Archive for Octubre de 2017

How many glass ceilings have you set for yourself? This week’s Torah reading begins with the word lech, ‘go’ or ‘walk’. Sages consider human beings as ‘walkers’, they need to keep moving, improving themselves, evolving, in order to reach their potential. In a way, we are metaphorically like a river, when the water is stagnant it attracts disease, when water is flowing, it is healthy.

The Sefat Emet, a rabbi from 19th Century Eastern Europe, teaches that we always have the opportunity to evolve. We have the ability to change things within ourselves and in our lives. It is the principle of lech, being a ‘walker’. Just as the morning prayers state that God constantly renews the world each day: mechadesh kol yom tamid, so each person has the opportunity to renew themselves each day.

We have unconscious limitations that have accumulated over the years, and this week we are invited to reflect on them and see if they restrict us from being who we want to be. For example, you might feel that you are not artistic, but you actually love art and would love to explore that possibility. This week is the week to question that limit you have placed on yourself. Also, ask yourself, what are the subconscious messages I have received from my family – both positive and negative? In the Torah, God says to Abraham – “Go forth…from your ancestral home to the land I will show you.” One of the ways of understanding this instruction, is that Abraham (and each of us) is being asked to consider the messages and habits we have received from our family and to consider which serve us well and which might serve us better if we modified them? What is the “land” that God will show you?

The 13th Century Kabbalistic text, the Zohar, states that lech lecha, is an invitation to contemplate the depths of yourself and find the authentic you, informed (but not controlled) by what others think. This is the level of you that is your essence – it is “the land that God will show you”. Where does your essence what to lead you, and what are the ruts and routines that have kept you stuck?

In the words of Rabbi Moses Zacutto in 18the Century Italy: “Lech lecha (‘go forth into yourself’) is addressed to every person. You must search and discover the root of your soul, so that you can fulfill it and restore it to its source, its essence. The more you fulfill yourself, the closer you approach God.”

Finally God says to Abraham, “be a blessing” ve-heyeh bracha. The word used for ‘be’ is ve-heye, spelled in Hebrew: V-H-Y-H. . The Hasidic Rebbe, Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev, writes that this is significant because the name for God, Y-H-V-H and the word for ‘be’ have the same letters in different order. There is a mystical way of understanding the divine name where Y-H stands for God and V-H for humanity. In this understanding of the divine name, God and humanity are partners in stewarding the earth.

Thru this evocative use of the name Y-H-V-H, Levi Yizchak teaches that we are called by God to reconfigure reality to such an extent that God’s most sacred name be “misspelled”, with human beings (V-H) preceding God (Y-H). God wants us to take the lead and be active partners in the world. With the inspiration of this week’s Torah reading, may each of us be even more of a blessing to others, to ourselves and to the world. May we remember that we are always evolving and that change is possible. Ve-heyeh bracha, may you be a blessing.

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Last week, as we opened the Torah anew we marveled at the magical Garden of Eden, from which humans have been exiled, unable to maintain equilibrium with nature, instead having the knowledge of good and evil. This knowledge – and the ability to act on it – defines them in their separation from the other animals, and as we open this week’s saga of Noach, we read that the world has descended into wickedness (pictured in the Torah as violence, sexual immorality, lack of respect for life – both human and animal, and denigration of the environment.)

God regrets creating human and decides to destroy model one of creation and to try again. While some take this story as the literal historic truth (searching still for remnants of the ark), others see the floods (perhaps from the end of the ice age) as the historic background for a moralistic fable. Indeed, there are many stories of disastrous floods that exist within the cultures of the Middle East; what makes this one unique is the moral tone behind it. In any event, the morality of the Torah is far more important than its supposed historicity.

God calls Noach, a righteous man in his generation, to lead the remnant of animal life that will survive the flood onto the ark. A debate exists in the tradition as to whether Noach was magnificent or marginal. The former position interprets his description as “a righteous man in his generation” as meaning he chose to do right in the face of all others who chose wrong, a strong individual overcoming enormous societal pressure. The latter position suggests the words mean that he was only righteous when compared to his wicked generation, but in another time would not have been so special, noting he does nothing to attempt to warn people or encourage them to change behavior. Both positions challenge us to think about what it means for each of us to be righteous in our own time – and to evaluate whether this is a time of wickedness.

Noach did not manage to bring redemption to humanity. After leaving the ark, he and his family began the new generations of humanity and another descent into wickedness. God, having made a covenant, or promise, never to destroy creation again must discover a new solution to bring redemption to humanity. Having scattered the people and confused the languages, God must discover a new plan for redemption. With the birth of Avram being told at the conclusion of this week’s portion, the Torah foreshadows that redemption will come from a model people living in a promised land. The story our ancestors have bequeathed us presents an enormous challenge as to what it means to be righteous and bring redemption.

These days, we know destruction will not come from “God out there”, but humans right here. Can we, as a synagogue community, as representatives of our faith people, take the immediate necessary action to save our environment, protect the animals with whom we share this planet, and defend the oppressed from the growing challenges of economic, and other forms, of injustice? Clearly, it’s not so easy to be “righteous in our generation”, and the urgency of the challenge increases each day.

