Friday, December 22, 2023

Parshat Vayigash: Every Act We Take...

This week's Torah portion is Vayigash (Genesis 44:18-47:27). We are not yet slaves in Egypt. Judah and all the brothers have come to Egypt searching for food and while they meet Joseph, they do not yet know/recognize who he is. Last week, Joseph planted a goblet in Benjamin's pack to frame him for stealing - an excuse to keep his favorite (and only brother from the same mother) in Egypt with him as the rest of the brothers were preparing to go back to Canaan and Jacob. Judah (the one who was behind Joseph's alleged death) approaches Joseph to plead for Benjamin's release and to offer himself as a slave to the "Egyptian" Joseph. Joseph is so overcome by witnessing his brothers’ loyalty to one another that he finally reveals his identity by saying, "I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?"

These acts of brotherly love, remorse, and forgiveness set into play the final steps that will cause us to become slaves in Egypt. The brothers rejoice in finding their lost, and not dead!, brother. They return to Canaan to tell Jacob the news and then return with Jacob to Egypt to settle. It is only a matter of time before every one of this generation, most particularly Joseph, has died.  Then (in two weeks) we will read the fateful words in Exodus 1:8, "And there arose up a new king over Egypt, who knew not Joseph."  From there our 400 years of slavery will begin. 


We know, because it is in the Torah, that it was God's intention all along for the Israelites to become slaves, for Moses to become our leader, and for us to enter into the Promised Land. So this story had to play out as it did.  But what does it mean for us today? 


I often think of it as a cautionary tale - every individual action we take, every decision we make, leads to another and another and another. We have little control over "things" once they reach a certain point. Judah was the brother who encouraged the others to do away with Joseph. He felt he was able to control things on his end up to the point they told Jacob and eventually headed to Egypt for grain. After that... well we know what happened.


We are about to enter into a new year – 2024! For some reason, it still sounds futuristic to me. But what is very present is that we are living through one of the most difficult and confusing times of our lives. So what do we do? We remain aware that every decision we make will lead to another.  We use our words wisely and we remember that both the big and the small actions that we take can and DO make a difference. We must also permit ourselves to change course if and when needed. The one thing we can’t do is to give up. 


Shabbat Shalom


#BringThemHomeNOW #peace #OsehShalom #עושהשלום# שבתשלום



Friday, November 10, 2023

I fell in love… and fell off a camel!

I had always been fascinated by the story of how Rebecca reacted the first time she saw Isaac. Some English translations translate "va'tipol" as alighting from the camel, I translate this word as she fell off the camel. The visual of Rebecca actually falling off the camel  always appealed to me as a young girl when I first engaged with this text. Additionally, my hebrew name is Rivka/Rebecca so I have been called to write about Rebecca and her story. This is the first midrash I ever wrote.  Enjoy! 

 I fell in love… and fell off a camel!

The Original Order of the Verses in Bereshit/Genesis 24: 64-65

(סד) וַתִּשָּׂא רִבְקָה אֶת־עֵינֶיהָ וַתֵּרֶא אֶת־יִצְחָק וַתִּפֹּל מֵעַל הַגָּמָל: (סה) וַתֹּאמֶר אֶל־הָעֶבֶד מִי־הָאִישׁ הַלָּזֶה הַהֹלֵךְ בַּשָּׂדֶה לִקְרָאתֵנוּ וַיֹּאמֶר הָעֶבֶד הוּא אֲדֹנִי וַתִּקַּח הַצָּעִיף וַתִּתְכָּס:

(64) Raising her eyes, Rebekah saw Isaac. She fell from the camel (65) and said to the servant, “Who is that man walking in the field toward us?” And the servant said, “That is my master.” So she took her veil and covered herself.

The Reordering of the Verses for the Purposes of this Midrash

 וַתִּשָּׂא רִבְקָה אֶת־עֵינֶיהָ וַתֵּרֶא אֶת־יִצְחָק... וַתֹּאמֶר אֶל־הָעֶבֶד מִי־הָאִישׁ הַלָּזֶה הַהֹלֵךְ בַּשָּׂדֶה לִקְרָאתֵנוּ וַיֹּאמֶר הָעֶבֶד הוּא אֲדֹנִי ...וַתִּפֹּל מֵעַל הַגָּמָל...וַתִּקַּח הַצָּעִיף וַתִּתְכָּס:

Raising her eyes, Rebekah saw Isaac… and said to the servant, “Who is that man walking in the field toward us?” And the servant said, “That is my master.”… She fell from the camel… and she took her veil and covered herself.

