If only there were a simple method of controlling human behavior-preventing cruelty, wickedness and the tendency to destroy. If only we all shared a basic list of operating procedures by which we could live. How glorious such a list would be! I have an idea. Let’s post these rules on every public building in every community across the land. All we need to do is agree on the rules. Shall they govern interpersonal behavior such as conducting business fairly and being kind in daily conduct? Or might it be better to forbid cruel behavior such as murder, rape, adultery and cruelty against animals? Perhaps we should delineate simple behaviors that would be easily communicated such as take turns, wait in line and only park in parking zones.  Maybe if we only kept the rules to a small number we would be more likely to see this communal initiative succeed. It would make life so much easier and better.  But some will disagree with how a rule is to be applied. Come to think of it- who should be the arbiter of which rule is appropriate to be included and how it is to be enforced?

     Obviously, public safety is essential and rules prohibiting dangerous behavior must be kept front and center. But rules governing emotions ( Do not be jealous) or personal lifestyle choices (Do not work on Shabbat)…? Should they be legislated in the public sphere?

     This week’s Parshah introduces us to Isaac and Rebecca as nomadic parents. Twin sons, Esau and Jacob, accompany them upon their search for better grazing lands during a drought.  All told, 4 Israelites and some sheep settle in Gerar, a Philistine community. Evidently, the move from the Negev was successful because Isaac prospered. The local Philistines become jealous of Isaac and conflict breaks out over access to water. The locals stop up wells belonging to Isaac and likelihood of conflict is high. The King asks Isaac to leave because the Philistines in his community feel that Isaac's family of four is taking up too much space and growing too wealthy. In other words- 'you don't belong here.'  How often have we Jews experienced similar threats?

     Jealousy and envy are insidious; corroding reason, self-control and proportion. When you or I succumb to jealousy we lose perspective , falling prey to comparing what we do not have to what someone else has. The Philistines were more focused on seeing what Isaac possessed as opposed to seeing how two communities could possibly live side by side. In our own society we are seeing too much of corrosive attitudes and behavior. Instead of posting rules on walls ,would it not make more sense to live as neighbors in accordance with the rules we already cherish?

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Jan. 5 - Parshat Va-ayra - pp. 359 - 365

Moses went to see Pharaoh three times early in

the morning to request the freedom of the

Israelites and to announce three upcoming

plagues (7:15, 8:16, and 9:13). Why do we focus

on a nighttime ritual and have Seder at night?

Haftarat Va-ayra – pp. 370 - 373

Check out p. 372 verses 13-14. Why does God

say He will restore Egypt in the same paragraph

as He promises to hand Egypt over to Babylon?

Jan. 12 - Parshat Bo - pp. 387 – 394

Why do we have Seder at night?

Haftarat Bo - pp. 396 – 398

On p. 397 God promises to destroy Egypt by

handing her into the hands of Babylon. On p.398

God promises to safeguard Israel from all

enemies. Why is this Haftarah partnered with this

Torah reading?

Jan. 19 - Parshat Beshalach - pp. 406 – 412

This text looks different from other text passages?

What is different? Why does it look strange?

Haftarat Beshalach - pp 427 – 430

How does this Haftarah resemble the Parshah?

What is the connection between the Torah

passage and the prophetic passage?

Jan. 26 - Parshat Yitro – pp. 432 – 450


world without the 10 WORDS (in Hebrew called

Aseret Ha-Dibrot!). How exceptional our world is

because of our ancestors! Come to Shul and

make a MInyan in order that we all hear these

Divine words for the very first time!

Haftarat Yitro - pp. 452 – 455

Which passage from the Prophets could possibly

line up with the 10 WORDS? The Prophetic text

would need to be exceptional to be a worthy

partner to the 10 Statements. Check out the

reading and see if you agree with the ancient

sages who selected this prophetic passage.

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One single act of kindness, though it may feel small, can change our entire world. Abby Kennedy and Carrie Krauss, our two leaders who reestablished Gan Shalom are teaching our children the importance of bringing love into daily life. While our two year-old children have no need to be informed of the shooting in the Pittsburgh synagogue, they will be painting pictures and sending notes of love to the Tree of Life congregation. Carrie and Abby are requesting that any member of our congregation who would like to include a short note or picture bring it to the office by Wednesday afternoon. In this way we adults will join with our Shul’s toddlers in conveying the essential nature of doing deeds of kindness.

     Tuesday night I stood on the bimah, open-mouthed, as a flood of people continued to enter our sanctuary. They kept coming and coming! More quickly than we have ever seen before people jumped up to open the walls, to set up chairs, to welcome strangers, to embrace newcomers and neighbors– literally re-configuring our Sanctuary within a span of 10 minutes. 

     Never before has a flood been so beautiful, so uplifting and so encouraging. The flood of humanity which entered our Shul brought with it a flood of love and shared concern which embraced us all. You and I know how important it is for us to visit a grieving friend or relative. Such a visit can stabilize someone about to collapse due to shock and grief.

     But when a shooting in a Shul on Shabbas threatened to cause us all to collapse we were overwhelmed by hundreds of neighbors sharing our pain and yearning to uphold us with love and compassion. Seeing 500-550 people fill our House of Gathering (Bet HaKnesset) with human decency, concern, respect and gentle support left an enduring impression upon all who entered our building.  All who experienced the service Tuesday evening will know for the rest of their lives that a new and powerful element is part of the very make-up of our structure. Love now permeates our building- infused into the very walls and floor of our Shul by people with tears in their hearts and outstretched arms.

     All it took to transform Mobile's Jewish community’s Shivah into an experience of hope and love, replete with smiles joining tears, was the taking of time by people; to drive from their homes and from other places to our synagogue. Taking the time to travel to us removed some of the sorrow; sorrow within our hearts and the hearts of many caring people from many walks of life. One person’s drive from his home uplifted one local Jew- 500 drives by Mobilians lifted up the entire community.

     In this week’s Torah reading Abraham may be anticipating the end of Jewish life. Not having experienced gunshots, he does notice that his son is not married and he turns to a trusted unnamed non-Israelite neighbor and requests a favor; to travel to Syria in order to bring back a wife for his son Isaac.

     Perhaps Abraham is not able to make such a journey due to his advanced age.  Without a daughter-in-law there will be no Jewish people. The promise of Judaism would be extinguished even as it has just begun. This nameless non-Israelite takes upon himself the responsibility to travel to a distant land, identify the appropriate woman and bring her back to Canaan. Without the friendship, the support, the investment of personal energy and the love of one neighbor for another this community of Israel would not have survived. How powerful it is that one person can be essential for the perpetuation of another. This man’s name was not mentioned because it did not matter; only his act of caring mattered. What we experienced Tuesday night, what we experience daily in our world and what we need to experience and offer to others is the understanding that one person can be critical in the perpetuation of the life of another.

What a blessing we have received! What a blessing,  incumbent upon us all to share in the future…With God’s inspiration we will do so.

Shabbat Shalom

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