Normally I do not do sermons for Yom Kippur. However given that I hear widespread confusion engendered by the politicization of the pandemic, I am sharing now some of the words I recently shared with a friend and colleague who is intensely worried about the pandemic and this widespread confusion. Please know that the reliable epidemiologists do agree on what needs to be done – and has never been done.
Further if I read many of you correctly, the pandemic causes you the greatest angst because you have not been able to understand what proper epidemiological approaches are- whether or not there are treatments, cures, vaccines, or whatever. Perhaps some give equal weight to myths as to the words of respected trained professionals. If so the Rambam would have been most distressed with those folk...
As an epidemiologist [a Dr.], I know that there are specific protocols for dealing with a pandemic, protocols ignored by the administration. This is not opinion but rather scientifically based, fact driven procedures based on scientific observations of what works best in epidemiology.
Hence first, I want to describe the bare bones minimal medical wisdom: In order to fight a pandemic one needs to have three basic prongs: testing, tracing, and quarantine. Testing needs to be widespread, rapid, and frequent both to determine active cases and to determine who has already had antibody build up against the virus. For those who test active, quarantine is essential as well as thorough contact tracing to alert others they have been in contact with and to test them as well.
For those who have antibodies, they need to be monitored both to see how long antibody levels remain elevated and whether they show signs of reinfection happening. However no concerted effort was made to get adequate and proper testing capacity, adequate contact tracing, and adequate quarantining. We still do not have anywhere near what is needed in large part due to lack of funding.
Further, masks should be worn properly by everyone outside of their homes – and frequent hand washing. If in a multi-person home, a person testing active needs to wear a mask and stay away from others. Ideally there would be quarantine hostels/apartments/hotels for all who test positive so they would not risk infecting others in their household. Top medical experts have repeatedly stressed that masks are the most important aspect to our safety.
One needs to recall that no one method is perfect. For instance: A mask might leak if not 100% snug or if the person wiggles it around or moves it to be heard better. Hence there are no absolutes and never will be. We can only do our best to minimize exposures. A great part of that then falls on the individual to properly follow the health recommendations. Education to maximize understanding and implementation of these recommendations is also critical – and has not been funded adequately. Further it has been muddied by political myths and disreputable people claiming to be medical professionals but who do not have expertise in the area.
An example just happened in a congressional hearing when Rand Paul ‘questioned’ Dr. Fauci. Rand Paul is a non-practicing doctor who has not specialized in epidemiology and related. He also has political motivations. big time. One can tell by his inflammatory language. Fauci was on the defensive as he explained that he did the best he could with information he had and knowing that testing was minimal. However shut down was spotty. Home quarantine partial. Use of masks limited. Hence as more info came in, fine tuning of what needed to be done naturally occurred. Additionally he needed to factor in that resources were not made available to do what he originally recommended.
Some of you are hurting. I hear you. Lumping other concerns such as about bigotry into a question as to whether government interferes with providing adequate aid to those in need is not a rational way to approach the question asked. I suspect it is personal for many of you – as it is for me. However I try to stay focussed on the question – of how to do adequate Tikun Olam given the resources and conditions we have to work with.
Perhaps concerned folk should research the flu epidemics and the TB epidemic and other past epidemics. Also a history of Typhoid Mary might give further insights. Consulting with widely respected professional epidemiologists might also be helpful. Ask questions of people who are trained to have the answers- not sycophants to a particular ideology such as anti-vaccination folk, or gaia adherents, scientologists, or herd immunity idiots, etc.. For the last, Sweden decided to try for herd immunity and had highest morbidity and mortality of the Scandinavian nations. The highest scientific adviser later said as she resigned her post that she deeply regretted with going that way and causing needless suffering and deaths. [‘Herd immunity’ by itself is a form of natural selection...]
As for opening schools or not: rather than have federal health guidance, the decisions have been left up to the states and often the states leave it up to each school board. There has been no major effort to increase funding to enable adequate safety measures in the schools. During the TB epidemic of the 1900’s, school classes were moved outdoors and everyone wore masks. For us, testing, tracing, and quarantine need to continue. Indoors one would need physical distancing as well as masks, improved ventilation from the typical 3 full cycles per hour to 9 per hour, and a low student to teacher ratio. Again funding for these measures does not exist.
