Friday, December 20, 2013

A New Pharaoh

This week’s parashah, Shemot (Ex. 1:1 – 6:1) begins the story of the oppression of the Israelite people in Egypt and how God redeemed them from Egyptian slavery to become a covenant people to God.  By chapter 2 we will learn of the birth of Moses and how God chose him to free the people from Pharaoh’s tyranny and lead them to the wilderness.  But first, in chapter 1, the story picks up where it left off, with the death of Joseph.  Joseph died, as did his brothers and all that generation, but their offspring multiplied greatly, filling the land.  Then a new Pharaoh ruled Egypt, one who did not know Joseph and what he had done for Egypt, and, frightened by the Israelite population explosion, pressed them into forced labor. 
These few verses come to teach us two things: First, the majority population of a place can be easily coerced to feel threatened by an increase in the numbers of a minority.  Although the Israelites were still a tiny percentage of the Egyptian people, Pharaoh reasoned that Israel might pose a military threat to Egypt by siding with Egypt’s enemies, and the Egyptian people readily agreed.  Second, political situations change quickly, and memories are short.  Jacob and his sons were heartily welcomed to Egypt as honored guests, but all it took was a new ruler to turn the Egyptians from hosts to oppressors. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Being Someone's Angel

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayeishev (Gen. 37:1 – 40:23) Jacob’s older sons are pasturing their father’s flocks at Shechem, and Jacob sends Joseph, his favored son, out to join them.  He can’t find them, and is wandering in the fields when he sees a man who asks him what he is looking for.  He says he is looking for his brothers and the man says, “I heard them say they were going to Dothan”.  Joseph went to Dothan, and we know the rest of the story.  His brothers take his coat of many colors from him, throw him in a pit to die, and he is picked up by a traveling band of traders who bring him to Egypt.  So begins the history of the Israelite people in Egypt, which will end with exodus, redemption and revelation, and the eternal covenant between God and the people of Israel.  

Without the unnamed man who Joseph met in the fields of Shechem these crucial events may never have come about.  Maimonides comments that he was no ordinary man, but an angel sent to make sure that Joseph completes his task.  Like Joseph, we don’t know where our journey will lead.  We may not recognize the angels along our path who guide our destiny. We are even less likely to recognize when we act as an angel for another person.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Jacob's Wives

Torah Thoughts on Parashat Vayishlach

Last week we read of Jacob’s love for Rachel, and how he worked for her father Laban for seven years to win her hand in marriage, and that it seemed to him  as if those years were only days because of his love for her. Because of Laban’s trickery in giving him the older sister Leah instead, Jacob was then forced to work another seven years for Rachel, although he did get to marry her a week after he married Leah.   Leah turns out to be built for childbirth, and she bears Jacob son after son, and one daughter.  Her handmaid, too, bears sons for Jacob, as does Rachel’s handmaid.  But Rachel herself bears Jacob one son, Joseph, and in this week’s Torah portion, Vayishlach (Gen. 32:4-36:43) she dies in childbirth with her second, who she calls Ben-Oni, and Jacob re-names Benjamin.  “Ben-Oni” can mean two things in Hebrew; either, “son of my suffering” or “son of my strength”.  “Benjamin” is “son of my right hand”.  Jacob seems to want to choose the latter meaning, giving his newly motherless son the best possible interpretation of his name.  Of all the matriarchs and patriarchs, Rachel is the only one who is not buried in the Cave of Machpelach in Hebron, but rather “on the road to Ephrat, that is, Bethlehem” (Gen. 35:20).   Rachel’s grave is still visited today, especially by women who are having trouble getting pregnant or who have difficult pregnancies.  The two sister-wives of Jacob have different destinies.  Rachel is the beloved but Leah provides most of the sons who will become the progenitors of the tribes of Israel.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

So This Happened

I went to the cleaners to both drop off and pick up.  As is my habit I parked at the far end of the lot.  That gives me a chance to get at least a little exercise.  My drop off load was significantly smaller than my pick up load.  The man behind the counter offered to carry the cleaning to my car.  Our conversation went something like this:

Man Behind The Counter:  I'll carry the clothes to your car.
Me:  Thanks.  That's not necessary, though.
Man Behind The Counter:  No.  I insist.
Me:  My car is parked across the parking lot.  Clear to the end.
Man Behind The Counter:  That's all right.  I will carry your clothes.

Whereupon he walked around the counter and took my many plastic bagged articles of clothing off of the rod and began out the door.

Me:  Okay.  Thanks.
Man No Longer Behind The Counter:  Where is your car?
Me:  (pointing across the parking lot clear to the end) Over there.
Man No Longer Behind The Counter:  Clear across there?
Me:  Yes.  I told you it was clear across the parking lot.
Man No Longer Behind The Counter:  Why did you park so far away?
Me:  I like to park far away so I can get some exercise.
Man No Longer Behind The Counter:  Please go to your car and drive it here.  I will save this parking place right in front for you.
Me:  I don't want to do that.  I told you I would carry my cleaning myself.
Man No Longer Behind The Counter:  Then here.  You carry your own clothes.
Me:  (Taking the clothes from him)  Right.  Thank you.

