Monday, December 24, 2012

A Little Bit Wiser, A Little Bit Stronger - Parashat Vayechi

Parashat Vayechi marks the end of an era in Israelite history...the last Parashat in the Book of Genesis. It brings us to the death of both Jacob and his son, Joseph.
Jacob is on his deathbed and he calls for his sons. Jacob asks his sons to gather together, in 1 group, to receive his deathbed blessing, but individually. He recites a blessing, and some really difficult words about each of his sons. He more or less gives a prediction about each of his sons' future, based upon their character and their past history. He is not kind, and he certainly does not hold back.
Jacob says: "Come together, and I will tell you what will happen in the course of time."
Jacob reminded his sons of their individual actions, telling them that sometimes we do things that can affect not only the present, but also future generations.
He speaks to them about choosing to be a blessing or choosing to be a curse, and each one of them must decide which road they will choose to follow.
When all is said, and and done, Jacob's sons come together and pray to show that they have indeed forgiven one another, and that they are stronger together, than as individuals.

We conclude Parashat Vayechi, and the Book of Genesis with blessings. And as we say "goodbye" to 2012, perhaps Parashat Vayechi will teach us something about reconciliation and forgiveness. 

Be strong, Be strong, And may we be strengthened

Monday, December 17, 2012

May Their Memory Be For A Blessing - Parashat Vayigash

Holiday time. A typical time for family reunions, bringing together family members from all over….aunts, uncles, grandmas, cousins, recounting stories of days past. That could spell trouble for most. This week’s Parashat ,Vayigash, is a kind of family reunion. Joseph gets to finally reveal himself to his brothers. You know, those jealous, scheming siblings that sold him into slavery so many years before. The question is, will Joseph seek revenge upon the brothers that were so cruel to him so many years before?
We see a Joseph without revenge or anger, and without the self-conceit that had stirred his brothers’ hatred. After 22 years, the brothers have reconciled. Joseph has resisted the temptation to use his position of power to settle the score. Family reunions bring a lot of anxiety, always trying to attain that sense of unity and community.
But, as I write this, residents of a quiet town in Newtown, Connecticut start preparing for funerals, instead of the holiday reunions that they were hoping for.  So, how do we find hope in a world, which can seem so cruel?
Perhaps Joseph can teach us all a lot. We all have lots of catching up to do, and memories to share. We should be inspired by Joseph’s ability to reconcile his past and continue his journey. We will not allow darkness to define our destiny.
‘May Their Memory Be for a Blessing’

Monday, December 10, 2012

We Have Not Inherited The World From Our Ancestors,We Have Borrowed It From Our Children: Parashat Miketz

Parashat Miketz begins with Pharoah having a dream. He sees 7 fat cows being consumed by 7 weak, sick cows.  Then Pharoah sees 7 fat bundles of grain being consumed by 7 weak bundles of grain. What could it mean?
He consults with Joseph, who was languishing in jail. Two years prior, Joseph had correctly interpreted the dreams of Pharoah’s Cupbearer and Baker. Joseph must have been wondering if he was going to spend the rest of his life in prison. But now Pharoah was interpreting his dreams.
Joseph explained that he foresaw that there would be 7 years of great abundance throughout the Land of Egypt, and then 7 years of famine, and all of the abundance would be gone.  Joseph advised Pharoah to find someone to supervise the collection of a certain percentage of the harvest….a savings….to be set aside, for the years of the famine, so the land and the people would not perish.
Joseph gave Pharoah some pretty sound advice, even for today. We might have surpluses, but if we continue to use our resources at the rate that we do, one day, they will all be gone.
“The earth is Adonai’s and the fullness thereof: the settled world, and all that inhabit it.” (Psalms 24:1) This reminds us that the earth has been lent to us as a “trust” by God on the condition that we care for it and respect it, and ensure that future generations will benefit from its bounty.
All this talk of dreams makes me think that we’ve been sleeping a little too long, or maybe sticking our head in the sand.
Did you know that by the end of this month, nearly 11 million children in the world will have died this year from malnutrition?  The U.S. Farm Bill that was up for renewal in September in Congress could have included policies to support farmers in developing countries in their efforts to grow enough food and learn how to distribute it. But, it seems as though Congress allowed the Farm Bill to expire, and if a new Farm Bill is not passed quickly, the money that exists for emergency food aid will run out. 

