Yet if we are honest with ourselves, we need to admit that we walk away with less emotional investment into this narrative, than we put into the average Super Bowl.  Lamentably, those of us who are most committed to the inspiration and historicity of the Genesis accounts,  often  accept a very pale one dimensional rendering of these stories, that strip away the great complexity of human drama.

Why then does the inspired writer force us at the outset of the human journey, to confront such a violent accounting of sibling rivalry?  I believe that the answer lies between the lines of the terse narrative found in the fourth chapter of B’reishit. The sages engaged in a homiletic enterprise called midrash, that comes from   the word that means “to search.”  By developing stories that filled in the missing details to the biblical narratives, they confronted the unanswered questions that arose. Far more important than the static details of the stories themselves, are the challenges that they pose to the hearer, and the lessons they teach about the Divine human encounter. If this form of exposition sounds familiar, it should.  The inspired authors of the Brit Chadashah, including Yeshua himself used midrash, and engaged the existing “midrash like” stories  of his day. Read more »