Commentaries for 5779

Shabbat Shuva 5779 VaYeilech; Are Services Spectator Sports?

Dvarim 31; Hoshea 14:2-10 & Yoel 2:15-27 & Micah 7:18-20

Here we are at the Shabbat of Return between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. It is a time when all Jews are encouraged to go to services to participate and not be spectators. This is said to be particularly important for this Shabbat of return for many reasons such as: to better the success of our atonement experience; to assure getting a minyan [quorum] when many are tired out by the Rosh HaShanah experience with lots of family and services; to encourage greater participation in synagogue events; etc. One reason spread by some Rabbis is that complete attendance by all Jews everywhere on Shabbat Shuva would bring the Moshiach!

Obviously any business adventure needs to find adequate funding in order to continue. Often a paid ticket is requested to attend either through regular dues or via ticket sales. [To a certain extent this is counter-productive as the process to get a financial exemption frequently is a demeaning and embarrassing experience.]

So how do the religious groups try to draw in attendance? One option is to make the event into a spectacle. Some use new music, songs, and jokes to make the service “different” and more “enjoyable”. Particularly disturbing in traditional views is when the congregation claps after each song and joke. Are they treating services like a movie or a theatre play? Have these services and others where there is little if any “audience” participation become like spectator sports?

Are there any discussions about the service contents afterwards? Do any reflections on repentance and amends occur in these folk during the Ten Days of Awe? Do older folk participate more than the youth? How do you plan to participate?

We are all connected. If our youth are brought up as spectators, who will be responsible for our communities in the future? May we all find our ways to repent, make amends, and return to the mitzvot! Shabbat Shalom!

Please submit this week the names of loved ones you want added to the memorial remembrance list for 5779!

Shabbat HaAzinu 5779 ; History in a Song; Dvarim 32; 2 Samuel 22

When you read a history book, how long does it take for your attention to wander and drift? If you read or heard the history as an ode or song, would you be able to be more attentive?

So, too, people of every generation seem to be able to retain information from poems and songs more easily than by rote story or prose. Is that why In Torah we get the third version of our history as a poetic song from Moshe? It summarizes our history for those people about to enter the Promised Land, about to be faced with the spectacle of twelve pillars.

What are the events that you remember most vividly in your life? Why do you think these events were most memorable?

We are now in a season of attempting redress of our past errors, of forgiving others for their past errors [if we do not, we give them power over us to hurt us], and of resolving to improve our adherence to the Law, the Mitzvot. What could happen to make this season most memorable for us?

As a parent lies on the cusp between life and death at this time, this season will certainly be a most memorable one… Yet is there a lesson of improvement that will come from this experience? Or just sorrow and grief?

May we all have a memorable season leading us onto a path toward betterment! Tzom kal… Gmar Chatima Tova… and then Shabbat Shalom!

Shavuah Tov! 

Shabbat Bereishit 5779 ; Beginning; Bereishit 1-6:8; Isaiah 42:5 - 43:10

Beginnings. Once more, Torah reading starts from creation, the beginning. A New Year, a New Beginning without our loved ones who passed from this plane of existence before the final securing of the gates for the year at the end of Sukkot after the last of sins were shed symbolically by the beating of the willow branches.

This year was so warm and dry that the willow branches quite easily lost their leaves representing the last of our sins. Did we feel purified and ready for a new beginning after we beat those willow branches on Hoshanah Rabah [seventh day of Sukkot]?

We will not be restarting Creation with this New Year of 5779. However we need to wonder if we will be unwinding creation this year. How will the creatures of the world fare? Will they be allowed a new beginning during this upcoming year? What devastation of plant life will occur? What will the world look like when we arrive at the beginning of 5780 in about a year?

In the meantime we have the opportunity now to begin again with ever improving approaches to tikun olam, repair of the world. Will you embrace that opportunity? If so, how? If not, why?

May we all begin along a path, embraced to lead us all to contributing to Tikun Olam! 

 Shabbat Shalom!

