December 16, 2017
This Shabbat something will take place that takes place every year during the festival of Chanukah. Our Torah portion is the sedra of Mi-Ketz. That’s what happens every year … that’s how the calendar works out. No other holiday ends up with the same regular Sabbath portion – just Chanukah and Mi-Ketz.
What do Chanukah and Mi-Ketz have in common? They both tell the story of brothers, but how different the stories are! The Chanukah story tells how the five sons of Mattathias, the High Priest, banded together leading a revolt against the mighty Syrian/Greek Empire. The story in our Torah portion of Mi-Ketz continues to tell the story of the split that takes place with Joseph and his brothers, who sell him into slavery in Egypt.
Our sages, in arranging the calendar in such a way for these two stories to be told together, provide us a powerful lesson: how siblings treat each other affects not only themselves but can have far-reaching effects that no one could ever dream of.
What happens when brothers fight? Look what happened with Joseph and his brothers … the conflict went way beyond the family. As the Talmud puts it in regard to the coat of many colours that evoked such jealous rage among the brothers: “A thread weighing only two selaim milat … caused our forefathers to go down to Egypt.” It’s all because Joseph and his brothers couldn’t get along that our people endured hundreds of years of slavery in Egypt!
Chanukah is here. Chanukah is a time for gift giving. I can’t think of a more beautiful gift that one could give their parents – whether their parents are alive or live on through memory – than the gift of children united. I can’t think of a greater gift that you can give yourself. If you have a brother or sister, give them a gift for Chanukah. It can just be a phone call (try not to make it collect) to wish them a happy Chanukah, fulfilling the words of the psalmist: “Hinei mah tov u’mah naom shevet achim gam yachad – how good and beautiful it is for siblings to dwell together in unity.”
Chag Urim Sameach and Shabbat Shalom
December 9, 2017
Our Torah portion this week is Va-yesihev which means “he dwelt.” Though the parsha first
mentions Jacob, the primary narrative for the next four parshiyot, until the book’s conclusion,
is essentially about Joseph.
Every year, the Joseph narrative is read during the days of Chanukah. Our annual celebration of lights marks the time of widespread gift-giving among families and to others. The institution of gift-giving is interpreted by many as burdensome, overly commercial and lacking adequate substance. Loving parents often want to give the world to their offspring, and one way to show that is to purchase an abundance of expensive gifts for their kids. There’s nothing wrong with gift-giving; the issue is - are we giving the right gifts and imparting productive lessons along the way?
Jacob gives Joseph a coat of many colours to demonstrate his love towards him. Did he foresee in his wildest dreams what the effects of this gift would be? If he did, he certainly would have either withheld the gift or perhaps extended objects of affection to his other sons, too. This particular gift tragically backfired in a horrific way, leaving Jacob to assume that Joseph was dead and separating him from his son for so many years.
As Chanukah approaches, it is a sound Jewish value to give thoughtful consideration to the gifts that we give. Beyond the items that are designed for fun, are we giving gifts that are meaningful, educational and beneficial beyond purchasing the latest commercial fad? Can we impart insightful lessons to others with the way we handle gift-giving? Can we sensitize our children to the reality that while they may desire eight alluring presents, there are people all around who would be thrilled to have basic necessities or even one present?
Each night of Chanukah affords us the opportunity to teach great values and perform acts of gemilut hasadim, loving-kindness. This year, why not connect with these values by giving gifts to those in need: to the hungry, to the homeless,
to soldiers and to people in Israel and others who would benefit from the goodness we can extend? Over the course of
eight nights, there is ample room to achieve so much with the gifts we give. I hope we’ll all take some time to plan our
offerings so that they benefit our families and others in helpful, meaningful and beautiful ways!
Shabbat Shalom and a very happy and enlightening Chanukah to all!
December 2, 2017
In our Torah reading this Shabbat, called Va-yishlach, which translates as “He sent”, we retell the story of Jacob/Yaacov fighting
with a stranger through the night and having his name changed from Jacob to Israel, from Yaakov to Yisroel. “Ki soritu im Hashem v’anishim vatuchal – for you did battle with G-d and man and emerged victorious.”
His original name, Yaakov, came from the word “ekev” meaning “heel” because he came out of his mother’s womb holding on to the heel of Esav. And throughout his life that defined him. Yaakov was always the one on the run, taking flight. Now that he stood his ground and did battle, he needed a new name, for he was, in a sense, a different person.
The name Yaacov had a negative connotation and for some this is also true for the name “Jew.” To this day, in the Oxford Dictionary one of the translations of “Jew” is: “bargain for someone in a miserly or petty way.” But in today’s Torah portion we learned what a Jew really means. It comes from the name “Yehudah” who, when he was born his mother said, “Hapaam odeh et Hashem – this
time I will thank G-d.” To be a Jew is to be thankful.