I fell in love… and fell off a camel!

My family gave me a powerful blessing – the promise of Avraham – of continuity – of peoplehood – that was to flow through me and only me. As much as I love my immediate family, even I recognize that it is filled with those who practice deceit as easily as most draw breath. These are the ones who blessed me to create a people – can the source of a blessing turn it into a curse? Am I even worthy to be the wife of a tzaddik like Yitzchak? Or am I inherently evil as well? These are the thoughts that occupied my mind as I journeyed to meet my intended.

After a long while I lifted my eyes and saw a man walking across a field toward me. Even from where I sat on my camel I could see that he was the most beautiful man I had ever seen. He was glowing and there was an angel walking beside him. I asked the servant who is that man (ha-lazeh) and he informed me that it was my husband-to-be, Yitzchak.

Is it possible for one’s life to change forever in the space of just a few moments? At the very moment I fell in love I received a terrible vision from Gd. From this union, from my joining with my beloved, from me, a child would be born who would cause misery and injury to his brethren for thousands of generations!

Suddenly I could not breathe. The world began to spin around me. The next thing I knew I was falling from my camel. I quickly covered my face with my scarf so the servant would not notice my pale face, my distress… my panic. I took a breath and rose to meet my future.

Let me know if you are interested in the sources for this midrash and I will post them.

Shabbat Shalom.

Pray for Peace

Friday, November 3, 2023

Parshat Vayerah: Knowing Our Moral Compass and Speaking our Truth

            There are many lessons to be learned from Vayera, this week’s Torah Portion (Genesis 18:1 - 22:24). There is an unspeakable war raging in Israel and Gaza. One thing that jumped out at me as a Jew living in the Diaspora during this soul wrenching time is that we all must live and speak our truth and be ready to defend this truth when it is challenged. We must know ourselves and we must speak up. At the same time, we see daily that there are consequences in every country in the world right now to speaking our truth and living our values but that does not allow us to stop doing so. 

            Brief recap from a section of this week’s Torah portion: God hears a crying out from Sodom, one of 5 cities God ultimately destroys due to their embrace of evil. In Genesis 18:17-21 God wonders whether or not to share the intention of destroying Sodom with Abraham, a testament to the particular relationship between God and Abraham. We assume that God does share God’s plan because a couple of verses later we encounter the following exchange (Gen 18:22b-32): 


22b … Abraham remained standing before the Lord. 

23 Abraham came forward and said, "Will You sweep away the innocent along with the guilty? 24 What if there should be fifty innocent within the city; will You then wipe out the place and not forgive it for the sake of the innocent fifty who are in it? 25 Far be it from You to do such a thing, to bring death upon the innocent as well as the guilty, so that innocent and guilty fare alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?" 26 And the Lord answered, "If I find within the city of Sodom fifty innocent ones, I will forgive the whole place for their sake."

27 Abraham spoke up, saying, "Here I venture to speak to my Lord, I who am but dust and ashes: 28 What if the fifty innocent should lack five? Will You destroy the whole city for want of the five?" And He answered, "I will not destroy if I find forty-five there." 

29 But he spoke to Him again, and said, "What if forty should be found there?" And He answered, "I will not do it, for the sake of the forty."

30 And he said, "Let not my Lord be angry if I go on: What if thirty should be found there?" And He answered, "I will not do it if I find thirty there." 

31 And he said, "I venture again to speak to my Lord: What if twenty should be found there?" And He answered, "I will not destroy, for the sake of the twenty." 

32 And he said, "Let not my Lord be angry if I speak but this last time: What if ten should be found there?" And He answered, "I will not destroy, for the sake of the ten."


            What an amazing exchange! Abraham, a mere human, has the audacity, the chutzpah to challenge the Supernatural All-Powerful God of the Torah.  Not just to challenge to but to scold and bargain to boot – all in the name of saving innocent lives. The rabbis teach that the reason we are descended from Abraham and not from Noah is this very moment. Abraham actuated his morals and values and went to bat with God for innocent people that he did not even know while Noah did not even pray to save those that he did know.  

