Archive for Novembre de 2011

Parashat Vayetzei opens with Jacob running for his life.  Having just stolen Esau’s birthright and procured his father Isaac’s blessing, Jacob is fearful that Esau is seeking revenge.  Panting for breath, thirsty, hungry, exhausted, and absolutely terrified, Jacob’s journey brings him to an area in the wilderness.  In this trying moment of fear and  solitude, Jacob is comforted by God’s presence.  As Jacob rests his head on a rock and settles down to sleep with the harsh gravel of the earth digging  into his skin, he dreams of a ladder stretching from the ground to the heavens.  Angels are going up and down on this ladder and God is standing over him.  God says to Jacob, “Behold I am with you, and will keep you in all  places where you go…I will not leave you…” (Genesis 28:15).  In this trying moment, all alone in the wilderness, Jacob discovers that God is watching over him. Eleventh century rabbinic commentator Rashi suggests that when God says, “I am with you,” God recognizes that Jacob is afraid (Rashi on Genesis 28:15).  God knows that Jacob requires a comforting presence in order to help him through this difficult time.

Jacob’s predicament resonates with many of us.  We face moments in our lives in which we are unable to see where we are going.  When we are afraid, and we find ourselves lost in the darkness of the wilderness, it is often difficult for us to sense God’s presence.  Although we try to find comfort from God, God also becomes the recipient of our anger.  Although we cry out to God in distress, we also yell, scream, and curse.  And even as we attempt to cleave to God when we need God most, we also dismiss God, and blame God for our loss and our suffering.  Yet according to the Babylonian Talmud, such behaviour is both expected and acceptable.  Tractate Baba Batra teaches us, “A man is not held responsible for  what he says in the hour of his distress” (Baba Batra 16b).  Venting is healthy because it enables us to express our grief and anxiety, along with all of our emotions, rather than containing them inside of us.

When we find ourselves lost amidst the darkness of the wilderness, let us express what words we must, recognizing that God is present and God may serve as a receptacle for all the emotions we feel (however strongly we may feel them).  For just as the sun sets, so too is the  sun destined to rise again.  As we awaken to a new day, filled with light and promise, may we be capable of looking at moments of our lives and recognize, like Jacob, “Surely God was in this place, and perhaps I did not know it (Genesis 28:16).


Read Full Post »

Last week it was the yahrzeit of our beloved friend and member of TBS Toni Klar, a remarkable woman. She was holocaust survivor and during the last years of her life she battled cancer. She used to come every Shabbat to shul and during our brunches we had many beautiful conversations about life. During one of those discussions, as she was contemplating her death, she shared with me her ethical will. She did not call it that, but that is what it was, she was bequeathing to me and her family of friends, not material possessions but rather the lessons she had learned through her life. There were a number of points but essentially it could be reduced to this; live every day to the fullest, do not hold onto grudges and jealousy, be grateful for what we have and find the beauty in the ordinary, everyday moments of life. What incredibly wise and important words.

This week in our parashah, we continue the story of Isaac. Isaac is a figure in the Torah about whom we know little and when we hear about him often it is in quite derogatory terms. He is seen as weak, traumatized by the events of a few weeks ago when he was taken to a mountain to be sacrificed by his father. But I think Isaac was perhaps the strongest and most wise of all the patriarchs, he recognized what was truly important and he lived his life by those values. Unlike his father he was not a visionary, he did not build a nation, forge a new destiny. Instead he remained in one area of land and whenever he was confronted or placed in a position of conflict, he did not fight, instead he walked away. He knew that he could find what he was looking for elsewhere and that it was not worth the battle and losses that would ensue. Isaac was able to be grateful for what he had, content to live his life surrounded by his wife and sons. We read about Isaac and Rebecca that they loved one another.  They spent time together, forging their relationship, strengthening what they had. They nurtured their sons, enjoyed the blessings that they brought to their lives. Isaac knew that material possessions and wealth were not what would bring him happiness; rather it was the people around him and appreciating the good in his life that brought him joy and contentment. When Isaac went to re-dig his father’s wells and was confronted with adversaries, threatening him, he did not stand and fight, instead he walked away, cognizant of the fact that he could find what he was looking for elsewhere, there would be other wells, the material was not what was important.

This Shabbat I encourage us all to honor Isaac and my friend by trying to live as they did; seeing the beauty in the everyday, living each moment to the fullest and being content with what we have.

Read Full Post »

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 (8th century) appended the text of Torah with special grammatical markings which indicated how a particular text was to be emphasized 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-honored 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.


Shabbat Shalom

Read Full Post »

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.” Abraham, 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 “Abraham 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 traveling 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 Abraham; 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 Abraham 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; We still encourage people to call the Synagogue and place yourselves on a roster to have a couple of people in your home on the occasional Shabbat – as a congregation, we could have at least one or two homes open each Shabbat that way. However, we as a congregation will also endeavor to open our “home” as well: This year we celebrate our 5th year of having pot luck Shabbat brunch at the synagogue (strictly vegetarian and Kosher wine) so that anyone who wishes a place to share a Shabbat meal may do so at Temple Beth Shalom, joining Our Shabbat Table” after services.

