Delivered by Julia Berg, Rabbinic Student, on January 31, 2020
You want to know what stresses me out? Deli menus. There’s no way I’m alone in this. Delis are amazing, don’t get me wrong. I do love delis. They’re some of the few places that know just how amazing French toast is when made with Challah. They serve breakfast all day long! Matzah ball soup year round. There’s something about the deli vibe that just feels comforting. However, when the waiter hands me a menu I do tense up a little. More
Every Saturday, the Torah is read, and then it is interpreted by the rabbi. In the Torah portion, Yitro, the people receive the Torah from Mount Sinai. In this story, who do you suppose is the “Torah reader” and who is the “Torah interpreter”? Almost everyone responds that the Torah reader is God. And they would be wrong! More
“And the children of Israel went up armed out of the land of Egypt, and Moses took the bones of Joseph with him…” (Exodus 13:18-19)
What were the weapons that the Israelites took with them? Rabbi Moshe Meiselman, nephew and student of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, teaches that the armament was comprised of the bones of Joseph. More
And the Eternal said to Moses, Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, darkness which may be felt. And Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven; and there was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days; they saw not one another, nor any rose from his place for three days. But Israelites had light in places where they lived (Exodus 10:21-23).
Congregations are an expression of God’s presence in the world and an expression of God’s love and care for all humankind. Congregations are places of beauty and simplicity, openness and acceptance, justice and peace. Can we do all that and be all that without belonging to a synagogue? Of course you can; but you would miss one key element. More
And God spoke to Noah and said, “In one year, I am going to make it rain and cover the whole earth with water until all flesh is destroyed, but I want you to save the righteous people and two of every kind of living thing on earth. Therefore, I am commanding you to build an Ark.”
In a flash of lightning, God delivered the specifications for an Ark. In fear and trembling, Noah took the plans and agreed to build the Ark. “Remember,” said God, “You must complete the Ark and bring everything aboard in one year.” More
I announced with a bit of fanfare a few days ago that I needed to provide a religious response to the tragic violence and death that occurred over the weekend in Charlottesville, VA. In the days that followed, I spoke to a colleague in California and to my friend and colleague who is here this evening, Sat Bir Kaur Khalsa. From our prayerbook this evening, we shared that “we need to purify our hearts to serve God in truth.” I understand two things about my thoughts you will hear this evening: 1) They come from a deep spiritual place; and 2) They certainly are incomplete. With that in mind, I plan in the coming weeks to create the opportunity for other religious leaders in our community to join together and share our doubts and wisdom with each other. As a result of such conversations perhaps some deeper thoughts will prevail. More
Shabbat Table Talks
Fate and Choice
7th Torah Portion for the Shabbat on November 9, 2013
Vayetze Genesis 28:10-32:3 (148 verses)
On the road to Haran Jacob has a dream of angels going up and down a ladder. Jacob awakens, realizing that God is in this place. God renews the covenant established with Abraham. Jacob sees Rachel, Laban’s daughter, tending to sheep and wishes to marry her. Laban tricks Jacob into marrying his eldest daughter, Leah, after seven years of labor. In exchange for another seven years of work, Jacob is allowed to marry Rachel. Jacob has many sons with Leah, but Rachel is unable to conceive. Finally, God blesses Rachel, and she has a son, whom she names Joseph.
For most people, this week’s Torah portion focuses not only on Jacob’s dream, but also on Jacob’s love for Rachel. There is another daughter. She stands alone. Laban’s eldest daughter, Leah is unable to attract a mate. Poor Leah, her father and sister have to join forces to trick Jacob into marrying her!
At first glance Leah is not a role model for us and yet, if we are willing to look deep enough, we find an important value.
The Kabbalah teaches that Leah represents fate and Rachel represents choice. Fate is the thing that will happen to a person or thing: the future that someone or something will have. Choice or free will is the facility granted by God to all souls, to think, desire and decide as they please. If you believe this is a world of choice, you regard your life as a product of your decisions. Unforeseen circumstances may impose themselves upon you from time to time. Feeling defeated by those circumstances is a choice you make for yourself.
The truth is that when you get married, you think you are marrying Rachel. This is the person you fall in love with; the person to whom you begin to know heart-to-heart. As your relationship blossoms and grows over the years there is bound to be an element of surprise. Later you discover you have also married Leah, who is the side of your spouse you never knew you were getting. The Zohar calls Jacob a man of completeness because he is able to unite the world of Rachel and the world of Leah. Leah was not Jacob’s bride of choice; but she was a source of great blessing.
A man tells his rabbi that he is considering divorcing his wife. “Why?” asked his rabbi. “When I married her,” the man said, “I thought she was a Cadillac. I have discovered that she is a Toyota.” “Your problem,” the rabbi responded, “is that when you got married, you thought your were marrying a car!”