Let us ever be grateful for the Jewish name that has been handed down to us from generations past. And let us add lustre to that name for the generations to come; remembering the words of
our tradition: “v’haketer shem tov oleh al gabaheim – the crown of a good name surpasses all.”
November 23, 2017
The Torah portion this week is Vayetze which means “he went out” and tells of our patriarch Jacob fleeing his home in Beersheva and heading
to distant relatives in Haran. The great biblical commentator Rashi tells us that the mention of both cities is significant in the first verse.
In so many ways Jacob’s life mirrors the history of the Jewish people. The story of his journey is the story of our people and our lives.
It is the story of Jewish history. It is the story we cherish, as well as the story of persecution, and it is the story we continue to write day after day.
This Kiddush Club Shabbat as we raise our glasses, let us seek to appreciate the steps Jacob and all our ancestors took to live life to the fullest by pursuing their dreams. Let us adopt their faith, their courage and their strength in the face of adversity. Let us appreciate and take great pride in the people and events that have preceded us. Let us in turn do all we can to continue this journey by furthering
the best interests of ourselves, our synagogue community, the Jewish people and all humanity.
November 18, 2017
Simcha Goreret Simcha or “One Simcha (joyous event) leads to another Simcha.”
This is certainly a week of simcha (celebration) at Beit Rayim. We have a Bar Mitzvah on Shabbat morning, a Bat Mitzvah on Shabbat afternoon and another Bar Mitzvah during Sunday morning Rosh Chodesh services.
Our Torah portion Saturday morning is Toldot where we read of the birth of Jacob and Esau and the sale of the birthright. Saturday afternoon our Torah portion is Vayetze where we read of Jacob’s departure from Israel and his marriages to Leah and then Rachel.
On Sunday morning at Rosh Chodesh services we recount the sacrifices offered in biblical times in celebration of the new month.
May our community celebrate many smachot (plural of simcha) and be enveloped in the joy of happy, celebratory lifecycle events.
Mazal Tov to our weekend celebrants and their families. Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov
November 11, 2017
Our Torah portion this Shabbat is called Chaye Sarah, the Life of Sarah. The parasha does not discuss Sarah's life, rather her death and burial. Instead we are introduced to our second matriarch Rebecca, who is called Rivka in Hebrew.
In our sedra, we find Rebecca for the first time seeing Isaac, her husband-to-be. You may recall that Isaac did not choose his wife. Abraham entrusted that task to his servant Eliezer.
Our portion records how Eliezer and his bride-to-be are travelling by camel, and as they approach Abraham's tents, Rebecca sees a figure in the distance: “Now Isaac … went out to the field one evening to meditate, and as he looked up, he saw camels approaching. Rebecca also looked up and saw Isaac.
She got down from her camel and asked the servant, “Who is that man in the field coming to meet us”?
“He is my master,” the servant answered. “So she took her veil and covered herself.”
On this verse, the Netziv – Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Berlin – writes in his classic commentary: “She covered herself out of awe and a sense of inadequacy as if she felt she was unworthy to be his wife, and from then on this trepidation was fixed in her mind. Her relationship with Isaac was not the same as that between Sarah and Abraham or Rachel and Jacob. When they had a problem they were not afraid to speak about it. Not so with Rebecca- Rebecca felt powerless next to her man … she was afraid to speak up and the results were disastrous.
My friends, for thousands of years, many women have felt these same emotions when confronted by powerful men in their midst. Recent headlines confirm this as a prevalent contemporary problem.
May we witness the day soon when no woman feels inadequate and may all women (and all men!) be always confident in speaking out against injustices.
November 4, 2017
Our Torah portion this morning is called Vayera and begins with Abraham communicating with G-d, “Vayera elaiv Hashem b’elonimamreh v’hu yoshev petach
ha-ohel k’chom hayom – and G-d appeared before Abraham by the plains of Mamre, as Abraham sat in front of his tent in the heat of the day.”
According to our tradition, G-d had appeared to Abraham to pay a sick call, so to speak, as Abraham was recuperating from his circumcision. So here is Abraham literally talking to G-d, but then suddenly on the horizon, “Vayisah enaiv vayar v’hinai shelosho anoshim nitzovim elav – he lifted up his eyes and looked and saw that three men were coming toward him.” Who were these
three men? They were angels. But Abraham didn’t know that. To him they were just three men; travelers, homeless, who knows? All he knows is that these are people who are in need of food and water.
Now picture the scene, Abraham was in the middle of the most important meeting imaginable for any human being.
He was involved in an encounter with his Creator, and here are three people in need . . . what is he to do? Abraham here is confronting the ultimate religious question: which takes precedence – do I take care of G-d, or do I take care of humans? Which is more important?
