Month: November 2017

Parashat Vayeitzei • Genesis 28:10-32:3

Much ink has been spilled about Jacob’s dream in this week’s Torah portion Vayeitzei. The angels defy our expectations by first ascending and then descending, the inverse of what we might expect from “heavenly” beings. Just as important as their direction of travel, though, is their method of conveyance. These are angels, capable of moving about as they please! That they are climbing the rungs of a ladder teaches us an important lesson.

Mitzvah goreret mitzvah; aveirah goreret aveirah — fulfilment of one commandments leads to the fulfillment of another; one transgression also leads to another we read in Pirkei Avot. One step up toward living by our highest values, achieving what God wants from us, keeps us on the right path for future steps. One step down makes subsequent steps even easier as well. Travel in either direction, as the angels show us, happens one step, one rung, at a time. Choose wisely!

Rabbi Aaron Meyer

Parashat Tol'dot • Genesis 25:19−28:9

This week’s Torah portion, Toledot, speaks of sibling rivalry in mythic proportions. Jacob, the younger son, conspires with his mother to steal the birthright traditionally reserved for the oldest sibling. Upon learning of the deception, Esau repeatedly asks his father, “But do you only have one blessing to give”; perhaps both a practical question about material well-being and an insight into his newly fragile emotional state. Isaac fumbles this question, answering honestly about the exclusivity of the birthright without fully grasping the depth of his son’s emotions. 

All too often we join Isaac in thinking that love is a zero sum game. Our blessings, our good thoughts and kind words, are not limited commodities that we must monitor as expenditures but rather endless gifts that we can choose to bestow upon whomever we please. We can love many siblings, many friends, and even disparate people on opposite sides of conflict. We learn this difficult lesson the hard way in Toledot and must continually try to internalize it’s message. 

Rabbi Aaron C. Meyer

Parashat Chayei Sarah • Genesis 23:1−25:18

"The life of Sarah was 127 years, such was the span of Sarah's life," (Genesis 23:1) Chayyei Sarah - The Life of Sarah, is perhaps one of the oddest named Torah portions in the cannon. One would assume that a tale so named would be an accounting of the life and accomplishments of the titular character; but this parsha moves rapidly from Sarah's exit from our story, to focus on the next generation. 

Enter, Rebekah, the soon-to-be inheritor of the line of the covenant that was promised to Abraham and Sarah. She appears on the scene in a whirlwind of activity, as she rushes to offer water to Abraham's servant, Eliezer, who has been tasked with finding Isaac a wife from amongst Abraham's kin. In seeking a bride for his master's son, Eliezer narrows the field by choosing kindness as the defining characteristic of Isaac's bride - and he finds it in Rebekah. Eager to aide a weary traveler and his beasts of burden, Rebekah earns her place in the matriarchal line for this one profound act of chesed - of kindness toward a stranger. May we be like Rebekah, keeping our eyes peeled for opportunities to speedily respond to the needs around us with kindness. 

Rabbi Callie B. Schulman

Parashat Vayeira • Genesis 18:1-22:24

A Blessed Welcome

“Hospitality to wayfarers is greater than welcoming the Divine Presence” - Talmud,  Shab. 127a   
Of the many character traits for which Abraham serves as potent model, his welcoming of the three strangers into his tent in this week’s Torah portion,  Vayera, is perhaps the most compelling and relevant to our current moment. For the ancient Mideast, hospitality was more than a social grace—it could mean the difference between life and death when traveling by foot through an arid landscape. And even more primally, the capacity to overcome our hard-wired fear of the other—to welcome a stranger into our midst, let alone provide for his/her needs—is a remarkable  reflection of Judaism’s larger goal of inspiring us to rise above our baser instincts. Abraham’s lesson provides contemporary insight and guidance on multiple levels, from our need to reach out to the local homeless community to our nation’s obligation to live up its highest ideals regarding refugees and immigration.  But perhaps the greatest wisdom derives from the Hebrew expression for welcome: Bruchim Ha’baim—Blessed are those who come. When we welcome guests, especially strangers, we do more than embrace another person. We do nothing less than extend God’s blessing to those who grace our doorways. 

Rabbi Daniel A. Weiner