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Archive for Octubre de 2010

Moments of Hesitation

In Parashat Chayei Sarah Abraham sends his servant Eliezer on a very important mission – to find a wife for his son Isaac. Eliezer journeys a very long distance – from the contemporary land of Israel, all the way to the place of Abraham’s birth somewhere in contemporary Iraq (ancient Mesopotamia) – in order to find a wife (Rebecca) for Isaac. As Eliezer prepares to meet Rebecca, he prays that the women who come out of their homes to draw water from the well will be generous and of a giving nature. Eliezer will be able to identify a suitable wife for Isaac when a woman whom he asks for water also offers to provide water for his camels (Genesis 24:12-15).

 

One of the most intriguing aspects of this prayer is not included in the actual text of Torah. Many generations after the composition of Torah, a group of people known as Masoretes (~ 11th century) appended the text of Torah with special grammatical markings which indicated how a particular text was to be emphasised and sung. These markings are known as ta’amei ha-mikra (literally “biblical stresses”) but are more commonly referred to as “trope.” Before Eliezer prays to God, Torah records, “And he said” – vayomar in Hebrew. Vayomar and vayomer are very common words in the Torah. But on this particular occasion, the Masoretes have accented the word vayomar with a special note called a shalshelet. The word shalshelet means “chain” and the pronunciation of the word is recited as an extended chain of notes, lasting three times as long as any other note. Further, the shalshelet appears as a Masoretic marking only four times in the entire Torah – three times in the book of Genesis, and once in Leviticus.

 

What is so special about this word vayomar that it is highlighted by a shalshelet? Contemporary rabbis believe that the shalshelet is a marking that indicates hesitation. As willing as Eliezer was to participate in this journey at Abraham’s request, we cannot overlook the importance of the journey. Eliezer needed to find a wife for Isaac, so that Isaac and Rebecca would bear children, and continue Abraham’s familial line (and thus the line of the future Jewish people). He needed not only to find a wife for Isaac, but also to find the right wife for Isaac. This was quite a tall order for Eliezer and he had every right to feel hesitant. The shalshelet highlights this sense of hesitation on Eliezer’s account.

 

In our lives there are no scriptural markings which accent our lives or tell us how we are “supposed to feel.” There is only the full gamut of emotions which we often experience in different ways each and every day. All of us will encounter moments of hesitation, moments of reluctance, moments where we are unsure of ourselves. What is most comforting about this week’s parashah is that in his moment of hesitation, Eliezer expresses his feelings, his wishes, his deep-seated fears and emotions. In our moments of hesitation it is important to remember that we are participants in a time-honoured covenant, a sacred relationship with the Divine. Judaism teaches that, like Eliezer, it is always possible for us to turn toward God for guidance, comfort, a place to express ourselves, and love.

 

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The opening stories of Bereshit present us with a series of morality tales, from Cain’s “Am I My Brother’s Keeper” to Noah’s being “a righteous man in his generation.” Avraham, introduced to the story last week, is charged “to be blameless and walk in front of God”. As our ultimate role model he stands for the

qualities of justice, compassion and humility that are seen through the various tales told of him. This week’s parashah, Vayera, presents one of our most important obligations, that of “hachnasat orchim”, welcoming guests, or hospitality. The mitzvah of hospitality is presented through two stories. In the first, Avraham, just after he has performed the mitzvah of circumcision on himself and his household, is sitting in front of his tent “in the heat of the day”. Instead of recuperating indoors in the shade, he is so committed to making sure any wayfarers are taken care of that he waits with intention outside. The story tells us that “Avraham runs to greet them”, welcomes them and then says “Let a little water be brought, bathe your feet and recline under the tree. And let me fetch a morsel of bread that you may refresh yourselves…” He then runs to the tent, has Sarah prepare cakes of the finest flour while he runs and sacrifices and prepares an animal for a feast, waiting on them while they eat. From this story we learn the

extent to which we are to go to provide for the physical and emotional comfort of our guests – in a sense, no trouble is too big. Moreover, we are to seek out guests, inviting people into our homes, especially those travelling through the community or those who would otherwise be alone.

 

In contrast to this example comes the story of Sodom. The sin of Sodom is not as has been so misunderstood, the word that comes from the town, but rather the inhabitants’ lack of hospitality. The townspeople want to violate the same men who have come to Avraham; only his nephew Lot provides them hospitality. Again, the message of the Torah is that we are to provide our utmost for strangers and

guests.

