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.