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Nov. 3 - Parshat Chayei Sarah - pp. 139 – 141

You know Abraham and Sarah were married and

that Sarah brokered a marriage for her husband

with Hagar in order that he father a child. Did you

know that Abraham married again after Sarah

died? Find her name in this chapter. Find his

response to what happened during this marriage.

Haftarat Chayei Sarah - pp. 143 - 145

As King David anticipates his death he appoints an

heir to succeed him. Who is critical to his

becoming aware of the need to make the

appointment? Is this similar to Abraham’s

arranging for a marriage for Isaac (in order that

Isaac have a son)?


Nov. 10 - Parshat Toledot - pp. 157 - 161

What is Esau’s first response to the blessing he

receives from Father Isaac? After Jacob leaves

home, what is Esau’s second response to the

blessing he received? How are these reactions

different?

  Haftarat Toldot - pp. 163 - 165

Malachi begins his speech with a brief talk about

Esau and Jacob. His main thought has nothing to

do with these two men. His main thought is about

loyalty and honor and he is trying to persuade the

Israelites to view God in these terms.

He brings up Esau and Jacob to poetically

underscore loyalty through the lens of familial

bonds. What does this have to do with the

Parshah?


  

 Nov.17 - Parsha Vayetzei - pp. 183 - 187 

Have you ever seen or heard of a piece of jewelry

called a Mizpah? Did you know it comes from

Torah? After Jacob fled to Syria and married, he

eventually began a journey to return to Canaan.

His angry father-in-law, Laban, intercepted him.

After a terrible disagreement they agreed to part

ways…at Mizpah. How does the Mizpah pendant

come to bear its current meaning?

 

Haftarat Vayetzei - pp. 189 - 193

Prophet Hosea brings up the idea of golden calves

and idol worship (probably from the Mt. Sinai

debacle), but he begins his speech with a reminder

that Jacob fled to Syria and there married and had

children. He may be putting forth the message

that adults have to set a proper spiritual tone for

their kids and for themselves by observing true

monotheism as opposed to idolatry. What do you

think?

 

Nov. 24 - Parshat Vayishlach – pp. 214 - 220

After the short description of Rachel’s death we

read a long description of Esau’s lineage. Esau,

nicknamed Edom, may have been a redhead. His

first-born status as Isaac’s son should have made

him a central figure in Jewish history. Instead,

centuries later, he and his tribe become known as

enemies of Israel. How many tribes did he father?

Is the Torah giving us any indication as to how to

view Esau and his people?

Haftarat Vayishlach - pp. 222 – 225

THIS IS THE SHORTEST BOOK IN THE ENTIRE BIBLE!

You can read it in 10 minutes. Its main goal is to

address Esau's descendants who are called

Edomites. The entire book of Obadiah is focused

on a non-Israelite tribe. Can you discern Obadiah's

message?

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Look in the mirror. Within your face do you see the features of any relatives? We are often told that we resemble loved ones. What is even more striking is to hear that you or I might effect mannerisms of someone living one or two generations ago. When I hear such a comment I feel a closeness; and strangely -it is comforting to mirror someone in the family, whether known or unknown. 

     This week we gain a greater sense of the personal identity of our shared father, Abraham. While comfortably seated in his own home he becomes aware of people journeying towards him. Sensitive to the extremes of travel through the Negev desert he leaves his own comfort behind and runs out to bring strangers into his own shelter. Offering them water, food and rest he transforms strangers into individuals. Now possessing a sense of dignity, a sense of belonging, a sense of being appreciated these travelers are much more than homeless people who have nowhere else to go. For those who might have perished our first Jewish ancestor is a lifeline. 

Even as they depart, Abraham challenges the Ultimate Holy One. He calls out to God in response to the plight of potential good people in Sodom and Amorrah, teaching God that it is unfair to stereotype all people of one community; allowing good people to be destroyed along with evil.  In contemporary political terms Abraham would be saying that ‘collateral damage’ is completely unacceptable. Within one moment Avraham moves from the immediate concern of helping people journeying close to his own home to the overwhelming need of caring for vulnerable strangers who dwell far away. While it is necessary to protect ourselves from possible terrorists, such need does not permit threats against those who are weak, hungry, thirsty and seeking shelter from hostile forces.

     On this very day you, I, and our fellow Americans are being asked the ultimate question of humanity. We Jews are being asked the same question which we have asked dozens of times throughout our own journeys. 

     Who will step forward to welcome a traveling stranger such that he or she not perish in the wilderness? Torah readings are intended not only to be taught but to change our very souls and to change the world. It is up to us to bring shalom into the here-and-now.

From one descendant of Abraham to another-from one man who sees the face of Abraham in yours and the faces of others; whose face resembles yours and the faces of all those in jeopardy.

Updated: Feb 2, 2019

In a very moving interview the mayor of Mexico Beach recounted that, upon exiting his home after Hurricane Michael leveled the town, "he dropped to his knees." None of us can remotely comprehend his mindset. Utter devastation seized him and he responded almost without thinking. In our mind's eye we can all appreciate such a posture. Even though we rarely fall to our knees we can understand the sense of doing so; overwhelming emotions, awestruck and realizing that we are in the presence of grandeur far beyond our scope.

Perhaps that is how Worship began; our ancestors felt a sense of grandeur overwhelm them and they responded by getting down on their knees. At some later point chants, sacred songs and words we now intone emerged and attached themselves to bending and bowing. Centuries later we still follow their examples.



This week Abram walks onto the stage of Genesis and the Torah becomes a Jewish document. A nomad, Abram pitches his tent and suddenly encounters the Creator of the universe. Bowled over by the intensity of God’s outreach, Abram builds an altar. The construction project is a human response to an overwhelming experience of the Divine.

Two verses later Abram pitched his tent elsewhere and built an altar again. He called out to God (we would say he prayed) but God’s voice is absent. In the second scene Abram took the initiative to reach out to God. Strikingly, God does not reply. I might wonder why Abram initiated worship in the second scene without God’s overt call. Maybe Abram was so moved by his first encounter that he wanted a repeat experience. It turns out that God only speaks with Abram thrice more, twice within 11 years after the first encounter and the second time an additional 13 years later. As great as Abram was his Divine experiences were few and far between.

     Occasionally people ask me if I have heard God’s voice. I must answer not audibly. But, only rarely did Abram hear God. Perhaps the challenge is to seek God, not in an audible or visual way, but to open ourselves to the power of life itself. How often do we enjoy the beauty of a single blossom or blade of grass during a stroll, the appreciation of 80,000 heartbeats per day? How often do we allow a sense of wonder to envelope our minds, leaving us dumbstruck? And how would we feel when suffering illness and loss if we held to the notion of an empty universe; a universe built of only stars and planets? God is the reason that the Jewish People remains alive beyond too many episodes of destruction. Admittedly, we yearn to see God, just as Abram desired in this week’s Parshah. Instead of expecting God to show up on our terms, let us patiently reorient ourselves and walk towards God, by ‘doing justice and loving kindness.’ According to Micah, the author of Ahavas Chesed’s guiding principle it’s a good way of starting to find God.