03/09/2018 11:08 AM Posted by: David Cohen
Vayak'heil - P'kudei
[Moses] Assembled / [The] Records [of the Tabernacle]
Exodus 35:1–40:38

Space and Time.

This is the contrast in this week’s Parashah.  For weeks we have been reading about the careful construction of the holy Mishkan that will house the spirit and laws of God as the Israelites travel across the wilderness.  We often do present the wonderful metaphor of our own bodies and minds also housing the spirit and word of God – much like the Mishkan - but primarily this is a story about the importance of space and physical constructs.  Our students really do understand both these concepts – the metaphor and the literal meaning of the Mishkan in this ongoing story.

Then we get to Shabbat.  Our sages speak of the inclusion of Shabbat in this Parashah as kind of wake-up call or at least a reminder about the risks of focusing too much on the physical.  Shabbat is of course about time.  Shabbat is not a physical place to be.  It is, in a sense, a state of mind.  Yes, we have a tradition of gathering on Shabbat as a community to read from Torah around the occurrence of Shabbat.  But the commandment about Shabbat – as retold by Moses – is about personal and individual rest and restraint from work.  We retell the creation story and are commanded to rest on the 7th day just as God did.  

Much or our faith tradition revolves around balancing these two concepts of place and time – or form and formlessness.  So it should be no surprise that much of our Jewish politics also revolves around the contrast between the physical and the non-physical.  We cherish the sanctuary and the congregations we join.  But our relationship with God – and Shabbat – is not dependent upon it.  We value and cherish Israel as the birthplace or our people and the modern manifestation of a national Jewish identity.  But for centuries, scholars have asked how the physical place impacts the global Jewish ideologies of today.  

The Parashah seems to emphasize what is so hard to grasp in our modern era.  The answer to the question of space and time is not a zero sum game.  The physical is always important,but it can’t be the total sum of our focus.  Form-less concepts like God, Shabbat and Middot, are vital to who we are as Jews.  But without the ritual, the physical, and the space to connect to –many of us might not have the grounding we need.

Lessons abound in our texts, but maybe none are as important as those that point out contradictions we need to wrestle with on a daily basis.  This seeming contradiction between time and space, between the form and the formless – this could be one that we revisit time and time again as we ask the serious questions about our identity, our Judaism, our connection to Israel, and our connection to our community.  
Categorized under:  Torah

03/02/2018 12:04 PM Posted by: David Cohen

Ki Tisa - When You Take a Census
Exodus 30:11−34:35

In this week’s Parasha, we have a continuation of our instructions from God – in this case instructions about a Census, or the counting of the tribes of Jacob.  However, we also bear witness to the dramatic story of the Golden calf – a time when the impatient tribes of Israel decided Moses wasn’t coming back from his trip to commune with God.
While these two segments of our story seem disconnected, one could see them as part and parcel of the same unfolding story.  

People often wonder how the newly freed slaves, after all the miracles of the Exodus, could so easily turn to an idol as opposed to their own God.  In many commentaries we are reminded of what the reality of living in Egypt may have been like.  Whatever picture we may have in our minds of a Jewish community, what existed in Egypt was most likely very different and not very cohesive.  The need for a census informs this conversation.  In every major city in North America, we have regular "counting” of the Jewish community by our own Jewish Federations for the purposes of funding and the study of population trends.  No such organizing of our community existed back then.  We also must keep in mind that this "community” had not received their laws yet.  Without the Torah we are left to wonder what exactly made them "Jews” aside from belonging to the lineage of Jacob?

Many also believe this was a very assimilated group.  Joseph’s example is just one, but the text does seem to indicate that prior to one particular Egyptian King coming to power, the Hebrews were not looked upon poorly.  Even so, one could definitely ask how could they be so assimilated with the Egyptians at one time and then be so ostracized and treated poorly at another.  Well, we need only look to our modern History to understand how this can happen.  It is quite easy for a small difference to be the basis for hatred, bigotry and bias that may be lying dormant.  