Certain groups of students cannot learn remotely. They should be the focus for the first return to school programs with adequate safety measures in place.
The disagreement among officials is most often politically based and has nothing to do with reliable medical advice. Restaurants and other indoor places were opened contrary to medical advice due to economic concerns placing profits over the lives of people.
As for PPE’s: there have not been adequate PPE’s available. Often the medical providers have to re-use items without any guaranteed way to safely decontaminate them and recycle them. Some equipment sent them was defective as well. Plus when these people are off-duty, there are additional ways they could be exposed to the virus outside of the work environment. I also have seen medical providers who apparently do not have a concept of proper sterility and isolation measures and hence put themselves and others at risk of cross-infection. [They would have flunked my micro classes.] So yes, some medical providers have died of covid-19.
One guiding voice needed to come from the Federal government, but has been quelled by the politics of the executive branch. Fauci and others do speak out on other forums.
As for viruses: viruses are parasites made of nucleic acids often coated in a protein envelope. When not in a host they are dormant and can not do any biological functions. When in a host, they hijack the hosts machinery to replicate the nucleic acid and to make various proteins that can cause severe adverse symptoms. Given that they replicate, they can be considered alive [but that will depend on how one defines life- however that definition is irrelevant. what is relevant is how they function.]. Disinfectant does not per se ‘kill’ them but rather denatures them so that they can no longer infect a host. De facto that amounts to ‘killing’ them as they no longer can replicate. Given the abysmal science education of the country’s people, language has been dumbed down by some of the various centers of information. Anti-bacterials are not what is used for disinfecting. Anti-microbials work against both bacteria and viruses as well as other microbials such as fungi and prions.
COVID is an RNA virus, a coronavirus. It acts differently than DNA viruses like influenza. It is related to the 2 previous SARS viruses.
I am happy to answer any of your concerns and questions or help find solid scientific resources for you that can answer your queries. As per Rambam: learning the facts of your generation is the best way to be able to interpret Torah – [and live a healthy, safe life...]
There are no definitive answers in life. In part that is why we pray on the High Holy Days that we understand that there are many ways a person can die but plead for our own deaths to be delayed until old age takes us. The ever present uncertainty factor... We can only control our lives up to a certain point. There are no guarantees as to the outcomes. The cumulative choices made by everyone will determine what happens to us and the world. We each only control a tiny part of that...
So we all feel unsafe to one extent or another. Hence we pray.
Gmar Chatima Tova
Shana Tova Tichateimu
If this information can be helpful to others, please feel free to share.
Blessings and Love
Shabbat Sukkot 5781
Sukkot IS Outdoors!
Now what a joy it is to realize
That Sukkot’s a holiday all outside!
While far distancing we can pray and more
Like shake the Lulav, observances’ core -
Do Sukkah hakafot should we desire
As we now share good weal we so admire.
Eating delicious meals becomes no chore
When positive wishes come through the door.
So YES to outside with guests we don’t hide:
RBG or grandpa, dead or alive!
Yom Kippur went well mostly online. A service with a memorial Yiskor section was done on the phone as was a final service with shofar blowing and Havdalah. Given volunteer help, our Sukkah is now up and ready to go. Physical distancing can be done outside so that eating the yummies without masks will be possible. The Sukkah will be available all week along with lulav and etrog. All are welcome to sit in the Sukkah, shake lulav, and eat goodies. Morning hours are best to avoid the heat.
Sukkot starts the evening of 10/2 through the weekend. Intermediate days are all the weekdays. We will beat willow branches to lose their leaves symbolic of our last sins on Friday morning, 10/9. The Eighth day of Assembly, Shemini Atzeret is on Shabbat. Simchat Torah, Rejoicing in the Torah is Sunday 10/11/20, complete with rewinding the Torah back to the beginning…
So Chag Sukkot Sameach and Shabbat Shalom! Be safe y’all!
High Holy Days Closing
We’ve beaten the willows until all leaves fell,
These symbols of our sins are hence gone as well
As we contemplate the memories of our dear dead:
Our lost parents, our teachers, our role models we’ve read…
We’ve prayed for ourselves to be sealed for a great New Year.
We’ve prayed that recalcitrant rains will promptly appear.