A few weeks ago, PBS showcased Ken Burns’ “The Dust Bowl” which describes “the worst manmade disaster in American history”. It was about one of the greatest tragedies of the Great Plains region of the U.S. The land was appealing to homesteaders, who came in the late 1800s and early 1900s and began farming and raising livestock. For many, it was the first time anyone in their families had owned a piece of land.
But in the World War I era, the government encouraged farmers to plant wheat because warfare had closed off foreign markets. Rains were adequate to support wheat cultivation. The government fixed prices and farmers were prospering and plowing up more and more grasslands to plant more wheat.
It was a get-rich-quick atmosphere, complete with real estate scams and shady salesmen. Huge amounts of grasslands were turned under, exposing the topsoil in what was known as "The Great Plow Up."
But in 1929, the stock market collapsed. The Depression sent wheat prices plummeting. The rains dried up and drought took hold. The winds blew away the shallow topsoil, leaving a hard, caked surface beneath. And that’s what caused the massive dust.
The dust was so unrelenting in that 1930’s catastrophe, as it swept through houses, through bodies…..massive dust storms, called “black blizzards” across the Great Plains. They were clouds of dust that were so huge that they looked like mountain ranges, and so thick that they would blot out the sun during the day, and turn the skies black.
Native grasslands anchored the soil, protecting it from the unpredictable climate and winds.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt was not willing to abandon the Great Plains, and government became a force in helping rescue them from extinction. New jobs gave workers wages to feed their families, and new techniques for managing soil and water helped bring the land back from the brink.

The fact that we have huge climate change, the fact that we just in New York had a hurricane that intensified unexpectedly because of the warmth of the Atlantic, the fact that this was the second hundred-year storm in two years … all these things, the fragility of our environment, we ignore the heavy hand that we have placed toward that environment at our peril. … We can see it happening again. There is a drought going on, and farm families are suffering. We see isolated dust storms, although certainly not the size or caliber of the devastating storms in the Dust Bowl, but enough to make us think it can happen again.
That should be a stark reminder to us all.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Don't Let The Lights Go Out

Here it is, Hanukah. It’s the only ancient Jewish holiday that has real historical roots, the miraculous story of a revolution for religious freedom, inspiring future generations in their struggles against tyranny and oppression.
Worried that the celebration would focus on the military victory of the Maccabees, the Talmudic Rabbis chose the selection from the prophet Zechariah for the holiday’s Haftarah reading. It describes the message of Judaism: “Not by might and not by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord” (4:6) who has the ultimate power.
Many of us are looking to Judaism for deeper levels of meaning. The Hanukah story can help connect us to each other. As it says in Proverbs: “The human spirit is God’s candle.” It is through igniting that spirit within ourselves that we can bring light into the world—the light of love, compassion, truth and justice. 

As we kindle the lights, let us try to make a commitment to also rededicate ourselves and remember that we are also the burning flames which must never go out. We need power and strength in order to bring change. May we all find the fortitude to illuminate a new beginning, and use that light for good, to search together to repair and rebuild and to bind our hearts to one another. And together, we will light the path to new miracles.

Monday, December 3, 2012

What's A Dreamer To Do? - Parashat Vayeshev

“Way, way back many centuries ago,
Not long after the Bible began
Jacob lived in the land of Canaan,
A fine example of a family man.
Jacob, Jacob and sons,
Depended on farming to earn their keep.
Jacob, Jacob and sons,
Spent all of his days in the fields with sheep”

