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Archive for November, 2012

VaYetze – You can run but you can’t hide

Posted by rabbiart on November 23, 2012

Our long-time Gabbai pointed out this morning that the parshah opens and closes with Yakov on the run.  At the beginning, he is running from his brother.  Perhaps it is more accurate to say that he is running from what he did to his brother.  At the end, he is running from his father-in-law.  As Joe Louis said about Billy Conn “He can run but he can’t hide”.

Yakov dreams big, but he acts in small ways.  He dreams of HaShem giving him land and blessing through him all the families of the earth. He proclaims that the place where had rested in the gateway to heaven and names it Beth-El, the House of G-d. But he makes his pledge conditional on HaShem giving him food and clothing. And only if he is returned safely to his father’s house, will he accept HaShem as his G-d.

Yakov the trickster is then tricked mightily by his brother-in-law. He cries out “did I not work for you on account of Rachel? Why then have you tricked me?”.  Somewhere at this moment his brother Esav must have been laughing mightily.

Yakov works under Lavan.  He prospers, fathering sons with wives and handmaidens both, except for the barrenness of his beloved Rachel.  He grows so wealthy that he is tremendously resented.

Again he flees, but wherever he goes, there he is. The parshah ends with a soap-opera like cliffhanger, but we know that he will soon wrestle with a strange man/angel/G-d and never be the same.

Dreams of the night are big and bold and full of visions and wonder.  Typically they fade in the early morning light and are soon forgotten. The initial relationship of Lavan and Yakov is close, warm and familiar. It begins with a hug and a kiss. It ends with thievery,false accusations, and self-justification.

The lesson of this parshah is difficult to discern and hard to imagine. Bad behavior abounds. Although the second more famous dream does not occur until the following Shabbes, Yakov’s sojourn away from home is bracketed with dreams of the divine presence.  In between the dreams we read of all sorts of typical human scheming.  Yakov’s twenty years under his brother-in-law is a Torah story of who we are.  The dreams are stories of who we ought to be.  The Torah challenges us to remember our dreams at night, and live up to them in the light of the day.

Rabbi Art Gould

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The ceasefire is good, but it comes without illusions of peace

Posted by rabbiart on November 22, 2012

The comment-ary, which is to say comments made in the press, on Twitter and everywhere, is a frightening combination of ill-informed, wishful thinking or flying in the face of reality.  “Talk to Hamas” everyone says Israel should do.  “What Israel should do to make peace” is what everyone wants to proclaim.  How many have actually read the Hamas charter?  Mein Kampf was published 87 years ago, in 1925.  Most of the world reacted with either “where do we sign up” or looked the other way.

Read the Hamas charter (in English) here – – and then tell me, are Israeli’s and Jews who support having one Jewish country among the world’s ~200 nations supposed to think “they’re just kidding”!

Smarter people than I have observed that the only way Israelis can believe that even cold peace is possible is to disbelieve every proclamation made by its enemies.  Can anyone really think that Hamas is “just kidding”?

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Flying Rockets Fighting Brothers

Posted by rabbiart on November 15, 2012

It’s impossible this week to simply read and study the parshah as usual. Only 11 days ago I was cycling literally alongside the Israel – Egypt border. Two years ago and four years ago I ate breakfast overlooking theGaza strip and then cycled along thatborder.  Next year I’m invited to visit avillage in the heart of the West Bank as theworld calls it. Or as the Torah describes it the land where Avraham Avinu walked settled and ultimately buried his wife. And was himself peaceablyburiedby his two estranged sons; the fathers of two peoples in conflict.

Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, commenting on this week’s parshah, points out many ambiguities in a supposedly straightforward story about Jacob is the intended and true inheritor from Avraham and Yitzhak his fathers. (Click here to read article) He observes that a close reading of the text, a knowledge of dikduk, and the trope itself illuminate the different ways the text can be interpreted. He writes”More precisely, we have here an example of one of the most remarkable of all the Torah’s narrative devices – the power of the future to transform our understanding of the past.” 

We live in the present moment by moment but only when we can look back can we understand what we have lived through. Are we in this moment at the beginning of an increased conflict that will take a heavy toll on all sides for some unendurable period of time? Or could we be (please merciful G-d) at the moment when both sides walk to the edge of the cliff and make a permanent change of course.

It is impossible to know.

When Jacob returns from his twenty years with Lavan he prepares for an encounter that will live up to his worst fears about his brother. Instead he is met with an embrace and a kiss. But in the Torah as we have received it there are dots over the word for miss. Scribal error or important clue to indicate the kiss and embrace are not sincere? Is Esau’s offer to accompany Jacob a sincere gesture of brotherly love or a veiled threat of violence yet to come?

Imagine Jacob’s reaction had Esau’s greeting been an angry and threatening. Could Jacob have put aside his fear and greeted his brother with love? It is hard to imagine. Yet this is what Israel is asked to do. A madman in Iran regularly proclaims that Israel must be wiped off the face of the earth. A bordering ‘country’ declares it will never accept Israel’s right to exist. Are Israelis and Jews the world over supposed to react by saying we know you’re just kidding around?

