04/22/2019 01:00 PM Posted by: Poster Avatar
The 2019-2020 school calendar is posted HERE.
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11/02/2018 12:03 PM Posted by: David Cohen Poster Avatar
Chayei Sarah (The Life of Sarah)
Genesis 23:1−25:18
Sarah lived to be 127 years old--such was the span of Sarah's life.
"Adding Life to Years"
A D'var Torah by Rabbi Stephen S. Pearce, Ph.D.

What is it that most people want to become but nobody wants to be? This paradox is no riddle, it is simply a reality of life. In our youth-oriented culture, almost everyone wants to reach old age but no one wants to be old. Consider the elixirs, tinctures, potions, stairmasters, elyptical trainers, and so many other nostrums and contraptions employed to aid in the search for the fountain of youth whereby we hope to forestall and even halt the inexorable march of time.

The tension between growing old and wanting to stay young takes on greater urgency because the aging population today is quite different from that of any other period in history, evidenced by the sheer number of people living beyond retirement age. The 65-74-age category is approximaely eight times larger than it was in 1900; the number of 75-84 year olds is 17 times larger; and the 85-and-up population is nearly 40 times larger. Future projections indicate that by the year 2030, there will be more than 70 million people over the age of 65, and the population aged 85 and over, the group most likely to need health- and long-term care services, also will increase dramatically.

Today, lives no longer conform to past expectations and patterns. Marriage, schooling, career, child bearing, and child rearing are more fluid than ever before. Many do not look or act their chronological age, making necessary new benchmarks for the retired set, a mixture of young-old, old-old, sick-old, well-old, well-off-old, and so forth.

Chayei Sarah was written at a time when growing old was the exception rather than the rule. It is a narrative that bids a reader to pause and consider the prospect of aging and the personal hope that growing old will be gentle and graceful rather than severe and graceless. The text reminds the reader that Sarah was 127 when she died (Genesis 23:1) while Abraham lived to be 175 (Genesis 25:7). Both Sarah and Abraham accomplished their most significant achievements in the latter part of their lives, well past the age that would be considered feasible today. Abraham set out on his fateful journey at God’s command from Haran (in northwest Mesopotamia — modern-day Iraq) to "the land that I will show you” at age 75 (Genesis 12:1, 4). When Abraham reached age 90, God revealed Himself to Abraham and promised to make his descendents exceedingly numerous (Genesis 17:4-6). At age 99, Abraham was commanded to circumcise himself (Genesis 17:24). Although, Sarah, at age 90, and Abraham, at age 100, were well past normal child-bearing years, nevertheless, Isaac was born (Genesis 21:2-3). Thus, for Sarah and Abraham, age provided no barrier to accomplishment. They launched themselves onto new pathways at a time when they might have been expected to retire to rocking chairs.

Those who think that growing old is just mind over matter fail to recognize that genes, nutrition, proper care, exercise, and just plain luck cannot be disregarded. Nevertheless, an individual’s attitude toward aging is important. Contrast the comment of one older woman, "I tried being old a couple of years ago and I hated it, so I am never going to do that again,” with that of the 91 year old standing by a grave at the end of a interment service who said to me, "You know, rabbi, it hardly pays for me to go home.”

Attitude is, indeed, important. Some years ago, I visited a woman who was celebrating her 99th birthday. As I left, I cheerfully said, "I hope I will be able to come back next year to celebrate your 100th birthday with you.” "Why shouldn’t you?” she asked. "You look perfectly healthy to me.”

Until this modern age, those who managed to grow old were anomalous; few people lived long enough to prevent leisure time, longed for when young, from becoming a burden when aged.

The Book of Proverbs finds increasing currency in an age when the number of septuagenarians, octogenarians, nonagenarians, centenarians, and even a sprinkling of supercentenarians (those 110 years old or more) are rapidly increasing: "The gray hair is a crown of glory” (Proverbs 16:31). By extension, Rabbinic tradition teaches: "ben arba-im labinah, ben chamishim l‘eitzah ... ben sh’monim lig’vurah — at forty one is fit for discernment; at fifty for counsel … at eighty for strength” (Pirkei Avot 5.21). These are not isolated statements about growing old; comparable maxims fill the pages of traditional texts, aphorisms that can be utilized in formulating attitudes about growing old gracefully. The example of Sarah and Abraham’s longevity, and the accomplishments realized during their advanced years provide new ways of thinking about adding meaningful life to extended years, fulfilling the Psalmist’s prayer: "Teach us to count our days rightly, that we may obtain a wise heart” (Psalms 90:12).
Categorized under:  Torah

10/26/2018 12:04 PM Posted by: David Cohen Poster Avatar
I (God) Appeared [to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob]
Genesis 18:1–22:24
The Eternal appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre as he was sitting at the entrance of the tent at about the hottest time of the day.

