Friday, December 21, 2012

Parashat Vayigash

In the past few weeks, we have seen amazing transformation in Joseph. He goes from annoying kid brother, arrogant and tactless, to humble slave, hard-working and respectful, to second most powerful man in a large empire, self-possessed but still gracious. In this week’s parasha, Joseph reveals himself to his brothers. They hang back, afraid of what might be coming next, ashamed of what they did to him, until Joseph calls them close and expresses forgiveness. He says, “It was not you who sent me here, but G-d; [G-d] has set me as a … master of [Pharoah’s] entire household, as a ruler in the entire land of Egypt.”
            So far in our Torah readings this year, we have seen G-d directly interacting with our main characters. Conversations, even arguments, have occurred between many of our ancestors and G-d or at least G-d’s messenger angels. However, Joseph just believes. He’s seen the success of his father, and knows G-d has spoken directly to his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, so it stands to reason that G-d would bestow upon him the same good fortune that befell his progenitors, even if it had never been explicitly promised him.
            All of the time between leaving his brothers and being reunited with them, he had plenty to blame G-d for: shackled and brought across borders by strangers, forced into labor for someone with different laws than he’s used to, complicated domestic drama, thrown in jail. But he never blames G-d, never expresses anger, never even prays that G-d might smite down his brothers for their evil act. Although it says in Parashat Vayeshev that G-d endowed Joseph with appeal, and put favor for him in the eyes of the warden, it doesn’t seem like Joseph is very aware of this. Again, there is no interaction between Joseph and G-d, just G-d looking out for Joseph, and Joseph maintaining faith that all will work out by the grace of G-d.
            Now, in a place of power, Joseph credits his power to G-d. He is able to forgive his brothers’ betrayal because it led to his being able to save them all from starvation. As in the very beginning of the Joseph saga, he sounds vaguely arrogant, but it’s different now. First of all, he has accomplished quite a lot to fee arrogant about. Correctly interpreting Pharoah’s dreams, coming up with a plan to save all of Egypt and surrounding areas, becoming a hero and a rich, powerful man, is more than any of us have ever accomplished. He insists the rest of his family move down to Egypt, to Goshen, a plot of land nearby to where Joseph lives, and they will live off his prosperity. Joseph just wanted to have his family together again, safe, healthy and happy, and they could really only do that by moving to Egypt. He says, “G-d has sent me ahead of you to insure your survival in the land and to sustain you for great deliverance.”
            In Joseph’s context, the words are completely valid and appreciated. In today’s context, anyone who said something like that, even if they were truly helping to sustain others through enormously philanthropic acts, would sound a little nutter. At a very young age, I felt a pull on my heart, and sense of responsibility for things that could not possibly be my responsibility. Guilt for all that went well for me when others suffered. I didn’t yet have Joseph’s certain faith; I didn’t have much for G-d language. They glossed over that a lot in my Reform Jewish education. What they talked about most was Tikkun Olam, and I constantly felt that no matter what I did it was never Tikkuning enough of the Olam. Then in high school, sometime between my summer at Kutz Camp and my two spring visits to the L’Takein seminar at the Religious Action Center in DC, I was empowered. I suddenly felt G-d’s support and guidance. I thought, for sure, now that I understand what it is G-d actually wants of me, I will be able to Tikkun more of the Olam. I envisioned myself a sort of new Rev. King, Jr., becoming ordained so that I could use my pulpit as a place to preach social justice, equality, peace, freedom, environmental justice, whatever needed to be said in order to finish Tikkuning this Olam, I could say, and people would have to listen. I was speaking for G-d, how could they not hold that in high importance? I was certain that G-d had touched me, had “sent me ahead of you to insure your survival in the land and to sustain for you a great deliverance.”
            Now, having the same words that Joseph said as he welcomed his long lost brothers into his palace, come out of some random 18 year old girl, indoctrinated by Reform Judaism’s rhetoric, with no real plan or power, sounds completely ridiculous. I tried my best not to really talk about my goals or feelings on this matter, because even at the time, I realized they sounded completely mad. I would have come across like a crazy, megalomaniac, false messiah crackpot. But it was still basically what I believed. Not the megalomania or messiah part, although my mother did accidentally instill a strong fear of Immaculate Conception in me, which certainly didn’t help my delusions of grandeur. But I did believe that G-d sent me messages. Sometimes, random strangers would approach me and start a conversation, usually about my smile, that it’s unusual to see teenage girls smiling while they are out grocery shopping with their mothers, or waiting alone in the cold for a bus, that I must have some inner light. Then in the course of the conversation, they would tell me something that I felt was exactly what I needed to hear. How did they know? Because G-d was speaking through them to give me messages. I felt so certain.
            As time went on, I progressed toward my goals: studying violence, thinking I would find some missing link and learn how to stop it forever, spending a semester at the Arava Institute, working on environmental collaboration efforts between Israelis and Palestinians, and other neighboring countries when possible, entering rabbinical school. The closer I got to what I was so sure G-d wanted of me, the less I found signs that G-d really cared about what I was doing. I often felt unsure, insecure, and abandoned. But Joseph never seemed to really have any signs from G-d, other than the talents and successes themselves, and he still never lost faith, neither in G-d nor in the fact that his gifts were definitely from G-d. Joseph should be an inspiration. May we all look at our own talents, successes, good fortunes as gifts from G-d, and remember as Joseph did, that whatever comes of our dreams, it is only by the grace of G-d. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Parashat Mikeitz