While the gates to the divine realm will soon be closed tight
We’ll start cycles anew, rejoice in Torah come night!
Bereishit 5781; Recycling; Bereishit 1-6:8; Isaiah 42:5 - 43:10
Will Cain kill Abel once again
As history repeats itself?
Will Abel this time escape unscathed
Or will Cain prosper from Abel’s wealth?
It is as though life restarts anew
With every encroaching extinction.
The rich and the poor will all pass on.
Death will make ‘tween them no distinction.
Unless we can learn to work as one,
Our planet and lives will soon be done.
Will it be a deluge or massive fires?
We have no answers although we inquire…
Next week in Noach we’ll discover the outcome of the Mabool Flood, one possible answer to mass extinction… In the meantime be safe and
Lech Lecha - Go Forth into the Unknown
Lech Lecha 5781, Into the Unknown; Genesis 12-17; Isaiah 40:27 – 41:16
“Go forth, Avram, and explore the unknown,” said HaShem. Gee! That sounds like biblical Star Desert Trek [navigated by the stars]…
So after his brother was killed before them, perhaps as an encouragement to the family to flee by the new anti-semitic Elamite regime. Avram’s father felt he had no choice but to flee west to Hauran. Since they had domesticated camels from their Caucuses origin [a rarity in the areas of Ur, Hauran, Canaan, Egypt, etc. except for caravan merchants and royalty], it is likely they had friendly contacts along the trade routes such as in Hauran. These contacts would have helped them resettle.
Hence when HaShem told Avram ‘Lech Lecha’, Avram went forth trustingly to explore the unknown. There were adventures with Pharaoh, with invading kings, with an arrogant concubine abused by his wife, and ever many more.
Were these experiences lessons to teach Avram humility and how to work for non-violent solutions to problems? Did they teach him to be a diplomat? Did they teach him how to pursue a more ethical life? Given all this, how do you think Avram would have handled the divisiveness of our modern times?
If these were lessons to improve Avram’s approach to the world, they were only the start of all the lessons he would experience. Our portion of Parashat Lech Lecha ends with an Avram still seeking HaShem’s favor by circumcising himself, his son Ishmael, and all of his entourage.
Bereishit [Genesis] pauses at this point to let the newly re-named Avraham recover from his ordeals. It is a good pause that also lets us ponder the experiences of our own lives and compare/ contrast them with those of Avram. How did each of us reach a point where Torah study is included if not important to us? Whether it be by reading Torah interpretations and commentaries by past or present Rabbis or by incorporating Haftorah readings, we have all regularly included a bit of Torah or Tanach study into our lives. Why? Are we like Avraham, striving to live more ethical lives?
Be safe in these uncertain times!
It has been a tense time of late with many challenges, often illogical, to existing voting rules and often no flexibility to accommodate pandemic difficulties. We at Beit Torah bless the mail in ballot. Even in Torah it appears that sometimes, but rarely, there are exceptions to the rules:
VaYera 5781, Exceptions to the Rules; Genesis 18-22; 2 Kings 4
This week’s portion of Parashat VaYera seems to describe a busy and somewhat perplexing group of events. What may seem to us to be obvious rules appear to be challenges on many levels.
We would think that it would be unacceptable to offer daughters up for prostitution as is later written in Torah. Yet to save the lives of guests an exception nearly was made for Lot. In the end, we are told that the law/rule was reinforced as the ‘guests’ blinded the mob at the door. Nonetheless an exception later was made for Lot. Even though incest is not something we would endorse, Lot’s line was preserved through his daughters who thought there were no other men in the world. One wonders where they got so much alcohol [wine] to keep Lot inebriated and so sloshed that he would not realize his joining with them…
A little trickier is the use of partial dishonesty to avoid the possibility of men wanting to kill you in order to steal your drop dead gorgeous wife. The ploy worked the first time in Egypt, resulting in the accumulation of considerable wealth. Was it a bribe to insure that no accusation of adultery would be levelled at the Pharaoh? However when the same ploy is used with Abimelech, one wonders if it was a con used to get richer [based on previous results] – or if Avraham was truly fearful for his life.