Interestingly, it is at this time in our Jewish calendar that we visit Shushan and hear the story of Esther.  People may not realize that there were many other scrolls written in ancient times that did not make it into our Jewish cannon, but our sages thought so highly of this this text that it was included.  We are compelled to ask why.  It may be because this story of Esther had become our constant story of survival among others since our time in Egypt.  Yes we will conquer the Promised Land in future chapters, and yes in modern times we will have the state of Israel.  But in so many ways, the Jewish story is the story of the surviving as the "other” in a larger communal or world order.

The Shabbat before Purim is known as "Shabbat Zachor” or the Shabbat of Remembrance.  We are asked to remember quite often in our tradition and this is a time to remember when were weak, on the outside, and were persecuted.  Shabbat Zachor, Purim, and even this story of the Golden Calf teach us lessons about being an "other” in a larger community.  Haman didn’t like Jews because they wouldn’t bow down to him.  We are not told exactly why Pharoah soured to the children of Jacob, but we are told that he thought them dirty and a threat to his rule – much like Haman told his own King.  In both stories we eventually prevail, but the pattern has been laid out for us – and we again are commanded not to forget.

In the modern day, Jews should be especially sensitive to those who are also "others.”  Shabbat Zachor is not just a story about another Haman like figure called Amelek, it is a story about someone who chose to prey on the most vulnerable among us.  A modern lesson we take from this is that a society is only as good as it treats is most vulnerable.  Purim is about the need to be brave when someone in power threatens a minority group for seemingly no reason.  

The Golden Calf is a clear indication that we were very much a part of Egyptian culture before we fell out of favor.  This is our modern story of Shoah as well.  The Jews of Poland were the most populous of any country in Europe.  They were seemingly so engrained in Polish society despite their difference.  Yet it was that very difference that resulted in the Jewish population in Poland now being one of the smallest in Europe.  And now there is actually debate over how that happened.  That is why we must remember.

Shabbat Zachor.  Purim.  Our life in Egypt.  And our life in Europe.  All reminders of how amazing it is to keep our identity in a larger society.  All reminders of how precarious that way of life is unless we stand up to those who try to prey upon the weak, the different, or the in-firmed.  These are lessons we give our students every day – and this season more than any is the time to reinforce them as strongly as we can. 
Categorized under:  Torah

02/23/2018 08:39 AM Posted by: David Cohen
T'tzaveh - [You] Shall Further Instruct
Exodus 27:20−30:10
You shall further instruct the Israelites …

The Mishkan - or the holy sanctuary – is once again at the center of our Parasha this week.  We continue to read of the details the Israelites are to follow to make this very important home for our laws - so that God "may dwell amongst them.”  
We continue this week with more stipulations about this sanctuary but are further instructed on the sons of Aaron, the priests who will attend to this sanctuary and its workings.  We are also instructed as to the eternal lamp that we see in almost every synagogue we may visit.

When speaking to our students last week, we spoke first about the way the Torah – or God’s words – can be a part of them and be spoken by them as a way to "house” the spirit of God.  This week we returned to a more literal Mishkan to ask a question about focus and respect.  I asked why they thought there was a need for so many specific rules and methods in their lives – whether it be at school or at home.  The answers were about how these things help us focus on the task at hand, take things seriously, and how they also keep us safe.  And so when entering a sanctuary – like when entering a school – having such guidance can really help us focus on our tasks and lends it a little respect.
Then we discussed what that really looks like in a synagogue or sanctuary.  What are the tasks at hand.  We focused on this one moment in the Parasha when God expands on his desire to "dwell among” the Israelites.  God tells Moses – in the midst of all of these details about the Mishkan – "For there I will meet with you, and there I will speak with you.  And there I will meet with the Israelites.”

We rarely think about prayer or our visits to a synagogue as a time to meet with and speak with God.  I asked them to think for a moment about what they would say in such a personal meeting.  What would they ask?  What would they want to say?  Some of the responses were profound.  Some were of praise for a job well done.  Some were about needing some help.  And some were about the need to stop bad things in the world – like what had just happened in Florida.  I asked them to hold on to that idea and those questions and think of their time in a sanctuary – the modern Mishkan – as a time they can always have that meeting with God and ask those very important questions. 

