Archive for Desembre de 2011

In this week’s parashah, Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers after years of separation. Joseph has every right to be angry and upset with his brothers, after all, they sold him into slavery and told Jacob, his father, that he was dead. Joseph suffered time in servitude and in prison, wrongly accused of a crime, before he worked his way up to become the second most powerful man in Egypt. Yet when it came time to tell his brothers his true identity, Joseph took them into a private room and said: “I am Joseph.” The Torah tells us that the brothers were afraid, they were scared of what Joseph would do to them now that he had  them alone in a room, and they were nervous about the punishment he would mete out to them. Joseph senses their anxiety and he allays their fears, telling them that everything which happened to him was part of God’s plan and they should not be afraid. Joseph could have treated his brothers harshly, he could have harmed them in revenge for all that they had done to him, but he did not. Instead he gently took them aside, to a private place where they would not be embarrassed, he told them who he was, and then spoke with them kindly, trying to assure them he meant them no harm and held no malice towards them.  What a remarkable act of grace and compassion. But this is not the only example of such behavior in our parashah. 


Amongst the names of the people who left Canaan with Jacob and came to live in Egypt, was Serach bat Asher. Nestled amongst the list of people was this woman who is mentioned in only one other place in the Torah, also in a list of names, this time, the one of those who came out of Egypt more than 400 years later! The Rabbis of the tradition say that it is not a different Serach bat Asher, rather it is the same one who has been granted an extremely long life to reward her for her kindness. They say that she was a gentle, beautiful soul who was entrusted with the task of telling Jacob that his son Joseph was alive. Everyone knew that Jacob was an old, frail man and the shock of discovering his son was alive could have been catastrophic, so the way the news was broken was all important. That is why Serach bat Asher was given the task. She had all the qualities of goodness and compassion which were required, and she told him so gently that he was able to hear the news and celebrate rather than being overcome by shock. 


Both Serach and Joseph remind us how important our words and deeds are, how crucial it is to be compassionate and kind in our speech and to be ever vigilant to ensure that we do not use our words or actions to cause pain or harm to another. May we always remember the lessons of our parashah, to speak and act from a place of compassion and love.


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Parashat Miketz opens with two ominous dreams by Pharaoh.  Standing on the edge of the Nile, seven “handsome and sturdy” cows emerge from the river, followed by seven “ugly and gaunt” cows, which come upon the “handsome and sturdy” cows and devour them. In a subsequent dream, Pharaoh witnesses seven “solid and healthy” ears of grain swallowed up by seven ears of grain that are “thin and scorched by the east wind.”


Pharaoh awakens from his dream confused, unable to comprehend what these dreams may signify.  Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer steps forward and informs him that while he was imprisoned, a Hebrew youth (Joseph) in the dungeon interpreted dreams for himself and the chief baker.  The chief cupbearer says, “And as he interpreted for us, so it came to pass.”  Taking the chief cupbearer on his word and needing similar help and support, Pharaoh calls upon Joseph to interpret his dreams.


Joseph is able to help Pharaoh understand that both dreams are one and the same.  Placing the healthy cows and the healthy ears of grain opposite the lean cows and scorched ears of grain, Joseph interprets that Egypt will be blessed with seven years of bounty followed by seven years of famine. Joseph encourages Pharaoh to use the first seven years wisely, creating stockpiles of food so that the whole of Egypt will be able to subsist during the subsequent famine.


The relationship between Pharaoh and Joseph is an intriguing one.  The strong -willed, determined Pharaoh, in charge of a vast land and myriads of people calls upon the Hebrew slave who has been incarcerated in his dungeon.  Nevertheless, working together in relationship with one another, both Pharaoh and Joseph are of great benefit to one another.  By listening to Joseph, Pharaoh ensures the survival of his people and his nation.  Joseph in turn receives Pharaoh’s blessing, a position of leadership, and ultimately, next week, he will receive the opportunity to be reunited with his family.


As we learn from Pharaoh’s relationship with Joseph, we receive unspeakable benefits and opportunities from being in relationship with one another.  When we listen to someone else’s dreams, act as their confidant, offer our advice or insight, or when we seek the assistance of another for their interpretation, their guidance, and their support, we receive a greater sense of clarity, and a much more purposeful direction in life.  We have a sacred responsibility to help other people reach their truest potential, and we need the support of other people to help us achieve our goals.  May our relationships with one another sustain our dreams and enable them to come true.