A creative D'var Torah on the Binding of Isaac, by Rabbi Steven S. Pearce, Ph.D

Did you ever wonder what Abraham thought about in the years following his "almost-sacrifice” of his son Isaac? In this midrashic monologue based on Parashat Vayeira, we imagine Abraham’s inner struggles:

"As I held up the knife, I knew I had failed. In my passion to please, I lost my head and my son Isaac nearly lost his too.

"Three days before, I heard God talking about Isaac, my son, my only one (from Sarah), the one who was so beloved (Rashi on Gen. 22:2). God said, v’ha-aleihu sham l’olah, "bring him up as an olah,” (Gen. 22:2). I figured God wanted a sacrifice, because the word olah, from the Hebrew root ayin-lamed-hei, means, "to rise up.” You light a fire, making a sacrifice, and the smoke rises up to God.

"If the Holy One wanted me to sacrifice Isaac, who was I to question? In fact, I rose early to do God’s bidding, completing the preparations myself: I saddled my own donkey and chopped the wood myself (Gen. 22:3). I was so pumped to please that I forgot to consult with Sarah. Didn’t even kiss her goodbye.

"What was I thinking? Maybe I wasn’t.

"This Akeidah (binding of Isaac), the almost-sacrifice of my son by my own hand, remains the most painful moment in my life. Some characterize this incident as an example of deep, unquestioning faith (Nehama Leibowitz, New Studies in Bereshit, p.190) saying I loved God so much I was willing to give up the child we waited so long to bear. Others portray this as a definitive repudiation of child sacrifice because ultimately I did not kill my kid. In each case, I seem heroic.

"Yet each night as I toss and turn, I wonder how I could have so been such a dangerous fool. I completely misunderstood God’s intended purpose (Rabbi James Jacobson-Maisels, commentary on Pri Ha’Aretz:Vayera, Institute for Jewish Sprituality). That Hebrew root ayin-lamed-hei, meaning "sacrifice,” also points to the word aliyah, meaning "spiritual uplift.” In retrospect, I realize that God did not specify sh’chateihu, "slaughter him,” but only ha-aleihu, "bring him up.” Did God want me to bring Isaac up top the mountain to introduce him to my passion for the Divine, and then bring him back down? (Rashi on Gen. 22:2; B’reishit Rabbah 56:8). It was supposed to be father-son spiritual "quality time” (Tanchuma, Vayeira, 22).

"In my haste, I sacrificed the protection of my child. I caused our family significant stress and pain. I scarred my son for life. When Isaac closes his eyes, does he also see the horrific image of me raising up the knife?

"Thankfully, the angel of God stopped me in time, providing a ram in Isaac’s place. Afterward, God was kind, but not pleased. Praising me saying, "I will bless you greatly (Gen. 22:17),” reaffirming love for my descendants, God also signaled that humans may no longer employ cruel or intimidating means to show our love for God (Rashi on Gen. 22:12).

"The angel’s words may remind some of parents who walk into a freshly painted house to be greeted by their smiling young child saying, "Come see how much I love you.” In the next room, the child proudly shows off a picture of a red heart, drawn on the wall, inside of which are the words, "Daddy/Mommy, I love you.” How does a parent respond to such a display of love? Many parents would yell loudly. But if we stop first to think about it, we might say, with tears in our eyes, "I love you too, my child. Try to use paper next time. And you may not write on the walls. But, I love you too!”

"This incident transformed our relationships. Isaac took off, and we never spoke again. I fear he will skip my funeral. God ceased direct communication with me, using intermediaries from that moment on. Sarah died before I returned home and could tell her.

"And me? I cannot even stand myself. Because I failed the real test. I loved God but I didn’t love God’s child sufficiently (Rashi on Gen. 22:12; B'reishit Rabbah 56:7). Because I didn’t protect my Isaac. That’s the message for future generations: God wants us to love and protect our children as the ultimate expression of our love for God.

"It doesn’t get any clearer than that, does it?”

Categorized under:  Torah

10/19/2018 12:35 PM Posted by: David Cohen Poster Avatar
Lech Lecha (Go Forth)
GENESIS 12:1−17:27
The Eternal said to Abram, "Go forth from your land, your birthplace, your father's house, to the land that I will show you."

