Tidbits of Torah

 

Tidbits of Torah

2018-01-19 14:02:49 RST Web Admin

  Shabbat Parashat Bo

What’s Your Story…?

January 20, 2018 – 4 Shevat 5778
Dear Friends,headshot white 2015cropped
I am struck by the multi-layered foci of our Jewish story telling….
In our weekly Torah portion, Bo, we read (no less than three times) about the importance of telling and re-telling the story of the Exodus to our children, year after year, generation after generation.   We fulfill this obligation primarily through the observance of the Passover seder and the reading of the Haggadah.
Interestingly, in the Torah, the Biblical source relating the story of our people’s redemption from slavery, Moses is featured as one of the main characters of the story.   By way of contrast, in the Haggadah, the Exodus story is told with a huge emphasis on God’s redemptive power.  In addition to telling the story of our people, God’s universal message resonates resoundingly throughout the pages of the Haggadah: Human beings should not enslave one another!  In the Haggadah, God is clearly the main character of the story. Moses is not mentioned at all.
Compare this with the telling and re-telling of the Purim story…Year after year, on Purim, we read the Scroll of Esther.  The story in brief: Our people were in danger in the Persian empire, but we managed to survive.  There is absolutely no mention of God in the Scroll of Esther even though this Scroll is our Biblical source for the Purim story.  The focus in the Purim story is not God.  The focus in the Scroll of Esther is entirely on our people, on the perils we faced as a minority within society as a whole, and on the courage of individuals who stepped up to the plate to enable us to survive.
In our telling and re-telling of our various Jewish stories, we see that God is sometimes the central focus of our story telling.  But, at other times, and even in the Bible itself, God’s role may be totally eclipsed by the human characters who take front and center stage in our narratives.
As we listen to one another, let us be grateful for the multi-layered foci of our Jewish stories.   Let us remember the importance of telling our stories.  Let us also remember that there is more than one way to engage with our stories – to tell them, and to re-tell them.   And, let us appreciate that each perspective can potentially add depth, understanding, and power to the multi-layered messages that are woven into our Jewish stories.
So, what’s your story…?
Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Gilah Dror

 

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Tidbits of Torah

2018-01-12 14:26:58 RST Web Admin

Shabbat Parashat VaEraheadshot white 2015cropped

Shabbat Mevarekhim HaChodesh

If At First You Don’t Succeed…

January 13, 2018 – 26 Tevet 5778

Dear Friends,

It is so easy to give up…. We try. We struggle. We succeed. All is well. And, then, suddenly…we fail! And, it is so easy to give up. It is so easy to abandon our goals or to say that they are unrealistic. That is what Moses tried to do when God sent him back, time and time again, to redeem our people from slavery.

After some initial hesitation, Moses tried to do as God said. He tried to influence Pharaoh to set our people free. At first, he succeeded in getting an audience with Pharaoh. He succeeded in impressing the Egyptians with his signs and wonders.

But, then, he failed. The situation of the people worsened. And, that is when Moses wanted to give up. He had argued with God that he wasn’t up to the task. Now, armed with his latest failure, Moses countered God’s command that he should continue. Moses argued with God saying that since the Israelite people would not listen to him, how could he possibly hope to convince Pharaoh to release the Israelites from bondage?….

Moses’ initial reluctance to step up to the plate, and his subsequent arguments were all reasonable. They were all human. They were all rational. But, the Torah tells us this story because, like Moses, we may all be tempted at times to step back – to give up on our highest goals and aspirations.

The Torah reminds us that even Moses struggled with these feelings. Even Moses wanted to give up.

But the Torah also tells us something else. The Torah tells us what it was that propelled Moses to continue, despite his insecurities and his failures. The Torah tells us what moved Moses to try again, and again; what propelled him to strive to set our people free; what enabled Moses to convey to generations to come the sacred values of freedom, of sanctity of life, and of compassion.

Moses was moved to go beyond his comfort zone by God’s reminder of God’s eternal covenant with our ancestors, by God’s words of encouragement and by God’s promise of redemption and of eternal connection.

These words are not only for Moses. They are for us and for all generations.

Like Moses, we may be tempted to give up. But, like Moses, we too can learn to continue on. We too can help to make our world a better place! By telling us this story, the Torah is reminding us: If at first you don’t succeed…try, try again!!!!

This Shabbat we will recite the blessing for the new Jewish month of Shevat. Rosh Chodesh Shevat will be on Tuesday night and Wednesday of this coming week. May it be a month of blessing, of hope, and of light.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Gilah Dror

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Tidbits of Torah

2018-01-08 20:01:22 RST Web Admin

Shabbat Parashat Shemotheadshot white 2015cropped

Stay Warm!

January 6, 2018 – 19 Tevet 5778

Dear Friends,

It’s cold outside! I hope you are indoors and managing to stay warm! And, if you are outdoors, I hope it is only temporary. I hope that you are enjoying the unexpected gift of a snow day and/or the delights of playing in the snow.

Local weather issues aside, I invite us to imagine ourselves standing in Moses’ shoes (or sandals), in the heavenly warmth of the desert, as he took in the amazing sight of the burning bush!

I imagine that the burning bush, which has become a powerful symbol in our tradition, reminded Moses of the inextinguishable flame of his soul. I imagine it reminded him of the eternal light that is reflected within the souls of each and every one of us. I imagine it reminded him that he could not, in good conscience, run away forever.

