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!