Apologies for no commentary last week during Sukkot due to Rabbi Adele’s sitting with her failing and then deceased Mother in Tennessee. Baruch Dayan HaEmet! Shabbat Shalom!

Shabbat Noach 5779 ; Drowning; Bereishit 6:9-11:32; Isaiah 54:1-55:5

Drowning. We all often say that we are drowning in debt, drowning in grief, drowning in obligations and responsibilities, drowning in politics, and so on. What are our feelings when we feel we are drowning? Do we feel fear, anger or loss? Do we feel guilt that maybe we made wrong choices which led us into such a drowning mess?

Certainly it would not be a surprise if people drowning in the Mabul, the Great Flood, experienced regret that they had not chosen to listen to Noach’s warnings. They would have blamed themselves for choosing to abuse Noach and for disregarding what he said. Would they have regretted the unethical paths they had chosen to follow during their lives? - or even realized the evils they had done?

So, too, in modern times we have many choices to make. If some of us choose to follow unethical paths, will it make a difference to the world? If some of us choose greed, power, profits, and selfishness will it adversely impact the future of the world?

This week a United Nations report came out that makes it clear that global warming and climate change are progressing faster than previously predicted. It points out that we have very little time, maybe 11 or 12 years, to counteract the effects before the warming becomes runaway and massive destructive forces will be released: irreversible destructive forces.

Can we make choices that will halt the runaway climate effects? If not us, who can? Will we be faced with another worldwide catastrophe due to our bad choices just like the people of the world faced when they chose not to believe Noach’s warnings?

It is a terrifying time. What can you choose to do to help stop such a catastrophe? An ark is not enough... Shabbat Shalom!

Shabbat Lech Lecha 5779 ; Listening; Bereishit 12:1-17:27; Isaiah 40:27-41:16

We are often told to “go with the flow”. Is that another way of saying that we should listen to the world around us? Was that what Avram did when he decided to go west to Chauran? Ur had been taken over by Elamites who did not like Semites at all. Was that why one of Avram’s brothers “died”? The Elamite invasion was a good reason for camel caravan traders and Semites to settle elsewhere.

Yet trade does not stay around one city. It radiates east/west and north/south. The family however probably did not want to continue to trade given the Elamites’ nastiness to the East. So where was Avram to go? His brother went north to Padan-Aram and Haran for good grazing and water resources. Avram went south with his nephew, Lot, towards Canaan. He listened to the world around him. We are told that he listened to HaShem who guided him to make choices to be safe.

Still, Avram made choices of his own based on his self-confidence to use his resources according to what he felt was ethical. He saved peoples taken into slavery along with his nephew, Lot, and refused to take from the spoils of the conflict.

Avram listened to his ethical conscience. Do we listen to our ethical consciences? Do we act on what we hear in an ethical/ moral fashion? Are we in listening mode to the world around us and to HaShem? Should we be hearing the death cries of the animals and the forests, of the oceans and their denizens? Should we be listening?

Shabbat Shalom!

We are supposed to be nation building. That is getting harder in the present atmosphere. Perhaps the upcoming elections will help get us back on track. We at Beit Torah ( encourage all to vote so that maybe we can build a BETTER FUTURE.

VaYera 5779 ; Building; Bereishit 18-21; II Kings 4:1-37

It seems that this week’s portion of Parashat VaYera has many unconnected parts. We have messengers telling Avraham that Sarai will have a son and that Sodom will be destroyed. Then Avraham and Sarah visit Abimelech and do the sister-wife ploy again. In the meantime, Lot saves the messengers from assault by town folk and then flees the town/city before its destruction. Then when Yitzchak is born, Sarah has Hagar and Ishmael expelled.

Yet all these events have the common theme of building family and assets. To wit:

We have Avraham building his family through Sarah with the birth of Yitzchak and through Ishmael who, although expelled, built a well-to-do tribe with his Egyptian relatives. After escaping the destruction of the plains, Lot also built his legacy into two great nations. Lot’s daughters decided to build that future for their family by getting Lot drunk enough to impregnate them as they hid from the destruction of the five cities of the plains.

