Monday, January 25, 2010
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
I wonder if it will ever stop amazing me how often the weekly Torah reading seems to coincide with events going on around the world. Once again, we find ourselves reading a (seemingly) random section of our Torah, and finding poignant connections to our lives today. I would like to highlight one particular theme which has jumped out at me from our Torah portion, Parashat Bo.
But I cannot share their sentiment. I read the story of the Exodus and I cringe at the hardening of Pharaoh's heart and the suffering of the Egyptian people. I imagine the devastation of flaming balls of hail crashing into the land, hordes of locusts eating the land bare, darkness so penetrating that you could touch it, and finally the death of the firstborn of all Egyptians, including animals! How can I rejoice when I read that?
Monday, January 18, 2010
Friday, January 15, 2010
In addition, one of our upcoming B’nai Mitzvah students, Kaitlin Graham, is devoting her Mitzvah Project to helping the people of Haiti. Kaitlin will be collecting any cash or check donations outside the synagogue on Sunday morning, January 17th, before religious school starts.
If any other B’nai Mitzvah students would like to join Kaitlin in this important project, please speak to her about it on Sunday.
We pray for the safety and well-being of all the people of
Haiti. May the rescue efforts be successful, and may God protect and sustain them as they rebuild their country and their lives.
Monday, January 11, 2010
Thursday, January 7, 2010
Is there a theme to your life? A common thread or a recurring narrative that you can trace
throughout many (if not most) of your experiences thus far? You may think that this is just a rhetorical question, or a nifty way to start a blog post. But it really isn't. I'm genuinely curious, and if you have an answer, I invite you to write a comment on the blog, send me an e-mail, or even stop by my office. A theme can be something that has defined who you are or that has guided you along life's path. I believe that we begin to understand ourselves better when we identify, and begin to own, our individual themes.
Monday, January 4, 2010
Happy New Year!
This whole New Year thing, it really leaves me very confused and filled with mixed emotions. We become very reflective, as we look back and ask, "2009: That Really Happened"? Yet at the same time we also stop and look ahead, wondering what awaits us in 2010. We also try to make new resolutions to improve ourselves for the New Year, but we do so knowing that we aren't likely to keep them all… if indeed any. And for now, for this one day, we stop and reflect on the crossroads in our lives, but by tomorrow we'll be back to business as usual, and we'll start counting down the days till summer and then to next New Year's Eve.
I look at all these conflicting feelings, and not surprisingly, I see them reflected in our Torah portion this week. As a congregation, as a Torah-reading-community, we are at a crossroads ourselves; we have come to the end of the 1st Book of Moses, and we await the start of the next book in one week's time. We conclude the story of Abraham's family, and begin the story of the Israelite people. But the similarities between New Year's and Va-yechi don't end there. Not only are we at a major milestone in the yearly Torah reading cycle, but we also see a lot of the same mixed emotions within the parasha itself.
In last week's blog post "Learning How to Forgive," I wrote about Jacob lying on his death bed and instead of offering each of his children a blessing, he rebuked them for their misdeeds, and left them with a sense of bitterness and lasting grudges. Yet just a few chapters later, after Jacob's death, the brothers come to Joseph with a message from their father beyond the grave: "Forgive, I urge you, the offense and guilt of your brothers who treated you so harshly" (Gen. 50:17).
Another interesting inconsistency is when the Torah tells us how impressive it is that Joseph survived to see children of the third generation of his son Ephraim, presumably his great-grandchildren. But in the very next verse, it says that on his deathbed he spoke to his brothers! So as awed as we're supposed to be at Joseph's old age, shouldn't it be more amazing that his OLDER brothers are still alive?!
Finally, we see that Joseph and his brothers go out of their way to bury Jacob back in Canaan in the ancestral plot. They take a big, long day-trip back to their homeland to bring Jacob's body back to the Cave of Machpelah. Yet when Joseph dies, it only says that he asked to eventually be brought back to Canaan, when the Israelites one day return there. Why couldn't they bring his bones up to Canaan like they did with Jacob? Why wait?? Perhaps Joseph wanted to stay with his people – BOTH the Israelites and the Egyptians – as long as they were in the land. Ultimately, he wanted to be with his ancestors, but while the Israelites continued to live in Egypt, he wanted to remain with them.
So we see that there are many contradictions in our parasha, as well as these strong emotions: forgiveness, questions at the end of life, and maintaining connections to one's people and ancestors. And the Torah portion leaves us much the same way the New Year does, with a lot of uncertainty and hope for the future, because the Torah portion ends on a positive note – with Joseph being buried and the Israelites at peace in Egypt – but also with a hint of foreshadowing for the future. We read that Joseph was buried in an Egyptian coffin, which might conjure up images of the oppression of the Israelites yet to come, and the coffin-like basket that the infant Moses is placed in as he floats down the Nile River. A positive ending, yet uncertainty ahead.
But, the point isn't to leave you on a negative note. Along with insecurity in front of us come promise, expectation, adventure, and limitless potential. That is certainly how we approach our future, and how we view the joy of New Year's Eve.
And I want to point out something else as well. Out there in the black hole that is the year about to begin is always the Hand of God. We don't always feel it, and we certainly don't always know how to identify it even if we did see it! Often we have to wait and look back and reflect on it, but God's Presence does follow us around.
I read a fascinating observation connected to our Torah portion, which I would like to share with you. As a Conservative Jew, I tend to support the notion that the Torah was written by human authors, and that's authorS, plural. BUT, a major part of Conservative theology is the idea that the Torah is Divinely inspired. That the Hand of God, as it were, guided it throughout human history. And the observation that I read caught something interesting the text.
Our Torah portion, and thus the entire Book of Genesis, ends with the word "Mitzrayim," "Egypt."
- The second book of the Torah, Exodus, ends with the word "Mas-ey-hem," "their journeys."
- The third ends with the word "Sinai."
- The fourth ends with the word "Jericho."
- And the fifth ends with the word "Israel."
- Put them together: Egypt, Journeys, Sinai, Jericho, Israel.
To me, that is the role of God in our lives. We're all independently working on our own lives, folks! There are no certainties. God isn't going to overtly point us to the "right" path in our lives; it didn't happen last year and it's unlikely to happen in the year ahead! But we can still feel God's Presence, whether it's in the strange contradictions in the Joseph story, hidden clues throughout the Torah, or in our own reflections on 2009, the year that really happened.
I pray that the year ahead brings us all safety, happiness, prosperity, and joy… and maybe even a little glimpse of a Divine Hand, offering us comfort and purpose for 2010. Shabbat Shalom and Happy New Year!