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Showing posts from October, 2015

Vayera and God's Lies

This week’s Torah portion, Vayera, contains four stories: the announcement of Isaac’s birth, Sodom and Gomorrah (it did not go well for those cities), Isaac’s birth and Ishmael’s subsequent banishment, and the binding of Isaac. Let’s examine the first story. God’s messengers arrive to tell Abraham that he is going to have a son. “I will return to you next year, and your wife Sarah shall have a son!” Sarah, who is nearly 90 years old and happens to be listening on the other side of the tent, laughs (that is why Isaac means laughter) and says to herself, “Now that I am withered, am I to have enjoyment with my husband so old?” God of course hears Sarah’s laughter and what she said and angrily declares to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I in truth bear a child, old as I am?'" (Genesis 18) The ancient Rabbis notice that God does not accurately report what Sarah says and what is the source of her laughter. Sarah suggests that their infertility was due to Abr

Standing with Israel

We join in solidarity and prayer with the State of Israel given these past weeks of terror. As much as I believe that the settlement enterprise erodes Israel’s democratic character and that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s continued refusal to acknowledge this danger is perilous to Israel’s future, the current wave of terrorism is not about settlements but instead directed against Israel’s very legitimacy. The statements by Palestinian leaders are evidence of this. Their continued denial of the Jewish people’s 3,000 year ties to the land in general, Jerusalem in particular, and the Temple Mount most explicitly, make a mockery of the claim that this intifada is about the occupation. The goal of a separation from the majority of Palestinians living in the West Bank is not only to shore up Israel’s founding democratic principles but to first and foremost create increased safety and security, and then we pray, the space for a measure of hope to emerge on both sides of an agreed upon border and

Lech Lecha's Promise of Questions

The political theorist Hannah Arendt writes: “To lose the appetite for meaning we call thinking and cease to ask unanswerable questions would be to lose not only the ability to produce those thought-things that we call works of art but also the capacity to ask all the answerable questions upon which every civilization is founded.” (The Life of the Mind) Our Jewish story begins this week. It begins with a call. Jewish civilization begins again today, and every day. God speaks to Abraham. “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” (Genesis 12) It begins with a journey. It is founded on exploration. Our faith starts with a question. Why me? (I imagine this was Abraham’s first question.) What am I to make of this life? How might I bring meaning to this journey? Why us? What are we to make of our world? How might we bring meaning to others? People think that religion is about answers. People think it is about prom

Noach and Babbling Blessings

The concluding chapter of this week’s portion describes the first real estate development project, the construction of the Tower of Babel. Here is that episode. Humanity bands together to build a tower that reaches to heaven. They say, “Come, let us build us a city, and a tower with its top in the sky, to make a name for ourselves; else we shall be scattered all over the world.” (Genesis 11:4) God is not pleased with their efforts and says, “If, as one people with one language for all, this is how they have begun to act, then nothing that they may propose to do will be out of their reach. Let us, then, go down and confound their speech there, so that they shall not understand one another’s speech.” (11:6-7) Thus this first building project does not fare well. The people want to build the tallest building possible. God apparently sees this as an offense or perhaps even a threat. Only God dwells in the heavens. And so the tower remains unfinished. We remain human. We are left

Too Much Light!?

Another interpretation of the creation of light in the Torah's first chapter by Rabbi Lawrence Kushner.  Enjoy this G-dcast video!

Bereshit and Creating Good

We begin the Torah anew. We start with the first chapter of Genesis. We read about the creation of the world. God fashioned the world in six days. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth…” We read about God creating the land and the oceans, the birds and the fish, animals and plants. We see God fashioning human beings. We ask: six days? Really? In school we learned about evolution and the big bang. We discovered how human beings evolved from animals. We found out that the world is in fact billions of years old not as Jewish tradition suggests 5776 years. I find the science very compelling. I trust you do as well. So why do we keep reading the Torah and its account of the creation of the world in six days? It is because the Torah provides meaning. It grants purpose to creation. It adds direction to our lives. Take the fourth day as an example. “God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate day from night; they shall serve as signs for t

Simhat Torah Joy

We have come to the conclusion of the Tishrei marathon. We observed Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and now finally, Simhat Torah. We travel from personal introspection and repentance to fasting and the recounting of our many failings to the wandering and fragility of temporary booths (nothing like a week of wind and rain to remind us of that!) to now the joy of Simhat Torah. We celebrate the conclusion of the Torah reading cycle and its simultaneous beginning. On the day of Simhat Torah we begin the cycle all over again. We believe that everything we ever wanted to know is in this scroll. It is only perhaps a matter of reading it at a different angle if the wisdom is not immediately apparent. We confirm our faith on this day: all wisdom and teachings are contained in this book. Thus we are privileged and blessed to begin this journey of exploration once again. This day is therefore cause for great celebration. Simhat Torah is the quintessential Jewish holiday. It is about