Avraham’s and Sarah’s sojourn with Abimelech helped build their resources and assets as well. Given the timing of the events, many have asked if that sojourn also contributed to the building of Sarah’s family, but Abimelech denied it vociferously and paid off Avraham handsomely to agree with him while keeping peace despite water disputes.

Clearly building families is very important to our people. What have you built for the future? Will it improve the world or just provide short term gratification for your desires? How important is family to you? Community? Country? World? What are you presently building?

Shabbat Shalom!

At this time of mourning and reflection, we get to read a portion of Torah that deals with rebuilding and going on after the death of a loved one. We at Beit Torah ( mourn along with so many others the loss of those murdered in recent anti-colored and anti-Semitic attacks. If only that mourning were universal...

Chayei Sarah 5779 ; Re-Building; Bereishit 22:1-25:18; I Kings 1:1-31

How do we go on after a death? We re-build. After Sarah died at the beginning of this week’s portion of Parashat Chayei Sarah [the life of Sarah], her son Yitzchak married his independent [perhaps headstrong] cousin, Rivka. She had readily agreed to the marriage proposal when asked both by Eliezer and by her family. We rarely read in Torah about needing a woman’s permission to do anything let alone marriage. Something to ponder. Further we read that Yitzchak took Rivka to his mother’s tent and was comforted then after his mother’s death.

Ishmael, Sarah’s adopted son, also kept building his family. He, like Yaacov after him, ended up as a father to twelve tribes.

So now we need to figure out how to apply the lesson of this portion to the deaths happening at this time. How do we rebuild after the death of a family member? How do we rebuild after the racist murder of black women in a grocery? How do we rebuild after a mass murder on Shabbat in a synagogue?

The shock, the numbness, the fear, the emptiness in the aftermath, and perchance the anger at the unfairness of it all: All that pent-up emotion just begs for an outlet. What though is an appropriate vent for those emotions? Crying? Prayers? Withdrawal from usual activities? Planning for revenge? Trying to prevent such deaths from occurring in the future?
Yet how can that be done? Donate to stroke research? Work to ban assault style weapons? Work for stricter laws against hate speech?

Have you ever needed to rebuild after the death of someone you cared about? What did you do to bounce back and go forward – to rebuild your life?
May we all have the strength to find a way to successfully rebuild. May we be able to go forward after a major loss such as death in the family, in our community, or among others we care about! ...and would should be caring about every living soul...
Shabbat Shalom!

Shavuah Tov!  Repeating

Do we find ourselves repeating what our parents did when responding to certain situations? Do we repeat the actions we have seen or heard about in stories or liturgy? We at Beit Torah ( pray that any repeats are done after careful consideration of whether they are ethically solid and consistent with the Mitzvot. Yet repeating seems to be a human way to respond to similar situations as we read in this week's portion:

Toldot 5779 ; Repeating; Bereishit 25:19-28:9; Malachai 1:1-2:7

We all approach life based on our experiences of what we have done and seen as well as the stories which have inspired us such as in family histories, movies, theatre, liturgy, etc. So, too, we read in this week’s portion of Parashat Toldot that such approach was the case of Yitzchak and Rivka who heard the stories about the successful sister-wife ploy used twice by Avraham and Sarah! What they didn’t count on was that family stories were also passed down in Abimelech’s family. So when they tried the sister-wife ploy again, Abimelech called them on it. Despite this, they updated the water strife agreements and parted amicably.

Similarly, they later repeated the practice of Avraham and Sarah in which the younger [more deserving] son received the physical and spiritual inheritance from their parents. Yitzchak received instead of Ishmael and Yaacov instead of Esau. So, too, King David’s son Solomon became King instead of his older brother, Adonijah.

In the Haftorah from last week about the last days of King David, Adonijah was trying to become King before David died. Was it general conduct among those who felt entitled to try to depose their fathers or was it a repeat recalling how Yaacov’s son Reuven tried to take over the tribe before Yaacov died?