Shabbat Shalom & Chag Sameach

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Viure en comunitat és un procés que té lloc cada dia de moltes maneres diferents. Bàsicament aquest procés consisteix en la capacitat de sentir la veu de Déu en l’altre, en el proïsme, en els membres de la comunitat, ja sigui joves o grans, en la persona amb la que ens vàrem casar, en els nostres fills, en els nostres pares i – sí – fins i tot en els sogres.

Si allò que és imperatiu és sentir la veu de Déu – ja sabem tots que una de les pregàries fonamentals del judaisme és el Xemà Israel (“Escolta Israel…”) passatge extret de Deuteronomi 6,- per què ens centrem tant en l’element humà? Perquè és tan fàcil estimar el Déu que no veiem, però és infinitament molt més interessant servir el Déu que aprenem a veure en els altres!

Quan seguim la veu d’aquells que ens conviden a créixer, deixem de costat les nostres preocupacions, i ens deixem guiar per les visions d’un altra persona, els nostres interessos particulars passen a un segon pla. Ens buidem per tal de fer lloc a la presència de Déu en nosaltres, fent-se tangible, present, humana. E. Levinàs, el gran filòsof jueu francès del segle passat, ens recordava que Déu es troba en el rostre del nostre proïsme que pateix.

Si hi ha un element que determini la vida en comunitat és aquest: ho has de voler. T’hi has de donar de tot cor. Hi has d’entrar amb esperança i també amb certesa. No has de revoltar-te tot d’una. És fàcil començar amb pas lleuger i ràpid, però llavors arriba un dia quan ens enfonsem en l’oceà que som nosaltres mateixos i ens neguem a donar una passa més. Només seguim endavant si ens empenten o ens estiren. Ens fem sords a allò que podem aprendre, o menyspreem aquests ensenyaments. Ignorem els altres, o els critiquem. Posem a prova aquells dels qui hem d’aprendre.

Evidentment que fem allò que ens manen! Anem a reunions, seguim el nostre horari o seguim el corrent de ser part de la comunitat, de la família, de l’staff de la empresa, però no hi ha sinceritat en nosaltres i les nostres queixes actuen com un llastre pel grup. Esdevenim un lament vivent, una pesada llosa en el coll del grup.

Això només és conformitat, i la conformitat mata, tant a qui es conforma com a la comunitat el cor de la qual queda fracturat per aquells que decideixen alienar-se. La veritable vida comunitària depèn de la nostra voluntat en voler sentir la veu de Déu en la comunitat humana, no en voler ser forçats a fer allò que ens hauria de fer créixer.

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This week we read the story of Tamar, a young woman who found herself widowed and childless. During Biblical times, the laws of Leverite marriage were practiced which entitled Tamar to attempt to conceive a child with one of her dead husband’s brothers. If successful, any resulting child would be considered the child of Tamar and her deceased husband, Er. Er had two brothers, and Tamar was given to the oldest, Onen. Onen realised that if he and Tamar produced an heir, all his brother’s property would pass to the child and not to him. So he surreptitiously arranged that she could not conceive with him. As a result of this behaviour, his life is taken by God. This leads Judah, Onen’s father to become concerned for his youngest son. Two of his children had already lost their lives and he was not willing to hand over his remaining son to Tamar to fulfil his obligation.


After a time, it becomes apparent to Tamar that Judah has no intention of handing over his son to her and so she takes matters into her own hands. She disguises herself as a prostitute and waits by the side of the road for Judah to pass by. She offers him her services and he readily agrees.


They contract a price of a goat, which Judah does not happen to have with him. Tamar says she will provide her services but he must leave a pledge with her so that she can be assured of payment. Judah gives her his seal and a cord.


A number of months later, the widowed Tamar is clearly pregnant and news of her condition reaches Judah, her father in law. He demands that she be punished for her transgression and for conceiving a child outside of wedlock. At this point in the story Tamar has a number of options available to her; she can accuse her father in law of withholding his son from her, she can produce the items and publicly shame and humiliate Judah. But she does neither of those things.


Instead she sends a messenger to Judah with the seal and the cord, saying ‘the owner of these items is the father of my child.” When Judah saw his seal and cord he realized immediately that Tamar was the prostitute on the side of the road and that she was driven to such action as a result of his wrong behavior. Immediately he calls Tamar to him and he asks her forgiveness. She provides it and the children, twins, who are the progeny of their union are brought into the family and raised as children of his dead son. And it is from one of those children that King David is descended.