As I walked away I heard him go back into his dry cleaning establishment.

Man Once Again Behind The Counter:  Goodbye.  Have a good day.
Me:  You, too.

Not only did I get in my little walk, I got to take home clean clothes.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Read A Review of Carol's Book

Check out GoodReads reader review of Of Little Faith by Carol Hoenig. Then add it to your "to read" list.

The Vietnam War is on the nightly news and women are burning bras in the fast-changing world of the 1960s, but thirty-year old Laura wonders why her choice as a feminist couldn't be to have a baby without marriage. Laura not only has to justify her desire to her forward-thinking friends but to her fundamentally religious siblings as well. Yet, her most important mission is to find a man who will agree to impregnate her and then get out of the picture once the act is accomplished. Four narrators push along the events in Of Little Faith, set in 1960s Seabrook, Long Island, as three adult siblings converge in their recently deceased father's home. Laura is a 30-year-old newspaper columnist from New York. Her brother, Eric, is a compassionate minister trying to find his faith, and sister Beth is an angry and disapproving fundamentalist who is determined to hinder her siblings' desires in the name of her religion. They share the narration with Eric's wife, Jenny. Tragic secrets are revealed without resorting to high drama in this portrayal of two separate halves of counterculture and suburban banality. Readers will find Of Little Faith to be uplifting and heartfelt in the most surprising of ways.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The End of the Life of Sarah

The Torah portion entitled Chaye Sarah, the life of Sarah, (Gen. 23:1-25:18) actually begins with Sarah’s death, at the age of 127 years.  The second verse of the portion gives us something to puzzle over.  We are told, “Sarah died in Kiriath Arba (another name for Hebron), in the land of Canaan and Abraham came to mourn for her”.  Came from where?  Why wasn’t he with his wife of so many years at the time of her death?  One source suggests that he was coming from the funeral of his father Terah, but that is refuted by another scholar (whose arithmetic was better) who pointed out that the ages of all these people are detailed in Genesis, and Abraham would have been 135 years old when his father died, and 137 when his wife died.  Many commentators believe that Sarah’s death happened immediately following the near-sacrifice of Isaac, after which we are told that Abraham went to Beersheva.  What we are not told, though, is the “why”.  Hebron is quite far from Beersheva.  Did Sarah know what Abraham was doing at Mount Moriah?  A Midrash suggests that Satan came to her and showed her a vision of Abraham holding the knife over Isaac, and that vision was the cause of her death.  But if Sarah was at Hebron, why did Abraham go to Beersheva after he left Mount Moriah? Perhaps because he knew he would not be welcomed where Sarah was.  Throughout Abraham’s life his faith in God was paramount but the same cannot be said for his devotion to his family.  Whether Sarah knew of his intent to sacrifice Isaac or not, it would seem as if she and her husband of so many years had gone their separate ways.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Of Little Faith Gets Launched

Tonight in New York City at the Fountain Gallery (702 Ninth Avenue) Carol Hoenig launches her amazing novel Of Little Faith published by Steel Cut Press.  Carol is a wonderful writer.  She is also person of integrity.  We wish her the best.
Of Little Faith can be purchased at the store of
Trust us.  This is money well spent.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Inside The Basset Brain - Beware Of Imposters

It is said that imitation is the highest form of flattery.  Apparently that can also be said for imposters as was recently observed at the annual Southern Basset Hound Society Picnic.
The real Basset Hounds didn't seem to mind.  Of course, real Basset Hounds seldom mind anything.  Or anyone, for that matter.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Prophetic Thoughts for Yom Kippur

This Shabbat coincides with Yom Kippur.   On this holiest day of the Jewish year, we diverge in the Torah readings.  In Conservative and Orthodox synagogues, Leviticus 16 is read in the morning and Leviticus 18 in the afternoon.  The Reform movement chose different Torah readings, Deuteronomy 29 and 30 in the morning and Leviticus 19 in the afternoon.  But we all agree on the morning Haftarah reading, taken from Isaiah chapters 57 and 58. 
In this haftarah, God tells us how we are expected to behave.  The people cry out to Isaiah, “Look at us! We fast, afflicting our bodies, we bow our heads so reverently, and we humble ourselves wearing sackcloth and ashes.  Why doesn’t God recognize our prayer?” And God replies, in the words of Isaiah, “Sure, here you are on Yom Kippur looking all penitent and righteous.  You afflict your bodies, and you are oh-so-fervent in your prayer.  But what are you doing with the rest of your time?  You oppress your workers.  You talk business in the pews.  You go hungry today, but you don’t care about the needy who go hungry every day.  For this, you want the ear of God? Try this instead: break the bonds of oppression, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the poor, then next year show up here and see what happens.” (Okay, those aren’t exactly the words of Isaiah, but that is their import).  God is not telling us that we should not afflict our souls on this holy day.  Rather, God is telling us that what we do on this day is just the beginning.  It is what we do every day that will bring God’s blessing upon us, and upon all peoples of the earth.  Kein y’hi ratzon.  So may it be God’s will.