Have you ever based your actions on family stories you have heard? Have you ever voted for or against what your parents would have voted without considering the issues at hand? Are stories in Torah to be emulated or should they be evaluated to decide if one should repeat them or not?

As we are often told, if we do not remember history, we are doomed to repeat it – be it for good or for ill. May we all be wise enough to figure out which stories of the past are worthy of being repeated!

                                                               Shabbat Shalom!

Shavuah Tov! Journeying

A new chapter, a new journey after our recent elections. What will that journey hold? We at Beit Torah ( pray that it will include a return to decorum, civility, politeness, and respect without any lashon haRah! As for Yaakov [Jacob]:

VaYetzei 5779 ; Journeying; Bereishit 28:10-32:3; Hosea 11:7-14:10

In the wake of his discord with his brother Esau, Yaakov [Jacob] now begins a series of journeys after fleeing his parents’ home in this week’s portion of Genesis, Parashat VaYetzei [and he went forth]. Yaakov journeyed to find faith in HaShem as he journeyed to his Uncle Laban to find refuge from his brother. He journeyed into love and marriage, multiple wives and fatherhood.

Yaakov’s full acceptance of the children of both his wives and their concubines underscores how Ishmael was indeed a full son of Avraham, Avraham’s older son. Still Esau marrying a daughter of Ishmael did not reduce the bitterness of his parents, Yitzchak and Rivka, over Esau’s turning away from their teachings.

Yaakov journeyed into successfully breeding goats and sheep for specific characteristics. He journeyed into fighting corruption in the business dealings with is Uncle. He, with the help of his wives, journeyed into the politics of ownership by removal of the deeds of that time, the family idols, so that Laban could not claim ownership of his daughters and their offspring and, later, by a peace treaty delineating the boundaries between them.

Finally he journeyed back to the land of his parents, still in great fear of his brother and the potential of continued enmity. Next week we will read about how the two brothers reacted to each other after more than 14 years.

How has your life been a journey? Did you ever journey forward without a clue as to what would meet you along the way? Traveling on a wing and a prayer? May all your journeys be safe ones in health and peace!

Shabbat Shalom!

Shavuah Tov! Reconciling/ Protecting/ Sending

It seems to be a human thing that we do not listen carefully to others or that we presume things about them based on our biases or ... so that relationships with friends and particularly with family members often sour and seem irreparable. Yet we expect that family should be there for us... or do we? We at Beit Torah ( try to be a family to all, a place to go to just in case... However Yaacov only had one brother to turn to as we read in this week's parashah of VaYishlach:

VaYishlach 5779 ; Reconciling/ Sending/ Protecting; Bereishit 32:4-36:43; Ovadia 1:1-21

We have all heard the wisdom that you can not pick your family though you can pick your friends. Yet if family relationships have gone sour, how does one determine if reconciliation is called for?

In Yaacov [Jacob]’s case, he needed desperately to make peace with his brother, Esau, as he could no longer stay in the lands of Uncle Laban without great risk to his and his families welfare. He had to return to the land of his parents.

Yet both he and his brother had fears of how meeting with each other would turn out. Both were ready for the worst case scenario: Yaacov by splitting his entourage into two camps, thereby protecting at least some of them while sending one camp to meet Esau while holding the other one back in safety; Esau by bringing a large number of troops with him. Were their intentions pure when trying to reconcile? We can not be sure about Esau who offered to accompany Yaacov’s folk to a distant location. Wisely, Yaacov refused and went to camp closer [Sukkot] where the young of the children and the flock could more easily and safely rest up from the arduous journey. Yet future interactions seemed amicable.

Have you ever had a falling out with a friend or family member? Did you ever wonder whether it was worthwhile to try to reconcile? If so, how did you try to reconcile? Did it work?

Every year we encourage people to make amends and reconcile between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could do that all year round?

Shabbat Shalom!