I loved the show “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat”. I saw it with the one and only Donny Osmond. It’s the story of the relationship between Jacob and his favorite son, Joseph. That bond was so special, so intense,  that he made him this amazing, technicolor dream coat of incredible colors. Joseph might have been looking mighty fine, and strutting his stuff, but his brothers were getting angrier by the minute. Perhaps it was the fact that Joseph continuously spied on them, or maybe it was the fact that Joseph was interpreting their dreams and said things like he would be ruling over them someday. That would make me pretty upset.
So, what was a dreamer like Joseph supposed to do?
The Talmud advises, that “one who sees a dream from which his soul is distraught should go and have it interpreted before three”.  Take your disturbing dream and “out” it by bringing it into the open. In other words, tell it to your “Dream Team”!  Once they say to you “It is good, and let it be good, may God make it good, then, you are all set and good to go. Sounds like “creative dream writing” to me. Apparently, the Dream Team doesn’t tell you what your dream means. What they’re doing is manipulating the ending and making sure that it has a nice, gentle outcome. So, maybe dreams do give us an chance to shape the outcome of our reality into real live wake-up calls and happier endings. And perhaps next time you say “sweet and pleasant dreams”…. You’ll put a little more technicolor into it.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Parashat Vayishlach and Violence Against Women

We’re about to read the disturbing story of Dina, the daughter of Leah and Jacob.  After Jacob and his family settled in Canaan, Dina went out to meet the women of the area. We are told that Shechem, the prince of the people near whom they lived, saw her and “took her, and lay with her by force.” Immediately afterwards -- in fact in the very next verse -- Shechem proclaims his love for Dinah and asks his father to speak to Jacob to arrange a marriage between him and Dinah and thus to establish an alliance between the people of Hamor and the people of Israel. Jacob’s sons demand that before the marriage can occur, every adult male in the city be circumcised. So much does Shechem desire Dinah, that he and his father agree to this condition. When the men of Shechem are in pain and unable to defend themselves, Dinah’s brothers Simeon and Levi, go to the city and kill all the adult males. They bring Dinah home from the house of Shechem and the other brothers then follow and plunder the city. The brothers rationalize their action as just revenge, “should our sister be treated like a whore?” they ask.
 This crime was a mark on the family and the community in many ways, and Dinah’s brothers were outraged, even though their father’s reaction was one of silence. He seemed to be more concerned with the way things looked on the surface, instead of the damage that was done to his daughter. And following the slaughter of the male inhabitants of Shechem and the plunder of the city, Jacob again is silent, concerned only that his sons may have created enemies among the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and other people. Where is Jacob’s concern for justice? Does he not feel outrage at the acts of his sons against Shechem? He says nothing about the deception of his sons in falsely entering into marriage negotiations with Hamor, father of Shechem. Perhaps this is too reminiscent of his own deceptive actions against Esau.  Perhaps, then, its no coincidence that the parsha opens with the meeting of Jacob and Esau, but a reminder of the patterns of deception, and their consequences.

Abuse is about gaining control. Power and control are at the heart of Domestic Violence, Abuse, Rape. To remain silent is to allow this abuse to gain control. Shechem used his honor and his power to violate Dina and hurt her family. But, Jacob, Dina’s father, remained silent. It’s possible that Jacob failed to protect his daughter because of fear. But, for whatever reason, the Torah seems to disrespect Jacob for his lack of action. It says in Proverbs 21:13: “The one who shuts their ear to the cry of the poor will cry out and not be heard.”

Today, violence against women is one of the most widespread of human rights abuses. During times of war and conflict, sexual violence is used to terrorize and humiliate women and girls. Survivors often suffer further victimization by their family and their community. We must continue to raise public awareness about violence against women and girls, and we must commit ourselves to never be silent. We have a long way to go, but if we make an effort to commit ourselves to bringing change, perhaps one day we will start to get rid of the nightmare of violence, aggression and gender inequality. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Oseh Shalom

This is what Arafat did to his people.
He left them homeless after leading them for more than 50 years with the hope to liberate the land and return to Palestine.
He left his people in poverty, while his family continues to live with millions.
Its too late to go back, and do it all again. Arafat thought he was a Mandela or a Begin.  Ironically, he seems to be the only lifelong terrorist that has won a Nobel Peace Prize. It was that famous handshake…the one on the lawn of the White House, with President Bill Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin that did it. The world actually had some hope, for a fleeting moment, that peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis might actually come to be. When he turned his back on the Oslo peace accords initiated by Ehud Barak, Arafat sealed his place in history. He failed the test of a leader. He couldn’t take his people past the point of violence and terrorism to a new stage of self-governance. He lacked all integrity. He favored suicide bombings over negotiations. He gave the Palestinians lies and false hopes, and led his people further down the road of violence and terrorism. He was a failure to any realization of a solution. And this is the inheritance of the Palestinian people.
He betrayed the people that he claimed to love, and that he was supposed to lead.
The Palestinian people deserve a leader that will transform the people. It has been years since Arafat’s death. But, there is so much resentment and anger. The Palestinian people cannot afford another Arafat. They need a leader that will recognize Israel, not just as a neighbor, but as an example of what can be done.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Parashat Vayetzei - Under the Wings of Angels