            And Joseph named [his] firstborn Manasseh, for "G-d has caused me to forget all my toil and all my father's house."” In last week’s Torah portion, Joseph is shown to have suffered greatly the price of being his father’s favorite, and letting that favoritism go to his head and ego. This week, he is redeemed, appointed a position of power, his dreams literally come true, and, additionally, he has two children. These two children are not given much stage time in our stories; they are not the lead roles in any Hebrew school plays, but they are important. Every Friday night, around the world, parents bless their sons by saying, “May G-d make you like Ephraim and Manasseh,” because they supposedly are the only two siblings in the Bible who don’t have any fierce rivalries. And yet, here we read that Manasseh’s name is derived from a wish for Joseph to forget all his father’s house. While it is more than understandable that he would want to forget his brothers, and even understandable for Joseph to blame his father for the way his brothers mistreated him, it sounds harsh for Joseph to pass onto his child his desire to forget his former life and family. In contrast, he names his second son Ephraim, “G-d has made me to prosper in the land of my affliction,” showing that while he does not want to remember his father’s home, the place he currently lives does not quite feel like his home either.
There is much to learn from the Joseph story, and one lesson among many is on the question of respecting our parents even when it’s hard. Many of you are still very young and hopefully still revere and trust your parents and try your best to obey their rules. Those of you who are now parents probably see your parents differently now than you did before having children yourself, and hopefully can better appreciate all they did for you. But there are a few in this room who are of an age notorious for not showing proper respect for their parents. Speaking from purely anecdotal evidence and personal observations, I’d say starting at about 12 and peaking at 16 for girls, starting at about 15 and peaking closer to 20 for boys, the angst of adolescence starts to get in the way of appreciating the things your parents do for you. Often times, it feels like everything is all wrong and it’s all your parents fault and they’ll just never understand you and you just can’t wait to be grown up and out of their house and then you can forget all about this!
Joseph is considerably past this age when he names his firstborn child “G-d caused me to forget my toils and all my father’s house,” but since time in the Bible is generally very different than the way we view time now, let’s assume it’s safe to compare his attitude with that of a teenager’s. He does not want to acknowledge his connection to his father and family, he plays tricks on his brothers, and he cries a lot. Sounds like being 16 to me. In his tears, there is the implication that he wishes he could be close to them again, let his brothers know who he is, reunite the family. But he is afraid and distrustful, and understandably so. So he waits. In next week’s parasha – spoiler alerts – he does make himself known, and his whole family comes to live in Egypt and live off his success, and everyone lives happily ever after [at least until a new Pharoah arises who enslaves all the Hebrew people, but that’s not for quite a while].
Although it’s not shown explicitly, I think there is something in this on how we can show parents and family respect even when there is still anger and mistrust. It’s not easy, and the parasha certainly doesn’t tell us how to do it, but I think it can be done, and the parasha is at least saying that much. It’s okay to hold your cards close to your chest and still be gracious. Our Jewish law commands us to always show honor and respect our fathers and mothers, not to feel honor and reverence for them all time. Joseph messed with his brothers a little bit, but he still fed them, and ultimately welcomed them into his new life. Although he may have wanted to forget the pain of his childhood, he didn’t. He remembered and when the time was right, he re-embraced them all. Occasionally, people come to a point where they start to feel that as much as they love their family, they don’t like them so much right now. This generally passes, and it’s important to not to burn your bridges, since you might want to cross back at some point. Or in Joseph’s case, invite the rest of the family over to your side of the bridge. Either way, the bridge needs to still be in working condition, even if a little shaky.
May you always remember where you came from, who brought you up, and all they did to help make you the person you are today. May you survive your teenage angst and reunite in love with your family. And may G-d make us all like Ephraim and Manasseh, able to put aside our differences and just get along. Amen. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Parashat Vayeshev