Languages of Love
By Rabbi Thomas Louchheim
Saturday, November 2, 2013
6th Torah Portion, 6th in Genesis – Toledot
25:19-28:9 (106 verses)
After a difficult labor, Rebecca has twins, Esau and Jacob. They grow up to be very different men. Isaac’s favorite, Esau is a hunter and man of the fields. Jacob, Rebecca’s favorite, is bookish and quiet (according to Rabbinic tradition). Esau sells his brother his birthright in exchange for some lentil stew. King Avimelech is led to think that Rebecca is Isaac’s wife (a replay of the incident with Abraham and Sarah earlier). Later, Isaac, now elderly and nearly blind – plans to bless Esau, his firstborn. Rebecca and Jacob deceive Isaac so that Jacob receives the blessing. Esau threatens to kill Jacob, who then flees to Haran.
“Isaac loved Esau for he fed him game; but Rebecca loved Jacob (25:28)
We are told that Isaac loved his son, Esau, because he hunted and prepared food for him. Isaac enjoyed eating the meat his son brought home – a purely sensual and material reason for loving his son. Rebecca, on the other hand, loves Jacob. He was smoothed-skinned, gentle, and domestic. He preferred to stay in tents (the abode of women), cooking and studying Torah. Isn’t it interesting that Esau sold his birthright for some lentil soup? He wanted to satisfy his physical appetite. He was a person satisfied by immediate gratification. Jacob is perceived by Rashi as a person whose “heart was like his mouth [i.e., his thoughts and words matched]. He was not one who survived on deception. He is known as an ish tam, a “simple, honest, and gentle man”. The Zohar says that he was gentle with those who deserved gentleness; but “where cunning and severity were necessary, he could us these also” (I:139b). Jacob, in fact objected to his mother’s plan of deception to which she responded, “Let any curse be on me” (Gen. 27:13).
What we have here are two different languages of love. Isaac and Esau spoke in the language of giving and receiving material gifts while Rebecca and Jacob spoke in the language of quality of time. In the Talmudic tractate, Pirke Avot (“Ethics of the Fathers”) we learn, “Love which is dependent on anything disappears when the thing (on which it is dependent) is gone.” Such love as expressed by Isaac and Esau is transitory, and can easily be a thing of the past. Rebecca’s love for Jacob was togetherness of quality time. This kind of love endures. Quality time, according to Gary Chapman (The Five Love Languages), “does not mean that we have to spend our together moments gazing into each other’s eyes. It means that we are doing something together and that we are giving our full attention to the other person.”
If we wish to analyze the character of our love, I suppose we can ask ourselves, “How much are we willing to sacrifice for those we profess to love?” What would happen if circumstances were such that the sacrifices we had to make for the loved one’s welfare far outweighed any possible gratification from the relationship? This kind of love is expressed not only by being a sympathetic listener and being attentive to expressions of feelings, but also self-revelation. If your loved one’s love language is quality conversation and quality time, then – in the words of Chapman – “her emotional love tank will never be filled until he tells her his thoughts and feelings.” This love language was expressed between mother and son in our Torah portion.
Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages and The Five Love Languages: Jewish Marriage Initiative, teaches us that it is not enough to determine one’s own “Love Language” (Words of affirmation, Quality time, Receiving gifts, Acts of service, and Physical touch), we must choose to speak in the other person’s “language.” One might say, “Well that does not come naturally to do that!” Well then, isn’t that a greater expression of your love for the other person?
Focus on an opportunity to share history together (from The Five Love Languages):
- 1.Who was your best and worst teacher in school and why?
- 2.When did you feel your parents were proud of you?
- 3.What is the worst mistake your mother ever made?
- 4.What is the worst mistake your father ever made?
- 5.What do you remember about the religious aspect of your childhood?
Not So Random Acts of Kindness
By Rabbi Thomas A. Louchheim
4th Torah Portion for the Shabbat on October 26, 2013
Chaye Sarah, Genesis 23:1-25:18 (105 verses)
This analysis is based on a teaching by Barbara Binder Kadden
Sarah dies at the age of 127. Abraham purchases the cave at Machpelah in order to bury her. Abraham sends his servant to find a wife for his son, Isaac. Rebecca shows her kindness (and her fitness as a wife) by providing water for Eleazar and for his camels as well. Abraham takes another wife, Keturah. He dies at the age of 175. Isaac and Ishmael bury him in the cave of Machpelah (present day Hebron).
“Let the maiden to whom I say, ‘Please, lower your jar that I may drink,’ and who replies, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels’ – let her be the one whom You have decreed for Your servant Isaac. Thereby shall I know that You have dealt graciously with my master.” (Genesis 24:14)
This verse, with slight variations, is found four times in this parasha. The first time is when the servant, sent by Abraham to find a wife for his son Isaac, says these words in a private prayer to God. The second appearance is when Rebecca comes to the well and carries out the exact actions that the servant has prayed to witness. The third time we read the verse is when the servant recounts his private prayer to Rebecca’s family. The final repetition occurs as the servant describes Rebecca’s actions at the well to her family.