Read Full Post »

Després de la dispersió d’aquella “generació de la dispersió,” és a dir, la de la torre de Babel, episodi que segueix el del diluvi, el text bíblic ja no tornarà a parlar de la humanitat en general. En canvi ara centrarà tota la seva atenció en un individu escollit per la seva oposició a Nimrod i a la seva política d’engany. Aquesta és la història d’una persona, Abraham, i la seva relació amb Déu i els homes.

A partir d’ara ens submergirem en la història d’Abraham i la seva fe, o potser creença. Una creença sotmesa a 10 proves (segons el text misnaic de Les dites dels pares 5,3) enmarcardes entre els dos “lekh lekha:” el primer «Vés-te’n del teu país…» (Gen 12,1) i el segon « vés al país de Morià i sacrifica’l allà en holocaust dalt d’una muntanya que t’indicaré» (Gen 22,2). Així és com es desenvolupa la vida del primer patriarca, entre prova i prova fins a la darrera, la més terrible, la única anomenada com a prova.

Una d’aquestes proves el durà a enfrontar-se en batalla a Kedorlaomer i els seus aliats per tal de salvar a Lot, el seu nebot i els cinc reis de la federació de les cinc ciutats. Després d’una victòria sonada els habitants de Canaan li ofereixen la corona reial. El rei de Xalem l’acull amb pa i vi, mentre que els dels reis salvats, el de Sodoma, li diu que es quedi amb tot el botí (Gen 14,21). Abraham es nega a rebre cap benefici material per la seva victòria i després d’haver alliberat els seus aliats, cedeix al rei de Sodoma tots els bens i també les persones.

Arribats al capdamunt de la seva glòria, Abraham era bo, ric i poderós. Gaudia del reconeixement de tots els seus contemporanis. Llavors per què Déu li ha d’oferir en aquest punt la seva protecció «No temis, Abram: jo sóc per a tu un escut; la teva recompensa serà molt gran». (Gen 15,1) És que potser l’angoixa havia fet niu en el cor d’aquest just? Corria el perill de venjança per les seves victòries? O s’havia adonat del caràcter efímer del seu poder, ell qui no tenia descendència? Llavors Déu li promet tenir descendència «Abram va creure en Déu» (Gen 15,6) Abraham, el gran creient, presenta un dubte «com sabré que el posseiré?» (Gen 15,9) i com a resposta rep l’anunci de l’exili.

Què va fer Abraham per a merèixer l’anunci de la captivitat a Egipte a la que estarien sotmesos els seus descendents? Els comentaristes intentaren trobar les raons per l’exili. Nahmanides (Girona 1194 – Jerusalem 1270) comenta sobre Gènesis 12,10 que va ser la mentida per part d’Abraham que va fer passar Sara, la seva esposa, com si fos la seva germana. Aquesta mentida per tal de salvar la vida en una situació de perill hauria estat la raó per a l’exili de la seva descendència.

El Talmud (Nedarim 32a) recull tres ensenyaments que si ve veuen la falta en tres circumstàncies diferents, estan d’acord que va Abraham no va tenir una confiança absoluta. La seva fe encara estava plena de dubtes i d’elements de la seva vida anterior. Rabí Abahu, en nom de rabí Eleazar, li retreu que hagués armat i allistat els seus estudiants per tal d’alliberar Lot, presoner del rei d’Elam i els seus aliats. En fer això, va provocar que els seus estudiants deixessin la Torà. En obligar-los a dur armes, els va obligar a exercir violència, tot i que fos legítima, i només esperava que les forces espirituals triomfassin per damunt de les de la violència.

Per a Samuel, Abraham va ser esceptic pel que a la promesa divina. En dues ocasions (Gen 13, 15-17 i Gen 15, 4.7) Déu li assegura una descendència i li confirma la herència de la terra, però Abraham demana proves «com sabré que el posseiré?» (Gen 15,8). Segons Samuel aquest dubte hauria estat la causa de l’exili. És com si calgués posar a provar aquesta fe tot al llarg del temps de l’exili, com si la condició d’estranger hagués de reforçar aquesta fe a creure i esperar que la promesa, malgrat tots els obstacles, esdevindrà una realitat.

Per a rabí Iohanan és la manca d’iniciativa per part d’Abraham que provoca l’exili. Hauria d’haver cedit el botí al rei de Sodoma però hauria d’haver-se quedat amb les persones per tal d’ensenyar-los justícia i ètica. En no haver-ho fet, Abraham va perdre la ocasió de propagar els seus valors morals i per això la seva descendència va anar a l’exili.

Altres (Midraix Gènesis Rabbah 44,17) veuen en aquesta pregunta «com sabré que el posseiré?» no pas una exigència de proves per part de Déu, sinó la expressió dels turments d’Abraham. No són pas dubtes. Quins eren els seus mèrits? I si hagués mort innocents durant la batalla amb Kedorlaomer? Era digne d’una promesa així?

Es aquesta escrupolositat d’ésser, aquest constant preguntar-se fins al turment fins a la angoixa sobre el drets d’existir amb la violència exclusiva correlativa a tota existència, en la mesura en què l’ésser busca sobre tot perseverar en el seu ésser (conatus essendi, la lluita per la vida de la que ens parla Levinas) Un dret tot teixit de deures.

Read Full Post »