Archive | August, 2012

Retell and re-count – the past can be amended

31 Aug

Today we look at Va-Yigash, Genesis 44:18 – 47:27 – the reconciliation of Joseph and his brothers, and the settlement of Jacob’s entire family in Egypt.

In the midst of this narrative, we have an account of all of Jacob’s descendants that traveled with him to Egypt – including Dinah, the occasionally overlooked daughter of Jacob.

As we travel through Elul we know that we can make amends by making sure that anyone we missed gets counted when we make a new list. Past omissions give us the opportunity to retell the story better the next time.

The High Holy Days on the horizon, we can retell our year better than it happened through the heartfelt making of amends.

Conflict and Resolution – Joseph and his brothers

30 Aug

For today, Mi-Keitz, Genesis 41:1 – 44:17 – Joseph’s dream interpretations in prison and Egypt, his ascent to influence under Pharaoh, and the first part of Joseph’s encounter with his brothers.

As we go through the month of Elul preparing for the holidays, the story of conflict and resolution between Joseph and his brothers seems particularly appropriate.

A quick recap: Joseph was an obnoxious and precocious child, rubbing his favored status in his older brothers’ noses. This got him sold into slavery, and eventually, many years later, his brothers came to him after he rose as a man of power in Egypt to try and get food since famine grips their homeland. Joseph tested them, and when they proved their reluctance to sacrifice their other younger brother Benjamin, he reconciled with them.

When we suffer wrongs, allowing ourselves to see those who have hurt us as having learned a lesson from their misdeeds may be a huge challenge. Opening ourselves up to the idea of offering forgiveness may be even more difficult than reconciling, and thus all the more important.

Reflect on Rights in Elul

30 Aug

For today, Va-Yeishev, Genesis 37:1 – 40:23 – the beginnings of the stories of Joseph, and some other stories about Jacob’s household.

The story of Tamar is here, a wife of two sons of Judah who don’t provide her offspring. When Judah shirks his obligations to her, she tricks him into doing the right thing.

This story, a triumph of a woman for justice over a society that tends to ignore women, reminds us that the fight for equality even within Jewish culture has gone on for millennia.

The reflective time of Elul offers us the reminder that we should not take our rights for granted. We should appreciate how far we’ve come as people and individuals, and how much work we still have ahead of us.

Finding deeper meaning during Elul

28 Aug

For today, Va-Yishlach, Genesis 32:4 – 36:43 – Jacob wrestles with a divine being, reconciles with his brother Esau, the story of Dinah, and more.

A strange lone verse appears here, with no introduction or follow-up:
Gen. 35:22 And it was when Jacob was dwelling in that land: Reuben went and lay with Bilka, his father’s concubine. And Israel heard – Now the sons of Jacob were twelve…

We hear nothing else about this incident until the end of Jacob’s life, when he offers blessings and curses to all of his sons:
Gen. 49:3 Reuben, my firstborn, you, my might, first-fruit of my vigor! Surpassing in loftiness, surpassing in force!
Gen. 49:4 Headlong like water-surpass no more! For when you mounted your father’s bed, then you defiled it – he mounted the couch!

Our text omits most of the details of this father and son relationship. Seldom do we know what really goes on between two people.

A message for our month of reflection in Elul – a few words often hint at a bigger story. Hidden beneath the surface we may find much more meaning.

Awe on the horizon – daily parashah

27 Aug

For today, Va-Yeitzei, Genesis 28:10 – 32:3 – the first parts of Jacob’s biography.

From the parashah, Genesis chapter 28:
16 Jacob awoke from his sleep and said: Why, Adonai is in this place, and I, I did not know it!
17 He was awestruck and said: How awe-inspiring is this place! This is none other than a house of God, and that is the gate of heaven!

Not only does the parashah contain the words that appear on the ark here at Beth El about God being in this place, it also reminds us of the real meaning of the somewhat diminished word “awesome” – as in the awe that is inspired by an experience of the divine.

Elul acts as our prelude to the High Holy Days, or Days of Awe, when we imagine ourselves in the divine presence, feeling awe, and figuring out what our responses to awe should be. Happy reflections everyone!

Toldot and Shavuah Tov!

27 Aug

Shavuah Tov, a good week to all, for today Toldot, Genesis 25:19 – 28:9 – the generations of Isaac. The parashah outlines Isaac’s life and the beginnings of the disputes over the inheritance of his birthright.

From the parashah:
Gen. 26:18 Isaac again dug up the wells of water which had been dug in the days of Abraham his father, the Philistines having stopped them up after Abraham’s death, and he called them by the names, the same names by which his father had called them.

In the context of Elul, we know that we cannot rely upon our past achievements and those of our ancestors – we must renew our physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual resources.

Another day in Elul, another parashah – Shabbat Shalom!

25 Aug

For today, Chayei Sarah, the fourth parashah of the Torah, Genesis 23:1 – 25:18, the end of Sarah’s life and the winding up of Abraham’s life as he secures Isaac’s future.

Abraham sends out a servant to find a wife for Isaac. Remembering that some loving strong relationships come from the wisdom of elders, and not merely our own attractions and insights, seems counter-cultural today here in the US.

For Elul, we can see that trusting outside sources for fundamental questions in our lives, submitting to the wisdom of others, may be helpful.