Archive for Desembre de 2017

Within a couple of days we will celebrate the end of the civil year. Saturday we will read the last chapters of Genesis’s book. It is normal, then, that we count down. Throughout the book of Genesis we can see how a great drama is coming to an end. The fire that feeds the drama is the rivalry between brothers. Starting with Cain and Abel, a couple of siblings whose relationship ends with murder. Ismael is expelled into the desert after the birth of Isaac. Jacob must flee from home because Esau wants to take revenge after deceiving Isaac, his father, and having won the blessing. The sons of Jacob sold to one of the brothers, Joseph, to a caravan of merchants as slave.

Behind this rivalry, we find jealousy. God preferred Abel. Isaac is Abraham’s favorite son, and not Ishmael. Although Esau was the favorite of Isaac, the mother preferred Jacob and is the one who helps him deceive the father. Joseph is without a doubt Jacob’s favorite son.

Throughout the narrative of Genesis the tension ends with reconciliation. Isaac and Ismael will meet again when they have to bury their father, although the text does not specify what they were called. More recently we have seen how Jacob met his Esau brother some weeks ago. Last week we saw how Josep re-defined the relationship with his family by giving them room at Goshen, forgiving all the evil they did. This week we see how in the time of the father’s death, Jacob, Joseph repeats his promise of not taking revenge on his brothers.

What can we learn from all this? The classics said that erring is human, but forgiving is divine. Joseph’s relationship with his brothers is, by far, the best exponent of a conflicting relationship and the healing power of words. The son, Joseph, overcomes his father, Jacob, in making the reconciliation of the family possible and makes allowing the narrative to continue. But, how could the story in Exodus be meaningless, without peace between the brothers? Forgiveness is the key that opens the door of the future.

The dominant tone in Genesis is hope, which is different from optimism, although we tend to confuse both concepts. While optimism is the belief that the future will be better, hope is the belief that our actions can have a positive effect in the future. Optimism is passive. Hope is active. Unlike optimism / pessimism, qualities with which we are born, hope is something that we should embrace and leads us to action. Genesis is therefore an invitation to embrace hope not through dogmas or ideas, but through stories and actions.

One thing as complicated as the creation of the world only occupies a couple of chapters in the book of Genesis. The rest of the book talks about the history of our ancestors and their relationships. Our task is to make these stories our own through the study, digesting them and finding ways in which to engage with the endless history of the Jewish people and the Torah.


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Everything is worth it, because we are who we are, because of what we have lived, we are who we are; because of what some people left in us, but we are absolutely who we are thanks to what we have lost, thanks to what is no longer with us

It is so easy to realize when one does not want it: just look at the other one fixedly in the eyes. is it enough with seeing it move in the world? Is it enough to ask? or ask myself? If so, how do you explain so much disappointment? Why are people disappointed so often if, in reality, it is so simple to realize how much we care? or do not care about those we care about? How can we be surprised by the discovery of the truth of heartbreak? How could we think of ourselves when, in fact, we were not? There is something here to learn: no one is more vulnerable to believing something false than the one who wants the lie to be true.

And it is a lie that we have to carry everything we have wanted and valued; and it is a lie that we must go ahead with everything from before, with everything that is no longer there. We lose. We lose not only through death but through abandonment, of change, through moving forward. Our losses also include our conscious or unconscious renunciations: the loss of romantic dreams, the cancellation of our unrealizable hopes, the loss of the illusions of freedom, power, security and, why not, the loss of our youth.

It is impossible to accept with a smile all the things that, unfortunately, are true and unavoidable. We need to accept the truth that we do not want to assume once and for all. That our mother is going to leave us, and we are going to leave her, that the love of our parents will never be exclusively for us, that what hurts us can not always be remedied with kisses, that we are essentially here alone. That we will have to accept love mixed with hate, with good and bad. That in spite of being as expected to be a girl will not be able to marry her father, that some of our choices are limited by our anatomy, that there are defects and conflicts in all human relationships. That no matter how smart we are, sometimes we have to lose.

Many times life is related to letting go of what once saved us, letting go of the things to which we cling intensely, believing that having them is what will keep us from falling.

Imagine you are going through a jungle. You find a river and you must follow your path. The river is very deep, you can not cross it by foot, there is not a bridge or a boat or a boat or a ford. Then, for days and days, for weeks or months, you dedicate yourself to building a boat, a boat that allows you to cross the river. And you do it. And you are happy with you on the other side of the river because you built your boat that allowed you to continue. And you think: “maybe there is another river”, “maybe I can avoid the job of continuing to build other boats”, “I must take the boat with me”. And then, I try to move through the jungle carrying it, but it is so difficult, it is so complicated … I stumble with each branch, I carry ahead each liana … It is impossible, but I persist. I do not want to leave this boat after all, It has been so useful for me. And yet, this, that one day saved me, this boat that one day represented the possibility of continuing, today is my biggest impediment. Being an adult will mean accepting that I am able to do it once again. It will mean leaving behind that which today does not serve me, that which once served me but which today has no meaning in this way. And bet, that if there is a new river, I will be wiser today to build a new boat.

