10/31/2013

Shabbat Toldot

Candles 5:32pm
Havdalah 6:30pm

Shabbat Mervarchin
Rosh Hodesh Kislev Sunday and Monday

The Torah this week is all about the rivalry and tension between Yaakov and Esav. They were twins but completely different in appearance, temperament and mentality. The competition between them fills these chapters. As the tension gets worse Rivkah decides she must part the brothers and wants to send Yaakov off to her family to build his life in another country. Yitzhak clearly is reluctant. She does not tell him that she fears Esav might kill Yaakov. Instead she persuades him that Yaakov needs to get away from the Canaanite environment and avoid marrying the local girls. She might think he is a bad influence but she does not criticize or demean Esav or let it come between her and her husband.

The Torah says that Yitzhak then sent Yaakov to his brother-in-law Lavan the son of Betuel the brother of Rivkah the mother of Yaakov and Esav. Why did the Torah put Esav after Yaakov? Why did the Torah mention that Rivkah was the mother of both of them, specifically here?

In many families there is sibling rivalry. Sometimes it’s worse than others. A wise parent knows that each child must be given the space and the circumstances to thrive as an individual. Even if children come from the same parents, they are different in capacity and personality. Parents may be inclined to feel closer to or more proud of one or another but they have to be very careful to avoid showing it. Sometimes one or another may need to move away. Sometimes they have to pursue different careers or create their own personal businesses. Despite the differences, despite the different cities they may inhabit, they remain the children of their parents, for better or for worse.

10/24/2013

Shabbat Chayey Sara

Candles 5:40 pm
Havdalah 6:35 pm

Avraham sends his manager, Eliezer of Damascus, to go back to his home town to find a wife for Isaac. The Torah actually gives three significantly different versions of what happened. It’s a bit like “She said” “He said.” First of all Avraham calls in Eliezer and gives him instructions. Then Eliezer amplifies those instructions and makes his own decision on the spot. And finally in telling the story of what happened to Rivkah’s family, he changes some details as well. What is going on here? Which version was the truth? The answer is that all of them contain aspects of the truth. Truth like history, often depends on who sees what when.

Avraham gave instructions that were brief and the point. But he left out some obvious issues. He didn’t say anything about the character of the girl, only her background. Does this mean it didn’t matter to him? Of course not and Eliezer realized that behind Abrahams instructions there was a far deeper issue of being a moral, God fearing person. When Eliezer gets to meet her family and realizes that they are motivated by other considerations, he modified his narrative to win their approval. Does this mean he was dishonest or that the Torah condones white lies? Not at all! It is just that we all see things from different angles with different priorities. Very often to achieve what we want or to persuade someone, we need to find the right way of conveying our intent. The way you present something is as important as the message itself.

Any agent if he is to succeed must try to understand more than just the instructions. He must try to gauge what is really needed in any particular situation and what is really wanted. The Torah recognizes that people are different, their values differ as do their capacities and motives. This narrative highlights these differences and tells us that if we want to succeed we must be prepared to look at things from very different angles and determine what the priorities are.

10/17/2013

Shabbat Vayeyra


Candles Friday 18th at 5:50pm

Havdalah 19th at 6:45pm


Do you believe in angels? Of course it depends on what you think angels are. Are they supernatural beings in white shifts and sets of wings (usually with long blond hair) as much religious imagery imagines them? Or are they simply human beings who play a part in the Divine plan?

The Hebrew word for “angel,” MALACH, is identical to the Hebrew word for a messenger. And the messengers who appeared to Avraham looked like human beings, like ordinary men. That was why he washed their feet , offered them food and suggested they rest and take a nap.

There are many cases in the Torah where human beings play a part in the unfolding of the Divine Will and they are called both “men” and “messengers.” There is the man who finds Josef lost and directs him towards his fate. Rashi says he was an angel but the Torah describes him as a man. Messengers, malachim, appear throughout the Bible and only afterwards does their appearance strike us as miraculous.

If a doctor predicts that someone will get better or conceive, he or she may be acting on the basis of expertise but also perhaps on intuition. If someone predicts a political catastrophe this may guesswork, it may be based on special information. It may be what we call inspiration. But these are still human beings even if what they see happening is part of the Divine Will.

I believe we are all capable of being angels in one way or another if and when we carry out something that The Master of the Universe requires of us; either to help other human being or even sometimes to cause negative things to happen. Even the negative can be part of the Divine since everything is part of a much greater system and plan.

It is the message itself that is the essence, not the way it is communicated. As we are humans the message has to come in a way that we can make sense of.