Friday, August 16, 2013

Shabbat Ki Teitze: A Parsha of Transitions

Below is the Dvar Torah for Ki Teitze that appeared in this week's Washington Jewish Week newspaper.
I'd attach a link but only subscribers can read it on line:) Enjoy!

Shabbat Ki Teitze: A Parsha of Transitions

The High Holidays are coming. We are in the month of Elul, a time of introspection, of searching our souls to see what actions we have done in the past year that have “missed the mark” and therefore need to be changed for the coming year. As we dig deep and think about forgiveness between ourselves and others, ourselves and God, and perhaps most difficult of all, ask it of ourselves; we prepare for these tasks by reading the Torah portions and the special Haftarot of Consolation that lead to the Days of Awe.

Though difficult to see at first, Parashat Ki Teitze, fits into this pattern of helping us with our “Elul” work. Review this list of topics from the Parasha and see what patterns/messages you are able to discern:  treatment of female captives of war; inheritance rights of firstborn males;  punishment of an insubordinate son; treatment of the body of an executed criminal; how to deal with lost property; humane treatment of animals; safe building practices; not wearing clothing of the opposite sex; prohibition of combining wool and linen; tassels on garments; true accusations; issues of marital and sexual misconduct including adultery, rape and forbidden relationships; asylum for escaped slaves; sanctity of a military camp; lending at interest; the role of prostitution among Israelites; rules regarding eating another’s unharvested crops; consequences of kidnapping; rules concerning leprosy; guidelines for creditors; requirement for timely payment of wages; gleanings for the poor; caring for strangers, orphans and widows; limits of flogging; not muzzling a threshing ox; Levirate marriage; improper intervention in a fight; honest weights and measures. (section heading thanks to Etz Hayim chumash)

An impressive list! There doesn’t appear to be an apparent rhythm to its flow, yet I have gained great Elul insight from this Parasha. We are reminded that as human beings we are not the only sentient beings on this planet. Those of us who qualify as the haves are reminded quite bluntly of the have nots, what our responsibility is to them, and that our positions could change at any moment. We are reminded that as Jews we live in relationship to one another and that we have communal responsibilities – legal, financial, judicial, military. We are reminded that as Jews are not the only people on this planet and that we have to live in community with others as well. We are reminded that for every “thing” that we can explain, there are many “things” that we cannot explain – whether they come in the form of natural events, commandments, or inspiration from within.

Then we read the final verses. We come off this roller coaster ride of perspectives and reminders. We’ve been put in our places. We are ready to work on forgiveness to one and all. And we read the following lines (Deut 25: 17-19):

17. Remember what Amalek did to you by the way, when you came forth out of Egypt;
18. How he met you by the way, and struck [קָרְךָ] at your rear, all who were feeble behind you, when you were faint and weary; and he did not fear God.
19. Therefore it shall be, when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies around, in the land which the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance to possess, that you shall blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget it.

Confused? We are ready to forgive. To work on our shortcomings, to be better citizens, to accept consequences. We all remember Amalek and how they basically fought dirty. Is that enough to contradict the meta message of the Parasha that we’ve just received and be told to blot out the memory of Amalek? Apparently yes.

According to Midrash it all revolves on the use of the קָרְךָ korcha in verse 18 as the hebrew word in the phrase “struck at your rear.” The word korcha shares the same root at the hebrew word for cold, kar.  When the Israelites left Egyptian slavery were happy, confident, enthusiastic. Perhaps the Amalek’s real sin was acting as a bucket of cold water and bringing the Israelites into the real world of disillusionment and danger. Perhaps Amalek brought the Israelites out of their taste of Gan Eden a bit earlier than intended, maybe before they were ready.

Rabbah Arlene Berger is the Education Director of the Chavurah at the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue.

1.    Review the list above. What patterns do you find for topics listed in this Parasha? What do they teach you about preparing for the high holidays?
2.    Why does the Torah seem to put rulings about fair treatment of people, animals, Jews, nonJews, men and women all in the Parasha? Which lessons have been well received and which have been ignored?
3.    What lesson have you learned from Amalek? Did they steal a bit of Gan Eden from our ancestors?

Any thoughts or comments?

Shabbat Shalom -
Rabbah Arlene

Friday, June 14, 2013

Alex and Eema

Haven't posted in a while. Am planning on starting a new blog now that I'm no longer a rabbinical student. But wanted to share this article that appeared in the Spring 2013 issue of Today's Israel!

Alex and Eema

         I was last in Israel a year ago and can’t wait to get back. One way to satisfy this yearning is my weekly Friday Shabbat Shalom conversation with my son.  Even more special than just hearing about Israel is hearing about his studies at the Conservative Yeshiva (CY) a place that I love.  For example, recently we talked about my preparation for an upcoming wedding and he offered to lend me his Talmud class notes on Masechet Kiddushin. How cool is that?
         This was fairly typical of Alex’s and my weekly conversations. Alex, 19, is currently spending his gap year on the Nativ College Leadership Program on the CY Track. The CY is one of my favorite places to learn. My first experience at the CY was in 2009 during a summer and fall semester as part of my rabbinical school training. I fell in love with the CY as a place where I could study ancient text, with both traditional and modern perspectives, with people of all ages.     
         Although Alex and I did not study at the CY at the same time we did get to have a Mother and Son learning experience. We would share his learning during our Shabbat calls so that it became our learning. He shared shiurim that I remember learning – I found my notes and we were able to compare! He would tell me things he learned in that week’s Community Discussions that he either had questions about or was excited to share or that he thought would be appropriate for use in one of my Sunday schools.
         Alex took one of my favorite classes, Liturgy, with R’Daniel Goldfarb. We often discussed what went on in class, reviewing the various aspects of different prayer, comparing traditional to liberal perspectives. These conversations helped me prepare my monthly service at my shul. A highlight was when Alex came home over winter break and taught a class on Israel at one of my schools. He used skills and knowledge learned at the CY and on Nativ to prepare for and teach the class. He could never have done that before this experience. It was fantastic! Through all this we’ve had discussions on philosophy and theology as Alex continues to develop his adult Jewish identity.
         As Jewish parents we are commanded to teach our children. We want to share our passions and interests with our children. As a rabbi I want to teach my children that which I love – Judaism. I am always trying to find ways to share this with my both my son Alex and his sister Jennie, who is studying to be a Jewish educator. To have Alex study at CY is a dream come true for his Eema. To have him love his time at the CY and want to return is a blessing. For Alex to want to share so much of it with his Eema is a gift that I will treasure for the rest of my life.

Rabbah Arlene Berger
Education Director of the Chavurah at Sixth and I Historic Synagogue,
Washington, DC

Alex Berger,
UMD, Class of 2017