Category Archives: Parashah

Timelessness our Eternal Journey

 

The Twelve Tribes by Yoram Raanan

The recent New York Times article We aren’t built to live in the moment by Martin Seligman and John Tierney proposes that it is humankind’s ability to contemplate the future that makes us unique as a species. This insightful article comes as we begin the book of BaMidbar. BaMidbar is our story in the Wilderness, a place of infinite beauty and discovery, a place where time seems to stand still. How timely is it that we read this article and this Parsha come together this week and we witness Torah’s expansiveness.

 

We are often thought of as the “People of the Book,” which often is interpreted to mean that we are also a people of memory. These memories have been codified and handed down for generations to help us with issues of meaning and morality. An extraordinary part of our journey is recounted in the book of Numbers, BaMidbar. The opening parashah starts with a census. Through the census, we are taking stock of who we are. The counting itself is based on the past, coming together into one place in preparation for moving forward under God’s guidance.

This melding of our past, present and future parallels our conception of God. The Tetragrammaton, YHVH, the four letter name we use for God is understood as a timeless representation of the Eternal One, embodying the past, the present, and the future.

All is intertwined. And that is part of the extraordinary wisdom of Judaism. Past, present, and future are inextricably bound together. We cannot understand who we are or begin to ask the deeper question, why we are until we comprehend that our past, our present, and our future all inform us. We cannot fully exist without these three pillars. It is they together that create our meaning, our context. The hope of Olam Haba, the World to Come, is a vision that we see in the present based on the place from which we have come. Past, present and future unified. BaMidbar is part of the unfolding story of our people, timeless like our God.

The Good Guys Won in Philadelphia- A new twist on Terumah

This week’s Parashat Terumah is about the building the Mishkan, the Holy Sanctuary the people built so God could dwell amongst them.

How interesting to think about this Torah portion in light of the incident at Mount Carmel Cemetery. Acts of cowardice reflecting hatred and bigotry have been turned into sacred and holy work where a community has come together as a holy congregation building and re-consecrating this final resting place. The ugliness of desecration has been turned on its head creating the beauty of one community coming together supporting each other in a time of need. The law of unintended consequences or perhaps the Divine that lives in each of us has taken the act of thugs and transformed it into something remarkable. The outpourings of love by the people of greater Philadelphia have brought a profound sense of hope where despair might have otherwise prevailed. It is almost overwhelming. We have more volunteers wanting to assist in this sacred work of rebuilding than we have space available. Faith leaders, politicians, and just regular people have all come together as one.

Through the rebuilding of Mt. Carmel, Philadelphians are demonstrating a profound love for each other, putting those who would seek to divide us with hatred on notice. Whether the acts of depraved individuals or something more widespread, the forces of darkness have not triumphed over the light shining in our sacred community of Philadelphia. The outpouring of my community of my country heartens me. I am deeply grateful to live here in Philadelphia in these interesting times.

Hate has no home here. Together we Stand Against Hate.

 

Listen as Cantor Julia Cadrain of Central Synagogue (NYC) sings Sanctuary:

How do you Reconcile after Estrangement?

 

Vayigash continues unfolding the stories from last week’s parashah Mikeitz between Joseph and his brothers. Joseph, Judah, Reuven are all revealing their struggles. How each remembers what transpired years before tells us much about the individuals and how they will approach meeting each other again: Joseph, It is all meant to be; Judah, I feel guilt and remorse but I have grown from the pain; Reuven, I was right, if only you listened, we would not be here now. Their stories contain rationalizations, denials, anger and other emotional responses to bad experiences that drive people apart.

These memories also demonstrate that whatever the facts, each of us processes and remembers differently. For movie buffs like me, this is summed up for me in the Maurice Chevalier song from the movie Gigi, I Remember it Well:

We met at nine, we met at eight,  I was on time, no, you were late
Ah, yes, I remember it well.
We dined with friends, we dined alone,  
A tenor sang, a baritone
Ah, yes, I remember it well…”

Each of us remembers in our own way. We process and create a memory that becomes the story. Sometimes it aligns with the facts more closely than at other times. I have often recounted events very differently than how my wife remembered it. We all have seen other couples, as in Gigi, do likewise, disagreeing on many points as to things actually occurred. It is hard enough with partners committed to each other. But when there is estrangement, such as with Joseph and his brothers, reconnecting with someone when there are opposing narratives becomes even harder.