 

Unfortunately, many of us do not have the same wherewithal of either Avraham or Lot or our ancient ancestors. It is a great mitzvah to open one’s home, and this is why we always encourage members of this congregation to do so; However, we as a congregation will also endeavour to open our “home” as well: Every Shabat after services we have a brunch at the synagogue (strictly vegetarian and BYO) so that anyone who wishes a place to share a Shabbat meal may do so at Temple Beth Shalom, joining

“Our Shabbat Table”.

 

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El viatge més llarg – Lekh lekhà (Gn 12:1 – 17:27)

El gran viatge del poble, un viatge de milers d’anys a través de gran part del món, comença amb la lectura de Gènesis 12:1-17:27. Comença amb un home, una dona i una promesa. L’home és Abraham, la dona és Sara i la promesa és l’assegurança de Déu que esdevindran un poble nombrós.

 

Abraham va rebre aquesta promesa sobre una futura descendència en la forma de dues metàfores extraordinàries. En una li va ser dit que la seva descendència seria tan nombrosa com “la pols de la terra,” en l’altra que seria tant nombrosa com “les estrelles del cel.”

 

Els rabins ensenyen que aquesta duplicitat de les imatges de la pols i les estrelles, en comptes de ser una duplicitat supèrflua, ens parla sobre el futur: es tracta d’una descendència que viurà en una tensió continua, essent considerada com un referent que brilla amb llum pròpia, o ser l’objectiu de polítiques opressores com la pols de la terra. Aquesta tensió la trobem reflectida en la història del poble jueu amb la dramàtica alternança entre etapes d’or i etapes d’opressió

 

Els mestres hassidics llegeixen en aquestes dues metàfores una lliçó psicològica que pot ajudar a la persona a fer front a les circumstàncies canviants. Quan la persona se sent oprimida cal que recordi les promeses d’un futur millor i brillant, com les estrelles del cel. Però quan arriba a períodes de benestar i prosperitat la persona no ha d’oblidar mai que amb massa facilitat pot tornar a convertir-se en pols de la terra.

 

Dins d’aquesta teologia, el mestre hassidic Simkha Bunem de Pshishke deia als seus estudiants: “Tots hauríem de portar dos papers en les dues butxaques, de manera que puguem agafar l’un o l’altra segons el que necessitem. Quan la persona se sent baixa de moral i desencoratjada hauria de dposar la mà a la butxaca i llegir el paper que diu “bixbilí nibrà ha’olam / Per mi, el món va ser creat”, mentre que quan ens sentim forts i plens d’èxit hauriem d’agafar i llegir el paper de l’altra butxaca i que diu “Aní afar va efer / No sóc més que pols i cendra”

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Tots abord!

Noè (Gn 6:9-11:32)

En aquesta era de la globalització en la que clima, economia (crisi inclosa), telecomunicacions i mitjans de comunicació s’uneixen per a crear teixits cada cop més rics i profunds, ¿podríem trobar una imatge mitològica més impressionat sobre el destí de la humanitat que el de l’arca de Noè? Tot el futur de la humanitat (i també del món animal) coincideix en una fràgil arca en la qual tots tenim un destí comú.

La història de Noè ens transmet un missatge profund quan llegim el mite en el context de la globalització, tant en un nivell universal com en el particular, sobre el que compartim com a pobles i els elements que ens diferencien i que ens donen la nostra pròpia identitat.

La història de Noè no pertany només a la Bíblia. També trobem històries sobre grans inundacions en les tradicions de molts pobles. Les tradicions mesopotàmiques en particular conserven mites amb molts punts en comú amb el nostre mite. L’exemple més famós és el de la epopeia de Gilgamesh.

En totes aquestes històries, una gran inundació destrueix la humanitat sencera. La divinitat només adverteix a una persona del que està a punt de passar i li mana construir un arca i recollir els animals. Aquestes instruccions portaran a a la supervivència i a la continuïtat de la humanitat. Hi ha d’altres elements comuns: l’arca acaba en una muntanya. L’heroi envia un ocell per a veure si les aigües s’han retirat i, en sortir de l’arca, l’heroi ofereix un sacrifici com acció de gràcies.