In the present atmosphere of 'fake news' and deceptive announcements/ advertisements, where should we draw the line as to what is acceptable and what is not?  If someone else is spreading lies, would that justify our getting down in the muck with them and spread lies as well? We at Beit Torah do not think so. What does Torah say? Perhaps we can get an idea from this week's parasha of VeYeshev:

VaYeshev 5779 ; Deceiving; Bereishit 37:1-40:23; Amos 2:6-3:8

Is deception always wrong? This week in the portion of Parashat VaYeshev, we have three stories with deception as a core element. When the brothers sent Yosef into slavery, they ended up deceiving their father, Yaakov, into thinking that Yosef had been killed by a wild beast.

When Yehudah denied Tamar, his widowed daughter-in-law, a Levirate marriage, Tamar ended up deceiving him into getting her pregnant by pretending to be a harlot. This deception is apparently universally accepted as a righteous deception used to correct a wrong.

Thirdly, when Potiphar’s wife had her sexual advances rejected by Yosef, she deceived the Pharaoh's staff into thinking that Yosef had tried to sexually assault her. Based on her high status, she was believed and Yosef was incarcerated.

We are told in our readings that had the brothers not deceived their father and had Potiphar’s wife not deceived the Pharaoh's staff, then Yosef would not have become Grain Vizier to Pharaoh and our People would have succumbed to the famine. So we are faced with trying to decide when deceiving others is acceptable behaviour.

What do you think are good reasons to act deceptively? Can living by mitzvot ever allow you to deceive others? Are we permitted to pursue justice or safety through deception? Lots to ponder.

Shabbat Shalom!

Let the Light Grow 5779 Chanukah

Adele Jay

Little candles added one by one

Let the light grow stronger like the sun,

Brighter and brighter for all week long,

Filled with love and almost joyous song.

Yes, we were all saved but at what price?

Our freedom to worship is quite nice…

Yet then we denied that to others,

Leading to Herod and false brothers…

Still at this moment we can rejoice

O’er the principle of freedom’s voice,

If only we can keep in view

That all deserve these freedoms too.

Miketz 5779 ; Dreaming; Bereishit 41:1-44:17; Zechariah 2:14-4:7

What do dreams mean? Modern psychology would have us believe that dreams are expressions of our deepest desires, hopes, and fears. More ancient beliefs view dreams as prescient, predicting the future if only they can be interpretted correctly.

Earlier in Torah we read about Abimelech having a dream that Sarah was Avraham’s wife. He was able to interpret his own dreams without a dream interpretter. Hence he was considered a prophet. Are there two kinds of dreams: dreams of our hopes and fears as one kind and prophetic dreams as the other? If so, do they feel the same when dreamt?

Since Joseph was a child when he first had prophetic dreams, perhaps he needed to mature before he became a prophet who could interpret his and others’ prophetic dreams. By the time he was an adult in Pharaoh’s prison, he was able to accurately interpret dreams.

In this week’s portion of Parashat Miketz, Pharaoh had disturbing dreams. He sought a competent dream interpretter. At that point, Yoseph was remembered and came into the good graces of the Pharaoh for whom he interpretted dreams and accordingly built and managed storehouses of food for the eventual famine.

Did Yoseph realize at that point what his childhood dreams meant? Was that part of a plan to be there when the famine forced his brothers to ask to buy food in Egypt? Or- did it only occur to him when his brothers presented themselves for food?

Have you ever had a dream that seemed to predict an event that then happened? Did you take it as a prediction or recognize it only in hindsight? Do you even remember your dreams?

We all dream of a better tomorrow. What can we do better to achieve that desire?

Shabbat Shalom!

Are we our siblings' keeper? Are people all really one family? We at Beit Torah ( think that many people have forgotten that simple truth. So all the horrors of family discord do play out on the political arenas, in international relationships, even within our own communities. Does it really need to be so? What does Torah say? :

VaYigash 5779 ; Reuniting; Bereishit 44:18-47:27; Ezekiel 37:15 - 37:28

Dysfunctional and broken families can be found everywhere, unfortunately. We often hear about skeletons in the closets, abuses, or vicious infighting. Sometimes members stop interacting with each other. Should we be trying to reunite these broken families? Is such a goal realistic?