These stories often contain a hero and a villain mixed with the things that created the initial rift, ultimately forming the chasm between them and us.  As we move toward reconnecting, we start with a premise that reconnecting is a good thing, serving a greater purpose than whatever caused the rift. So whether we are reconnecting with a long-lost brother, estranged child, forsaken lover, we need to find forgiveness, for either them or ourselves, and acceptance of them and their different story.

We delve into the details later on perhaps, learning the other’s narrative that described the event and the motivations that were present in the moment. We create a rapprochement that can lead to a new phase of an actively engaged relationship with our long-lost other, picking up where we left off so long ago, informed by the past, but now older and wiser.

This, however, may never come to be. Vayigash is filled with many seemingly serendipitous moments that all had to happen in order for Jacob’s family reunite, move beyond the wounds each person carried, and then heal. But even with serendipity, coincidence, or the hand of God guiding the process, it is ultimately up to each of us to reach out to the other with forgiveness in order to move forward together.

What the Spies of Shlach ask us about ourselves

There is a TV commercial that distinguishes between simply monitoring and actively preventing identity theft. A violent bank robbery is in process. The monitor surveys the situation as the customers fall to the floor imploring this uniformed man to take action. He responds that he is merely a monitor; taking action is not his job. And yes indeed, there is a bank robbery underway.

shlachThe story of the spies in Parshat Shlach seems similar. Twelve men were selected and sent out to survey the land of Canaan and report back. They did what was asked and reported what they believed they saw. An insightful rabbi taught me that the answer to a question depends on the question you ask. It also depends on the nature of the respondent.

These were twelve men, “…one man each from his father’s tribe; each one shall be a chieftain in their midst” (Num. 13:2). They were leaders within their respective clans, but were they capable as conquerors? The Hebrew word is Nasi, or Prince. They were princes of the individual tribes but not necessarily the top dog, or the General of the Army to use a military term. So were these spies conquerors or bureaucrats, men of action or fearful men of complacency and conservatism?

Had the idea of freedom and freedom’s responsibilities permeated this new Israelite society? It

Spies Scout Out the Land by Yoram Raanan

Spies Scout Out the Land by Yoram Raanan

seems not; for only two spies, Caleb and Joshua believed they could actually overcome their foes and possess the land. It is possible that a deliberate selection of strategists and warriors as the twelve spies would have yielded a unanimous joining of Caleb’s assessment that they could vanquish the Canaanites. However, the spies’ ability to sway the people indicated that the Israelite people were not yet ready to enter the Land and receive the promise and responsibilities that go with it.

We also, both individually and collectively, need to ask ourselves which are we? Are we agents of change like Caleb and Joshua, or agents of the status quo? Are we willing to find ways to achieve lofty goals or fearful of the risks and unwilling to reach for more hoping to preserve what we have? Often, trying to maintain the status quo is riskier than taking the chance to make something better.  Although we should always be grateful for what we have, when it comes to values such as human rights, peace, justice, equality, and security, we can always aspire to something greater. The question remains, Are we willing to take the risk?

 

Ki Tisa- Trust and Fear

golden calf The relationship between Trust and Fear is very close. They are locked in a dualistic battle for supremacy.

Ki Tisa contains the story of the Golden Calf. Ex 32:1, When the people saw that Moses was late in coming down from the mountain, the people gathered against Aaron, and they said to him: “Come on! Make us gods that will go before us, because this man Moses, who brought us up from the land of Egypt we don’t know what has become of him.”

 Rashi explains that the people expected Moses to return in 40 days. He was delayed according to Rashi’s reading of the texts by 6 hours. 6 hours delayed after a 40-day encounter with God, and the people rebel. What an extraordinary level of fear that possessed the people to turn against the trust of God and Moses, the covenantal relationship that took the people out of Egypt, crossed the Red Sea and brought them to the moment of revelation, all the Trust undermined by a six-hour delay.