There is no loss that does not imply a gain, personal growth, because what follows, after having cried every loss, after having elaborated the mourning of each absence, after having encouraged us to let go, is the encounter with oneself enriched with what I do not have today but it passed through me and also because of the experience I had in the process.

You will tell me, it is horrible to think that the death of a loved one means a gain for me. I understand. I could leave out of this conversation the loss of a loved one, I could put it in the box of exceptions, but I do not think it is. In any case, the death of a loved one is an inevitable fact in our lives, and the growth that becomes of it, too. We are not trained to think that we should not suffer. We have been educated by our loving parents to convince us that suffering is something harmful, that suffering can destroy us, that pain can annihilate us. But pain is as healthy in our lives as sadness is. The pain is as constructive as any warning that something has gone awry. It is important not to transform pain into suffering. Pain is the passage through an unwanted place; the suffering is to build a tent and stay to live in that undesirable place. Grief is the passport that takes us out of suffering and allows the pain to pass.

But it is impossible to stop wanting and it is also impossible to possess infinitely and forever everything we want. We are not omnipotent, none of us can and will never have everything you want. Is there a solution?

I think it exists. And I think it’s at hand for anyone. The possibility is to learn to enter and leave the desire, is to develop the ability to desire without staying stuck to that desire, without grabbing him as a climber clings to the rope that he believes will save his life. Learning is, above all, learning to let go: letting go of tools that I no longer need, letting go of people I have already lost, letting go of situations that change, releasing links that change, letting go of life stages that have been left behind, letting go of the moments that have been finished… And each of them has been a loss that has to be devoured, have been stages of my life that have passed, and it is my responsibility to enrich myself by dismissing them.

Great teacher,” said the disciple, “I have come from far away to learn from you, for years I have studied with all the enlightened and gurus of the country and all have left much wisdom in me. Now I believe that you are the only one who can complete my Search, teacher, what I need to know.”

Baduin the wise man, always calm, told him that he would be happy to show him everything he knew, but before they started they would drink tea. The student, grateful, sat next to the teacher. Baduin brought a teapot and two cups of tea, already full. He reached one of them to the student and took the other. Before the disciple will start drinking, Baduin began pouring more tea into the student’s full cup.
The liquid soon spilled onto the plate, and from the plate to the carpet. “Teacher, teacher, please stop pouring tea on my cup!” Said the student. Baduin seemed not to hear him. Then, he looked into his eyes and said: “Until you are able to empty your cup, neither I nor anyone else can put more knowledge in it.”

You have to empty yourself to be able to fill up. A cup, says Krishnamurti, only serves when it is empty. It does not serve a full cup: there is nothing that can be added to it.

This is your Life. You’ll have to get rid of the contents of your full cups if you want to fill it again. Your life is enriched every time you fill a cup, but it is also enriched every time you empty it, because every time you empty your cup you are opening the possibility of filling it with new content. And one of the cups that I find most difficult to empty, and that surely costs you the most to empty, is the image we have of the world, because we want to keep the world as we saw it, because we do not want to accept that the world change, we do not want to accept that the world is not as I want it to be and that this implies a duel. If I dare to release the contents of a dream cup, perhaps, I may find myself on the best route to discover the truth.

Of course it is hard to let go of what I do not have, of course it is hard to break free and start thinking about what’s next. Of course, it is the worst challenge of being a healthy adult, and yet there is no other way. This is courage, this is the strength of maturity, knowing that I can face what happens to me, that I can even face the idea that I will never, ever, ever be. Maybe I can, on the way to understand the transitory of all my links, also accept some of the things that are harder to accept; that I am not infinite, that there is a time for my passage through this place and through this space. And, above all, what should I do today, the things that I am leaving aside.

I think that what hurts us the most when a loved one dies is what we did not tell him, it is what we do not approach him, it is what he did not tell us. It is those pending things that hurt us with the death of those dear ones. Well it would be to begin to realize that this is the time, maybe tomorrow you’re not, maybe tomorrow I will not be. Today is the day to call you and tell you what I feel.

The death of a loved one, whatever the link, is the most painful experience a person can experience. All life, as a whole, it hurts. Our body hurts, our identity and thoughts hurt us, society hurts us and our relationship with it hurts the pain of family and friends. Our heart and soul hurts, the past hurts, the present hurts, and, especially, the future hurts.