Additional Torah Study Resources: Torah Study /
T’tzaveh for Tots / T’tzaveh for Tweens / Leading a Family Torah Discussion

Categorized under:  Torah

02/16/2018 11:08 AM Posted by: David Cohen
T'rumah [Gifts]
Exodus 25:1−27:19
"The Eternal One spoke to Moses, saying: "Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts”

As we read the narratives of Genesis and early Exodus, one can easily see all of the compelling stories being told.  The drama of creation and the wonders of the Israelites escape from Egypt are great tools for our work with young children.  Once we get to these latter sections of Exodus, however, we begin to see a larger focus on the laws and guidelines that shape the future rituals and beliefs of the Jewish people.  In T’rumah, we are talking less about behaviors and more about the literal dimensions of the Mishkan the Israelites are told to build.  This Parashah has proven to be a challenge for teachers and Bar Mitzvah tutors alike as they struggle to find relevance and meaning for our younger students.

So let me propose three components of the story that have had success in letting students find relevance and feel connected to the story.  In many ways this Parasha, more than others that come before it, is actually more vital for our students to see their role in the story that is unfolding.  We read amidst all the details that describe the Mishkan or "sanctuary” this sentence.     "And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.”  

We can ask three revealing questions about this sentence that can unearth incredibly meaningful ideas.
1)  What is a Mishkan or Sanctuary?
2)  Why is it important that the Laws of Moses be housed there?
3)  What are the different meanings of "so that I may dwell among them?”

The concept of a Mishkan – a sanctuary or place of safety for the Laws of Moses – is one that can be either literal or figurative.  And what is amazing in this case is that both meanings are incredibly impactful for children.   If it is a literal home – a home is a place where they feel safe.  It is a place where they are protected not only from the elements, but by their parents who bathe them, feed them and love them.

So home is as much a physical structure as it is a place where you find all the things and people you love.  If that is how we talk about the Mishkan – as a place built with care and love for one of the most important things in our lives – like our children are for their parents – we can begin to attach amazing feelings of love and compassion for Torah and God. And of course, by saying that God is not just dwelling on earth but "among” the people, we have an excellent way to talk about God wanting to be among the people and not wanting be a distant God.  

On an entirely different level, we can speak about using the learning we get from Torah – and the literal reading of Torah – to talk about God and God’s laws living in us and being realized in the world through our actions.  How awesome is to be able talk both about a physical Sanctuary for those who prefer a concrete lesson – and then to be able to talk about PEOPLE as a kind of Mishkan that also keeps the laws alive and safe by learning them and living them?

This week in Torah service with our 4th and 5th grades, this was a large focus of our conversations and worship.  Rabbi Foster introduced the song V’asu Li Mikdash which presents these English lyrics:  "Oh Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary - pure and holy - tried and true and with thanksgiving, I’ll be a living sanctuary for you.”

The concept of BEING a living sanctuary can be a powerful message for a child and a teen.  To not only be the one who is meant to keep these special words safe, but also to be the one who is living out these values – for God – can be an "ah, ha” moment for many who hear this idea for the first time. 

Additional Torah Study Resources: Torah Study /

T’rumah for Tots / T’rumah for Tweens / Leading a Family Torah Discussion
Categorized under:  Torah

02/09/2018 12:25 PM Posted by: David Cohen
Mishpatim - [These Are the] Rules
Exodus 21:1−24:18
"These are the rules that you shall set before them.”

Compassion and Covenant.  These are two words that come to mind when considering this week’s Parasha.  Mishpatim – or rules – is at the core of what we read this week.  In the narrative, we have been exposed to the 10 commandments and we read about our gathering at Mount Sinai.  Moses and the Israelite leadership get additional "rules” from God, and we then have the compelling moment where the Jewish people are said to have accepted God’s law.
In reading the various laws, some seem rather mundane.  Lists are not often fun to read.  But upon closer look we see the root of some of our modern conceptions of community and governance.  When talking to students about this week’s Parasha, it is clear that they understand rules and what they are meant to do.  Whether they can follow them all the time is another story entirely.  But even our younger students seem to understand that rules keep them safe and ask them to be kind to others.  They understand that they shouldn’t steal someone else’s toy because they would not want someone to steal their toy.  And sharing is not only something they like to do, but it is clearly something that makes them feel good about themselves.