A Letter from Abram
A very creative D'var Torah by Rabbi Steven S. Pearce, Ph.D

Dear Mom and Dad,

By the time you read this letter, Sarai and I, and our nephew Lot, will be well on our way to the land of Canaan. I wanted to say goodbye to you personally, but couldn’t figure out how to tell you we were leaving and not coming back. I love you dearly and would never do anything to hurt you.

Why are we leaving? The short answer is that God told me to leave. I know that may sound strange to you, but for some time now I have had a strong feeling that I didn’t belong here. Don’t get me wrong. Haran is a beautiful city and I have enjoyed living here, but it has never been home.

I remember when we left Ur, you told me that one of the reasons we had to go was that it never felt like home. At the time, I couldn’t understand it because it was the only place I had ever known. But now I get it. It is not about where you are born or where you have lived the longest. It is about where you feel you belong, and I just never have felt that I belong here.

I am sure you remember the day a few years ago that you left me alone in your idol shop. At first, I was so proud that you trusted me and gave me the responsibility. I really thought that I could do a good job, but when the first person came into the store I realized that my heart wasn’t in it. And then, well, you remember what happened. I don’t know what came over me, but before I realized what I was doing all of the idols were smashed except for the biggest one. And I felt so good. You were so much more understanding than I expected you to be. Maybe you knew then what it took me much longer to discover.

I remember those stories you used to tell me as a young child about the struggles of the gods Marduk and Tiamat. I was so intrigued by those tales and wanted you to tell me more. At some point, though, I realized that they were just stories. And later I realized that the idols were just pieces of stone. Everyone around me continued to be intrigued by those stories and enthralled with the idols but they just didn’t speak to me anymore.

At first, I thought that there was something wrong with me and I really tried to continue to believe, but my heart wasn’t in it. For a long time I just felt empty and I didn’t think that there was any "being” out there and thought that we were it. I just laughed at those people who bought their little idols, set them up in their homes or stores, and trusted that they would protect them. And then, when something awful happened, they thought it was because they had the wrong idol and would buy a different one. I shook my head.

But soon I felt that something was missing. I would sit up late at night and gaze at the stars and wonder how everything came into being.

"Who created the heaven and the earth and me?” I wondered.

Maybe it was the sun that created everything, I thought. But when the sun set at the end of the day, I knew it could not be the sun. Perhaps the moon and stars, I thought. But they disappeared during the day. Still, I soon came to realize that it couldn’t all be by chance; there had to be someone behind it all, some being that we couldn’t see that must be there.

Of course, I couldn’t tell anyone; they would just laugh at me. "A God you cannot see! That’s ridiculous.”
I felt so all alone, like I no longer belonged here. I guess that is when I first began hearing a voice within me saying, Lech l’cha, "Go! Get out of here.”

I tried to ignore it at first. Where would I go? But each day it grew a little stronger. "Lech l’cha—Go for your own sake! Lech l’cha—Go to your roots/discover who you really are.” Pretty soon it didn’t seem so crazy after all.

And then I remembered. When we left Ur, we were headed to the land of Canaan. That was where we were supposed to end up. For some reason—I don’t think you ever told me—we stopped in Haran and settled here. No wonder I felt like I never belonged.

And that is when I knew that I had to leave. I had to complete the journey we had started. I had to set out for the land of Canaan.

I was so excited and couldn’t wait to tell you. You and I and Sarai and Lot and the rest of our family could make the journey together. But then I realized that perhaps I was meant to go to Canaan and not you. I struggled with this thought for many days. A couple of times I almost blurted out my plans wanting to beg you to go with me. But each time something stopped me.

And then I just knew that it was my moment, my journey, my lech l’cha.

That was just a week ago. I didn’t tell anyone, not even Sarai. I began preparing for our trip; you might have noticed a few things missing from around the house.

I should have been sad. After all, I was leaving you and the rest of the family and this place where we have lived. But I wasn’t sad. And that’s when I knew I had made the right decision.

I never went to bed last night. After you and mom were asleep, I woke up Sarai and told her to get dressed. She was confused at first and didn’t want to go. But then she saw the look in my eyes and knew that it was futile to argue. We then woke up Lot and our servants. After that I placed this letter on the kitchen table we took off.

Please don’t be angry with me. I hope you understand why I can’t stay here and had to make this journey.
And know this: unless you had set out from Ur to go to Canaan, I wouldn’t have been able to do what I am doing. That was the beginning; I am only finishing what you started.