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In this week’s Parasha, we come to the powerful denouement of the epic story of Joseph and his brothers, one of bitterness and betrayal in its opening, one that slowly moves to an extraordinary moment of reconciliation. As we come toward the end of the book of Genesis we finally arrive at the moment that is the answer to the rhetorical question asked in the beginning of the Torah by Cain after he has murdered Abel, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The highly emotional reconciliation between Joseph and his brothers is one of the great scenes in literature. Years earlier the brothers, jealous of Joseph’s position as their father’s favorite, had been led by Judah’s words “Let us sell him… and not do away with him ourselves” [Gen.37:27]. However, rather than make their father share his affection more equally, this act not only caused years of unending grief for them all, but was made more futile when their father then took another son, Benjamin, as his new favorite.

By confronting Joseph, the second most powerful man in Egypt, and refusing to leave Benjamin as a hostage, Judah confronts himself, accepts his past guilt and takes on his true role as family spokesperson and protector. At the same time, Joseph, who could have understandably sought revenge against his brothers, realizes that he too prefers to reconcile with them and help them.

In one of the great scenes in all literature, the brothers reconcile. As the total opposite of Shakespearean tragedy, where the characters’ refusal to go beyond their allotted stereotype results in death and loss, these acts of mutual contrition result in reconciliation and the provision of real help to the family and to the tribe of Israel. In fact, rather than dwelling on the crime, Joseph says that his brothers “sent” him – thereby starting the chain of events that placed him in a position where he could benefit thousands of people, including his own family.

Through these brave admissions, both men show themselves to be the masters of their own fate and demonstrate their understanding that hatred damages both the hater and the hated. It also highlights the fact that it is in the hands of each person to determine whether the circumstances in which we find ourselves become a force for good or evil.

Parshat Va-Yigash reminds us that we all do things that are selfish, wrong and that we would rather forget. The crucial test is whether one has the ability to admit the wrongdoing. Failure to do so perpetuates and compounds the problem. However, if like Judah and Joseph, one can admit fault and errors, one can turn adversity into opportunity. True remorse and reconciliation can bring healing and new potential. Thus the story of Genesis winds to its close as we learn we indeed are our brother’s keeper. The rest of the Torah broadens that concept of responsibility beyond the family and tribe to humanity itself. Its lessons require us “to love the stranger”, “to love your neighbor as yourself,” and when we fail to live up to that, not to blame the other but make amends and seek reconciliation.

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In this week’s parasha we continue the story of Joseph. Last week we left him languishing in a dungeon, the fate of the Jewish people in his hands and those on the outside having forgotten that he existed. This week, the Pharaoh has a dream that nobody can interpret. He tries all the usual channels and has no luck. He is at his wits end when finally, his servant, remembers Joseph, the young man in prison who interprets dreams. He mentions to the Pharaoh that there is someone who may be able to help him and Joseph is hauled up from the dungeon. The Pharaoh explains his dreams and Joseph interprets them.

It has often surprised me that Pharaoh’s advisers were unable to interpret his dream. The explanation Joseph offers is not so complex and difficult, yet nobody from among Pharaoh’s formidable court can offer an acceptable understanding of the dream. Why? Some Torah commentators suggest that it was because Joseph had the skills and ability to listen, but this skill was lacking in the other advisers. The others entered the room with preconceived ideas and notions. They already had the interpretation they wished to present in mind and they bent and shaped the dream to suit their theories. Joseph, on the other hand, came into the room and listened carefully, with an open mind and then supplied the interpretation and for that reason, his was the one that rang true with the Pharaoh.

How many of us feel that we are not seen, not heard by those around us, that we talk over the noise and the bustle of other’s preconceived notions of who we are? How much better and more peaceful would the world be if we all took the time sometimes just to listen to those around us, to hear their pain, their sorrow and their joy? That is what we learn from Joseph and that is what we can practice now with the lazy days of summer. We can save the world and our people and bring peace if only we could listen to one another. This Shabbat of Chanukah I pray that we can all shed some light into the darkness of the world and bring healing through taking the time to listen. May we have many days ahead of listening and being heard and then maybe peace will descend upon us, and our world, as gently as the summer days have fallen upon us.

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In this week’s parasha, we find the origin of a custom practised by mourners, usually carried out just before the funeral of their loved one commences. At this time, the clergy officiating takes a sharp blade and cuts the cloth of each of the direct mourners (child, sibling, spouse, parent), allowing the mourning to expand that cut into a noticeable tear. The mourners then read out the prayer for learning unfortunate or bad news (Baruch Ata … . Dayan Ha’emet – Blessed is God, the true Judge). This process is known as “k’riah” (tearing).