So when we read in this week’s narrative about the Sabbatical year – when we let the land rest and give what grows there to the poor, we see the roots of environmentalism and our impulse to care for the poor.  In so many other passages we read of fairness and restitution.  There is much to wrestle with that we may not agree with, but that overarching attempt to list rules that create a more just and fair society is admirable.

A very important part of this story is how those gathered at Sinai accepted these rules. It’s what makes this story about a covenant.  In some interpretations that means a code that must be followed – because it must be followed.  In the progressive tradition, the term "obligation” is used.  I have always agreed with that approach because obligation connotes a responsibility for a larger purpose.  Is a law to be followed just because – or because it signifies our role in bringing justice, compassion, and fairness into the world?

Children sometimes need "just because.”  But what they will need in order to make these laws a part of their being is the understanding that they have a role to play in a divine plan.  Having an obligation also implies choice.  If you accept this obligation – you have accepted your role as a partner in creating a just society.  If you choose not to – you are responsible for breaking it down.  Just like a classroom.  If you choose to follow rules, you have made a good choice that benefits all.  If you choose not to follow rules – even though you agreed with them – you are responsible for breaking apart its communal fabric.  It is amazing how at such a young age, we really do get that.


Additional Torah Study Resources: Torah Study /

Mishpatim for Tots / Mishpatim for Tweens / Leading a Family Torah Discussion

Categorized under:  Torah

02/02/2018 11:28 AM Posted by: David Cohen
Yitro (Jethro)
Jethro, priest of Midian, Moses' father-in-law, heard all that God had done for Moses and for Israel, God's people, how the Eternal had brought Israel out from Egypt.
Exodus 18:1-20:23

The weeks Parasha is named for the patriarch we encounter at the beginning of our post Egypt experience.  Yet, at the core of the Parasha sits the 10 Commandments and the story of Moses ascending Mount Sinai.  One can imagine how the story of Jethro (Yitro) might get overshadowed.

This week I asked our students to consider the importance or relevance of Jethro, Moses’ father in law, and consider his relationship to the 10 commandments.  Students were asked about a recent time when they needed advice or help, asked for it and got it.  Many were very forthcoming about struggles at home or at school.  One student even acknowledged having asked his mom how to be a better person.  

Students were curious to hear about a time when Moses also needed help. Moses, after leading the Israelites out of Egypt, was essentially a King without a crown.  He was our leader and our teacher – and he alone had communed with God.  I asked our students to remember how just a week before we had talked about our transformation in Egypt from a family to a Nation.  From a tribe to a people.  From hundreds to hundreds of thousands.  This mass of people with new-found freedom looked to only one place for guidance in their new reality.  And that was Moses.

Our texts reveal that Moses was not faring well under the strain of being the lone leader and from future texts, we know that discontent and rebellion was already brewing among the Israelites.  Jethro, a Midianite who did not know the God of the Israelites, saw Moses struggling and told him he could not continue this way.  This is an amazing interaction that details both the respect Jethro had for Moses and the humility Moses showed to a more experienced elder.  Jethro, a non-Jew if you will, becomes a true leader in our history who helps right this ship.  Essentially, Jethro proposes a governing structure to Moses – who had become Judge, Jury and Legislature for the people all in one.  Moses acknowledged how challenging it had become to serve the people and their needs and followed Jethro’s advice to appoint respected members of the community to positions of responsibility and to appoint many others to serve under them.

In the world of Jewish studies, this Parasha is often used to examine the very nature of leadership – even the sometimes thankless nature of service and leadership in a congregation.  It is also used as a template for the mentor/mentee relationship Moses and Jethro seemed to have formed – one based on mutual respect, honesty, and collaborative brainstorming.

