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Showing posts from December, 2016

The Genesis of Brotherhood

We are nearing the end of the Book of Genesis. This week we find ourselves in the midst of the Joseph story. Our hero Joseph, recently sold into slavery by his brothers, has now achieved power and renown in Egypt. The brothers who think he is a slave in a far away land must now approach him and beg for food. They do not recognize him. He walks like an Egyptian. He talks like an Egyptian. He, however, recognizes them. And so Joseph tests them. Much of Genesis can be viewed through the lens of the siblings it portrays. It is a story about brotherly love, although more often than not jealousy and rivalry. Ultimately the book concludes with a note of forgiveness and reconciliation. There are four sets of brothers. We open with Cain and Abel, the children of Adam and Eve. Cain is so consumed with anger that he kills his brother Abel. The hatred, apparently fostered by God’s acceptance of Abel’s sacrifice and not Cain’s, is never overcome. The next set of brothers is Isaac and

Peacemaking, Eventually!

The story of Hanukkah is a story of zealotry. The Maccabees took up arms against the mighty Syrian-Greek army. They eventually defeat them and rededicate the Temple. Hanukkah means dedication. The Maccabees also battled against their coreligionists who were enamored of Greek culture. In fact the Maccabees first killed a fellow Jew who was attempting to offer a sacrifice to the king. For the Maccabees there was no room for those who did not think like them. Either you were with them or against them. Either you were fighting with them or against them and if against them, then subject to their wrath. While such extreme devotion provided them with the passion to fight against seemingly insurmountable odds, it also divided the world into two distinct categories, us and them. Eventually everyone called they becomes the enemy. And eventually, such passion becomes all consuming.... This post continues on The Times of Israel.

Who Is Your Esau? Or Finding Better Angels

This week Jacob becomes Israel. First he prepares to meet his brother Esau after years of separation, anger and distrust. Jacob is nervous about the impending reunion. When the brothers parted years ago Esau was filled with rage over Jacob’s stealing of the birthright. Esau even threatened to kill his brother. Then Jacob was young man, unmarried with no children. Now he is the father to many (and husband to Rachel and Leah). He is a wealthy man. Before the meeting between brothers, Jacob sends his family across a river. He remains alone for the night. Jacob was alone as well when he dreamed last week of a stairway leading to heaven with angels ascending and descending the steps. This time, however, he chooses solitude. Was it to contemplate the meeting? Would Esau forgive him? Would the brothers be reconciled? He wrestles with an angel. Now it is not a dream. This struggle continues through the evening’s darkness. Dawn arrives. The divine being wrenches his hip

Stairway to Heaven (with Apologies to Led Zeppelin)

When we last met our forefather Jacob he was busy stealing the first born birthright from his brother Esau. He conspires with his mother Rebekah to outwit his blind father, Isaac. Confused, or willfully blind and therefore party to the deception, Isaac blesses his younger son Jacob. Upon discovering this Esau vows to kill Jacob. Rebekah shouts, “Run! Get out of here. Go to your uncle’s home.” And this is where we pick up the story. Jacob is on the run. He is on his way to Haran (in modern day Iraq) from Beersheva. He is alone. He is afraid. He stops for the night and prays the evening prayers (according to the rabbis). Jacob dreams of a ladder reaching to heaven with angels going up and down. He dreams of the Lord standing beside him. This offers Jacob reassurance. God promises to protect him. God instructs him that his descendants will become as numerous as the dust of the earth and that the land on which he rests will become his people’s inheritance. Jacob awa

Prayer of Tears

The poet Mary Oliver writes:      Poems arrive ready to begin.           Poets are only the transportation. I am transported. It was some years ago that my friend and I were enjoying a casual summer weekend at his pool. As we watched our young children play, we stood and talked in the pool’s shallow end. I casually mentioned a story about his father and a memory I recalled. His dad had wired the house with some sort of intercoms of his own creation–long before cellphones and Walkie-Talkies. I still remember that moment. I still recall looking into my friend’s face.... This post continues on The Wisdom Daily.

Pantsuit Prayers!?

How does one pray to God? The Rabbis respond. They offer interpretations. They search the Bible for examples. They dwell in particular on Hannah and her prayer for a child. Her words teach us how to petition God. In the Book of Samuel, which we read on Rosh Hashanah, Hannah pours out the bitterness of her soul (I Samuel 1). The Rabbis thought this to be the most heartfelt of prayers: a woman longing to give birth to a child. Rabbi Eleazer even imagines Hannah saying: Sovereign of the Universe, among all the things that You have created in a woman, You have not created one without a purpose, eyes to see, ears to hear, a nose to smell, a mouth to speak, hands to work, legs with which to walk, breasts with which to nurse. (And I would add: a mind with which to think!) These breasts that You have put on my heart, are they not to nurse a child? Please, give me a child, so that I may nurture life. (Berachot 31b) We read this week about Rebekah. She too has difficulty conc