According to this week’s portion of Parashat Vayigash, not only is it desirable to reunite families but also possible. Even as Ishmael and Yitzchak worked together to honor their Father Avraham, and even as Yaacov and Esau patched up their differences, so too the sons of Yaacov and their Father reunited in joy and love. We are told that Yosef attributed the earlier family discord to divine will to enable all of the family to survive the famine in the Land.

Okay. There was a bit of drama with Yosef encouraging fear of Pharaoh with a fake theft of his chalice and with the hiding of his identity. Yet it is clear that he wanted to be reunited with his family. If you were in Yosef’s place, what thoughts would be going through your mind? Fear? Uncertainties? Hope?

Is it worth the effort to try to reunite a broken family despite fears and uncertainties? Does such an effort require all parties to work together to reunite amicably? How would you approach such an effort?

Jews have the tradition of making amends and patching up differences particularly during the Days of Awe [High Holy Days], but also nearly every month on the day before Rosh Chodesh (the start of the month) called Yom Kippur Katan, the little Yom Kippur. We at Beit Torah work towards being a family despite our differences. Let us pray that all people will see the light and try to be one peaceful, large family.
Shabbat Shalom!

Shavuah Tov! Blessings

Life is a constant series of ups and downs. We at Beit Torah ( try to wake each morning giving thanks for the blessings of our lives and in our lives. We pray for blessings for those in need and give thanks for the blessings of small kindnesses. Blessing and Blessings are a main focus of the last portion of Bereishit [Genesis] that we read this week. To wit:

VaYechi 5779 ; Blessing; Bereishit [Genesis] 47:28-50; 1Kings 2:1-12
Blessings are an integral part of everyone’s life. Even those who profess no religion can be heard offering a blessing of gratitude when barely escaping some unpleasantness. Blessings can also be blessings of praise of some entity [deity, person, group, etc.]

Further, Blessings can be blessings of inheritance: ethical lessons, praise of strengths, warnings of weaknesses, etc. This is what we read about this week in the last portion of Bereishit, Parashat VaYechi [and you should live].

The Israelites had settled in Goshen. Yaacov [Jacob] has become very old and nearing death. His sons gather round including the two sons of Yosef [Joseph]. As per family Hurrite tradition from Hauran of giving the inheritance responsibilities to the most deserving or the youngest, Yaacov gave Yosef a double portion by way of giving each of Yosef’s sons a portion. It is of note that the younger of Yosef’s sons was given the portion of leadership over his brother.

The format for Yaacov blessing the brothers of Yosef was one of ethical lessons warning each of his weaknesses and the adverse consequences they have brought and potentially could yet bring as well as praising each about his strengths. Then the brothers were encouraged to use these strengths in building strong tribes.

Do we focus on using our strengths to build our futures? How do we minimize the adverse effects of our weaknesses?
What do we bless in our lives? Are we thankful enough? Do we offer praise enough? What blessings are important to us in our lives?

May we all be blessed with Peace and Love…

Shabbat Shalom!

Civil rights are constantly being redefined. Rights for people of color are questioned. Rights for LGBTQ incite harsh feelings among some and often end up in court. Are the people without equal rights considered lesser beings? After all, the ERA amendment still needs another state to affirm it before becoming law! Are women lesser beings until that happens? Are these 'lesser beings' therefor somehow suffering a form of enslavement? Perhaps this week's parasha can shed a bit of light on these questions:

Shemot 5779 ; Enslaving; Shemot [Exodus] 1:1-6:1;
Sephard: Jeremiah 1:1-2:3; Ashkenaz: Isaiah 27:6 - 28:13; 29:22 - 29:23

In the USA we enjoy rights we feel entitled to and are recognized by the UN as Human Rights. When we feel our rights are endangered, we feel free to protest or write letters to public media or political leaders. Echoes of Nazi-like behaviour in our leaders should terrify us. We feel impotent to stop the huge illegal market for enslaving kidnapped women and children.