                        In the end, God could not locate 10 innocents in Sodom. God rains fire upon Sodom, Gomorrah and 3 neighboring cities known for having a skewed moral compass, for being evil, for endangering the poor and the stranger and anyone who tried to help them. 

            What was Abraham feeling right before and during that exchange? Fear? Moral indignation? Resignation that his personality was such that he must do what he must do, consequences be damned? I can’t even begin to discuss where his faith comes into all of this. In the end, though, we will never know what he was thinking and feeling. The best we can do is figure out how we would feel and act in a similar circumstance – or perhaps recall how we have felt and acted when we stood up for what’s right. When we spoke our truth. When we have lived our values. 

            Is this what our fellow Jews are feeling worldwide as they stand up for life, tolerance, safety, the gift of being Jewish and the right of our homeland to exist? Is this how those who are working to free those innocent hostages – the adults, the elderly, the children, the babies! – are feeling right now? 

            My blessing for each of us this Shabbat is that we are able to recognize our values and to speak our truth. We can speak aloud; we can speak softly. I used to thing that there is no right or wrong way to speak, to declare our truth but I was wrong. The wrong way is to be silent. I am in no way saying every one of us must shout and protest. But we must be honest enough with ourselves to identify and own exactly what is our truth and how do we bring it out into the world. Therefore, the key is to know our moral compass, and, for those who are able, to speak our truth and accept the outcomes of that action. All the while knowing, from Pirke Avot 2:16ֹא עָלֶיךָ הַמְּלָאכָה לִגְמֹר, וְלֹא אַתָּה בֶן חוֹרִין לִבָּטֵל מִמֶּנָּהל - that even if we personally cannot impact the outcomes of events, that does not mean we are allowed to desist from trying. 


עם ישראל חי!


Note: This Dvar was originally written in 2020 but has been updated to reflect things I’ve been feeling/thinking about as the war in Israel and Gaza and the rise in hatred for Jews and the right of Israel to exist rages world wide as well as here in America, particularly on our college campuses. I can't help wondering if I am doing enough. 

Friday, October 13, 2023

Prayer for Peace by Landow House Residents

I want to share with you a Prayer for Peace in the words of the residents of Landow House Assisted Living, part of the Charles E Smith Life Communities of Rockville, MD
We had a prayer service on Tuesday 10/10/23 and then spent time talking and sharing. I took their words and turned them into a prayer.

Feel free to use this if it moves you.

Prayer for Peace

Words of the residents of Landow House Assisted Living, Charles E Smith Life Communities,

Dear God,
Creator of the Universe and all who are in it,
Wake up!
I am so angry. We are so angry.
How did this happen?
Open your eyes to see how your children need your help.
Bring the hostages home!
Stop the killing of babies and children and teenagers and elderly
Protect all our children and grandchildren
All your children and grandchildren

Please help me to continue to recognize the good
Teach me to turn the bad into the good

We’ve been beaten down before and likely will be again,
but we will always prevail
And make the most of life – again and again and again

Let security replace hopelessness and helplessness
Let love replace hate
Let peace replace war
Let understanding replace fear
For Israel and for the entire world

And let us say, Amen

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Rosh Chodesh Elul 5783

Today is Rosh Chodesh Elul, the Hebrew month set aside by the sages for us to contemplate the state of our our relationships and the state of our soul. How do we relate to others, to God, to ourselves (you know, that little voice in our heads)?  

May we all participate in the hard work of self reflection and relationship building in the weeks ahead. 

Wishing us all success!

Thursday, June 1, 2023

God's Blessing Flows Through Us

God's Blessing Flows Through Us 

Parshat Naso: Numbers 4:21-7:89


Parshat Naso contains some of the most powerful words of our people:


“Speak to Aaron and his sons: Thus shall you bless the people of Israel. Say to them:

Yivarechecha Adonai viyishmirecha /May the Eternal bless you and protect you!

Ya'er Adonai panav elecha veechuneka /May the Eternal deal kindly and graciously with you!

Yeesa Adonai panav elecha viyasem lecha shalom /May the Eternal bestow favor upon you and grant you peace!

