But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, that I may multiply My signs and marvels in the land of Egypt (Exodus 7:3).
This is one of ten references in this portion to either God hardening Pharaoh’s heart or Pharaoh himself hardening his heart. The rabbis taught that God was destined to harden Pharaoh’s heart to punish him for the 400 years of cruel bondage he imposed on the Israelites. More
Moses encounters God in a burning bush. God gives him the task to set the Israelites free. Moses is reluctant and asks God, “When I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is His Name?’ what shall I say to them?” (Exodus 3:13). God answers Moses: Ehyeh asher ehyeh (“I am who I am” or “I will be who I will be”). More
Jacob called his children, ‘Assemble yourselves and hear, O children of Jacob, and listen to Israel, your father’ (Genesis 49:2).
It is interesting that the children of Jacob are asked to gather and listen. They come together in order to listen to Israel and not Jacob. Why are both names used for our patriarch in one sentence? More
This past Monday, we all missed an opportunity to hear a leading modern orthodox rabbi provide the invocation for the Republican National Convention. Members of his religious community, alumni of the yeshiva he formally directed, and individuals and members of Jewish organizations from around the country pressured Rabbi Haskel Lookstein not to lend his voice to the Convention. All I can say is shame on everyone who participated in preventing this religious scholar from offering prayer, from allowing him to create a connection between the political world and the world of divine values. More
In this week’s Torah portion, Sh’lach-L’cha, we relive the events of the 12 spies sent to reconnoiter the Promised Land and report back to Moses what they have discovered.
We came to the land you sent us to; it does indeed flow with milk and honey, and this is its fruit (grapes, pomegranates and figs). However, the people who inhabit the country are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large (Numbers 13:27 ff.).
(Quotes in this sermon are not direct quotes but implied by the speaker)
This week, Moses sends scouts in to survey the land. At the end of forty days, they returned and went straight to Moses and Aaron to report:
Indeed it is a land filled with milk and honey but the people in the cities are powerful and all of their cities are fortified and large.
Shabbat Table Talks
The Spirit of Hospitality
By Rabbi Thomas A. Louchheim
4th Torah Portion for the Shabbat on October 18, 2013
Vayera, Genesis 18:1-22:24 (147 verses)
This week’s portion points to an important Jewish institutional value, “Welcoming the Stranger.” Abraham, in a new home, not even settled, invites three strangers in and provides a wonderful meal for them. Hospitality is not only a physical reality, but a spiritual one as well. Rabbi Freehof, may his memory be for a blessing, said we should be conscious of three types of hospitality:
1. Hospitality of heart (to strangers). Some people have their heart tightly closed, excluding not only strangers, but the nearest of kin as well. This pathetic attitude leads to loneliness and alienation. It also expresses contempt for our religious ideal that all are God’s children. Our duty is to do as Abraham did, run to meet people halfway, be interested in new people and bring greater friendship into the world.
2. Hospitality of mind (to new ideas). Children have open and pliable minds. They receive and are stimulated by new ideas and experiences all the time. Adults unfortunately become satisfied with what they know and often are unwilling to discover new realities. God is the God of knowledge. Our religious duty is to receive and be open to this. Remember that for those who are looking for spirituality and venturing into mysticism, the Hebrew word is Kabbalah, which means, “receive.” We must keep our minds open, to be grateful for every new truth that comes.
3. Hospitality of soul (to God). Most people believe in God. Very few understand how God works through our souls and us. God is shut out of our souls. The Psalmist cries out, “lift up your heads, you gates (of the heart) that the King of Glory may come in.” Let our worship help open our hearts to God daily in our lives.
The Talmud teaches, “The actions of parents are a guide to the life of their children” (Sotah34a). We are the children of Abraham when we follow his pattern of life. Abraham’s hospitality should lead us to an openness that enhances our relationships with others, expands our minds and opens our hearts to the power of God every day.
1. Can you think of anyone or group in the past few weeks who would have benefited from this lesson?
Have a good week.
Go for Yourself
Saturday, October 12, 2013
3rd Torah Portion, 3rdin Genesis –Lech Lecha
12:1-17:27 (126 verses)
by Rabbi Thomas Louchheim
God speaks to Avram and tells him to “leave the land of your ancestors” and promises to make him the father of a great nation. Avram, Sarai, and Lot go to Canaan. Famine takes them to Egypt, where Avram identifies Sarai as his sister in order to save his life. Avram and Lot separate. A war beaks out between two groups of local kings; Lot is taken captive in the ensuing action and Avram rescues him. Sarai is barren, but urges Avram to conceive with her handmaiden, Hagar. With Hagar he has a son, Ishmael. God establishes a Covenant with Avram. The sign of the Covenant is circumcision of male babies on the eighth day of birth.
Is exile the natural state for development? Abraham has to leave home and his country to be the founder of Judaism. Adam and Eve are exiled from the Garden. Cain is condemned to wander the earth. Noah and his family are set adrift on a raging sea. The builders of the Tower of Babel are scattered across the globe. Mohammed is exiled from Mecca to Medina when he becomes the founder of Islam. The answer to the question might be found in God’s command to Avram.