      “Coming upon a [certain] place, he passed the night there, for the sun was setting; taking one of the stones of the place, he made it his head-rest as he lay down in that place” (Gen. 28:11). The story is told in this week’s Parasha, Vayetzei. We’re reading about this certain “place”. It didn’t sound too fancy. Just a very ordinary place.
Jacob had a dream. He “dreamed, and lo—a ladder was set on the ground, with its top reaching into heaven, and lo—angels of God going up and coming down on it…. Waking from his sleep, Jacob said, ‘Truly, the Eternal is in this place, and I did not know it!’ He was awestruck, and said, ‘How awe-inspiring is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!’” (Gen. 28:12, 16-17).
The story of Jacob’s dream is truly inspirational. Is it the dream, or is it the angels that provide comfort?
Jacob’s dream of the ladder with the angels is one of the most profound encounters with God in the Bible. It wasn’t necessarily the place that was so unique. It was Jacob. Unknowingly, Jacob had become more open to the presence of God. And in this very ordinary place, Jacob was able to declare: “God is in this place and I did not know it”…the place he discovers is really within himself.
I believe that there are “Spiritual Ladders” everywhere. We just have to be willing to take the step to ascend. Who knows what you will find? 
     This week, the story of sibling rivalry of Jacob and Esau takes on an even deeper  meaning.
Jacob went through many changes. He left Canaan with nothing, but returned with a family and great wealth. He was transformed, from the brother that tricked Esau into giving up the birthright to a man who truly understood righteousness and justice. He has certainly earned God’s protection. Now he is Yisraeyl.
Many of us are hoping to hear updates from Israel with hopes of a ceasefire.
To be a Jew has always been to live with a certain degree of anxiety and uncertainty. And it also means to live with courage.
Last week, in Toldot, we saw just how brutally two brothers can fight. And, in a couple of weeks, in Vayislach, we will learn of an impending meeting between Jacob and Esau. They can continue fighting with each other, or they can come to the realization, as they finally do later in life, that they are brothers, the sons of one man.

The Hashkiveinu prayer asks God to guard our going out and our coming in. I pray that our brothers and sisters in Israel are sheltered under the wings of angels.
I pray for the day when “the lion will dwell with the lamb” and Israel, finally will know a true and lasting peace.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Parasha Toldot and Sibling Rivalry

This week's Torah portion is called Toldot, "Generations," and it is the only portion in the Torah that makes Isaac the center of attention. It also traces the legacy that he and his wife Rebecca created through the birth of their twin sons Jacob and Esau. It is quite a story. It is a dramatic, unsettling saga of family turmoil and sibling rivalry that results in Esau selling his birthright to Jacob who then turns around and steals the blessing that his blind father thought he was bestowing upon Esau on his
deathbed. And then, Jacob has to run for his life, fearing that his brother will kill him in revenge.
This is the epitome of sibling rivalry and parental favoritism.
 When kids hear this story they seem to marvel at the way that Rebecca figured out a conniving plan to trick her dying husband. But, I can’t help thinking about the real loss this family had. The blessing of the birthright became more important than the family itself. Isn’t it time that we recognize the blessings that we do have? Who knows….maybe if Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Esau had done that, our history would have been different. It’s never too late to start.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Kristallnacht - We Must Never Forget

On November 9–10, 1938, the Nazis staged vicious anti-Jewish riots against the Jewish community of Germany.
Kristallnacht, the "Night of Broken Glass" reminds us of the countless numbers of broken windows of synagogues, Jewish-owned businesses, community centers and homes that were destroyed.

With Nazi support, the rioters burned and destroyed the life of the Jewish community, destroying cemeteries, hospitals, schools and homes, as the police stood and watched.

