Forgive and be Forgiven
Shuva/ Haazinu 5778 Dvarim 32; 2 Samuel 22
Shana 5778 Tova Tikateivu vTichateimu – May you be inscribed and sealed in the Good Books
Both a farewell and a sweet New Year
Are coming soon to bring us cheer.
Moshe says farewell with history and song.
On Shabbat Shuvah, return after so long
To the precepts and mitzvot, good deeds;
Sorrow for warnings we do not heed.
Sincerely repent as we accept our past sins
While making amends, as best we can, so to win
Forgiveness, Atonement, a fresh new page
To start this year with hope, without hatred or rage…
Adapted from one of my most appreciated prayers:
Holy Creator of All! I and we herewith forgive anyone who may have irritated, angered, or injured me/us –whether acting against my/our persons, my/our possessions, or my/our reputations. Let no one be punished on my/our account, whether the wrong done to me/us was accidental or malicious, unwitting or purposeful, by word or by deed.
May it be Your will, O Holy One who was the Holy One of our ancestors, that we not repeat the wrongs we have committed, that we sin no more. May we never again anger You by doing that which is evil in Your sight. We pray that our sins will be wiped away not through sickness and suffering, but rather through mercy.
For Yom Kippur:
How can I ask to be forgiven?
What words can I say?
What for should I be forgiven?
Where have I gone astray?
For if I know not the depths of my sin
Or which words to pray,
Can I know if my prayer's to begin
With Man or G-d today?
Shabbat Sukkot [Intermediate] 5778; EXODUS 33:12 - 34:26 ; EZEKIEL 38:18 - 39:16
Sukkot days 1 &2 Leviticus 22:26 - 23:44; Numbers 29:12-16 ; ZECHARIAH 14:1-21 d.1; I KINGS 8:2-21 d.2 [10/4eve-6]
Shemini Atzeret, 8th Day of Assembly: Deuteronomy 14:22 - 16:17; Numbers 29:35 - 30:1; I KINGS 8:54-66 [10/12]
Simchat Torah: Deuteronomy 33:1 - 34:12; Genesis 1:1 - 2:3; Numbers 29:35 - 30:1 ; JOSHUA 1:1-18 [10/13]
This past couple weeks has been particularly challenging. SO much death and destruction! Hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, mudslides, flooding, terrorists, genocidal bigots… A combination of ‘natural’ and people-made disasters all. SO much pain and sorrow…
At this festival season, we are told to embrace happiness and joy. There is also a tradition to welcome guests, lots of guests, into the sukkot [sukkahs]. Over the years, it became understood that the guest could also be the soul of the ancestors.
In the spirit of that custom, I will welcome all souls to be guests in my Sukkah, be they here or distant, alive or not. Let us all welcome in particular the souls of the recently passed innocents. Honor them. Remember them and their stories. Love them.
May we all have a meaningful and loving festive season of Sukkot!
Shabbat Shalom, Chag Sukkot Sameach, and Moadim L’Simchah!
Good Shabbas, Happy Sukkot Holiday and Seasons for Joy!
Shabbat Bereishit 5778; Beginnings
Shabbat Bereishit 5778 Beginnings; Genesis 1:1-6:8; Isaiah 42:5-43:10
Now we come around full circle and begin our Torah reading yet again with Parashat Bereishit. We see cliff-notes to how the universe began, how plants began, and how animals began. We learn of how disobedience and evil behaviour started as well as suffering and hardship.
Then we read about interferences by HaShem’s messengers which might have influenced human advancement. To that understanding we are given the names and accomplishments of people of note who started certain innovative ways of living, men all, save for the very last of name on the list. A single woman is named at that end but without her accomplishment!
In the time of Adam and Chava, the male and female were equal helpmates. Over time patriarchal, sexist males took over the record keeping and minimized, if not eliminated, the names and accomplishments of women as much as they could get away with. So it happened that the accomplishments of Naamah [likely dealing with organized music and singing] were deleted.
Worse yet, later male leaders/ sexists Rabbis made up horrible, defaming stories about her. Possibly this was in conjunction with the prohibition against hearing a woman’s voice [as in singing?]…
Subsequent beginnings described include man’s unsuccessful attempts to be like Hashem or HaShem’s messengers and man’s experimentation with all manner of perversions. Yet not all men followed the perverted path. So next week we will begin with the times of Noah.
As we begin this New Year of 5778, what new beginnings are you embarking upon? Shabbat Shalom!