Who knows how it will end up? But I have never been more certain in my life that this is the right thing to do. You will always be with me.

I love you,

Categorized under:  Torah

10/12/2018 12:08 PM Posted by: David Cohen Poster Avatar
GENESIS 6:9−11:32
NOACH (Noah was a righteous man; in his generation, he was above reproach: Noah walked with God)
D'var Torah by Rabbi Steven S. Pearce, Ph.D

In Parashat Noach, the designation of Noah as an, ish tzaddik tamim, a "blameless” or "wholehearted person in his age” (Genesis 6:9) provides an opportunity to focus on a biblical model for a behavioral ideal. Although Noah’s inner life does not match his behavior. Commentators frequently criticized his conduct, including a lack of compassion.  Nevertheless, the designation of Noah as wholehearted provides grist for understanding the biblical view of ideal behavior.

The Hebrew word, tamim, "whole heartedness,” resonates throughout sacred Jewish literature and is favorably utilized to describe a number of biblical protagonists. The meaning of the variety of closely related words — t’mimei, t’mimah, and t’mimim — is best captured by the opening line of Psalm 119: Ashrei t’mimei-darech, hahol’chim b’torat Adonai, "Happy are those whose way is blameless [t’mimei-darech], who follow the teaching of the Eternal” (Psalm 119:1).

Of course, there are exceptions to rules. Of the Passover Haggadah’s four sons, the one who does not know how to ask is called a tam, translated from the Hebrew as a "simple son,” and portrayed as guileless, immature, inexperienced, and without much, if any, intellectual capacity. His naïve, innocent question, Mah zot? — "What is this?” — casts him as a simpleton who is led to an uncomplicated answer appropriate to his unsophisticated level of understanding. However, this portrayal of t’mimut as the opposite of wise is inaccurate because in most other texts, being a tam is defined by purity, truth, genuineness, being unblemished and blameless, and having integrity (see: Proverbs 10:29). Deuteronomy (18:13) best describes this more expansive and accurate meaning in the command: Tamim tih’yeh im Adonai Elohecha, "You must be wholehearted [tamim] with the Eternal your God.”

Abraham was commanded by God to "walk along before Me and be pure of heart [vehyeih tamim]” (Genesis 17:1). Jacob was described as an ish tam, "a gentle or mild-mannered man” (Genesis 25:27). In two instances, God describes Job as tam v’yashar, "a blameless and upright man who fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8; 2:3).

Jacob ben Meir, known as Rabeinu Tam, grandson of the medieval commentator Rashi and the greatest of the Baalei Tosafot (skilled commentators whose insights form the core of Talmud study) was a man of integrity and wholeness, and certainly not a simpleton. Centuries later, Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav reported that he spent all of his life trying to achieve t’mimut, "purity, integrity, undivided faithfulness, and wholeheartedness.” Medieval commentator Bachya ibn Pakuda, the author of Chovot HaLevavot, The Duties of the Heart, further explained the ideal of t’mimut as "…complete harmony between inner and outward actions…. This is what the Holy Writ (in Psalms) refers to in the term "whole-hearted,” when it admonishes us to be "whole-hearted with the Eternal your God,” and commends "he that holech tamim — walks uprightly, works righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart” (Ps. 15:2).

Rabbi Jacob Isaac Horowitz, the Seer of Lublin, once asked: "Should a person strive for greatness or wholeness?” He explained using the example of two challot, one large but sliced and one small but whole. It is customary to bless the whole one because wholeness is more valuable than greatness. By extension, Rabbi Yitzhak Elchanan of Kovno cited the familiar verse from Psalms (19:8), Torat Adonai t’mimah, "The Torah of God is perfect,” whole, or complete, to explain that a Torah missing even one letter is pasul, "flawed,” and cannot be used because the missing letter destroys its t’mimut, its "wholeness.” Furthermore, so important was tamim, "integrity in Jewish law,” that an entire proceeding was debarred if one witness was disqualified. Similarly, when an individual misses one opportunity to sanctify life, one act that strays from the highest ideals of the Torah, then something is lacking in that person.

T’mimut, "wholeness,” in ourselves and in a broken world in need of tikkun, "fixing,” is the model that Noah and other wholehearted righteous individuals provide Jews in every age. Today, more than ever, the nature of an ish tamim, a blameless or wholehearted person, should serve as a reminder of the noblest ways in which Jews ought to conduct their lives.

Categorized under:  Torah

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