Two rules in this parashah very clearly have no exceptions. Child sacrifice can never be accepted. The corollary is that human sacrifice can never be accepted. Yet some still question these truths. Think about several people shipwrecked at sea in a life-raft for days with little if any supplies…
How do we cut corners in our lives? How well do we observe speed limits? Are we carving out exceptions in the rules for ourselves? Do we need exceptions to the rules such as for pandemic effects? Let us ponder these questions in comradery and good intents come Shabbat!
Be safe in these uncertain times!
In these unsettling times we all wish to go forward with informed consent, factually informed about the pressing issues of today. We at Beit Torah try to follow Torah and teachings of sages to determine what is factual and what misinformation. Informed consent apparently was important to the ancestors as well as seen in this week’s portion of Parashat Chayei Sarah:
Chayei Sarah 5781, Family Unity with Informed Consent,
Bereishit 23:1-25:18; 1Kings 1:1-31
Not all our Genesis stories reinforce family unity and informed consent. However, this week’s portion of Parashat Chayei Sarah clearly speaks to informed consent especially by women. It is seen in Rivka’s need to agree first to the marriage proposal before embarking on the journey to marry Yitzchak. Maybe female equality and independence ran in the family as we certainly saw such independence and strength in Sarah.
The legacy of Sarah was through her sons
As educated partner, her husband’s true love,
She counselled and protected him, Avraham,
While they travelled the world, she charmed the leaders -
As she watchfully raised with deep love Yitzchak, her son,
Cherished much more than Ishmael, her adopted one.
Still both sons became great nations together
When they honored, buried, their beloved Father
Priestess to Princess, equal in stature to
Sarah, a model of being human, teaching
”she can” !
Family Unity is another theme of these Genesis stories from Avram protecting Lot repeatedly to family acting together for parental last rites and more despite disappointments and differences as we will see soon in upcoming parashot. If only our country could see itself as a family…
Toldot - a gadfly edition of the weekly commentary:
Toldot 5779 ; Repeating; Bereishit 25:19-28:9; Malachai 1:1-2:7
Toldot as a poetic parashah:
Once again two brothers, sibs looking like day and night,
one righteous and caring, the other ready to fight.
Once again two paths of opposite extremes,
both leading to great nations by either means.
Was it a con on Yitzchak or a story to share
with neighbors whose bias was firstborn inherit there?
Yet Hurrite practice was to the most worthy must go
inheritance despite needing to flee in fright and woe!
Thinking about Lech Lecha, VaYera and even Toldot, one wonders how important was it in biblical times to maintain the honor - or at least the appearance of honor- among the leaders of people such as Pharaohs, Tribal Priests, men of wealth, Kings, etc. If it was all important so that those leaders would not be killed or overthrown, then one must ask:
Was Sarah actually Avraham's half-sister?
Was saying so a ploy to prevent harm to Avraham or to con the Pharaoh and, later, Avimelech?
Did Pharaoh actually not have sexual interactions with Sarah?
Was the wealth given to Avram a bribe to keep quiet about sexual improprieties by the Pharaoh - thus maintaining the honor of Pharoah?
Did Avimelech actually not have sexual interactions with Sarah?
Was the wealth given to Avraham a bribe to keep quiet about sexual improprieties by Avimelech - thus maintaining the honor of Avimelech?
Was it just coincidence that Sarah gave birth to Yitzchak less than a year after the episode with Avimelech?
Did Lot actually not give his daughters over to the mob wanting to harm his 'guests'?
Did Lot, alternatively, give them to the mob resulting in their pregnancies? If so it would dishonor the family to have daughters as harlots...
Hence, did Lot and his daughters [when they met up with people after their sojourn in a cave] concoct a story of pregnancies after the escape from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah that would explain their children and maintain their honor?
The toughest questions revolve around the [almost] sacrifice of Yitzchak. Many have asked whether Yitzchak was sacrificed given that he did not return to the waiting servants along with Avraham. Others posit that Yitzchak was so angry with his father that he went off in a different direction [with no supplies, servants, or steeds]. If indeed he was an adult, he might have had the skills to successfully do so... but as a child???
What if he were one of a set of twins where one was sacrificed and the other married Rivka? Would not the changing of the narrative to only one son save Avraham's honor?
Are the episodes in these portions all related to the preservation of the honor of the leaders of the time - and consequently maintaining the peace and preventing civil unrest?