            Happy holidays. This time of year often raises debate over that phrase, but why should anyone bother trying to determine the correct holiday to wish each person? There are so many to wish happy! Thanksgiving has barely passed, Chanukah is nearly upon us, before we know it will be New Years, and in between, many, if not all of us will be helping various friends and family celebrate their holidays – Christmas, Kwanzaa, Solstice, and so on. Holidays can be loads of fun and a source of great warmth, but they can also be a source of stress as we plan large family gatherings and worry about what family members will likely start a fight right in front of the cheese and crackers table, keeping everyone else from being able to have their nosh before latkes are ready.
            In this week’s parasha, we find a family in turmoil. Many of us have a Joseph in our family. That brother, uncle, mother-in-law, whatever who is too smug, who is too favored, who always get first pick of the dark meat off the turkey at Thanksgiving, gets the crispiest latke at Chanukah, and who has a habit of rubbing it everyone else’s faces. Hopefully, each family also has a Reuven, though, eager to smooth out the family feuds, willing to be bipartisan, who runs to the rescue when any of us are backed in a corner by less forgiving other relatives.
            In the Torah, Reuven convinces his fellow brothers not to kill Joseph, no matter how obnoxious he might be. He allows the brothers to throw Joseph in a pit, instead, with the intention of pulling him out and returning him to their father at a later time when the other brothers aren’t looking. But where is Reuven when Joseph is sold into slavery? The Torah just says Reuven returned to the pit and found Joseph was gone, without mention of where or when he had left in the first place. Rashi explains this is because he had gone back home to serve their father and returned to the pastures where the brothers had been grazing sheep only to save Joseph from the pit. Reuven is split, having to care for different family members in different places, and in making a choice to uphold his commitment to one, he has effectively turn his back on another. What an awful choice to have to make.
Should Reuven have been more forceful with his brothers in convincing them to not kill Joseph? If he hadn’t had to be sneaky, maybe he would have been able to stop Joseph’s sale into slavery, but then again, maybe he would only have estranged himself from their other brothers in the process and furthered the family struggles. Joseph seems to be very unaware of why his brothers hate him so much; although there is some indication that he does know that they hate him. Maybe it would have been helpful for Reuven to pull Joseph aside and explain why his behavior was problematic, and given him the opportunity to make things right with his brothers himself. But then again, maybe Joseph would get offended and defensive, feeling like he’d lost his last ally, and family dinners would just get that much more awkward.
 Of course, we all know that if Joseph hadn’t been sent to Egypt as a slave, then Pharaoh would have no one to interpret his dreams, and Egypt would have been unprepared for the famine, and the rest of Joseph’s family wouldn’t have been able to come to get food from Egypt, and maybe everyone would die of starvation and there would be no Jewish people. Everything worked out the way it did for a reason. But Reuven didn’t, and couldn’t have had the opportunity to realize it for another 22 years, at which point all the family is reunited with Joseph. In the meantime, imagine the guilt he must have felt, the anger at his other siblings, the fear of his father finding out. This winter, with all our holiday craze, as we run around like chickens with our heads cut off, worrying about who is going to whose house for the holiday dinners and parties, who has gifts and who needs what, who gets along and who we have to seat at opposite ends of the table, let’s all take a minute to stop and breathe. Remind all your relatives to stop and breathe. To reflect. To search themselves and look carefully at all the family dynamics. Are you the Joseph, obnoxious and arrogant, off-putting to most of your family? Are you the other brothers, irrationally angry and overdramatic in your reactions to Joseph? Are you Reuven, wanting to make peace in the family and not knowing how? Most likely, we each have a moment to be each of these characters, depending on where we are in our lives, and which relative we are interacting with. This holiday season, can we find to just be Reuven, who loves and is loyal to each of his relatives? Can we all find a way toward humility and understanding? Set aside your angers and your petty differences. Invite back to your holiday dinner that uncle you haven’t spoken to in ages, remember to include everyone on your gift or card list, let your annoying younger brother have the tastiest-looking crispy latke fresh from the pan. It doesn’t matter anymore who is dad’s favorite or what their personal beliefs are. Family can brighten your harsh winter better than any menorah, but only if you let it. As the days start to get very cold, and the dark nights longer, may the light of all the different holidays keep us warm, and may sharing in each other’s joys keep us cheerful. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Parashat Vayeira – Akida