Eliezer’s prayer and the repetition of the events is to indicate to the reader something constant in Rebecca’s character. The midrash helps us understand the character that was revealed to Abraham’s servant:
As Eliezer waited by the well he saw a beautiful maiden approaching with a jug on her shoulder. She stopped next to a crying child, whose foot had been cut on a sharp stone. She washed the cut and bandaged it with her own veil. She comforted the child by saying the cut would soon heal. Then a woman who was nearly blind came to the well to draw water. Rebecca helped her carry the full pitcher home. When Rebecca returned, Eliezer asked her if she would give him a little water. She assented and then drew water for his camels. The other girls mocked her because she had served a stranger, but she ignored their taunts. Eliezer felt that she would make a suitable wife for Isaac because she was kind as well as beautiful.
Malbim, a 19th century Russian rabbi, taught that Eliezer was using a character test to determine the appropriate bride for Isaac. Once Eliezer chose the most beautiful maiden he wanted to find out more about her inner qualities. He did this by the “Drink and I shall water your camels too” formula. By fulfilling the tasks that Eliezer prayed to witness, he would know that she was hospitable and considerate. Malbim gave four examples of how Eliezer would know she possessed these qualities:
1. When Eliezer asked for some water, the typical reaction would have been, “You are standing by the well, help yourself to water!” Rebecca did not give this answer. 2. Several girls came at the same time to draw water. Rebecca could have said to Eliezer: “Why pick on me; I have already placed my jar on my shoulder ask someone who still has her jar in her hand.” She did not say this. 3. Asking Rebecca to tilt the jar herself to let Eliezer drink would require special effort on her part. She would be justified in being annoyed and saying to Eliezer: “Tilt the jar yourself from my shoulder and drink but don’t bother me to do it myself.” But she did not do this. 4. Her offer to water Eliezer’s camels would show her thoughtfulness and understanding; she would probably have thought to herself that this man must be impaired in some way, since he cannot even get water for himself, how could he possibly water his camels. By watering the camels, she also showed her kindness to animals. (Studies in Genesis, Nehama Leibowitz)
I see bumper stickers that entice us to perform “random acts of kindness.” Judaism seeks for us to be more purposeful. Allow us to reveal the Rebecca character within us to perform gemilut Hasidim when the situations arise and to arise each day with the intention of performing these acts.
1. In Pirke Avot we learn, “Do not look at a flask but at what it contains.” How does this saying apply to Eliezer’s character test to determine if Rebecca was a suitable wife for Isaac?
2. What criteria do you use to determine someone’s character?
3. Have you ever met someone and made a judgment about him or her – based on first appearance – only to find out later that you were wrong? What influenced your first impression? What transpired that changed your mind?
4. Why do you think Eliezer would want someone who was kind and considerate for Isaac’s wife? What role would Rebecca be taking on when she married Isaac? In what ways would these qualities of kindness and hospitality influence the beliefs of Abraham’s descendants? Who and what influences your own values and beliefs?
5. Imagine you were Rebecca, how would you have responded to Eliezer’s request for a drink of water? Try the “Malbim” test: How would you respond to the four situations that Malbim described?
a. Being asked to do a favor for a stranger
b. Being singled out from a crowd by a stranger to do a favor
c. Making an extra effort for a stranger
d. Going beyond the bounds of the favor requested by a stranger
It might be easier to think of this “test” in the context of a situation that may have actually happened to you, such as being approached by a panhandler. What was requested? How did the request make you feel? How did you respond to the request? If you could replay the situation would you react differently? Why or why not?
6. How did your parents meet? Investigate your family history to find out how the couples in your family met. Ask these couples what qualities attracted them to each other and what their parents thought of the match. In some cultures arranged marriages are still the norm. What is your reaction to this institution? What are the differences between arranged and non-arranged matches? What qualities would you find attractive and what qualities do you think your parents would believe are important in a significant friend or future spouse?
WHY NOT TRY…an act of “gemilut hasidim” From Pirke Avot we learn that the world stands on three pillars: on Torah, on worship (“avodah”) and on deeds of lovingkindness (“gemilut hasidim”). Rebecca practiced gemilut hasidim when she reached out to help Eliezer. What act of gemilut hasidim can you do?
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Every Saturday, the Torah is read, and then it is interpreted by the rabbi. In the Torah portion, Yitro, the people receive the Torah from Mount Sinai. In this story, who do you suppose is the “Torah reader” and who is the “Torah interpreter”? Almost everyone responds that the Torah reader is God. And they […]