Parashat Naso - Numbers 4:21−7:89

Upon first glance, this week's parsha, Naso, could appear to be a somewhat dry account of an Israelite census. The opening chapters of the book of Numbers retell the Israelite people's self-organization and preparation for the trek into the Promised Land. Not only do they face the challenge of traveling in a group in excess of two million, but they must do so while maintaining a proper relationship with God (and by extension, each other). As anyone who has ever led a field trip, or even a family vacation knows, the former is no small feat, and the ladder may sometimes feel impossible.

This segment of their journey begins then, as does any sound journey, with an accounting-for of all the souls who were to travel together. A veteran chaperone of many a field trip with young people, I have myriad first-hand experience with this exercise of roll-call. As a staffer of young adults, I've tried counting people off, so as to expedite the on-and-off boarding process from buses and at group meeting points. But our parsha does not use any of the Hebrew words for "counting," as it retells the way in which the Levites took census of the Israelite people. Rather, God tells the Levites to, "naso et rosh," "lift the head" of each of the people present.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks notes that this choice of language and instruction illustrates a revolutionary idea: that each person should be seen as an individual, human, single, and valued and not just a part of a mass, or a number in a tally. This census reveals a "supreme religious principle," that people aren't just numbers. In the priestly act of lifting each head, looking each individual in the eye, and counting their personhood amongst the Israelites, we learn that we are as important as we make other people feel; that by acknowledging one's humanness we inherently acknowledge both their independence and our interconnectedness.

Rabbi Callie B. Schulman


Parashat Vayigash • Genesis 44:18-47:27

B’shert

It’s a term we Jews use colloquially to characterize something fated, something meant to be, or even something ordained by God.  Though most of us profess to putting little stock in such literal interpretations, at a deeper level, it is comforting to imagine that “things happen for a reason,” even if we must concede a bit of control over our destinies in the process.  In this week’s parasha, Vayigash, Joseph augments the potency of his “big reveal” to his brothers with an affirmation of faith:

“…God sent me ahead of you…to save your lives in an extraordinary deliverance. So it was not you who sent me here, but God…”    

On one level, this is an exoneration of his brothers for their harsh treatment of him, while providing for Joseph an easy pathway to grant forgiveness for their behavior.  But on another, it is an acknowledgment that there are forces beyond us and beyond this world, not necessarily causative but contributing to our future and our fate. As the eminent Torah scholar, Nechama Leibowitz, taught:

“Fortunate is he to whom it is granted to detect in the metamorphoses of his daily existence and the vicissitudes of her personal affairs, the workings of Providence—a mission on which he has been sent by God.” 

In many ways, this is the hallmark of faith:  To find in our attitudes and actions the intersection of divine intention and our daily endeavors.   

Rabbi Daniel A. Weiner


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

Parashat Noach • Genesis 6:9−11:32

Noah walked with God. The crafter of the ark, the savior of animals and humanity from the flood, the hero of our Torah portion is introduced with these words. While traditional commentators have sought to qualify this endorsement of his character (Abraham, as someone who argued with God to save human lives, was said to walk before God, perhaps not needing God’s assistance), perhaps more humility is called for. After all, Noah was said to be the most righteous of his generation!

This debate, how good is a person, plays out in every generation. In the messiness of human existence, some people are truly bad, others forces for good, and most of us just trying to do the best we can in any given situation. May we all strive, in the words of Micah, to do justice and to love righteousness so that we, too, may walk with God. 

Rabbi Aaron C. Meyer


B'reishit • Genesis 1:1−6:8

And so it begins, again. On Friday Night we will unfurl a Torah scroll, read the final verses of Deuteronomy and then start right in with the opening words of Genesis: another beginning, as we return to “the” beginning B’reishit. As we emerge from the thickly laden holy days into the new year, we come back to the text; the words remain the same, yet the eyes we bring to them are inevitably changed from year to year. A fresh read of the Torah might reveal newfound meaning, might call into question previous understandings, might unfurl new voices buried deep within the ancient stories.

B’reishit is a densely packed narrative, containing the mysterious accounts of creation of both light and dark, with an unflinchingly raw introduction of the same tendencies of the human impulse. Mere verses after our primordial birth we read about the first transgression, and then the next, each followed by transformation; as if the very act of creation set off other wheels of creation within itself. These sacred stories do not shy away from the myriad tendencies that exist within humanity, they ask us what we are to make of them, and how we are to weave them into our ever-evolving senses of self.

Rabbi Callie B. Schulman


Challenge 2.0 - From Me to We (Episode 1)

The Treacy Levine Center is dedicated to promoting understanding, bridging divides, and building relationships amongst people across religious, cultural, ethnic, and social lines through educational and experiential activities. It is resurrecting a program that used to broadcast in the early 1960's on KOMO TV called Challenge. Watch Episode 1:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2I3uKqG9_m4


Rabbi Daniel Weiner on KUOW

Bill Radke of KUOW talks with Rabbi Daniel Weiner about how to confront the recent flare-up of antisemitism in America.

http://kuow.org/post/seattle-rabbi-we-cant-let-marginalized-outsiders-skew-our-sense-reality

 


A Special Rabcast from Rabbi Daniel Weiner

In response to the recent, tragic massacre in Las Vegas, Rabbi Weiner wants to share a special Rabcast from a few years ago, with a more timely introduction.  As you'll note, it is painful that we confront the same horrors in the same season from year to year.  "When will they ever learn...?"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NKqSHWWDCdA&feature=youtu.be


Parashat Nitzvaim-Vayeilech • Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20, 31:1-30

During my first year of rabbinical school in Israel the jewelry of a particular silversmith was popular amongst my classmates. The artisan would take any verse of Hebrew scripture and engrave it upon hammered silver jewelry. Both aesthetically pleasing and spiritually inspiring, you can imagine why these necklaces were popular amongst young rabbinic, cantorial and education students. These charms became a wearable credo and a reminder to the wearer of whatever message they bore. One of my classmates had the shortest quote I had seen on a large silver circular charm, it read, “lo bashamayim hi,” three words from this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Nitsavim, which translate to, “it is not in the heavens.”

Not being as familiar with Nitzavim as my friend, I asked her to describe what the words meant to her. She went on to explain that they appear near the end of Deuteronomy, after Moses has spent considerable time reminding the Israelites of all that they have seen, and all that they have agreed to do in their covenant with God. These words appear in a moment where Moses reassures the Israelites that the work of understanding and implementing the terms of the covenant is not beyond them. As his exit approaches, Moses reminds the Israelites that the work of being in holy relationship with the Divine is not beyond them, nor is it beyond us. I love these three words, because they so simply encapsulate Judaism’s understanding of how humanity can indeed access the Divine – and that which is greater-than-us. We need no intermediary, just an openness to give, to receive and to be changed. I, for one, will be holding onto these three words of reminder as we head in to the ritual-and-prayer-dense High Holy Days.

Rabbi Callie B. Schulman