Many of the commentators asked what it was about Tamar which made her worthy of King David being descended from one of her heirs. Tamar was not an Israelite, she was a foreign woman, a widow, without children, one of the most vulnerable members of the society and it is from her that one of our greatest kings is descended. So why was she given such an elevated status?


The commentators answer that it is the way that she confronted Judah with her innocence and his sin. Tamar could have publicly shamed him, she could have held him up for all to see as the man who did not fulfill his obligations, but she does not. Instead, she sends him the identifying items and leaves him to work it out and come to her. This led to Judah readily admitting his guilt and a good outcome for all of them. From her actions the Talmud derives the very important principal: “it is better to be thrown into a fiery furnace than to shame ones neighbor in public.” The tradition recognizes the power of words to hurt and heal, their ability to cause irreparable damage and this incident with Tamar reminds us of how important it is to be vigilant about what we say.


The internet has made our ability to affect the lives of others with our words so much more powerful and possible. Judaism has always taught that a hateful word uttered in Jerusalem can kill in Rome. What was once a metaphor for the power of words to hurt has actually become a reality. And unfortunately when we are sitting alone in front of a computer, the checks and balances provided by face to face contact are not present, making it more likely that we will not censor ourselves as we should. We are also often unaware of the consequences of our actions. And mistakes so often happen. We have a powerful weapon with the internet and we must be even more careful and vigilant than we ever were when using words of any kind, not to shame or embarrass our neighbor. Tamar has a poignant message for us all; to always look out for the well being of others and to treat one another with kindness and gentleness.


Shabbat Shalom

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The rape of Jacob’s daughter Dinah by Shechem and subsequent verses (Bereshit, chapter 34) is one of the most disheartening episodes in the entire Torah.  Shechem takes Dinah by force and violates her.  Hamor, Shechem’s father, speaks with Jacob and Jacob’s sons, and suggests that their tribes intermarry, an act which will permit Jacob and his tribe to move freely in Shechemite territory.  Jacob’s sons are so outraged by Shechem’s act that they will only accept this agreement if the Shechemite males circumcise themselves.  The Shechemites assent but three days later, Dinah’s brothers Simeon and Levi set upon the Shechemites and slay each male, while the rest of Jacob’s sons plunder and pillage the town.


We seek deep meaning from Torah’s words, and yet this episode in our parashah leaves us wondering about so many things.  The behavior of the Shechemites, Jacob, and Jacob’s sons is downright abominable.  Shechem accepts no direct responsibility for his action; he is consumed only by his apparent love for Dinah.  Jacob’s sons are rightfully incensed but turn into unsanctioned vigilantes hell-bent on exacting revenge.  And Jacob is silent, until the very end of the chapter, when he expresses his fear that Simeon and Levi’s crusade will impact negatively on his own circumstances.


Even more troubling is the subject of Dinah herself.  Where is Dinah’s voice in this narrative?  What did Dinah think and feel?  Who comforted her after such a frightening episode?  Sadly, shockingly, we never hear from Dinah.  She speaks not a single word in the entire chapter, or throughout the Torah.  In fact, we might suggest that Torah seems far more concerned with explaining the needs and actions of the men around her, instead of recording the suffering, battered voice of one of God’s children.


What can we learn from such an episode?  We must begin by acknowledging the harrowing truth, a hard fact to swallow indeed, that such a terrible tale, laden with so many painful moments, is included among the stories of our people’s most sacred literature. Further, we cannot change the past, we cannot change Torah, but we can continue to learn and grow from our text.  Sometimes, this means learning what not to do.  We cannot be silent to the needs of “Dinahs” in our world or silent in general.  And we cannot respond to violence with violence.


This year Massachusetts will commemorate “White Ribbon Day” (March 1, 2012).  White Ribbon Day began in 1991 in Canada, when a group of men organized a special gathering on the second anniversary of man’s massacre of fourteen women in Montreal.  In 1999, the United Nations declared 25 November as International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.  Over the past twenty years, men have shown their support for this campaign by donning white ribbons, and swearing never to commit or condone any act of violence against a woman.


It is fitting that we read Parashat Vayishlach, including Dinah’s story, around the end of November and the beginning of December. Dinah’s story reminds us, albeit painfully, that our world is not yet complete. Truly, we cannot afford to model the silence, the complacency, the passivity and the shocking indifference of our ancestors.  Women who suffer acts of violence are our mothers, our wives, our sisters, our daughters, and our friends.  Torah calls upon us to respond, to stand up and make a difference, to support those among us who are in need, insuring that we will not stand idly by while our neighbors, our loved ones, bleed.  Shabbat Shalom


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