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

Parashat Lech L’cha • Genesis 12:1−17:27

“Once or twice in a lifetime, a man or woman may choose a radical leaving, having heard, ‘Lech L’cha – Go forth.'” These words open our prayer book’s contemporary interpretation of the Ahavah Rabbah prayer, found in our Saturday morning service. These words, Lech L’cha echo the name of this week’s Torah Portion in which Abram & Sarai set out on a journey that would forever change the world.

These words are often translated as above, “go forth,” but when we look more carefully at the Hebrew, we see additional layers of meaning: Lech – Go, L’cha – to yourself. In this story, Abram is not merely sent away from his birthplace, he is sent out to discover himself, to go towards himself. We read these words every fall, not long after welcoming the New Year. We are reminded by this parsha that our journey is simultaneously outward – where and how we move through the world – while also being inward – who do we become along the way?

Rabbi Callie B. Schulman


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:


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…?”


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