It was suggested to me that I think about writing a new sermon that relates to the storm. I had a few strings of ideas but none that I was able to push through to something I liked. I'll be using this, which I wrote last week before the storm for my homiletics class, at services today.
            Last week, I mentioned the beginning to the story of the binding of Isaac – or the Akidah – and used Rashi’s commentary on “Your son, your only one, that you love, Isaac,” as some proof that Abraham also loves his son, Ishmael, who is the only one of his mother, just as Isaac is the only son of his mother. But what good is this father’s love if he is so willing to slaughter is favored child? This is a difficult story to contend with, for how can our first patriarch be so cold and thoughtlessly obedient that he was willing to sacrifice his own son, and what kind of G-d do we pray to that would ask this of such a faithful servant? Has not Abraham already proved his worth, by moving when and where G-d commands, by trying to do his best to keep peace in his home, between his own household and that of his nephew Lot, between his wife and her servant, between his sons? And when it comes to blind obedience, Abraham has already shown he will not always cow down; he bargained with G-d to allow him to find enough righteous people to warrant saving Sodom and Gemorrah. Abraham manages to get G-d to agree to spare the whole city if he can find enough righteous souls, and haggles G-d down from 50 righteous people to 10. Of course, it turns out there were not enough righteous to save any but Lot and his family, but still, that Abraham was willing to try to save this town of wicked strangers makes his willingness to sacrifice his own son all the more disconcerting.
            Being that it is so disconcerting, there is much Midrash on this to try to ease our discomfort with this story. My favorite was one I learned from my childhood rabbi, Doug Segal. I distinctly remember that one Rosh HaShana he told us a story he had made up himself of G-d asking Sarah first to sacrifice Isaac and she would not. She argues that G-d promised her this child, G-d promised her and Abraham that through this child would their descendants become as many as the number of stars in the sky. Basically, Sarah knew that G-d couldn’t possibly want Isaac dead, or those promises could not have been made, and she called G-d’s bluff.
            Rashi points out these inconsistencies in G-d’s word, but rather than use them to show that Abraham knew it was a test all along and was secure in knowing he would not really have to finish the job, Rashi uses it to explain Abraham’s confusion and hurt over the matter. In fact, many of Rashi’s comments on this parasha suggest that Abraham was easily confused. Why didn’t G-d tell Abraham at first to slaughter Isaac, but went through this back and forth with him about which son? So as to break the news in steps, to be gentler about asking Abraham to kill his son, lest his mind become disoriented and addled. And why did they travel for three days before G-d pointed out the right mountain to up on? If G-d were to point out the first mountain they came to, it would “bewilder and confuse Abraham unexpectedly, and addle his mind,” but if G-d were to wait more than three days, Abraham would have time to change his mind about the whole thing. And once the angel appears to stop Abraham, Abraham expresses confusion that G-d should promise him one day that Isaac will be the line from which many descendants will come, and then tell him to kill Isaac the next. After the ram appears, and the angel has already told Abraham that G-d does not want Abraham to harm his son, according to Rashi, as Abraham performs each piece of the sacrificial ritual, Abraham calls to G-d, “May it be your will that this should be as if it were my son.” We already learned it is not G-d’s will for this to be as if it were Isaac!
            There are many who say that this was a test of Abraham’s faith and ever-present loyalty to G-d, and he passed. What if this was a test of Abraham’s sanity and ability to continue to be a strong leader and he failed? What if G-d really expected Abraham to call his bluff, as Sarah did, and sent the angel and the ram at the last minute, because G-d realized that Abraham might go through with it?
            I think that too many people in the world today have difficulty remembering to open up their ears and hearts to G-d’s voice and will. I wish for you all to have some deep connection to G-d and that you feel that the things you do with your life are the direct will of G-d for you. But if you should ever hear a voice telling you to kill for G-d, please don’t. This of course, sounds exaggerated, but extend it to your general conscience. Probably none of you in this room have ever or will ever feel a great sincere urge to kill, but maybe to hurt, and possibly even to hurt yourselves. Even if it feels like it’s coming from so deep inside you it must be from G-d, do not do it. We can learn from this parsha that it is never really G-d’s will that we cause ourselves or our loved ones pain. And there may not always be a ram to stop you in time.
            At least not one that readily appears. As we go on with our lives, we will all have to continue to struggle with this story. As Jews, it is a part of our regular yearly Torah reading for Parashat Vayeira, and the traditional reading for Rosh HaShana. As you continue to contend with this story on your own terms, and as you grow and face your own challenges and have to make decisions about sacrifices of your own, may you all find your own rams, your own alternatives to causing harm, and may G-d grant you all peace. Amen. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Slight changes for Lech Lecha