For our students, they saw how challenging it might have been to manage that growing nation without a larger group of leaders and without any laws.  Hence the connection to the 10 Commandments.  This Parasha is about the very practical evolution of the disparate individuals who left Egypt and were becoming a very distinct Jewish nation.
Our students were even able to wrestle with some of the central commandments and consider how important each one was – and what our first commandment – that Adonai is our God and there is no other - may really mean.  It was a remarkable moment when they could see that what seems like a simple phrase or command – may have deeper and more complex meanings then they may first have thought.


Additional Torah Study Resources: Torah Study /
Yitro for Tots / Yitro for Tweens / Leading a Family Torah Discussion


Categorized under:  Torah

01/26/2018 11:46 AM Posted by: David Cohen

Now When [Pharaoh] Let [the People] Go
Exodus 13:17−17:16

I am sure many of you remember the line from the movie Forrest Gump – "Life is like a Box of Chocolates.”  Using this memorable phrase, Tom Hanks’ character then goes on to say, "You never know what you’re going to get.”   Metaphors for life abound, but not as many for the life of a young child or adolescent in school.  There are many songs about not wanting to go to school, but not many lines or aphorisms to encapsulate the journey.  For me, B’shalach has always done this.

In this week’s Parasha, we are presented with yet another iconic moment in the history of the Jewish people.  The crossing of the Red Sea – or the Sea of Reeds - is a foundational moment of transition and liberation – both physical and psychological.  This week I shared with our students that this moment in our tradition can be compared to the life of a student coming into our school.

There is, of course, a path opened up for the Israelites - God and Moses have done this wondrous thing for us.  What they see and what they promote is the bravery it takes to take the first step along this path and the promise is on the other side.  They acknowledge the fear of going from one familiar place to a new place but what is interesting is that we never get a sense that they know just how scary this journey is.  Cecil B. DeMille in "The Ten Commandments” tried to convey the horror of walking down a path lined by treacherous seas.  And when you think about it, yes, that must have been terrifying.  To walk down what was a clear path, but to be confronted at every step with, well, the sea, right there, being held up by what – we are really not sure.  It is possible that at every step, they may have seen a creature looking at them as if they were lunch.  It is also possible there were regular splashes of water, reminding them at every step that what was being held back now could come crashing down at any moment.  And their only consolation was to trust in Moses and in God.

If you can stop for a second to think about our students, there are many similarities.  We have laid out a path for them.  We have given them tremendous opportunity.  But that path is lined with dangers – both real and perceived – that we may never understand even though we can try to reflect on our own time in school.  The problem is that we are reflecting with the mind of an adult.  So again, that fear; that trepidation; that daily step they take down this path lined with challenges, obstacles, and sheer terror – that is something they are processing in their own unique ways. 

We know many are like Nachshon, the brave soul who took the first step.  But many are not.  Many are consumed by fear.  Though we help them get over that fear minute by minute, day by day, year by year, this wall of fear we can imagine from B’shalach, it is seemingly never-ending and the promise we talk about is generally not in sight for those taking the journey.  Of course we know the end of the story.  In the middle of that vast sea, the Israelites did not – and neither do our students.

Is this to say that we should just turn this venture around and bring everyone to safety on the shore?  Of course not.  And that is one of the lessons of theParasha.  We must take risks, we must trust sometimes, and we must sometimes take that first step even though it terrifies us.  But I truly enjoy thinking about that journey and that wall of fear that presented itself to the Israelites with every step.  It can be a very helpful image whenever we think we have paved a path for our students that we think should be just easy-peasy to follow.