Was it a con for Rivka and Yitzchak to have tried the sister-wife ploy again on Avimelech?
Was the scheme, also in Toldot, to get Yaacov the inheritance blessings just another con to convince the neighbors that it was confusion of a blind old man [who lived decades more afterwards] rather than the family following Hurrite tradition of inheritance going to the most worthy of the offspring?
Are we the descendants of very successful con men and women such as Solomon who may have ascended to the throne by a con perpetrated on David by Batsheba and the Priest Nathan convincing him of a promise that might not have been made? [or maybe it was just politics…]
Many questions from a gadfly, so few answers…
Be safe and SHABBAT SHALOM!
As some welcome Thanksgiving, it is upon us to recall that it is not a holiday for many. Whether from being a native american to being displaced from natural disasters, pandemic caused poverty or illness, jahrzeits of loved ones, or loss of safety and security; it is a time of shock and grief for many. We at Beit Torah know we must protect each other the best we can as a family unified against the woes of the world, even as Yaacov, Rachel, and Leah protected their family:
Shabbat VaYetzei, Thanksgiving Weekend, 5781; More Family [Dis]Unity
Genesis 28:10-32:3; Hosea 11:7-12:12 Sephard; 12:13-14:10 Ashkenaz
He loved his Mother enough to deceive his Father.
Yet his conscience did trouble his days going forward.
Then he received the deceit of his Uncle Laban
To which he responded in an honest way with no sword.
Not so with Rachel who understood well her Father:
To restrain violence he surely would not bother.
She knew she needed to interrupt his decisions
By removing his counselors, idols of visions...
So that claims to property and children became moot;
So that in local court he could never win a suit.
Thus Jacob, Leah, Rachel showed family unity
With fourteen plus years resisting Laban’s impunities.
Still discord and fear of Father Laban, his offspring,
Who were ready to fight for all flocks, lands, and well springs -
Until a treaty was agreed to amid a feast,
With boundary markers set and servitude released!
Not all was unity during all those years as related in this week’s portion of Parashat VaYetzei. Laban unilaterally kept changing work terms to less favorable for Yitzchak. Rachel and Leah vied for Yaacov’s attention and for presenting him sons from themselves or their surrogates.
Although tricked into marrying both twins Leah and Rachel, we learn that Yaacov was a good husband to both and included them in important family decisions [31:15-16]. So despite the rivalry between the two sisters as to who would bear more sons, it is clear that they worked together for the best welfare of the family.
Given the insinuated threats from Laban and his sons, brothers to Rachel and Leah, Yaacov left an uncomfortable and perhaps dangerous situation with his entire family and much wealth in livestock and followers while being told not to come back ever – just like his paternal grandparents in Egypt before him. Did better and broader education, along with awareness of the existing politics, help Yaacov honestly prevail over dishonest and poorly educated Laban? Would such help us prevail in politics?
As for karma: Was Yaacov’s ‘deceit’ of his Father Yitzchak repaid by Laban’s deceit towards him? Will the travails of childbirth be karmic repayment to Rachel for her absconding with her Father’s teraphim, family idols? Are these just coincidences?
We at Beit Torah recognize that there are natural consequences to our actions which may have wide rippling effects. Indeed the violence of Shimon and Levi led to the family needing to flee and to the deaths of Devorah and Rachel. What are the natural consequences of not repairing family, community, or government discord?
VaYishlach 5781; Repairing Discord; Bereishit 32:4-36:43; Ovadia 1:1-21
‘Being sent out’ in verse: Karma Continues
Yaacov struggled with his pain
over fear of brotherly wrath.
One misstep done and he could go lame
or even lose sons along his path.
Hard to overcome family discord
as when broken sib trust must be restored:
Language is cautious, actions ever more so
as family unity’s where they must go:
‘I now won’t step on yours, please do not step on mine.
If together we do so, we both should be fine.’
Yet even that path was still fraught with danger
When Dinah was raped by a Princely stranger.
Shimon and Levi killed all the Shechem men,
Vengeance for their sister’s rape – and then
They fled: midwife Devorah did die;
Rachel, bereft, in childbirth did cry:
“By my suffering I am killed.”