Temple Beth Emeth v'Or Progressive Shaari Zedek Saturday Morning "Children's" Service version: 
            In this week’s Torah portion, G-d strikes a covenant with Avram-Avraham to be his Shield and protector, and that of all Avram-Avraham’s children, for eternity. As part of the formation of the covenant, G-d instructs Avram that he and Sarai must change their names to Avraham and Sarah. Now that our first patriarch and matriarch are officially named as such, Avraham and Sarah are promised that they and their seed will inherit the land of Avraham’s sojournings. Avraham is told that G-d’s covenant will continue with him through Yitzchak’s line, but he is reassured that Ishmael will also become a great nation. It is sometimes suspected in the Akidah story, that Yitzchak is the son Avraham truly loves, as it says, “Take your son, your only one, whom you love, Yitzchak, and take him for a burnt offering,” although Midrash tells us that the reason G-d must say “Your son, your only one, whom you love, Yitzchak,” is because in between these lines, are Avraham’s responses we do not get to see, “I have two sons, this is the only son of his mother, and this is the only son of his mother, I love them both, oh okay you mean Yitzchak, why didn’t you just say so?”
Even without this Midrash, Avraham’s concern and love for Ishmael is clear here in Lech-L’cha, and it is obvious that it is important to him that all his seed inherit their fair share of land, and receive their own lives and blessings. When G-d tells Avraham that Sarah will become pregnant and give birth the Yitzchak, Avraham says, “If only that Ishmael should live!” Although he is of course thrilled for his true wife to have a child, he does not want Yitzchak to completely supplant or replace Ishmael. G-d assures Avraham that Ishmael will too be blessed and will also be the father of a great nation, but, the covenant remains with Yitzchak, and with it, the land of Avraham’s sojournings. Surely, though, the great nation of Ishmael must have a place of its own too, nearby enough to visit Grandpa Avraham?
            As descendants of Avraham and Sarah, we have a responsibility, then, to treat one another as brothers and sisters, or at the very least as close cousins. We have the responsibility to respect everyone’s right to their fair share of land and their own lives and blessings. Earlier in the portion, Avraham and Lot realize they are trying to share a plot of land too small to sustain each of their families and herds and all of their households. So, Avraham suggests to Lot that he take his wealth elsewhere; the entire land is before him for his choosing. This shows a keen understanding of natural resources and sustainability, as well as a concern for Shalom in the Home. These days, we have many more people trying to share such resources and the entire land is not before us. Pretty much all inhabitable land is inhabited at this point. As such, the fighting, as with between the herdsmen of Avraham and Lot, continues over these precious resources and land space. Is that how brothers and sisters and cousins should behave? So rather than move to a place that can sustain our individual possessions, or continue fighting, better we should reassess and share those possessions, particularly in the land that Avraham’s descendants were promised.
            May we all find a way to live in harmony with each other and our land, to share our possessions, our precious land and water resources, and behave as if we are all equally children of Abraham and Sarah. Amen and Shabbat Shalom.   