Additional Torah Study Resources: Torah Study /

B’shalach for Tots / B’shalach for Tweens / Leading a Family Torah Discussion

Categorized under:  Torah

01/19/2018 08:27 AM Posted by: David Cohen
Bo – Go (to Pharaoh)
Exodus 10:1 to 13:16
The continuing saga of the Exodus from Egypt includes a command from God to return to Pharaoh to once again demand he free the Hebrew slaves.
A theme of focus this week at Shlenker has been the continuing conversation between Moses and God – or God and the Jewish people. We recalled how all this started with Moses and the burning bush and that intimate conversation we can all have with God.
This week, there is important work to be done and the central story of Passover will unfold from now until we sit down for our Seder. Mitzrayim, or Egypt, is the word that appears most in the Torah.  Not even Adonai or other names for God surpass it.  In asking students what that says about this central story in our tradition their responses were spot-on.  First, they get that this was an unfolding story, filled with important characters and dramas.  Second, because of how long we spend unfolding this story, it must have great importance in our tradition.
And they were right.  Miriam, Moses, Jethro, the Bush, the Plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, 40 years in the desert, receiving the law at Sinai - these are the stories of the Exodus, and in many ways they shape who we are as a people.
Themes of liberation, independence, strength, fortitude, perseverance, faith, and mitzvot.  These are the concepts that spring from our current narrative and so it is right and true that we take notice.  We begin with noticing a simple bush.  We continue with the evolution and psychological development of our people and our faith.
In Bo, we also ask why we had to return to Pharaoh.  We ask - why the need for the plagues?  I asked our students if they thought they learned more if someone gives them the answer or if they have to work hard to figure out something challenging.  They all agreed that the latter is how something will stick with them.  We also asked what this Exodus story would be like if the Pharaoh had said "OK, you can leave” and that was that.  Many saw that the more authentic story in which a decision is hard, the costs and benefits weighed, and a mind changed is often the one that reflects the importance of the decision, the importance of the story, and the time it took to be freed from our bondage after so many years. 
All of this to say, this story we tell in our homes is one of great weight, great dilemmas, and great miracles. Watching it unfold can teach us much about life, ourselves, and our tradition.

Categorized under:  Torah

01/11/2018 04:13 PM Posted by: David Cohen
I (God) Appeared [to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob]
Exodus 6:2−9:35
God spoke to Moses and said to him, "I am the Eternal."
The Importance of a Tiny Bush ...

This week brings us many vivid stories from the Passover narrative.  In previous weeks we looked at the early life of Moses and a shift the Hebrews faced from an accepted group descended from a respected family (Jacob, Joseph and his brothers) – to a group that was feared and persecuted.

In the next part of the saga we read about the next phase of the life of Moses, after he is cast out of his favored position as a prince of Egypt.  In this part of our exodus narrative, we experience God speaking to Moses, not as an Angel but as God.  From the famous "burning bush” God speaks to Moses and tells him what he must do to liberate the Hebrews from bondage.

If you had a chance to walk by the APR this week, you may have noticed images of the burning bush all around the room.  In fact, the first theme we looked at was the ability to "notice” things in the world around you.  The rabbis often speak of this encounter with the bush that burned but was "not consumed” as an example of the patience and awareness Moses possessed.  Some would say it was this attribute that drew Moses to God’s attention to take on this special role in our history.  Moses noticed injustice when he defended a Hebrew from being beaten by an Egyptian taskmaster.  Moses could have walked right by this ordinary bush, but was so aware of his surroundings that he noticed this peculiar bush was on fire, but was not consumed by it.  The value of awareness – to see injustice, to pick up on the sadness or fear in others, to see the holiness in the ordinary – this is one of the values we can glean from Moses’ encounter with this bush.

In another sense, this encounter was also about a conversation.  In many ways this is the first real conversation between a human and God.  We asked our fourth and fifth grade students to be mindful of that and to think about their own conversations with God – to not ask for things, but to be thankful, to seek inspiration, to seek guidance and understanding.  

From a story about a small bush in the desert – we learn about patience and awareness - and we learn about what it can mean to have a real conversation with God.  A more important bush there may never have been.

Additional Torah Study Resources:
Categorized under:  Torah

12/14/2017 05:17 PM Posted by: David Cohen
Mikeitz – After [Two Years] - Genesis 44:1:1−44:17
"At the end of two years’ time, Pharaoh had a dream …"

The True Miracle of Light:

Some would say that after everything Joseph went through in his life – being sold into slavery by his brothers, being imprisoned during his early days in Egypt – that to end up as an adviser to the Pharaoh was a miracle.  Some would say that to be able to re-unite with his brothers – and eventually his father – was also a miracle.  