This was the beginning of the end.
The systematic, murder of the Jews of Europe.
We must never forget.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Best Things In Life Are Free - Chayei Sarah

This weekend we read Parashat “Chaye Sarah”.  It is translated as  ‘Sarah’s lifetime’ although it actually begins with the death of Sarah.  Sarah’s husband, Abraham, needs a place to bury her and the Torah tells us that he purchased a cave in the field of Machpelah in Hebron as the family grave.
The field and cave are owned by Ephron, who makes a quite a big deal over this transaction, including letting everyone know that he is offering the cave for free.  After some heavy-duty negotiations, Abraham insists on paying the full price. Jewish tradition suggests some reasons why he does, but I guess by paying for it made Abraham feel as though he really owned it. But, sometimes its really hard to put a price on something that is really valuable to us. Many of us learned something important this past week. As Hurricane Sandy blew into our area and wreaked havoc on our lives, we realized that perhaps there is a difference between the price of something and the true value of something. What is really the most valuable thing to you?
Is it your furniture, a piece of jewelry, or your clothing, or your car?
I bet that it’s the things that don’t have a price-tag…your family, friends, and the things that you’ve learned through the years.
As one storm passes, others will come. It’s important to try to keep things in perspective. Believe in yourself, your family and your community. Who knows? It might be a transformative experience.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

See Clearly What Is Really Important - Parashat Vayera

It is almost here…. Election Day.  It took us a long time to get here. We weathered quite a storm. It feels like it took 40 years. It might do us some good to read Parashat Vayera, which includes the story of Abraham and Sarah’s hospitality. It might even serve as a reminder of our civic duties in the upcoming election.

Abraham is sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day, as he sees the hazy shadows of three people approaching.  He doesn’t wait until he knows who they are, which tribe they belong to, but at ninety-nine years he jumps up to welcome them into his and Sarah’s tent. Can you imagine how it would be to sit on the front steps of your home, and call out to someone that was passing by, to come over and sit for a while, and maybe join you for a cup of coffee? It would probably never happen. But, that’s what Abraham and Sarah did. They kept the sides of their tent open, welcoming the stranger from every direction. Thank goodness for them,  that they were like that.
So this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Vayera, begins: Vayera eylav Hashem...”And God appeared to Abraham as he was sitting before the door of his tent in the heat of the day.” Abraham receives a visit.
They turn out to be angels, Messengers from God, and it is from this story that the rabbis of the Talmud (Shabbat 127a) state that “hospitality to strangers is greater than an encounter with the Shechinah (the Divine presence).”
Abraham looks up and sees three men standing in front of him. Abraham ran to greet them and said, 'Please come in! I'll bring some water, and you can wash up and rest...' Abraham hurried to Sarah's tent and said, 'Quickly make three cakes.' Can you imagine...just sitting on our front steps awaiting a passerby, and welcoming them in?
After what so many of us have experienced this past week, may we all have the courage and wisdom to see clearly what is really important, like our ancestors Abraham and Sarah did, and in the words of our Prophet Micah: do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God.


Saturday, October 27, 2012

You're No Role Model John Sununu

John Sununu, the former Republican Governor of New Hampshire, has done it again.
In an interview, Sununu commented on Colin Powell’s endorsement of President Obama, “Well, I think that when you have somebody of your own race that you’re proud of being President of the United States — I applaud Colin for standing with him.”
This is hardly the first time John Sununu has used race and other dog whistle politics to attack President Obama and his supporters.
He has said that President Obama is foreign and doesn’t understand the “American System” (I guess that’s because he was born in the country of Hawaii) He says that Obama doesn’t know how to be an American (whatever that means). He says that Obama is a “lazy idiot” because of his 1st debate performance, and he says that Obama has no class and just wants to be cool. (personally, I do think that he's pretty cool)
Sununu remains Romney’s most prominent spokesperson and is even attacking Obama for dividing Americans along racial lines.
It’s truly amazing that the President of the United States is being endorsed for another term by a brilliant 4-Star General that was Secretary of State, and it all comes down to race? Why does the burden of race still weigh down on much of American life? The gains we’ve made have been enormous, but we must remember to take off those blinders that we sometimes continue to wear to all types of discrimination. We’ve got quite a challenge. I don’t know if we’ll ever change people like John Sununu. But, we do have a responsibility to future generations, and we’re going to have to change if we’re going to survive.

