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Archive for November, 2016

Chayei Sarah

Posted by rabbiart on November 24, 2016

After Yitzhak is born Sarah sees him playing with his brother Ishmael. She tells Avraham to expell both Ishmael and his mother, so there will be no question as to who inherits. Avraham thinks it is a bad idea, but HaShem tells him to do everything Sarah says.  We wonder how this can be. She seems to be demanding an act of cruelty. Has she no bond with either mother or child?

In our parsha, and the comments on it, we find out how extraordinary a woman Sarah was. She is universally lauded by everyone who comments on the first verse. As the well known midrash says in part, even at age 100 she was sinless as a twenty year old (which according to Rashi is below the legal age of responsibility).  

Wouldn’t you know it, Daf Yomi right now has a discussion about when husband – or wife – should take the lead.  It won’t come as a surprise to find out how the tradition apportions the responsibility.  In worldly affairs and matters of Torah its the husband.  But when it comes to the household and everything connected to it – the husband must heed the voice of his wife.  As Avraham was instructed – shma b’kolah.Readers who are Moms have probably already reacted “well yeah” when it comes to husbands listening and obeying. Dads, probably not so much. More convincing might be required.

As luck would have it (which is to say its  not luck at all but fore-ordained) today’s Daf Yomi speaks directly to this concern. “Rav Pappa said to Abeye, ‘There is a popular saying. If your wife is short, bend over and whisper with her.'” In other words, seek her counsel and follow it.(Bava Metzia 59a) Breshit Raba brings a verse from Tehillim 37: “HaShem knows the years of the pure (temimim)”.  The “pure” is Sarah; she was pure, all of her years were pure.

The Kedushat Levi brings even more explanations. Based on an outburst by the childless Rachel, the gemara says (Nedarim 64) that a woman who has not delivered a live child is considered as dead. As is a man who is childless. We see that Sarah worked, without sin, for 90 years. Never did she complain about being childless. Sure, she laughed.   Like each of the matriarchs, she started out barren and ultimately bore fruit. Even Leah, who seemed to pop them out with ease, experienced difficulty at first.

Several commentators mention that it had been 37 years since Sarah gave birth to Yitzhak.Then Or HaHayim reminds us that Sarah died upon hearing the news about Yitzhak. 

Could this extended episode be a case of midah k’neged midah? Sarah sends a son into the wilderness where death seems like a foregone conclusion.  Avraham takes a son on a journey to certain death.  Both sons live.  But it seems someone in our story must die.  Is there a mother anywhere in the world who would not sacrifice herself for her child? 

The great scholar Nehama Leibowitz pointed out the connection between the first and second Lech L’Cha to Avraham.  In the first he cuts off his past; in the second he must give up his future.  For Sarah, Akedat Yitzhak is past, present and future all rolled into one.  When she hears that her son is sacrificed, she feels her entire life taken from her.

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Ruach Elohim – We need it now

Posted by rabbiart on November 3, 2016

In the first verse of chapter 8 we read that HaShem remembered Noach.   Because HaShem remembered, HaShem caused a ruach elohim to blow across the earth and clear out all the waters.  Somewhere somebody sometime must have written a drash that goes like this, but I haven’t managed to find it…

What is the flood?  Might there be a flood of biblical proportions in our day? In our story, the pshat is that the waters come to cleanse the earth (lots of killing in the process) of all that was wrong in creation, and create the conditions for a  fresh start. The flood ends, because the ruach elohim ends the flood. 

Suppose we turn a part of the verse on its head.  In this version the waters do not cleanse, rather they symbolize how the planet has become filled with all sorts of – let’s just say – really bad stuff. (I cleaned up that last word for you, gentle reader.)  The waters, in our version, stand for all the bad stuff. Stuff that might be literally drowning our planet -and us -right out of existence.  Let’s go from the pshat to the drash…

In Noah’s time – and it feels like in our time as well – the planet is drowning in violence, corruption and any of the next five big bad nouns you might care to add in. Sometimes it feels like no matter how hard we swim, either as individuals or societies, we can barely keep our heads above water.  And whatever ark we have managed to build for ourselves and our families is very fragile indeed, barely keeping afloat. In our text this Shabbat the drowning is stopped through the intervention of ruach elohim – the divine spirit. In our flood story, the ruach elohim acts as a physical force, beginning to clear the waters away.

For many people on the planet,  the flood is not just a Bible story; it’s their lives.  Sometimes, its death by actual water, often it’s by the flood of violence, or the drought of human caring. Just as in our Torah story, we need ruach elohim to clear away our flood.  Just as HaShem remembered Noach, we pray for HaShem to remember us, and cleanse us.  Preferably with a very limited amount of water, and also…bimhera b’yamenu

Post script:  It’s a privilege to sit in Yerushalayim, study some Torah, and write a simple drash.  Hopefully, it’s coherent. If not, you try it after 14 hours on a plane and 30+ hours with almost no  sleep and let me know what you think this  week’s Torah  portion is teaching us.

Shabbat Shalom

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Noah – He found favor

Posted by rabbiart on November 3, 2016

I’m sitting in Jerusalem on the highest hill in the city.  Or so says the material in our apartment at Window of Jerusalem.  Tonight we’ll be making shabbes with friends from our annual Israel Ride on behalf of the Arava Institute and Hazon.Our friend Carl Jacobs is hosting us and another couple of riders for shabbes dinner.

These might be the  five most important words in the Torah, or in the Tanach.  V’Noach matza chen b’einei hashem.  (after a several verse description of how rotten the eath and it’s inhabitants had become) we read. Noah found favor in the eyes of HaShem.  (Did Noah go around saying “he likes me, he likes me”?  Probaby not.

This is the first time in the Torah, in the entire Bible, that we find a human being “finding favor” with HaShem.  Fortunately? for darshanim everywhere tuhe next verses are a little less clear, leading to a debate that continues to this day.

“These are the tales of Noah.  Noach was a man and a tzaddik, he was tamim in his generation. With Elohim walked Noach.”  The latter part of the middle sentence sparks the debate.  Was Noach a tzaddik compared to his generation, or in spite of it?  The verse does say that Noah “walked with” HaShem.  But what does it mean?  Is it important to know which it is?  Maybe it was both.

Many readers might understand the 7th  binyan as being “reflexive”, but it has other meanings as well.  Consider this phrase harchov mitmalei anashim. “The street filled with people.”  A street does not fill itself with people, obviously.  In this case the 7th binyan is “developmental”.  In other words, the street filled with people over time.

In our verse we have et haelohim hithalech Noah. Noah did not simply “walk with HaShem”; that would be halach.  Noah was developing, learning to walk with HaShem over time.  Apparently, in our story, he had learned to walk well enough to be chosen to build the ark.

In our so called “advanced civilization” it is apparent that we are still learning to walk with HaShem.  The Torah’s description of the conditions that led HaShem to clean the earth and start over… well, it could easily describe our time and the conditions on the planet today.

It feels like all around us the world is in not a physical storm, but a spiritual one. 

The opening of Parshat Noah is a darshan’s dream, because the lesson is both so critically important and easy to understand.  Noah was learning to walk with HaShem.  He had learned enough to be chosen to build the ark, but had he become someone who walked completely! with HaShem.  We are all Noah; building an ark, learning to walk with HaShem. And possibly, just possibly, being the vehicle through which the world is redeemed.

Shabbat Shalom


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