Jacob’s sorrow could not be stilled…
He buried dear Rachel on the way
to Father Yitzchak, where he could stay,
who lived one hundred eighty years we’ve heard:
By both Jacob and Esau was interred...
Can we light our candles though in quarantine?
Of course we can and must let their light be seen.
Must we have parties or give gifts to other folk?
Only if we protect ourselves – NOT A JOKE!
Masks, distance, zoom, ventilation in each room
Preclude goyish parties but let gifts resume
Their flow by mail carrier to each loved one,
Although we must be satisfied with less fun…
Yet the only observance that we must do
Is share the Chanukah candles’ lights anew!
We at Beit Torah wonder where the line is between honesty and deception when telling the whole truth might cause severe damage to others. When does a con become a vital deception to save souls and lives - Pikuach Nefesh?
Shabbat Chanukah! VaYeishev 5781; Con or Vital Deception?; Bereishit 37-40; Zecharia 2:14-4:7 [also the haftorah for B’haalotecha] [if not Chanukah: Amos 12:6-3:8]
After abuse by Judah in unseemly ways,
Tamar and loyal friends decided on a con.
Posed as a comely harlot to sweeten his days,
She could build then family on his dead sons’ names.
When discovered she knew to show proofs of his feat
So that Judge Judah had to admit to defeat.
Was this con truly a vital deception
To lead to David’s line with a warm reception?
Children know nothing of family unity.
They pick on each other with gross impunity.
Whether their Mothers in honor were different
Or Father’s favors flamed jealousies needing vent,
The lording dreams of their flaky brother Yosef
Pushed some o’er the edge of brotherly devotion
To sell their brother to become a slave in Egypt,
To lie of Yosef’s death to pain Father’s emotions.
Yet had they not done so, the whole family was doomed.
So too the baseless lies of Potifar’s lewd wife
Had helped to prepare Yosef for fame clearly well groomed,
Soon, as the grain Vizier with wide powers and full life!
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Chanukah Sameach [Dec. 10-18]!
In Mishnaic times an additional Torah reading of the initial sacrifices and offerings of the tribes in the desert was read during Shabbat Chanukah I. [Num 7 in a different scroll] Many Orthodox groups still read this. We at Beit Torah no longer incorporate readings of animal sacrifices. Instead we discuss the sacrifices of our beings in order to remain Jewish both in life and in death.
Miketz 5781; Revenge or Vital Deception?;
Bereishit 41:1-44:17; 1 Kings 3:15-4:1
Dreamcatchers can catch all sorts of dreams.
Dream tellers tell us what they mean.
Given Pharaoh’s dreams, Yosef then could say
Plenty and famine were on their way.
Overseeing grain stores became Yosef’s day,
So folk from far lands for food came to pay.
Among them ten brothers, Yosef’s kin unknown
Coming from Canaan land where no food had grown.
A tearful Yosef welcomed them all
Alone to eat in a great big hall.
He told them to come back only if
They did bring their youngest brother with.
The famine was strong, scarce was more food.
It forced Ya-acov to change his mood
So that his beloved Benyamin could then go
To seek food for their folk, woe forgo.
Relief all around, anxious to leave
When they were all ready to go back.
Was it revenge or a clever ploy to
Hide his goblet in his full brother’s pack?
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Chanukah Sameach [Dec. 10-18]!
We at Beit Torah pray for all parts of this country to be reunited. The benefits of reuniting and working together are shown in this week’s portion of Parashat VaYiggash:
VaYiggash 5781; Reuniting; Bereishit 44:18-47:27; Ezekiel 37:15-28
Judah spoke to defend his Father
From his youngest being also lost.
Yosef, overcome with emotion,
In private told what treachery cost:
Egyptian family able to save them!
So to bring Jacob back to Egypt they went.
Now Jacob at one hundred thirty years old
Was wizened, depressed, cranky and prone to vent.
Clearly Jacob was very feeble and cold
When “Yosef, your son, is alive!” he was told:
Serah sang a sweet song to him so that he truly would believe
“Yosef is still alive” she said, “Go to Egypt and you will see!”
So he packed up all his flocks and folk to travel to his lost son,
To bless the Pharaoh ‘fore he died, knowing safety now had been won.
To Goshen they then went to thrive and prosper.
Others, in famine, indentured selves for food.