Monday, October 22, 2012

On Your Journey I Will Bless You - Parashat Lech Lecha

As you can see, the name of my Blog is the Title of a Parashat. And, it happens to be one of my favorites. Its about journeys, physical ones and also spiritual ones. And, it gives us hope that we all have an opportunity to reach a Promised Land.

We read story of our forefather, Abraham,  and our foremother, Sarah in Parasha “Lech Lecha”.  Before God gave them the names Abraham and Sarah, they were known as Abram and Sarai.
"Abram" means "exhalted father", whereas "Abraham" means "father of many", therefore confirming the promise that God gave him of blessing him and his many descendants.

"Sarai" means "my princess", but "Sarah" means simply "Princess", indicating that she will be exhalted, not only by her husband, but by all Nations.

 Thus begins the story of the Jewish people.    
        “Lech Lecha” is about an act of God—the beginning of the story of the Jewish people.  God calls Abram and Sarai to the land of Canaan.  God makes the Covenant with them, the promise of nations to come and descendants to carry on their names.  This is the journey to a land that God will show us.  But what is that journey?  Is it a physical journey?  The story in the Torah tells us it is.  But it is more than that.  This is a journey of self-discovery.  (notice the description of my blog)
            The very name is clue to this.  The meaning of this Parashat “Lech Lecha” is –go to your self.  The commentator, Rashi explains that God promised Abram that the journey would be for his own benefit.  Although travel was costly and unsettling and difficult in ancient times, God assured him the journey would bring blessing, fame and descendants.  The families of the earth shall bless themselves by his great name.
            And as God promised our ancestors, Abram and Sarai, so too this is a promise to each of us that through our journey within, our journey to self discovery, to Jewish connection through faith in our God, we will receive blessings that we can appreciate in our own lives.  In a deeper sense, God told Abram to go to his true being.  Going on this journey to his self and deepening his faith in God would allow him to reach his true essence.  And that indeed is the Promised Land! 
It must have been difficult to be like Abram, to trust in the path never before taken, to believe in the Holy One in the face of the comfort of the familiar.  Most of us are constantly struggling to invent new and different ways to participate in our faith. Our beliefs are varied…and they’ve evolved over the generations. .
Hopefully, on your journey to self-discovery, you too will reach your own promised land.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

We're Not Just Resumes in Those Binders Full Of Women

The  2nd presidential debate may have tackled some controversial domestic and foreign issues, but it was a comment from Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney that lit up social media.

In an answer to a question about women in the workforce, Governor Mitt Romney said he requested more female candidates for his Massachusetts cabinet and was delighted to receive “binders of women”.
The now viral phrase was an unexpected and ironic turn of events for Romney. In fact, he was answering a question about pay inequality and had to follow President Obama who bragged about the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first bill that he signed into law. As he does, Romney tried to describe an analogous situation from his years in business leadership. "I had the chance to pull together a cabinet and all the applicants seemed to be men," Romney said. And I -- and I went to my staff, and I said, 'How come all the people for these jobs are -- are all men?' They said, "Well, these are the people that have the qualifications.'" In recounting how he went on a search for qualified women candidates, Romney remembered, "I went to a number of women's groups and said, 'Can you help us find folks,' and they brought us whole binders full of women."

Within minutes, "Binders Full of Women" had a Twitter account, a Facebook page, and a blog.
The tweets were out of control, the hashtags had begun.  It was amazing how quickly everything happened.
But the truth of the matter is, we’re all laughing about it now, but none of us should ever want to be, or allow ourselves to be, just a resume trapped in a binder again. We’re not just resumes. We’re people, that work hard, and deserve to be compensated for that work at the same rate a man is.

I can’t help thinking that those binders are called "Trappers" for a reason.