Thus they shall link My name with the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” (Numbers 6:23-27)


These words, are read every year the Shabbat after the holiday of Shavuot and Matan Torah, the Giving/Receiving of the Torah. They are given to the Kohanim as an eternal charge. The Kohanim, the Priests, are told that one of their responsibilities will be to bless the people; these words are the exact words with which to do so. This section of instruction ends with the phrase, “and I will bless them.” This indicates that the blessing comes not from the Kohanim but rather flows through the Kohanim. The words with which the Kohanim are instructed to bless us, also tell us something important: that the Kohanim are the vessels through which God’s words come to us.


When the Israelites lived in the land of Israel and the Temple existed, the Kohanim were able to fulfill their charge and bless the People during a ceremonial Temple service. Once the Second Temple was destroyed, the Kohanim were unable to perform many of their formal roles, including the ritual blessing.  Over time, Judaism evolved/adapted and sometime in the early 17th century the custom of parents blessing their children on Shabbat with these words began to be mentioned in books. (See "Brautspiegel," a popular treatise on morals, written by Moses Henochs; a book which appeared in Basel in 1602.) It is not surprising we took one of our most sacred moments of blessing and innovated using it as a blessing in the home, of our children. The Talmudic Sages began this process of innovation in exile in order to make sure that our heritage, the Torah and its teachings, would survive despite the fact that we no longer had a Temple in which to worship.


From Kohanim blessing the Children of Israel at the Temple to parents blessing their children around the dinner table, we have drawn a direct line from the biblical injunction for the Kohanim to bless to recreating that moment of sanctity in our homes, around our tables. We are taught that every Jewish home is a Mikdash Me’at, a miniature Sanctuary, a small holy place. It is as if the table at which our families gather, eat, and celebrate holidays takes the place of the altar. 


I have blessed my children nearly every Shabbat of their lives.  It is always the holiest moment of my week – whether the blessing occurs around the dinner table, on the run as the grandchildren are being put to bed, by letter, email, text, phone call or even video chat. The realization that I am transmitting these holiest of words, even in the most chaotic of moments of blessing, brings me peace. It is a profound feeling to know that I am a link in the chain of our long history and our tradition. The words of the blessing, God’s words, flow through us because, as is stated in 6:27b, “and I will bless them.” My greatest desire is that these words will continue to flow through my grandchildren and the generations to come.


 Shabbat Shalom!

First posted at

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Parshat Vayeshev: One person can make all the difference

The pivotal moment in this week’s Torah portion is the meeting between Joseph and the man known as “ha-ish/the man,” who is otherwise not named. His time in our story is brief, yet by meeting him, Joseph’s destiny, and with it the destiny of the Jewish people, is changed forever.

Genesis 37:13 provides the setup for what is to come: “Israel said to Joseph, ‘Your brothers are pasturing at Shechem. Come, I will send you to them.’ He answered, ‘Hineni/I am ready.’”We follow Joseph as he leaves his father’s home and sets off to find his brothers.

Once he arrives in Shechem, he gets lost and meets a man in a field. The story continues: “…When he reached Shechem, a man [ish] came upon him wandering in the fields. The man asked him, ‘What are you looking for?’ He answered, ‘I am looking for my brothers. Could you tell me where they are pasturing?’ The man said, ‘They have gone from here, for I heard them say: Let us go to Dothan.’ So Joseph followed his brothers and found them at Dothan” (Genesis 37:14 – 17).

Who was this Ish, this random man? Rashi (12th century France) suggests that he may have been the angel Gabriel. Ibn Ezra (12th century Spain) suggests he was just a passerby. 

The simplest way to read the story is that the Ish was placed in Joseph’s path by God to ensure that Joseph would get to where he needed to go in order that God’s promise to Abraham will be fulfilled. “Know well that your offspring shall be strangers in a land not theirs, and they shall be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years” (Genesis 15:13).

This serendipitous meeting with a stranger in the field sets Joseph upon a path that changed the entire Jewish future.  Thanksgiving was just a few weeks ago and we are heading into Chanukah. Both of these holidays, one secular, one religious, call to us to be better people.

We are to acknowledge gratitude, the richness of being in community, and the recognition that we can create change.

The importance of the serendipitous stranger calls to me. One chance meeting can make a difference. One ordinary person can become extraordinary by taking a moment to help someone in distress. One person can truly make a difference.