But I also know that if I were Palestinian, or living in the Gaza strip I would have a very different story and point of view.

When all else fails, seek refuge in the occasional wisdom of rock and roll.

There’s something happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear…and later…there’s battle lines being drawn, nobody’s right if everbody’s wrong.

Jacob did his brother wrong but ultimately they reconciled, or so we can choose to read the story. Hopefully, bimherah uvyamenu, we will live to tell a story of warring brothers come to peace. Because as we will soon recite in the Chanukah blessing, HaShem did not only create miracles in those olden days but also in our time as well.

Shabbat Shalom.

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Reflections on the past – Israel Ride 2012

Posted by rabbiart on November 13, 2012

One week later, plus a day, I’m still thinking about the experience of the 2012 Israel Ride. It was an up and down experience for me, no pun intended.  Arriving late because of Hurricane Sandy, joining the Lost Tribe on the first day, missing the last big downhill on the last day on the advice of the paramedic. Bed bug bites, I think, in the Eilat Hotel motzei ride so to speak.

All of it pales in comparison to meeting someone who is a bigger DeadHead than I am. And with one of the most beautiful self-made tallis I have ever seen or could imagine. Conversations with Abeer and seeing the importance and value of seeing the so-called “other” as not other but just another human being.

Of course I’m avidly and actively recruiting not just friends but some of my cycle riding co-workers to come join the fun next year. And I bagged my first $100 donation from a co-worker who has always said that he never supports causes.  Why?  Because the peace making work resonated with him like crazy. His donor attribution thing says “in support of peace”.

During the period of reading Breshit there is something in every parshah that leaps off the page in connection with the struggle over this at one and the same time promised and feels like cursed land. So much conflict, so much fighting.  When we read in the Torah of brothers struggling in the womb, and then see how rabbinic literature felt it necessary to lionize one and demonize the other, it’s hard to hold onto the belief that peace will come.

The Bike Ride is incredibly effective therapy for strengthening hope.  That’s why I’m taking the cure again next year.

Rabbi Art Gould

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A vision for the Jewish people

Posted by rabbiart on November 11, 2012

Waiting in Ben Gurion airport for our flight home I bought three books. Two were pulp fiction: one was significant. It is Future Tense: A vision for Jews and  and Judaism in the global culture by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. In his intro he writes that Jews must go back to first principles and inquire again into the purpose of our people. He goes on to say that the first step is for us to abandon the linked notions of victimhood and a life informed by fear. Rather, we should live lives of faith but not, he says as lonely men of faith.

Elsewhere he references the work of Chabad and wonders why the Rebbi (his inspiration for becoming a Rabbi) chose to send emissaries all over the earth to wherever Jews are found. He says that “if the Nazis had hunted down every Jew out of hate, he would send his disciples to search out every Jew in love.

Upon reading this passage I was reminded of a story told to me by our friend Ilana Meallem. She had gone somewhere and was confronted by a man who attempted to choke her. With his hands still around her neck she said to him “it’s OK, I love you”. He released her and broke into tears.

The Arava Institute is one place, certainly not the only one in Israel, where members of societies at war with each other are choosing to put aside fear and hatred and act out of hope and faith.

Again, this is the dual storytelling of the Torah. What is and what ought to be. Avraham Avinu is the original man of faith. Rabbi Sacks writes eloquently how we – the Jewish people – need to find and reclaim our original story. To choose life, to live in hope and become again a light into the nations.

I think this is why the Arava, Alyn hospital, machsom watch and similar organizations in Israel are so important. They are living the Torah’s story of who we are supposed to be and become.

In our parshah this week we see the (potential) consequences of living in fear. The famine comes round again. Isaac and family take refuge in Gerar where there is food. He says that Rivkah is his sister and not his wife. Avimelech sees them “sporting” and inquires why Isaac has misled his people, because one of them might have attempted to have sex with her, thereby committing a great sin. Avimelech offers explicit protection by proclaiming to his people that no one should mess with Isaac and Rivkah. Immediately Isaac grows in prosperity one hundredfold. His prosperity is so great that now fear’s cousin jealously tears its ugly head. The cycle continues once more.

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Chayei Sarah – A Story of How We Ought to Be.

Posted by rabbiart on November 9, 2012

Some say “The Torah is a Commentary on the World, and The World is a Commentary on the Torah”.  I like to say that the Torah tells two stories.  It tells the story of who we are, and the story of who we ought to be. Fresh in my mind is the invitation to visit my new friend Abeer’s family and village not too far north of Hebron.  Also in my mind is the recent U.S. election and the period of intense negotiation that our elected leaders will hopefully engage in during the coming months to address some of the pressing problems of our country.

Negotiation is in the air.

So of course this week’s Torah portion – Chaye Sarah – opens with a negotiation story that takes place in and around Hebron.  Could it possibly be any other way? This is the Torah showing us how we should be. Avraham acts humbly, the Hittites ask generously, Avraham responds by insisting on fair payment, and after a general reverse tug of war, the deal is settled and Avraham buries Sarah.