This week’s Parasha, Mikeitz, has lessons for any family looking to examine their inner workings and trying to find models for reconciliation.  As with most of our stories, there is also trickery, pent up resentment, surprise, anger, and eventually joy.  With all of that, some would say it is also a miracle that we learn of the sons of Joseph, Menasseh and Ephraim - two brothers that our texts use as models for brotherly love.  To this day there are priestly benedictions that wish upon you the same love that existed between Menasseh and Ephraim, two people in the Torah known for getting along swimmingly well.  The contrast with the other brothers in this saga is remarkable.

It is fitting then that Chanukah – a time when we remember miracles and celebrate light – falls at the time of this Parasha.  In resources emailed home earlier this week, I provided a link to Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman’s piece on a new way to look at miracles during Chanukah.  The concept of the miracle of the oil lasting eight days was a fairly recent addition to our Chanukah commemoration; the rededication of the Temple and lighting the menorah were always at the core of the story.  So according to Hoffman, light itself is enough of a miracle - on its own merit.

He speaks of the light of warmth, peace, joy, happiness and freedom.  These are concepts even the youngest children can embrace.  For Hoffman, light represents hope, wisdom, and understanding: noble traits anyone would be proud to embrace.  

The light we know from science is the fastest element known to humankind.  According to Hoffman, even without the miracle of eight days – which our children will question us about when they get older - light gives us an almost unending array of special themes to focus on with our children - themes that are connected to Jewish values, themes that are all about attributes we want our children to cherish, and themes that can help them make the world a better place – today!

Additional Torah Study Resources:

Categorized under:  Torah

12/07/2017 04:41 PM Posted by: David Cohen
Vayeishev - [Jacob] Settled
Genesis 37:1−40:23
"Jacob now settled ... in the land of Canaan."

As with the story of Jacob's dream, his wrestling with the emissary of God, and the imagery of the iconic ladder to the heavens - this week's portion also contains some of the most memorable narratives in the Torah. We not only read about the continuing sagas of the many wives and all the children of Jacob, but also, we are presented with the famous story of Joseph and his brothers.  

Joseph is so important a figure in our history because he is all at once our link to Egypt, our link to the return of the Jewish people to the promised land, and our link to our earliest example of what it means for an Israelite to succeed in the midst of a foreign culture only to see his descendants marginalized by that same culture.  We read all of this and more through the story of Joseph, so it only makes sense to take a look at how his story actually began.

In so many stories from our tradition we look at human flaws and learn how those flaws relate to our own lives.  We don't even see a momentous story of liberation and slavery unless we first read about a group of brothers - the sons of Jacob - who turned on each other.  They were ripe with jealousy for a brother they felt held the favor of their father - and a brother who seemingly did not let them forget it.

This theme of sibling rivalry is so relevant to the work we do as educators and parents, not only because it does happen but because of where it came from in this story.  There is no question that Jacob favored Joseph and his mother over the other siblings and their mother.  We read about why in previous passages, but there is no evaluation of it's outcome until we get to this portion.  Veyeishev tells us about the outgrowth of jealousy, favoritism and boastful pride.

The learning in this portion of course comes from the opposite values from those just listed.  Contentment, fairness, and humility are at the core of what it means to be a decent person.  We all can fall into those negative traits on occasion, as we are once again presented with a cautionary tale in our weekly teaching.  One way to better understand the more positive course of action for this family is to look at the Kabbalistic teachings of the Omer - the reflective process we use just after Passover on our way to Shavuot. When we count the Omer we are presented with 7 different human attributes to examine and we are to ask ourselves how in balance are we with them all.

For example, love is an amazing attribute, but when Jacob shows too much love for Joseph, that creates an unfair situation for the whole family - an imbalance - and we can see the damage that can cause.  Who would have thought one could love too much?  This is a story that shows us how powerful love is and how careful we need to be when putting it on display.

So, one could look at this as a story of sibling rivalry, or one could look at it as a story about the immense power of love.  One could look at it as a story about Joseph's amazing power of seeing the future, or one could look at it as a story about staying modest, even when one has an amazing gift.

Whichever way you choose to see the family of Jacob, see both their amazing role in our history and their role in teaching us valuable lessons about life, family, and personal growth.
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