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Showing posts from January, 2018

Memories of the Wild

Many years ago my family and I camped out in the Negev desert. We drove into Makhtesh Katan, a geological formation dwarfed by Makhtesh Gadol and Makhtesh Ramon. These unique formations are typically translated as a Little Crater, Big Crater and Ramon Crater. The term crater, however, is inaccurate because these were not formed by the explosive force of a meteorite but instead by the slow, painstaking power of water. Rivulets of water, some as small as a creek and others as large as a river, eroded the rock. Over millennia these maktheshim were formed. When one enters and draws close to the canyon’s walls one is struck by the beautiful and colorful layers of rock. These formations can only be found in the Negev and Sinai deserts. We slept on the desert floor, each in our own sleeping bags. We attempted to create makeshift pillows from the desert rocks. I heard verses in the night. “He came upon a certain place and stopped there for the night, for the sun had set. Taking one of

Writing on Sand and Stone

Make up your mind Pharaoh. First you don’t want to let the people go. Then you decide to let them go. And then you change your mind again, and won’t let them go. Finally, you let them go. This back and forth is punctuated by the verse, “For I have hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” (Exodus 10) The Hebrew would be better translated as “I made his heart heavy” or perhaps “I weighed his heart down.” What is the meaning of this unusual phrase? What does it mean to harden our hearts? The Hasidic master, Rebbe Eliezer Hagar of Vizhnitz offers the following commentary. This phrase, he writes, hints at a verse from the Book of Proverbs: “A stone is heavy and the sand weighty; but a fool’s wrath is heavier than both.” The rebbe continues. It is hard to write on a rock, but after something is engraved on it, the writing will last forever. In the case of sand, on the other hand, one finds it easy to write whatever he wishes, but the writing can be erased in an instant. The difference between

What Takes God So Long?

What takes God so long? After 400 years of slavery God responds to the Israelites’ suffering and says to Moses, “I have now heard the moaning of the Israelites because the Egyptians are holding them in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant.” (Exodus 6) 400 years! Why now? Why wait for the Israelites to suffer for so many years? Did the slavery become that much worse? Was God indifferent to their pain? Impossible! Still the question remains. Why did God wait so long? Interestingly God’s response to the Israelites’ suffering mirrors Pharaoh’s daughter’s response to the infant Moses. In last week’s portion she hears the cries of Moses. “When she opened the basket, she saw that it was a child, a boy crying. She took pity on it and said, ‘This must be a Hebrew child.’” (Exodus 2) My newfound hero, the unnamed Pharaoh’s daughter, is the first to show compassion to the Israelites. Perhaps this is what God was waiting for. God waits for us. There are other traditions that suggest

A Holocaust Hero's Newly Found Poem

Hannah Senesh is best known for her uncommon bravery. After moving to Israel in 1939, she volunteered to parachute into Nazi occupied territory in order to help rescue her fellow Hungarian Jews. She was quickly captured, mercilessly tortured and eventually killed. Her poem, “A Walk to Caesarea” is familiar in Jewish circles. It is more commonly called, “My God, My God.” She writes: My God, my God, May these things never come to an end: The sand and the sea, the rush of the waters, The crash of the heavens, the prayer of people. We often sing its melody as we stand on the beach and revel in the ocean’s waters. I recently heard its words as I looked out on the Mediterranean from Tel Aviv’s gentrified port. The poem’s meaning crystalized in my thoughts.  Senesh clearly intended the poem to point toward the Zionist attachment to the land of Israel.  It was this sand and this sea she was speaking about.  And yet more and more people see its meaning to be about the beauty of n

What to be Named

Parents deliberate for months, and even years, the names they select for their children. For whom should they name their child? What if the baby is a girl? A boy? What should be the child’s Hebrew name? Do the origins of the name matter? What are the associations with the name? Will the name influence their child’s future character? The most significant book of the Torah begins in a similar fashion. “These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each coming with his household: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah; Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin; Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher…” (Exodus 1) And yet the story of the most significant person in the Torah begins without naming a single person. Take note of how the Torah frames our hero Moses’ beginnings. A certain man of the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw how beautiful he was, she hid him for three months. When she could hide him no longer,