Monday, October 15, 2012

There's No Room For Indifference - Parashat Noah

The story of Noah and the Ark, the flood, the animals, the rainbow and the dove are one of the most familiar stories to us. From a very early age, we sing the song “Rise & Shine”, about Noah bringing the animals on the ark by two-sies. The Torah describes Noah as: blameless in his age. “A virtuous man, who walked with God”. (6:9) That’s quite an introduction. But after God singled Noah out, and he built his ark so his own family and the animals could be saved, he failed to say a single word while the whole world was destroyed.
In Hebrew, Noah’s name means 'comfort' or 'rest'. Noah silently acquiesced to God’s plan of destruction. He rested, he was silent.
Elie Wiesel famously said, “Indifference, to me, is the epitome of evil.”
Noah was guilty – guilty of doing nothing. Remember, doing nothing is actually doing something.
Noah’s sin was his silence, and the entire world was destroyed.  If atrocities are taking place in our time, and we fail to question, speak up, and effectively respond: aren’t we as guilty as Noah? And when we find the courage to take action, speak out against injustice, and do what is right, it means stepping up and others will follow. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Never Forget

How many of us  heard that if we came home with a tattoo, we wouldn’t be able to be buried in a Jewish cemetery ? And, of course the tattoo also had such a deeper meaning. We associated the tattoo with the permanent scar of the Holocuast, a constant reminder of the darkest days of our history. So, I was incredibly moved by Jodi Rudoren’s September 30th NY Times article “Proudly Bearing Elder’s Scars, Their Skin Says “Never Forget”. In that article, she documented the wave of young people who have taken an active role in commemorating the atrocities of the Holocaust by memorializing those dark days on their own bodies. By tattooing the same number that Auschwitz inmates were tattooed with years ago, these young people believe that the scar of the Holocaust is permanent and will not fade with time.
As the number of survivors dwindle, we must find new ways for us as a society to ensure that we remember. This is pretty bold. Wearing the pain of the atrocities for the rest of your life. Is a statement as bold and striking as a tattoo necessary, or is there another powerful message that we as a society can send to ensure that these atrocities will never be forgotten? Whatever we do, time is of the essence. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Starting The Cycle All Over Again

Finally…Simchat Torah. We finally get to celebrate the conclusion of the Torah reading cycle But, wait.  On this day we start the cycle all over again.  We believe that everything we want to know is in this scroll.  It is only perhaps a matter of reading it a different way if the wisdom is not immediately apparent. It’s about coming to it with fresh eyes and trying to tackle it with new meaning and hopefully some deeper understanding.
The Torah closes and the Torah opens: Bereshit bara Elohim et hashamayim v’et ha’aretz. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”
Such power. Parashat Bereshit is about beginnings. The world was created from nothing. And, after each accomplishment, God said:
“This is very good!” (1:31)
But when the creation of the world was finished, a partnership had to be formed.
Rabbi Marc Gellman wrote a midrash for children that provides us with the opportunity to do just that. . . .

This midrash on creation begins with God, the Angels, and rocks and waters As creation begins, the separation of waters, the Angels ask, ‘Is it finished?’ and God responds, ‘Not yet.’
Throughout the process, step-by-step, the Angels ask, ‘Is it finished,’ and God responds, ‘Not yet.’
Finally, yes, finally, God creates man and woman, God is ready to rest and asks man and woman to finish the process of creation. However, man and woman find this process overwhelming After all, they do not know what God has planned. They do not feel worthy.
They are told that they are capable and that God will partner with them to finish the world.
Not understanding what it means to be a partner, God explains that a partner is someone with whom you work on something you cannot do alone. Partnership implies mutual responsibility because your partner is depending on you. We will still be partners on the days that each thinks the other is not doing enough. Even on those days we cannot give up trying to finish, or, should I say, ‘perfecting the world.’ So, they agree to be partners.
Once more, the Angels ask God, ‘Is the world finished yet?’ and God answers, “Ask my partners.’
In this midrash, we are asked to question what it means to partner with God. Creation is an ongoing process. It does not end on the sixth day of creation.

That’s what partnering and the process of creating is all about. It keeps continuing. Our ‘presence’ matters. There’s no manual. We use our eyes and our brains and our hearts….and we do the best that we can to continue the process of completing the world. Remember, we’re partners. And our other partners are depending on us.
As we learn in Pirkei Avot (2:16), our obligation is to begin the work, not to complete it.
This is all....very good.