Abraham, the man of religion, the founder of Judaism, does not hesitate with his response. “Vayaratz likratom mipetach ha-ohel vayishtachvu artzah – and he ran to meet the three strangers in front of his tent and bowed down to the earth” and tells them: sit down, relax, let me give you something to drink, something to eat. Imagine, Abraham left G-d to serve humans! And our Sages in the Talmud tell us that from this incident we learn an all important principle of Judaism: “Gedolah hachnosat orchim yoter mikabalat p’nai ha-Shechinah – greater is showing hospitality
to your fellow human than even receiving the Divine Presence.”
Yes, hospitality is important … very important. It takes precedence even over G-d.
So let us all learn from Abraham. Abraham taught us the importance of being open to others; something that our rabbis said takes precedence even over our relationship with G-d. And let all of us as Jews, greet our brothers and sisters with a cheerful countenance as well. And, as we smile at each other, G-d will smile down on us.
October 28, 2017
The name of this week’s Torah portion, Lech Lecha translates as "Go”. Our forefather, Avraham’s life was symbolized and marked by identical words at its beginning and at its end. At the beginning of his life and at the end of his life G-d gives Avraham two commands, two missions, two tests of faith. And both are phrased with the same words of Lech Lecha, There was a great Chasidic rabbi who lived in the last half of the 19th century, Rabbi Yehuda Leib Alter, who was the leader of the Gerer Chasidim, best known by the title of his main work, The Sefas Emes. The Sefas Emes tells us something incredible and crucial. He tells us that when G-d told Avraham, “Lech lecha,” it wasn’t just to Avraham that G-d spoke those words. According to the Zohar – the Book of Mysticism – G-d spoke those words to all humankind. But Avraham was the only person who heard the call and took it to heart. After an exile of 2000 years, in 1948, the Jewish people once again heard G-d calling “Lech Lecha – go home to your land ... it will be for your good and for your benefit.” It certainly has been! Not all Jews, and certainly not the world, have been able to hear that call. But the people of Israel have! And so must we! Lech Lecha ... let us stand with our people as we witness the fulfillment of the promise G-d made to Avraham: “V’eesecha l’goy gadol v’avorecha v’agadalah shemecha v’heya bracha – and I will make of thee a great nation and I will bless thee and make thy name great and thou shall be for a blessing.”.
October 21, 2017
Several years ago while serving as a congregational rabbi in South Carolina, I participated in a rotating column in the local newspaper with a Catholic and Baptist colleague. My very first column was about this week's Torah portion of Noah, and I decided to push the envelope a little and question whether the flood had actually happened! I posed the following questions:
How could an Ark of its size contain even two samples of all the infinite varieties of animal existence?
How did Noah get polar bears from the frozen north and kangaroos from Australia into his Ark?
Where did Noah get enough food to feed all the animals?
What about species that multiply very rapidly … how could they be kept from increasing and crowding the Ark?
The fish … some are salt water fish and some are fresh water fish. How did they hang out together?
After my column ran, several letters and an article quoting several local Christian clergy were printed with sharp rebuttals of my words questioning my heretical views. Some of my synagogue bigwigs (machers) encouraged me to apologize for my article. I declined.
I am no longer in the deep south, but in the far north. Here I am enveloped in the warmth of our special community of Beit Rayim where even the clergy are encouraged to approach G-d with clean hands and a pure heart and speak the truth in their hearts.
My Friends, whether you believe the flood covered all the earth or just part of the mid-East, you should know that you are welcome at Beit Rayim.
And may our synagogue always live up to its name: “Ki beiti Beit Rayim yikraey l’chol ha-amim – for my house shall be a Beit Rayim– a House of Friends – for all people.”
October 14, 2017
Our Torah reading this Shabbat is called Beresheit, and begins right at the beginning with the creation of the world and the crown of creation – the human being. As you already know, the first human beings Odom and Hava (Adam and Eve) disobeyed G-d and then tried to hide.
G-d called out: “Where are you?”
The first Lubavitcher Rebbe pointed out that this call was not directed only to the two of them. It is directed to each and every one of us. Where are you ... who are you? To Thine Own Self Be True. As the New Year of 5778 begins, may we be ever cognizant of the words of the psalmist:
“Who may dwell in G-d’s tabernacle, who may live on G-d’s holy mountain ...one that walks uprightly, does what is righteous and speaks the truth in their heart.”
October 7, 2017
We have just completed a successful High Holy Day season at Beit Rayim. We prayed together, we laughed together, and some of us cried together. Many of us made promises to G-d, and to ourselves, pledging increased involvement in our shul, in our future, and in our Judaism in general.
Now is the time to make good on those pledges.
Now is the time to get involved.
This is an exciting time at Beit Rayim.
Feel the energy and witness the joy of being Jewish.