Pharaoh was enriched with flocks and food payments…
Soon another Pharaoh will come, change the mood...
Do you know the story of Serah? How did it come to be? Was selling Yosef to Egypt really a treacherous act – or Yad HaShem, the hand of God? Do you perceive Yad HaShem in your lives? How?
We at Beit Torah pray for healing despite recent traumatizing events. May we have a comfortable settling in period once the pandemic passes, at least for a while as they did in this week’s portion of VaYechi:
VaYechi 5781; Settling In; Bereishit 47:28-50:26; 1 Kings 2:1-12
Now Ya-acov lived seventeen years more with family all around.
Although carried by others to and fro, his deep joy and peace were found.
He blessed Yosef’s two sons to be his double portion.
He gathered other sons to tell them their flaws and strengths.
Each gained a blessing o’er what they had done or not done
Before he rested and came to his long journey’s end:
Embalmed for the long travel home
To be with his Fathers, Mothers, and less loved Wife.
We see then with approval
That Yosef held fast to forgiving all of his contentious brothers’ strife.
Next, too, another ending of one hundred and ten years of Yosef’s life,
Embalmed and in waiting to return home to Canaan with all of the tribes.
As Jews we decry embalming, yet twice in this final portion of Bereishit [Genesis] we hear of major Jewish leaders being embalmed. Why was it okay for them and not for us? Different acceptable burial traditions? Lack of refrigeration and no rapid burial? Avoidance of Egyptian religious rituals during the embalming? Both these last two? Why not now? May we be involved with more pleasant thoughts in our present lives other than death and embalming!
We at Beit Torah pray for all manner of blessings as we embark on a new Gregorian year and on a new Book of Torah as we prepare for plagues yet to come:
Shemot 5781 ; Introducing Moshe ; Shemot [Exodus] 1:1-6:1;
Sephard: Jeremiah 1:1-2:3; Ashkenaz: Isaiah 27:6 - 28:13; 29:22 - 29:23
Moshe Grows Up
“It is not yet Pesach,” dear Ellie would say,
“So why do we read this portion on this day?”
She was one of our folk, passed on a couple years back.
Yet every year at this time, this question she’d ask!
It is the Pesach story that starts the Book of Names,
Shemot, a saga with intrigue, harsh plagues, and games.
We start with the cruelty of a conquering Pharaoh
Decreeing death to newborn boys without a care – Oh
But for Shifra and Puah who refused to do so
By saying strong Hebrew women did not need their help
When a baby boy or girl by themselves they could whelp.
Then Yochevet’s baby in a closed cradle was placed
As Sis Miriam to the Princess swiftly did race.
“From water did I pull you,” the Princess exclaimed.
“As a result, henceforth, Moshe will be your name.”
When grown he saw an overseer vilely act.
He killed him. ‘Twas known to Hebrew Slaves as a fact.
So he fled to Midian, to a Priest’s daughters was kind.
This led to friendship as Zipporah to wife he did find.
This story began here when HaShem now did appear
In a burning bush that neither ashed nor disappeared!
HaShem did proclaim, “To Egypt you must go:
From Horeb to Pharaoh for desert prayers to plead
For all Hebrews with elders, wives, and children in tow -
Just as was given to other folk when such was their need.
A snake rod, a hand with white scales, and blood as water
Are grand signs for in Pharaoh’s court to be seen and heard.”
Moshe’s protest: ‘I’m not worthy! ‘Twill be a slaughter!”
“So let Aaron convince them with his eloquent words,”
Said HaSHem as he promised with their neighbors’ wealth
There later would be an exit at night in stealth…
So Moshe asked from Yitro, top Midian Priest, permission to go
While HaShem said: ”Egyptian firstborn die if plea’s refused by Pharaoh.”
Some of this prediction Zipporah did hear
Hence for her Egyptian firstborn she clearly did fear.
So he would be a Hebrew, his small foreskin she took
To save his life when the Angel of Death came to look.
Yet when Moshe asked Pharaoh for wilderness prayers,
He and Aaron were laughed out of court, kicked down the stairs!
As life became harder with withdrawn straw for the bricks,
Hebrews could not meet quotas, could not use sticks…
Those Hebrews did curse them, causing them both such despair…
Then HaShem cautioned patience: “Moshe, we will get there!”