What can happen to remove rights from people? How can they be forced into servitude or slavery?

One way this could happen is described in this week’s portion of Parashat Shemot, the first portion of the book of Exodus [Shemot]. When the Israelites first came to Egypt, they were honored family members of an important Egyptian official. For a while they had a fair amount of self-rule. Yet they were still considered foreigners. Most other foreigners had come during the famine to get food. When they ran out of money, they sold themselves into servitude so that they could eat. For a while, the Egyptians let these foreigners work 3-6 months a year on Egyptian projects to pay off their debts. They were given food and shelter during these times and allowed off for their Holy Days.

Yet when the political winds changed over to a new Egyptian regime [invaders from the east?], all foreigners were considered to be a cheap source of labor and potential enemies of the state. As described in Torah, the terms of their servitude kept on getting more and more oppressive. Laws were decreed to control their procreation. Israelite rights and independence were progressively taken away.

Sound familiar? 1930’s? Present day immigrants? Present day minorities? Vietnamese refugees?

People are not perfect. What can we to do to fix these imperfections? Is it enough? Do we respect each other enough to care to do so?

Shabbat Shalom!

Is the world being plagued by an unwillingness to recognize the sanctity of life of all those born in this world? That lack of respect causes us at Beit Torah ( to be fearful for our safety, for our democracy, for our freedoms to respectfully speak, worship, and even think as we wish... Yet much more is plaguing our world even as the biblical world was plagued by a variety of horrors:

VaEra 5779 ; Plaguing; Shemot [Exodus] 6:2-9:35; Ezekiel 28:25 - 29:21

What is plaguing the modern world today? Volcanoes? Tsunamis? Floods? Hurricanes? Tornadoes? Fires? Droughts? Famine? Wars? Disease like Ebola?

Can we blame these disasters on any particular entity or group? Should we even bother to ask when working on repair and recovery may be far more important a task to tackle? Maybe we should just run away – but to where?

This week in the portion of Parashat VaEra, we get to view a world filled with plagues [disasters]. It was in a time during which all plagues were usually attributed to the wrath of HaShem. So Moshe and the Israelites understood that HaShem was plaguing the Egyptians in order to get the slaves freed from the abusive life they had to endure.

Still, this week’s parasha does not yet get to the release of the Israelites from Egypt. It is a cliffhanger ending with the hardening of the heart of Pharaoh.

Up until this point, the first 7 plagues could be explained by volcanic explosions such as the two preceding the massive third volcanic explosion as well as that massive one and the after explosion which destroyed half of the island of Thera not even 500 miles from Egypt. Red metal poisoning of the water from falling volcanic residues would kill the fish and cause the frogs to flee the water. Ash in the air would irritate the skin and cause it to feel like lice or other skin ailments. Insects would feed on the dead fish and later would flee before the ash laden air and seek shelter and food where-ever they could. Sufficient irritation of the skin would lead to scratching and infectious boils. Fiery hail sounds like brimstone from a massive volcanic eruption. So the vegetation and the livestock were debilitated and killed bringing wild beasts to feast on their carcasses. Likely knowing this, the Pharaoh was not impressed because a volcano was plaguing the land.

Volcanoes are only a small part of what is plaguing our times. What other plagues are challenging us? Are bigotry, hatred, or disrespect to be considered plagues? More importantly, how can we respond to these plagues? How can we recover and repair their damages? Is there a way we can prevent such plagues? The solution is probably quite complex even though we wish it were simple and easy… Shabbat Shalom!