This Shabbat we seriously start into the origins and history of our Patriarchs and People. At Beit Torah we follow the teachings of Rambam and try to mesh history and archaeology with the Torah stories, both giving them credence and fleshing them out [interpretation]. So let's start the journey:
Shabbat Lech Lecha 5778 Magic or Con?;
Genesis 12:1-17:27; Isaiah 40:27-41:16
Noach had little outside encouragement to be a righteous person for it is said that everyone else of his generation was wicked. Generations have past and now we come to the family of Terach of Ur. It appears that the Semites were in control of Ur for at least five generations. They included many well-to-do camel route traders of which Terach and his family were. How do we know this?
Semites were from the Caucuses. Camels were domesticated in the Caucuses some at least 4000 years earlier but were not known in Canaan except with the camel route traders. If you had camels in Canaan, you were viewed as very wealthy if not royalty
So back to Ur where life was comfortable under Semitic rule BUT then the Elamites conquered this city of diversity to enforce rather patriarchal/ chauvinistic tyranny. Apparently when the Elamites took over, Avram’s brother Haran was killed [or died?]. This gave a good reason to flee Ur to Hauran, the western-most stop on the east-west camel route.
That is where Lech Lecha, the Parashah for this week, continues the narrative. Avram, Sarai, and Lot go to Canaan. Unlike Noach, Avram had a following of adherents [or at least camel route workers] and contemporaries with whom to discuss ethics and morality.
We see Avram work with other leaders to free people kidnapped in an invasion of territory. Of course, his nephew was one of those captives… Again Avram tries to protect his nephew in next week’s parashah… Spoilers! Stay tuned…
Drought and famine intervened in well made plans. So Avram, Sarai, and Lot ended up in Egypt. According to Josephus, Avram taught the Egyptians in sciences, astronomy, and mathematics topics while his wife was taken into Pharoah’s harem [under the misimpression that she was only Avram’s sister]. Lot convinced the Pharoah that he and his were cursed with a malaise for having a married woman in his harem but that Avram was an expert magician who would remove the curse if his wife was returned to him. [Or was it a case of drugging the food and/or water supply?]
In the end, Sarai was returned to Avram along with lots of wealth, livestock, and slaves for both him and Lot… and then they were all kicked out of Egypt…
Now returned to wealth, Avram turns his focus to ensuring there would be progeny to inherit his wealth. So he had a son by a surrogate, an Egyptian personal servant, Hagar, who was a bitterness to Sarai. Nonetheless, Avram was intent on consolidating his legacy. All those with him as well as himself and his son, Ishmael, were then circumcised. The parashah ends with them all resting up during their discomfiture.
Was Avram more righteous than Noach? If not, why not? If so, why? Can we measure righteousness in our times the same way righteousness was measured for Avram or for Noach? If not, how can it be measured?
Shabbat VaYera 5778 Repeating Cycles and Behaviours: Can we move forward?
Genesis 18-22; II Kings 4
In this age of constant psychoanalysis of nearly everything, we often hear that people establish patterns of behaviour, both good and bad. So, too, we see with Avraham in this week’s portion of Parashat VaYera.
Perhaps one of Avraham’s best qualities is his behaviour pattern of being very protective of others, particularly family. For example, Avraham argues with HaShem over the destruction of the cities of the plains, even to the point that if only there were ten righteous men then the destruction could be avoided. However there was only one, Avraham’s nephew Lot. So the cities were destroyed while HaShem’s messengers saved Lot and his unwed daughters.
Sometimes caring for family members may lead to unsavory or not so good behaviours. When finally Sarah had a son, Yitzchak, Avraham was faced with the choice between family discord and sending away his surrogate’s son, Ishmael (14+ y.o.) back to Egypt, probably to his maternal relatives. He chose, with a heavy heart, to send his older son, Ishmael, away.
When Avram and Sarai were in Egypt, they posed as brother and sister to avoid possible violence against Avram [which might even kill him] by the Pharoah who lusted after Sarai and put her in his harem. The outcome [ once the truth became known that Sarai and Avram were also married ] was that Avram, Lot, and Sarai became very wealthy. Was this a planned con or did they learn from these events that such a pattern of behaviour led to wealth?
Clearly when they repeated the untruth with Avimelech in this week’s parashah, they had experience upon which to pattern their behaviours. Once more they gained in wealth. Further, there was always mystery and suspicion about these events given that Sarah bore a son within a year of them.
That son, too, although dearly beloved, was challenged by strange behaviour by Avraham, his protective father. While some speculate that Avraham was out of his mind with grief over the impending death of Sarah, it is preferable to look at the customs of the times.
It was common in some of the cultures of that time that boys were mortally challenged when ready to enter adulthood. Was this such a challenge to see how he would respond?
Recall, too, that Yitzchak was probably very spoiled by aged, doting parents. In addition, Ishmael and other boys displayed inappropriate behaviours that might have been adversely influencing Yitzchak. So maybe the exercise was totally pre-planned by Avraham to put the fear of HaShem into Yitzchak who would need to be worthy enough to inherit both the physical and spiritual legacies of Avraham.
