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.
Useful resources on the weekly parsha:

Categorized under:  Torah

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