It is well recognized that there will always be refugees seeking safety from natural disasters, political harm, or others life threatening situations. How we handle refugees shows what our ethical metal is made of. We at Beit Torah ( wonder how the worldwide refugee problems can be handled while respect for all is maintained. There have been refugees in every generation as we read in the book of Exodus and, particularly, in this week's portion of Bo:

Bo 5779 ; Fleeing; Shemot [Exodus] 10:1-13:16; Jeremiah 46:13 - 46:28

Last week we discussed whether fleeing was a good option for escaping plagues. However there was no good place to flee to.

This week in the portion of Parashat Bo, we learn that sometimes one needs to go on a wing and a prayer. We read that Moshe told all that they had to have faith that what he instructed them was HaShem’s will so that they could be released from servitude with the goal of eventually reaching the ancestral land of Avraham, Sarah, Yitzchak, Rifka, Yaacov, Leah, and Rachel.

Who were all these folk in this mixed multitude fleeing servitude? They were foreigners and the oppressed. During the seven years of famine, many foreigners moved to Egypt. When their funds to buy food were depleted, they sold themselves into servitude. So, too, the poor of the country who were already living there. Then though, when the locusts ate the last of the year’s crops, the people once again needed to rely on the pits of stored grains for food. Those pits had not been used for the time during the darkness: the thick, palpable, volcanic explosion polluted air.

Independent documentation records nine days of darkness in Egypt central/ northern regions. So three days near/ in Goshen of darkness was barely a taste of the plague.

Particulates were precipitating all over including on the tops of the bitumen/tar covered food storage pits. Toxic particulates. Now Egyptian custom was to feed the firstborn of livestock and people first from the first food portions removed from the storage pits… The people who wanted to flee ate primarily lamb.

Why would the neighbors who were staying give those fleeing their portable wealth? Were they bartering for non-portable properties in exchange? If you were fleeing, what emotions would you be feeling?

What emotions are modern refugees feeling? Syrians? Africans? Yemenites? Latin Americans? Rohinja? To where can they flee? What is the humanitarian view on these challenges? What is the Jewish view? How can these views be funded? Conundrums upon conundrums… Shabbat Shalom!

In what or whom do you trust? The government? Your clergy? Family? Friends? HaShem? When times get rough, do you lose that trust? We at Beit Torah ( find that each person has their own unique answer. Yet people tend to be fickle, trusting differently [albeit perhaps not wisely] as their life situations change. Still, people now reflect what people have always been as described in this week's portion of Parashat B'Shallach :

B’Shallach 5779 ; Trusting; Shemot [Exodus] 13:17-17:16;
Judges 4.4-5.31 Sepharadim begin with 5.1

Last week the People were faced with the choice of whether to stay in Egypt after the plagues or trust in Moshe and HaShem to flee on a wing and a prayer. Yet how far does such trust go? What did the people think that the living conditions would be as they fled? Perhaps they were not thinking or reflecting on the future. They just wanted to flee for their lives even as today’s refugees are fleeing for their lives.

So for the initial stage of flight through a lush wadi, the People did not complain as we read this week in the portion of Parashat B’Shallach. Perhaps they were more focussed on fear of the pursuing Egyptians. One would think that the trust they had placed in Moshe up to that point and through their miraculous escape from the Egyptian chariots at the Sea of Reeds would have solidified their trusting Moshe.

However rather than brave the coastal road east where there were food supplies, but also conflict between invaders [Philistines] and the locals, Moshe chose a more southernly route along the wilderness. Conditions for the People became much more challenging, especially regarding food and water. Their trust diminished and their complaints became quite loud. Many stopped trusting in Moshe and HaShem.

We still see this behaviour in people today. If they are not happy with what they have, they will protest, riot, or vote a different party in to govern even though it might make their lot in life much worse. They have no patience to think things out and evaluate possible consequences. If things are not going their way, they will try to cheat, lie, or deceive to get to the goal they want. They do not trust being honest. They do not trust they are on the best path even though they might be.

In what do you put your trust? In whom do you put your trust? Is it naive to be trusting? Beyond HaShem, is there anything or anyone who is trustworthy? May we go forward trusting that we can find the best possible path for ourselves.

Shabbat Shalom!