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In the opening chapters of the Torah, we learn that God has a range of different names. In the very first line of the Torah, God is referred to as Elohim; “Bereishit Barah Elohim”. (Bereishit 1:1).

In a number of places in chapter 2, God is called Adonai Elohim, and in chapter 4, God is called Adonai. The most common explanation is that the variations are used to describe God’s role or the specific environment in that chapter. For example, Elohim is used as a universal name, and Adonai as a specific name; Elohim as the name God uses when exercising judgment, and Hashem when exercising mercy. So, what is the Torah trying to teach us here?

From the very beginning, one of the key themes of this parasha is naming (which also applies to many of the other sections of the Torah). In the first chapter, God creates the heavens and the earth, and all that is within them, and God also gives names to these objects. In chapter 2, Adam is given the task of naming the living beings. In chapter 5, we read a concise genealogy from Adam through to Noah, and while it is a brief description of each of the ten generations, we learn the names of the key players in each generation.

Names are a way of identifying a specific person or a group of people, and we all have our own names, as well as some nicknames or other names people may refer to us as. As parents, we get to name our children, and we have important reasons as to why we choose their names. When we name a person or an animal, or an object, we establish a specific connection to that person, animal or object, and we (even if subconsciously) establish some control over that which we have named. Now let us turn our attention to God’s name. We cannot name God. If we did, we would be stating that we control God, which is in direct contrast to role of God as the Creator. However, we also can’t not have a name for God. To do so would be to live without a relationship with God, and so, we need a name for God.

This predicament is not reliant on whether we believe God exists or not. It is a necessary part of how we interact with the a consistent role through the Torah, and further in our teachings. It would be very difficult to read and learn from the Torah, each and every week, if we chose not to include God as part of story.

It is very possible that there is no resolution to this quandary. It is the nature of being human. By using God’s different names throughout the parasha, perhaps the Torah is trying to teach us that from the outset, there exists the reality of a multitude of perspectives within our own experiences, to the many relationships we have with the world, our spouses, our children, our parents, ourselves, and God. The human story is bound up with God’s story, our name is bound up with God’s name, both within our control and beyond it, close and distant at the same time. May the new cycle of reading Torah allow us to renew our relationship with its teachings and challenges, and may we continue to learn, discuss, and grow together.

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Walking down the hill to my new home I am slightly overcome with emotion. I’ve got somewhere real to live. Opening the front door I go straight to the bathroom, put the wet bags down and take off my jacket and my waterproof pants, hanging them up on the shower rail to dry. Proceeding to the kitchen with my first bag of groceries, I unpack them…following a cuppa and a sandwich I get domestic by making up my bed. Pulling my blankets out of three garbage bags and finding they are dry is a good thing. Folding the blankets the right way gives me six layers on top of the carpet that is laid on a timber floor. What luxury I think to myself and laugh… laying down I notice how quiet it is compared with the city, also just how soft my new bed feels. Waking the next morning with the sunlight streaming through the windows for a few moments I wonder where I am. I remember I have just spent my first night in my new home.” (Herald Sun Extra pg. 27, August 13, 2017)

These words are from AJ, a man who was living on the streets, homeless for over 10 years, finally finding a place to call home. He speaks of his time on the streets: exposure to the elements, the uncertainty, the interrupted sleep, and how it is good to be up early because “you do not have to endure the evil looks of the public. It is as though they spit on you with their eyes.” Every day we pass by people who live on the streets. They do not have the most simple and basic of necessities, and we ‘spit on them with our eyes.’ They do not have a place to call home, safety, shelter. There are more than 30,000 people in poverty in Gloucester and Salem counties and over 10,000 of them are children. The fastest growing homeless population is older women and children, and the statistics are the same in other counties in our region. There are also many people living very close to homelessness. A recent survey showed that if a large majority of households received an unexpected bill of $500 or more it would push them into debt and towards homelessness. We walk a very fine line.

Sukkot is the time we sit in our temporary booths, open to the elements, exposed and we pause to think about the fragility of our existence and how fortunate we are to have a roof over our heads. For seven days we contemplate the vagrancies of life and we consider what it is to have a home, shelter, safety, a place. We read the book of Ecclesiastes and its themes of futility and meaning, asking what is life about? What is really important? Is it money, possessions and wealth, prestige? or is it finding a purpose, recognizing what is enough and counting our blessings. Many of us choose to live in a sukkah for seven days, to take time out from our homes and create a place outside. But we know that if the weather is bad we can go inside, we have a place to shower, to sleep, to prepare food, to eat. We are safe. So many do not have such privilege. So this sukkot as we contemplate the meaning of our lives, our purpose, we take a moment to be grateful for what we have, for the blessings of a place to call home and we turn our thoughts to those who are not so fortunate. Perhaps this Sukkot is the time to reach out to the homeless in our communities, to look each person in the eye, to treat them with dignity and respect and to help everyone find a home.

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