Tots aquest punts en comú entre la història de Noè i altres mites mesopotàmics ens ensenyen una lliçó formidable sobre la herència cultural comuna entre diversos pobles del món creant famílies de tradicions i llegendes.

Però, al costat d’allò compartit, també trobem diferències. Tot i els paral·lelismes entre ambdues llegendes, el relat bíblic té un punt focal, i per tant un missatge, molt diferent.

Potser els més significatiu és la raó per la qual té lloc el diluvi. En les narracions mesopotàmiques, el diluvi té un caràcter arbitrari, o en una narració concreta, els deus estan molestos pel soroll que fa la humanitat i que no els permet descansar. En el relat bíblic, la raó pel diluvi és ètica: la corrupció de la humanitat. El motiu pel qual Noè és salvat cal buscar-lo en la seva rectitud ètica.

La diferència és profunda. Mentre que el missatge de les llegendes mesopotàmiques és un missatge de desesperació que posa en evidència la impotència dels éssers humans davant de la arbitrarietat i els capricis dels déus, el relat bíblic és encoratjador perquè deixa clar que la supervivència de la humanitat depèn de nosaltres i amb les nostres accions podem esdevenir autors dels nostre destí.

En altres paraules, el nostre destí no està preestablert ni és arbitrari. Està a les nostres i tenim la obligació d’actuar per a garantir la supervivència i la posteritat.

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Parashat Noah

The world has just been created, degeneration. Humanity has been barely, the dehumanization. The inability to recover. Corruption at such level that it is impossible to find the beginning of the threat that would the knot. The extreme solution, unthinkable: the destruction of humanity. If cannot undo the knot just cut it! The flood, Noah patient worker, despite the ridicule, he perseveres preparing to salvage what can still be. The rain came. The destruction took place and after it the end of the rain. Imagine the view: the empty world. Then return to normal, the blessing, the hope of new beginning, the alliance.

”Cutting” is also another way of referring to the establishing of a covenant in biblical Hebrew. Lichrot brit, cutting a covenant, that is to say establishing the contract in a permanent way, forever. The sign of this covenant with Noah will be at the level of the Creator of the world, who is one of the partners: the rainbow.

Sometimes we sense that we are going to make a mistake. Viktor Frankl (survivor of the Shoa, creator of “logotherapy”, who authored many books in German and English such as “The will to Meaning” (Plume Publ. 1988), proposes to look at these errors as if they have already been committed, so that we will find the courage to act in the correct way. Whether those sins, which lead to the flood, are part of history or mythology, it is good to consider them as already having been committed, so we will feel free to act in a truly human way.

Our tradition is not just a theory. If we talk about acting in a human way, then we must define the content of our ethical obligations. Our rabbis define their vision of natural law based on a verse of the parashah from last week, Bereshit (Genesis), which is quite interesting. Indeed, all the prohibitions which will grant moral dignity to Humans are derived from the positive commandment in the verse “And the Eternal G-d commanded the man, saying to him: Of every tree of the garden you are free to eat.” (Gn 2:6) We are in front of a commandment that gives freedom because it allows Adam and Eve to eat from all the trees of the Garden of Eden. This unlimited permission is the source for the seven noachide laws, universal laws for all humankind. The phrase “[The Eternal G’] commanded” teaches us that all the nations have the obligation of having a legal system. The word “The Eternal” tells us that we should not blaspheme, while the word “G-d“ teaches us that we should not engage in idolatry. “The man” bans murder and “to him” bans incest. “every tree of the garden” prohibits theft, on one hand, and the consumption of meat from a living animal on the other (Sanhedrin 56b).

We could speak for a long while about the link between each word and the actual prohibition it raises.

I want to emphasize here how concerned our rabbis were not to fall only in “good intentions” but to define a universal law for all. They stated that the Jewish covenant is not the only possible covenant and that all humans are responsible for protecting the world and humanity. They based these prohibitions on the assertion of freedom and respect for human needs.

Being Jewish is not a given,” and being human is not, either. It is by cultivating our humanity that we allow it to exist, as all those from TBS who have invested themselves in volunteer work here or outside at Jewish Family Services, the Group Home, Jewish Home, Hospice services and so many other organizations, Jewish and non -Jewish, have done. Thank to all of you for your volunteering time.

If only the example of the flood could inspire us and keep us away from all the disasters that we bring upon ourselves by “lack of Culture …

Shavua Tov!

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