 We learn how difficult trust is to build, how important it is and how quickly it can disappear. We embrace trust as a foundation. We speak of trusting in ourselves so that we can make decisions along our way. We believe trust is the basis for any intimate relationship, that we will be cared for and held securely and safely by another and create a deep meaningful relationship permitting ourselves to be vulnerable because we feel protected. And it is precisely in this place that Fear can exercise its damaging power. In a moment, in a blink of an eye, or in this case six hours, Fear can take all we thought we had and burn it down. Rashi suggests that it is Satan who acts to confound the people. Satan is the fear we each carry inside.

 It is in the realization that we carry Fear as a primal instinct that we can understand its place. Fear resides inside, maybe a protector from an earlier era in human development. It may have helped us survive certain threats, but it shackles us and keeps us down. Only when we consciously use Trust to defeat it, can we overcome Fear and permit ourselves to be vulnerable, creating bonds and relationships with others upon which we can build. However, these two things need to coexist. Fear continues to protect us from threats and tempers Trust. Trust likewise keeps us from becoming paralyzed by Fear. Each is a part of us and we need both to be whole. But when one takes over the other things fall apart.

 Arguably we could say that the people should have trusted in God absolutely.   But we know that for most of us that is not true. God had yet to reveal, that was why they were at Sinai and Moses was the man they followed, making God even further removed. Their trust was tested and the relationships were not strong enough. The fear was able to creep in and crush this new relationship.

 Trust needs to be nurtured and reinforced to withstand the tests fear makes it endure. The story of the Golden Calf is the story of all of us.

Shabbat Bereshit- In Beginning

set_martin_luther_king_quote5

Shabbat Bereshit, takes its name from the first word of Torah. Be-Reshit means “In Beginning.” In Beginning creation, God looked to fundamental principles upon which to build. We remember this as we read from the first Parasha of the Torah that takes its name from the first word and guides us forward in our journey.

 How interesting that we begin this journey observing Shabbat Bereshit juxtaposed against preparations around our country for a two-day Global Anti-Islam protest. A group of armed protesters will spew hatred for an entire religion and its billions of adherents because of the actions of a radical distortion of Islam by a barbarous hateful sect. Are these the principles upon which our country is founded?

 We can be a voice that rejects unbridled radical hatred. Our principles, our Beginning, as Jews and Americans command us to do better. Shabbat Bereshit compels us to look deep within ourselves and examine the core principles we will use in our creation building the world we would hope it should be.

 Catch up with the conversation on Twitter and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/1712773322284720

 Shabbat Shalom

V’Etchanan- Our Legacy, What Do We Leave Behind?

Moses continues his review of the journey through the wilderness in this week’s Torah portion, V’etchanan. He recalls the trials and tribulations and what it means to be in relationship to God. Moses tells the people that he will remain behind; Moses will die here in the desert and they will move forward to the Promised Land. Moses reviews the Law and we encounter a core Jewish teaching, the Shema followed by the V’ahavta.

We all know the words to the V’ahavta. It has been committed to our memory due to the recitation more times than we are able to count. In it we learn that loving God requires the active practice of the laws we have been given and that active practice requires that we teach these laws to the next generation, our children. We hear Moses recite this prayer to the people, but how might it sound if Moses internalized the V’ahavta as he accepts his fate preparing B’nei Israel to leave him?

If Moses was speaking personally, the language of the V’ahavta prayer might change. He might wonder if his children, the fledgling nation of Israel, have learned the lessons he spent his life living and teaching. In that, Moses resembles us, or rather, we who are parents resemble him. We invest our lives nurturing and teaching our children, hoping we instill good values so they may find a meaningful life based on a solid foundation. Are they ready to “fly on their own from the nest” is a question we all ask. We look back on our lives as parents and wonder; “Did I do it well enough? Were these lessons embraced?” I imagine Moses’ personal V’ahavta entreaty, and ours as well, might go something like this:

“I pray I have taught you well.
I hope the lessons and values I shared you have embraced,
And you will carry them and me in your heart
Down whatever path you choose for your life.
May these principles guide you
In the choices you make and the actions you take
From the moment you wake in the morning
Until it is time to rest at night.
Wear them proudly in your deeds and in your thoughts
So that everyone you meet will know
They have entered the presence of someone who tries to live life
Virtuously and with integrity.”

Continue reading