Wow was this a long parashah! So much to ponder and discuss! Here we have a prediction of all that will come without the details of the plagues. What parts caught your fancy? What would you wish to discuss? Can any of this be applied to our lives today? If so, what?
As we are living through a pandemic plague, can we relate to the people in Egypt inundated with plagues? We at Beit Torah feel the palpable pandemic fear overlaid on our usual medical concerns and complicating them. How then did the Egyptians feel when bombarded with plague troubles? As we now read details of the first group of plagues, think about how those afflicted felt during those days:
VaEra 5781; Plagues and Pandemics, Pandemic Plagues;
Shemot [Exodus] 6:2-9:35; Ezekiel 28:25-29:21; Isaiah 66:1-24
No details were given last week in our preview.
So now we embark on this version two, brand new…
HaShem promised Moshe soon there would be release
Even though the Hebrews firmly refused to believe.
Then Moshe, in fear, said he truly could not speak,
So HaShem spoke to Aaron, his spokesman to be.
Hence to prove his credentials: lineage revealed
[Though Miriam’s not mentioned as to Yocheved born].
Thus now with this info was his leadership sealed,
Moshe and Aaron returned to their task forlorn.
When going back to Pharaoh with his hardened heart,
Aaron’s snake rod swallowed the magicians’ - all parts.
Pharaoh still said ‘no’, your folk to pray can not go’ -
Despite other nations being allowed even though!
So blood was the first plague in water, wood, and stone
Since volcanic iron oxide paints all red roan;
Poisons the water so that fish die, rot and smell;
Lets uneaten tadpoles escape to land as well...
Now light volcanic ash is like lice on skin cooking;
Will kill food sources, so hungry insects come looking;
Will sicken the air so that all will feel ill until
The skin bubbles open as blisters or boils in pain
Only to be struck by fiery hail and again
Another plague since Pharaoh refused still…
Historical documentations by the Ipuwer papyri [circa 1600 BCE] support the occurrence of the biblical plagues and coincided with the first of the expulsion of Semites from Egypt and with the massive volcanic explosions of Thera that destroyed about half the island about 400 miles away from Egypt. This is consistent with the teachings of the Rambam, Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, and others that HaShem does not violate natural laws but uses them to cause what appears to us to be ‘miracles’. Shabbat Shalom!
We at Beit Torah are grateful for our hard won freedom now and then:
Bo 5781; Freedom at Last; Shemot [Exodus] 10:1-13:16; Jeremiah 46: 13-28
Now there wasn’t much left to drink or eat
After the bugs and the boils and the beasts,
So when hungry locusts then swarmed the land
Almost naught for people remained but sand.
Even when locusts to marshes were blown,
Pharaoh continued refusing to yield.
“So blind you are,” Aaron then told Pharaoh,
“A darkness plague will make your blindness real.”
Volcanic debris in Thera’s umbra
Made particle filled air quite touchable.
Nine Ipuwer days or three from Torah,
Either caused asthma, fear so palpable,
That the people were more than ready to go
If only okayed by the cruel Pharaoh…
Alas, he said ‘no’, no flocks could go…
Hence from the neighbors riches to “borrow”-
Post-firstborn deaths. Folk fled on the morrow.
So momentous a moment, Sages say,
That we must remember each year this day
With signs on our hands, also between our eyes,
To recall Egyptian servitude cries
Which led to freedom for all who did heed:
Blood on Lintels, roast lamb on which to feed,
Burn all the leftovers, flee at dawn’s break
With unleavened bread of no time to bake.
Further, to HaShem our firstborn belong
Recalling that last plague of dark horror.
That we were set free becomes now our song
Recalled each year in matzah and maror.
The Death of the Firstborn can also be tied to the toxic deposits of the volcanic debris and ash. Since all food sources were destroyed save the tar covered warehouse pits, all Egypt would have used them. However first portions always went to the firstborn - and they would have been the most toxic if not deadly from absorbed volcanic output. This would have been most toxic in the heaviest umbra deposits. Goshen to the East was in the penumbra and had lighter effects from plagues. How they avoided tainted grain is not clear. What would you do to save your firstborn? -or would you try to save all the people?Shabbat Shalom!