Remembering that the usually good patterns of behaviour was protective of family and others, how far would you go to protect family? How far would you go to protect other folk? How far would you go to protect the creatures of the world?
Shabbat Chayei Sarah 5778 The Accomplishments of Sarah
Genesis 23-26; I Kings 1:1-31
So now we have reached the portion called Parashat Chayei Sarah, the life of Sarah. Yet at the outset of the parashah, Sarah has died and needs to be buried. In good Patriarchal approach, her life is apparently being measured by the accomplishments of her offspring Ishmael [adopted with surrogate birth] and Yitzchak. Nonetheless we have already learned that she was instrumental in other aspects of life, known to us even as far back as Ur.
In Ur she was known as Sarai which means “Princess” or “Priestess”. Since the Semitic rulers of that time seemingly did not have “Princesses”, it is likely to have been the title of “Priestess”. As such, or as a novice studying to become a Priestess, she would have learned many beautification techniques, ways to relate to a variety of supplicants, folk medicine useful in helping or hindering sexual urges, and such useful in preventing pregnancy, etc. (Priestesses of many cults of the times would lose their jobs if they became pregnant.)
After Ur, Sarai was involved in caring for and managing the people in their [Avram’s and Sarai’s] entourage [logistics management]. She was also involved in equal decision making, most notably recorded in the two sister/wife ploys. Only when it was foretold that she would have a son was her name changed to Sarah and all connection to “Priestess” was removed.
Along the way she raised a son and had unpleasant discord with her adopted son’s mother. She decided who would stay and who would need to leave among their staff and servants. Perhaps most important, Sarah was Avraham’s soul mate, deeply beloved. So it is clear that Sarah was not just accomplished through the accomplishments of her sons.
In your own view, what accomplishments have you achieved? What accomplishments would other view you as having achieved? Are they the same?
Shabbat VaYetzei, Thanksgiving Weekend, 5778 More Family Intrigue
Genesis 28:10-32:3; Hosea 11:7-12:14
How would you feel if your Father viewed you as a commodity to be traded or sold? How did Rachel and Leah feel in this week’s portion of Parashat VaYetzei? Rachel found the love of her life, her soul mate. Yet was her Father willing to let her marry or was there a price to pay?
A woman with weak, bad eyes was not likely to attract a husband. She would be considered damaged goods. Laban certainly had reason to want to unload his damaged daughter on a man who was effectively his prisoner, one capable of tending flocks well (and even able to understand how to breed for stripes and spots.)
Did Rachel know ahead of time? Did she agree with her Father’s reasoning? Alternatively, did she want to protect her sister and remove her from being alone with an abusive Father?
Perhaps. Why else would she and Leah gladly agree with Yaacov that they needed to flee the grasp of Laban, their Father? Further, they planned to do so in as secretive a way as possible to ensure a safe get-away. In fact, we are told that Rachel took her Father’s teraphim, family idols that were used as the deed to the property. Had Laban wanted to claim that the flocks, Rachel, Leah, and their children were all his property, he would have needed to present those idols to the local court as proof.
Did Yitzchak know? Maybe then, maybe later. Next week we will read that he will demand that all idols be buried. Was that out of guilt over their theft? Was that out of fear that possession of idols would tempt folk into idolatrous practices? Maybe both.
How do you avoid idolatrous practices? Do you succeed? Part of this picture includes keeping the Shabbat. How do you keep Shabbat? On that note: Shabbat Shalom!
Shabbat VaYishlach, 5778 Rivka, Yitzchak, Devorah, and Rachel
Genesis 32:4-36:43; Ovadia 1
Up to now we have seen the ancestors participate in “deceptions” for safety and survival purposes. From the sister/ wife ploys of Avraham and Sarah to the inheritance switch off of Yitzchak and Rivka to Yaacov’s breeding of spotted and striped flocks to Rachel’s sitting on the family idols/ images… is it any wonder that Shimon and Levi decided to agree to the marriage of their raped sister on condition of circumcision of all males in Shechem BUT with the intent of slaughtering all the men? Somehow they lost sight of the need for safety and survival of all of the family. They missed the lesson that such a deception should not be for revenge but rather for security.
As a result in this week’s portion of Parashat VaYishlach, Yaakov needed to hasten back to his parent’s abode in Hevron. This arduous journey proved too taxing and fatal to both Rachel and Rivka’s nurse, Devorah. Yet the details of the progression of events is spotty at best with much omitted, deleted and/or lost over time.
Was Devorah the wet nurse for Rachel when she was born? Was she the wet nurse for Yaacov and Esau? Maybe both?
