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

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: