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.