Having settled his past, as it were, with the burial of his wife, Avraham now turns his attention toward insuring the future.  He arranges to get a wife for his beloved son Isaac.

We get a foreshadowing of a different dynamic when Rivka’s brother Lavan is mentioned, especially since we have read the Torah bebore. But conveniently, the parsha ends just before we begin reading the full episode that tells us – warts and all – a story of who we are, and very much not how we should be.

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Israel Ride 2012 – A Chanukah Perspective

Posted by rabbiart on November 9, 2012

(These thoughts are scheduled to appear in the Chanukah/December issue of our shul bulletin.)

According to rabbinic interpretation the essence of our holiday is not a military victory. It is a spiritual reawakening and a renewed dedication to the ideals of our tradition. The key celebration is to light the Chanukah lights near a window in order to publicize the miracle. This is so that all who see the candles will be strengthened in the belief that, yes, miracles can and do happen.

I thought about this a great deal while cycling with 60 friends, some new some old, as I cycled two days in northern Israel and three days in the Negev on our way to Eilat. On the first day twenty of us missed a turn and became the new Lost Tribe, as we were dubbed by the forty who apparently know how to follow directions!

All along the way we were supported – and inspired – by a mixed group of Israelis, Jordanians, Palestinians and Palestinian Israelis; students and alumni of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. All of them live not in tolerance but in harmony, friendship and with affection. And without fear of the other. They would not describe themselves this way but to me they are living candles whose light does not go out after the required thirty minutes of burning.

Jewish life in our time is in need of miracles, spiritual awakening and the restoration of the highest ideals of the Torah and prophetic literature. In the southern Negev I have personally witnessed a living breathing Chanukiah and made friends with some of the candles. One of my new friends – Abeer Abora, a young Palestinian woman from the West Bank – has invited us to visit her village when Carol and I go for the Arava ride next year, not to score political points but simply, as she put it, to see with our own eyes, to see her and to see her family as human beings, nothing more and certainly nothing less. Look for her on Facebook and friend her. Mention that you are a friend of mine and light a new Chanukah candle of your own.

The next time you go to Israel let me know and I will hook you up with Abeer, or Baraa or Amer or Hadas, Hila or the staff of this amazing institution where the environment is being healed, the power of the sun being harnessed, biblical agriculture reawakened and (hamavin yavin) healthier facts on the ground are being planted.

Be a Maccabi. Make a new Chanukah and fulfill the blessing wherein we praise and thank the one God of all the earth for not only performing miracles in those days of old but speedily and in our day.

And of course, register for the ride at Israel Bike Ride.

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Israel Ride – Day Two and Day Three

Posted by rabbiart on November 2, 2012

We need more riders next year.  And I need more and harder training.  the ride this year is not the traditional route that starts out in Jerusalem.  It has two days in the North.  Yesterday, the second day, went much smoother compared to the misadventures of the first day for “the Lost Tribe” of which unfortunately I was a part.  When in a pack, one tends to assume that one is on the route and in the right place.  At least, I do.  It’s only when the group accordions out and I don’t see a rider in front of me or behind me that I start to worry if somehow I missed a turn.  I guess, if enough people miss a turn, you can have a pack of people off the riding track.

So yesterday morning, after a luxurious stay (think two story suite, seriously) we rolled out in the heat and the humidity of the north, including a reasonable (ha!) climb into the lower part of the Golan.  At lunch Howie Rodenstein announced that our climb was the hardest ever in the history of the ride.  And to think the Halutzim (that’s the hard core and the young people’s group, at least I like to think of it that way), climbed higher and farther, to which I say “good for them”.

At one of our morning rest stops I was talking to Abeer (last name not being remembered right now) and another of the alums.  Abeer has invited us to her village in the West Bank next year, simply so that we should see life in the West Bank with our own eyes.  I am hoping that we will be able to arrange this visit.  Each time we have done the ride, we have met amazing people. People that without the Arava Institute, we would never have had a chance to meet and get to know a little bit.

Our shul monthly newspaper will have Chanukah for its theme (shocking, I know).  I have been thinking to write an article about how the students at the Aravah institute, especially the non-Israel and non-Jewish students, are so much like Chanukah candles, and how a “new Chanukah” is trying to take place.  The essential mitzvah of Chanukah is persumei mitzvah – publicizing the miracle.  That is whey the Chanukiah is to be placed in the window, and why Chabad and others erect large Chanukiot in public spaces and conduct public candle lightings.  I feel a desire to publicize the miracle that is trying to happen, which is why I feel so strongly about the Institute and the ride.  If peace is ever to come to this area, it will spring up from the ground, one person at a time, just as how the faculty and students at the Institute are trying to solve problems on the ground, problems of water, of power, and other environmental challenges.  In one case, it is to reintroduce biblical plants and agriculture in the Negev, which is a solution that will quite literally spring up from the ground.

The second brachah of lighting the Chanukah candles recognizes that HaShem performed miracles for our ancestors in those days and at the present time.  We might all be watching small miracles happening  before our very eyes.

More to follow.


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