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Showing posts from December, 2013

Vaera and the Call of Leadership

Whether you are home discovering a respite from the pressing schedules of work and school or away enjoying some precious days in the warming sun or perhaps skiing down a mountain of snow, take these moments to drink in some words of Torah. God chooses Moses to lead the Jewish people out of Egypt.   Moses is charged with extraordinarily weighty tasks.   He must first appeal to the mighty Pharaoh demanding that his slaves be freed.   Moses protests to God, saying, “The Israelites would not listen to me; how then should Pharaoh heed me, a man of impeded speech!” (Exodus 6:12)   His tasks appear overwhelming and daunting.   One of the hallmarks of our great Jewish leaders is that they do not want the job.   They do not seek leadership positions.   Instead these seek them out.   They do not pine after accolades or power.   At times it appears that God even pursues our leaders.   God calls to Moses out of an ordinary and plain bush, albeit one that burns but remains unconsumed.   Th

Shemot and Remembering Our Values

Suffering begins with forgetfulness. “A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph.” (Exodus 1:8) Thus begins our story of slavery. It was not of course that the new king had forgotten Joseph. The two men undoubtedly never met. It was instead that he forgot all that Joseph had done for Egypt. Generation after generation had failed to teach that it was Joseph who had rescued Egypt from famine. The new king never heard the telling Joseph’s story. Our redemption and freedom begin with remembrance. “God heard their moaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.” (Exodus 2:24) Forgetfulness brings on suffering. Remembrance leads to salvation. This is why remembering is one of the key building blocks of the Jewish faith. Judaism values memory. We are commanded to remember the Sabbath: “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy” and the evils Amalek did against us: “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way out of Egypt.” Zachor is the command our

David Hartman z"l

The Reform movement honored my teacher, Rabbi David Hartman, at its biennial.  Here is its beautiful tribute video.  It was a wonder and privilege to be in his presence for such moments. I miss him.  He was the rare combination of courage and love.  He was never afraid of questions.  He was tireless in asking even the most difficult questions of his Judaism.  He also never stopped loving Jews, even those who made him angry, and rabbis, who he felt were always deserving of his support as well as prodding.  I hope to model what I learned from him.  David loved the questioner even more than the believer.  Question and critique strengthens faith.  It never weakens it. Rabbi Rick Jacobs honored David and his teaching by presenting the Schindler Award to David's son, Rabbi Donniel Hartman.  Both spoke beautifully of David's contributions and teachings and of a Judaism that is unafraid of debate and welcomes a multiplicity of answers.  Such is a faith that our times especially r

Vayehi and Family Harmony

This week we conclude the Book of Genesis. Jacob gathers his family together to offer a final benediction. The portion opens with the words: “Jacob lived seventeen years in the land of Egypt…” (Genesis 47:28) And how old was Joseph when his brothers sold him into slavery? Seventeen. The commentators notice this symmetry. Jacob enjoyed the same number of years living with his son in Egypt as Joseph did living with his father in Canaan. What are we to make of this symmetry? The tumultuous years of Joseph’s youth are perfectly balanced by these final seventeen years. Would that we discover such perfect symmetry in our own lives! The midrash adds: “These seventeen years were the best years of Jacob’s life – years of prosperity, goodness and peace; his other 130 years were filled with toil and pain.” Why were the best years of his life spent in Egypt? How could Jacob enjoy any place but the ideal land of Israel? The commentators suggest that the answer must be that he stud

The Geneva Deal, History and Fear

Years ago, when studying in Jerusalem, my friends and I hailed a cab and jumped in.  One of my companions is blind and was accompanied by his seeing eye dog, a trusted and caring German Shepherd.  The driver became agitated.  He refused to allow the dog in the car.  We grew defensive of our friend.  Our indignation soared, "How dare you discriminate!"  But our friend understood.  The driver was a Holocaust survivor and in his mind, and heart, such dogs were trained for another purpose. He grew increasingly terrified.  It took a great deal of coaxing but eventually my ever calm and wise friend persevered.  Although blind he sees and understands far more than most.  He immediately saw and understood the fear.  Perhaps that was all the driver needed: understanding and acknowledgment of his fear, a recognition that despite the fact that it was now over sixty years later, his fears are still real. I thought of this experience as I begin to analyze the recent agreement brokered w

Vayigash and Change

We pick up the story of Joseph and his brothers as it nears its dramatic conclusion. Joseph has framed his brothers by hiding a goblet in his brother Benjamin’s bag. Joseph accuses the brothers of thievery and threatens to jail Benjamin. Rather than allowing Benjamin to be carted away and made a slave, as they did to Joseph so many years ago, Judah draws near to Joseph and begs that his younger brother be spared. Judah pleads, “Therefore, please let your servant remain as a slave to my lord instead of the boy, and let the boy go back with his brothers. For how can I go back to my father unless the boy is with me? Let me not be witness to the woe that would overtake my father!” (Genesis 44:33-34) In that moment Joseph realizes that his brothers have indeed changed. The rabbis see in Joseph’s machinations a test of his brothers. Given the opportunity, would they once again get rid of their father’s favorite son or make a different choice? Would they defend Benjamin even though