Lech lecha,” literally means “Go for” or “to yourself” (perhaps, “within” yourself). As Rashi says, “Go for your own benefit, for your own good.” A spiritual quest is often one made alone, away from the comforts and influences found in one’s home. Avram begins a journey of religious awakening away from the possible objections of his father, taking a road that is at once unfamiliar to him and foreign to his family. Only when taken freely and independently, as a matter of choice (as opposed to coercion), will the act of devotion lead to fulfillment; in this case, the father of a great nation. One might say that God coerces Avram. God commands, Lech!, “Go!” However, I view this “command” as part of a deeper intention, “If you want to improve, if you want to grow as an individual, if you want to make a difference in this world, then you must take this next ‘step’ out away from the place you are comfortable.”
Look how this is different from other divine commands, “Follow these commandments or you will be punished!” There is no threat of punishment here.
As a result of this journey God says, “I will make your name great and you will be a blessing” (12:2). Rashi correctly translates this as a command as opposed to something Avram will receive: “… and you will be a blessing.”—you will bring blessings to others. May you have the personal qualities of Avram: a generous demeanor, a humble soul, and a modest spirit, then blessings will be available to you to bestow upon others (based on commentary in Itturay Torah).
1. What has been the result of a journey you had to take alone? Is there a lesson from it you can teach your children?
2. The separation for that journey may be done in stages; why else did God command Avram to leave in this order: “from your land, from the place of your birth, from your father’s home”? How does this metaphor relate to you?
3. You know you have blessings to give. Why are you waiting?
4. Let us assume that wherever you are in your life today it is your Promised Land. What blessings are you giving to those outside of your family?
Hitbodedut is a Hebrew word meaning “to be in solitude.” It is an ancient form of prayer that involves talking to God in an intimate, informal manner while secluded in a private setting such as a closed room or a private outdoor setting. Rebbe Nachman taught that the best place for hitbodedut is in the forests or fields. “When a person meditates in the fields, all the grasses join in his prayer and increase its effectiveness and power,” he wrote. One should also use this opportunity of lech lecha “going for” or “to yourself” to examine your behavior and motivations, correcting the flaws and errors of the past while seeking the proper path for the future.
Event: Our “Courage and Renewal” Retreat at Picture Rocks, Oct 18-20 is a perfect opportunity for this kind of reflection. Contact the synagogue for details.
Ark of Potential
October 4, 2013
2nd Torah Portion, 2nd in Genesis –Noach
Genesis 6:9-11:32 (153 verses)
Haftarah – Isaiah 54:1-55:5
By Rabbi Thomas Louchheim
Disgusted with the corruption of humanity, God decides to cause a flood that will destroy the world, sparing only Noah’s family and animals that Noah gathers together.
Life starts over after the Flood. God uses a rainbow to make a symbol of the Covenant, promising never again to destroy the world by water. Noah plants a vineyard, makes wine, and drinks himself into a stupor. Ten generations pass. Speaking the same language, the people start to build a city and the Tower of Babel. God scatters the people and “confounds their language.” The portion concludes by listing the ten generations from Noah to Avram.
One– Don’t miss the boat.
Two– Remember that we are all in the same boat.
Three– Plan ahead. It wasn’t raining when Noah built the Ark.
Four– Stay fit. When you’re 600 years old, someone may ask you to do something really big.
Five– Don’t listen to critics; just get on with the job that needs to be done.
Six– Build your future on high ground.
Seven– For safety’s sake, travel in pairs.
Eight– Speed isn’t always an advantage. The snails were on board with the cheetahs.
Nine– When you’re stressed, float a while.
Ten– Remember, the Ark was built by amateurs; the Titanic by professionals.
Eleven– No matter the storm, when you are with God, there’s always a rainbow waiting.
Life is like this sometimes. At times life seems filled with obstacles and adversity. Our world seems on the verge of destruction (in business, in our personal life, in Washington, D.C.); yet, we too can create an ark filled with new potential, seek new opportunities. The sun will rise and we will arise from our darkness to “begin a new line” as Shem did generations ago after the flood and the tower of Babel.
1. Understanding you are on the same boat with others, how does that help?
2. When a job seems too big, what motivates you to complete it?
3. What does it mean to build your future on high ground?
4. #9 suggests floating a while. How can that help? And will you still get the job done on time?
5. #10– what do you do when you feel unqualified to complete the task?
The easiest way to fail in your goals is to let minor obstacles become infinitely large barriers. Even if you can’t see a path around your obstacle, learn to suspend your judgment and have some faith. Be stubborn in your quest to find an alternate route. Belief in an alternate route allows your brain to create one. The creative capacities of the brain are so great that they can see around virtually any obstacle.
Moses encounters God in a burning bush. God gives him the task to set the Israelites free. Moses is reluctant and asks God, “When I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is His Name?’ what shall I say to […]
Jacob called his children, ‘Assemble yourselves and hear, O children of Jacob, and listen to Israel, your father’ (Genesis 49:2). It is interesting that the children of Jacob are asked to gather and listen. They come together in order to listen to Israel and not Jacob. Why are both names used for our patriarch in […]
Why does Jacob hold on so tenaciously to the angel (Genesis 32:27)? Where once he held his brother’s heel for a free ride from the womb to the world, now he grasps the angel and demands a blessing. One lesson we draw from this is not to rely on miracles. The Talmud tells us, “One […]
Abraham sends his servant, Eliezer, to find a wife for his son Isaac. He is to choose a woman of good character. How does he determine that Rebecca is the one? The Midrash helps us understand the character that was revealed to Abraham’s servant: