Author: Janet Rasmus

Parashat Mikeitz • Genesis 41:1−44:17

“Seven years of plenty to be followed by seven years of scarcity,” Joseph interprets from Pharaoh’s dreams. Pharaoh recognizes Joseph’s brilliance and places him in charge of the entire land of Egypt. Through conservation of now abundant resources, recognizing and preserving this bounty, Joseph helps the Egyptians survive the famine and teaches us all a lesson about the cyclical nature of life: bad times often follow good, good times often follow bad. 
The same lesson is visible in the beauty of our Chanukah candles. Long before the Talmud story of oil that burned for eight crazy nights, the Book of Maccabees recorded the Israelite effort to celebrate the Festival of Sukkot as soon as the Temple was rededicated. They waited — they fought —for dawn to emerge from the darkness; and it did. Good times often follow bad in the cyclical nature of life. Maintaining our faith and hope, as did the Maccabees, gives us direction and fortitude in the midst of struggle. 
Rabbi Aaron Meyer

Parshat Vayeshev • Genesis 37:1−40:23

Parshat Vayeshev introduces us to Joseph, our famous dreamer, whose story asks us to take careful notice of our dreams. Whenever we sleep our bodies and brains benefit from the restorative powers of rest; but Jewish tradition argues that our souls receive a tune up as well. Scattered throughout Jewish practice are hints at what our ancestors made of what happened behind their eyelids at night. Ever have a dream that you just can’t shake? Or that keeps recurring? A nightmare so terrifying you woke up in a cold sweat? So funny that you woke up laughing?  A dream, reviewed in the light of day, can sometimes seem like utter nonsense – like our brains have gone rogue on us, and run off with Lewis Carroll for a trip through Wonderland- but our tradition asserts that there’s got to be more to it than that.

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato, an 18th century rabbi from Italy, dug into the study of what Judaism has to say about the purpose of dreaming. After all, our biblical ancestors were having wild dreams all over the Torah, so there must be something to them. This particular rabbi taught that while our brains were resting and sifting through the information of the day, our souls become sort of detached from our bodies and zip around the realms of the spirit – where they are most at home. But he doesn’t stop there. The spiritual realm, he suggests, is like a grand reunion of spiritual beings and divine messengers. Rubbing elbows with such a crowd, our souls might innocently overhear some prophetic hint, what we might call an omen. That bit of information, he says, then travels down to us through our dreams, and gets filtered through our consciousness while the brain and body rest. These messages get mixed in with the rest of the strangeness of our dreamscenes and we are left to decipher them; just as Joseph was left to decipher the dreams that would ultimately become prophetic.

– Rabbi Callie Schulman


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