Snow may be fun for a while. But, no matter what the changing physical and communal conditions around us may be, the warmth of the inner flame that keeps us going throughout our lives is at the heart of what makes our human existence so meaningful.

So, stay warm! Stay connected to the internal spark that reminds us of our humanity. Stay attuned to our capacity to care about causes and about people.

And, may our lives be illuminated by the eternal power of our Torah’s sacred stories!

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Gilah Dror

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Tidbits of Torah

2017-12-22 14:45:42 RST Web Admin

Shabbat Parashat VaYigashheadshot white 2015cropped

Joseph, Judah and Justice

December 23, 2017- 5 Tevet 5778

Dear Friends,
Our Torah reading continues the Joseph story. Only, Joseph is not the only character in the story. Judah plays a leading role in this week’s Torah portion. Judah, not yet knowing that Joseph is his long lost brother, approaches Joseph and speaks. He pleads with Joseph to spare Benjamin and to spare the feelings of his elderly father, Jacob.
What led up to all of this drama?
In an earlier Torah portion (Genesis 37:4), we read about Jacob favoring Joseph. We read about Joseph sharing his dreams of his family bowing down to him, with his father and with his brothers. How did the brothers react? The Torah tells us that Joseph’s brothers “lo yachlu dabro l’Shalom” – that the brothers were unable to relate to Joseph and to speak with him or about him in a friendly way (l’Shalom).
I feel for Joseph’s brothers. How many times might we feel frustrated, slighted and/or dismissed by others within in our family or within in our community? And how easily might we too find it difficult to speak in a friendly way to, or about, those who disappoint us?
Yet, years later, Judah stepped up to the plate and spoke well. He accepted the responsibility of taking care of his brother, Benjamin, even as he admitted that over the years Benjamin had become the new favorite of his father. Judah even offered to sit in jail, in return for the release of Benjamin!
What a beautiful message for all of us!
Pure justice might allow us to speak ill of those who disappoint us. But the Torah, through the moving story of Joseph and Judah, suggests to us that our strength, and the strength of our community, depends on our ability to speak words of connection, of caring, and of compassion, along with words of truth, in a friendly way – not only to our best friends but, perhaps, even especially, to and about those who may disappoint us.
Justice is important. Truth is most certainly a value. But, peace (Shalom), though perhaps the most difficult value to achieve, is no less important for all of us.
As we learn in the Ethics of our Fathers (Avot 1:18):
Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says: The world endures on three things – justice, truth, and peace (Shalom), as it is said (Zechariah 8:16): You shall adjudicate the verdict of truth and peace (Shalom) at your gates!

May our hearts, our minds, and our words reflect our quest for justice, for truth, and ultimately for peace (Shalom)! May our words be words of connection, of caring, and of compassion as we strive to increase Shalom in our individual and communal worlds.

Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Gilah Dror

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Tidbits of Torah

2017-12-15 14:20:58 RST Web Admin

Happy Chanukah!        headshot white 2015cropped

  Shabbat Parashat Mikkets

Chanukah – Day 4! 

Shabbat Mevarekhim HaChodesh 

December 16, 2017- 28 Kislev 5778 

 

Dear Friends,

 

Chanukah is about miracles, big and small, communal and personal.  It is about noticing God’s presence in the world – not only as Creator in the distant past, but also as Creator of opportunities day in and day out.  But, can we discern those opportunities?

It is not always an easy task to recognize God’s presence in our world.  It is not always an easy task to discern opportunities that will allow us to be active partners in the on-going work of creation.  But, Chanukah reminds us to look for the light, to look for the miracles, to celebrate the opportunities that give our lives meaning and purpose.

The Mishnah (Berachot 9:1) teaches us: When one sees a place at which a miracle occurred for our people Israel, one recites the following blessing:  Barukh sh’asah nisim l’avoteinu baMakom haZe [Blessed is the One who wrought miracles for our ancestors in this place].  This blessing is designed to draw our attention to the miracles that occurred in ancient times – miracles that contributed to our survival as a people.

But, there is also a blessing that we can recite when we see a place where we, personally, experienced a miracle.  That blessing is noted in a Midrash connected with the story of Joseph (which we are still reading in our weekly Torah portion of Mikkets).

Midrash Tanchuma (VaYechi, 17) tells us that after Joseph and his brothers buried their father, Jacob, and while they were on their way back to Egypt – Joseph spotted the pit into which his brothers had thrown him before they decided to sell him into slavery, years and years earlier.

The Midrash tell us that Joseph stopped at that site and made the following blessing: Barukh haMakom sh’asah li nes baMakom haZe [Blessed is the One who performed a miracle for me in this place].

Joseph saw the place and realized that it could have signaled the end of his life.  Instead, a miracle happened to him!  He was pulled out of the pit, sold into slavery, and ended up flourishing and saving his people years later.  Revisiting the pit, so many years later, Joseph was moved to respond with words of blessing, recognizing the site at which his personal miracle had occurred.  This blessing is available to each of us today if and when we may be privileged to revisit a site where we experienced a personal miracle.
On Chanukah we remember the miracles, great and small, communal and personal.  May the light of the candles remind us of God’s presence in our world, of the miracles that shape our lives, and of the opportunities that we have to be make our world a better place!

Shabbat Shalom and a very Happy Chanukah!

 

Rabbi Gilah Dror

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