Alternatively, was Devorah Rivka’s nurse and companion throughout Rivka’s life, caring for her even in old age? So how did Devorah end up with Yaacov and much beloved by all in his entourage? Was she sent by Rivka to tell Yaacov [maybe even when he was still with Laban?] that it was safe to come home? It seems that at this juncture, Esau was no longer a threat. Maybe. It would explain why she was so mourned at the Tree of Weeping if she had been nursing Rachel during her pregnancy and effectively become known and loved thoughout Yaacov’s camp. So the sudden departure to Hevron would have been very stressful on both the elderly Devorah and the very pregnant Rachel. Clearly the sudden decision to go to Hevron did not rely on reassurances from Rivka but rather fear of reprisals after the slaughter of the men of Shechem. Hence Rivka was likely already deceased. So in a very short time: Rivka, Devorah, and Rachel died, the latter two buried along the way given the haste being made. If only we had been given more details about their lives!
To top it all, Yitzchak died at some point after Yaacov’s return to be buried next to Rivka by both his sons, Yaacov and Esau. It has now become clear that the cooperation and closeness among the Patriarchs and Matriarchs then had been lost in the generations of Yaacov’s offspring, likely due to assimilation pressures from the practices of the surrounding clans and tribes.
Would you use a con or deception to save yourself or your loved ones from being hurt? Would you use such to gain revenge? Why or why not? May we never need to so decide…
Shabbat VaYeishev, 5778 More Consequences: Reuven and Yehudah – Leaders or Deceivers?
Genesis 37:1-40:23; Amos 2:6-3:8
Last week we learned that Shimon and Levi were deceivers. Was Levi unduly incited by his older brother and later forgiven? Perhaps Levi did something courageous to become forgiven enough to later be the tribe of the Priesthood?
This week in the portion of Parashat VaYeishev, we once again see what kind of tsuris [heartache, grief, anguish] children can bring. First Reuven tries to deceive the world that his father was incompetent and that he, Reuven, should lead the family. How? In the custom of the time when a successor takes over, he takes his predecessor’s concubines to his bed – in this case Bilhah, Rachel’s servant. We are not told the details of how that deception was handled, but it is clear from later text that he was never forgiven. We even do not know if Reuven tried to apologize. He lost the customary Canaanite rights of the firstborn [Bereishit 49:4]. Was he told that unless he cleaned up his act, he would no longer be included in the family group? Regardless, he seemed to behave better subsequently. He and Yehuda even tried, unsuccessfully, to protect Yosef from the jealousy and wrath of their other brothers.
On the other hand, Yehudah deceived his widowed daughter-in-law Tamar by making excuses to prevent her from having a child with his third son as was custom to remember the line of the deceased. When Tamar, with help, tricked him into impregnating her, Yehudah owned up to his inappropriate behaviour and apologized. He even called Tamar more honorable than he. This clearly was a righteous seduction in contrast to the attempted seduction of Yosef by the Potiphar’s wife.
Perhaps as reward, Tamar birthed twins, one each for her dead husbands. Was the integrity with which Yehudah handled himself with this incident [and later in his dealings with Yosef] the reason he was blessed by Yaacov with the leadership responsibilities? Clearly Reuven and Yehudah had moments of being deceivers. However Yehudah knew how to consistently act with integrity and how to take responsibility for his own actions. So clearly, Yehudah was also a leader.
Do you live your life with integrity? How? Are you a leader? If not, do you want to be? May we all find a path to integrity in our lives.
Genesis 41:1-44:17; Chanukah: Zechariah 2:14-4:7
Last week we noted that in part due to Yehudah better leadership skills, Yehudah was blessed by Yisrael with the leadership of the Yisraelites instead of the first born, Reuven. This continues the ancestral practice of choosing the most qualified offspring to lead the family.
In this week’s portion of Parashat Miketz we learn about further evidence of why Yehudah was most qualified of the brothers to lead. As the episode progresses, we see that Reuven was still trying to be the leader of the brothers. His true nature came through under stress though.
After a first visit to Egypt to get food for the family during a famine, the 10 oldest brothers found their money mysteriously returned plus they were under an edict not to come back without their youngest brother, Binyamin. When they returned to their father Yisrael and knew that they would need to return to Egypt, Reuven showed a lack of ethics and integrity by offering to protect Binyamin while rashly saying that if he failed to do so, Yisrael could kill his two sons. Yisrael refused the odious idea of killing his grandsons.
Later Yehudah spoke in measured terms, diplomatically, to convince his father to let them take Binyamin to Egypt. So clearly he spoke with integrity and leadership qualities. Today we see what chaos, divisiveness, and unethical behaviour can be engendered by rash speech without measured words.
When our ‘leaders’ speak so rashly, do you feel they deserve to be ‘leaders’? How can we encourage people to choose ethical leaders with measured [diplomatic] speech? What can you do, personally, to improve the situation?