The first mention of this custom takes place after Joseph’s brothers conspire to kill him. Reuben instructs them not to harm him or kill him, so they throw him into a pit and later sell him to some Ishmaelites. Reuben returns to the pit where Joseph is supposed to be, and finds that he is not there. He tears his clothes, and when he returns to his brothers, he says; “The boy is gone! Now what am I to do?”. A little later, we find the more infamous mention of this custom, when the brothers take Joseph’s coat, they dip it in the blood of a kid goat that they slaughter, and then they present it to Jacob, who recognizes the coat as Joseph’s, and he tears his clothes, puts on sackcloth, and begins to mourn the loss of his son.

Reuben’s actions seem driven by a fear of what could be, perhaps of uncertainty – he is looking for answers. Jacob’s actions are a direct response to hearing the terrible news, that his son has been killed. He feels a deep sense of loss, he isn’t looking for answers. His physical actions are a direct expression of the grief he feels, and they allow him to release some of the agony and heartbreak he experiences.

The halachic and historical requirement is to tear enough to expose one’s heart. In doing so, the physical centre of our existence is exposed, in addition to the emotional pain we feel in our heart. We feel vulnerable, perhaps even defenseless. An integral part of our life has been removed, and we are hurting.

When dealing with grief, we typically go through different stages in processing that grief. One of the defined early stages is anger, which is what Jacob intensely demonstrates when his sons report to him what has happened to Joseph. He aggressively tears his clothes, he expresses his grief through this physical action, to help him process what has happened.

Some psychoanalysts say that anger is a component of all mourning, and that one of the key functions of the mourning process is to work through and dissipate the anger, which historically was expressed through the symbolic, and often aggressive act of tearing one’s cloth.

However, humans don’t always follow the pre-defined order of events. Anger is listed as an early stage of mourning, but some people may not feel the anger, or want to express it when told to do so. Therefore, the mourner may not want to engage in a public (or other) expression of anger at the time we perform the k’riah. They may only enter that stage later in the mourning process.

And even though k’riah was how our biblical ancestors expressed the anger of their loss, it is not necessarily the chosen method for today’s society. It is, however, a reminder that the process of mourning contains a number of fixed rituals that represent tradition and emotion, community and observance, grief and support.

It is not solely about following that which has been prescribed for the sake of adhering to a process or ritual, but rather about a much wider acknowledgment that grieving is a process that is made up of several rituals and responses. It is not a single moment in time, but a multitude of different experiences and emotions.

Emphasizing the importance of our ritual practices, whilst allowing mourners to process their grief in a way and at a time that they feel is appropriate, is essential to the continuation of both, as well as the impact of their relevance in our society

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After many years away, Jacob undertakes the journey back to his parents’ home, in Canaan. As a young man, he left Isaac and Rebecca’s home fleeing for his life, having tricked his brother, Esau, out of the blessing of the first-born. Since that time, Jacob had lived close to his uncle, he had worked hard, married and had children. Now he realized it was time to travel back to his family home, to Isaac (Rebecca had passed away). He journeyed together with his wives, concubines, children, servants and herds of various animals.

The journey home was not just a physical one but a spiritual one too. On the way he was destined to meet his brother Esau, whom he had not seen since he fled for his life all those years back. This time as mature adults they were to meet and confront the entanglements of the past.

Part way home, Jacob was advised that Esau was traveling towards him with 400 men. Jacob was terrified and sent word that he meant no harm, he also sent peace offerings to Esau in the form of herds of sheep, goats and cattle. The night before Jacob was to finally meet Esau, he separated himself from his family, so as to protect them. He crossed a river and slept in the wilderness alone. The last time we heard of Jacob sleeping in the desert, he had a vision of a ladder spanning heaven and earth, with angels ascending and descending.

This time, Jacob is confronted by an angel who wrestles with him throughout the night. Jacob is wounded in the thigh during the struggle but by morning he prevails. He does not let the angel go until he is given a blessing and a new name: Israel. Israel literally means “the one who wrestles with God”.

After this encounter, Israel (or Jacob) meets his brother Esau and they are united in a peaceful way, for a short while. They part, and Israel continues the difficult journey and reaches home.

To summarize various commentaries of our sages, in particular Hasidic ones, this Torah reading invites us to consider what we are journeying towards in our lives and identify something from our past we need to make peace with, or come to terms with. We don’t need to look too hard, these issues come to us and confront us regularly.

This week, you are invited reflect on something you are striving to achieve and ask yourself whether there is something from your past that needs to be addressed to help you move forwards.

Jews received the name Israel by virtue of being descendants of Jacob, Israel, the “God Wrestler”. Let’s reflect on what we are wrestling with as individuals and as a community. Let’s not wait till Yom Kipur to consider making amends with people and issues from our past.

May each of us be blessed to know that struggling is part of being human and that accepting to face the struggle is part of the solution. We might be a little wounded when we face our ‘wrestling angel’ and our past, but it can lead to great insights and healings.

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