Monday, October 22, 2012

Parashat Lech-Lecha

This is sort of the prototype for this week's d'var Torah, but I wanted to post it as is, and point out that in the future, if I ever have the opportunity to give this in the proper setting, I'm going to Arava it up, add facts and figures of resource scarcity in Israel/Palestine, and how working together on sustainability will bring us to Shalom in the Home(land) between all of us multitude of nations descending from Avraham. 

The version that will be read on Saturday will be posted later in the week. 

            In this week’s Torah portion, G-d strikes a covenant with Avram-Avraham to be his Shield and protector, and that of all Avram-Avraham’s children, for eternity. As part of the formation of the covenant, G-d instructs Avram that he and Sarai must change their names to Avraham and Sarah. Rashi explains a commentary from Genesis Rabbah, to let us know the significance of these changes. The name Avram means “the Father of Aram,” the place the Avram came from. In G-d’s covenant, Avraham is promised to be the father of a multitude of nations, an “Av Hamon,” which looks like something of an acrostic of his name in the scripture, so the hey is added into Avram-Avraham’s name to convey the “hamon” – the multitude of nations – that Avraham is now father to. So with Sarai, the yud or the “eye” sound at the end of her name denotes personal ownership. For Avram, Sarai is “my princess”. Now that she will be the mother of the multitude of nations, she must become Sarah, a princess for any and all.
            Now that our first patriarch and matriarch are officially as such, Avraham and Sarah are promised that they and their seed will inherit the land of Avraham’s sojournings. Avraham is told that G-d’s covenant will continue with him through Yitzchak’s line, but he is reassured that Ishmael will also become a great nation. It is sometimes suspected in the Akidah story, that Yitzchak is the son Avraham truly loves, as it says, “Take your son, your only one, whom you love, Yitzchak, and take him for a burnt offering,” although Midrash tells us that the reason G-d must say “Your son, your only one, whom you love, Yitzchak,” is because in between these lines, are Avraham’s responses we do not get to see, “I have two sons, this is the only son of his mother, and this is the only son of his mother, I love them both, oh okay you mean Yitzchak, why didn’t you just say so?” But without this Midrash Avraham’s concern and love for Ishmael is clear, and it is important to him that all his seed inherit their fair share of land, and receive their own lives and blessings.
            As descendants of Avraham and Sarah, we have a responsibility, then, to treat one another as brothers and sisters, to respect everyone’s right to their fair share of land and their own lives and blessings. Earlier in the portion, Avraham and Lot realize they are trying to share a plot of land too small to sustain each of their families and herds and all of their households. So, Avraham suggests to Lot that he take his wealth elsewhere; the entire land is before him for his choosing. This shows a keen understanding of natural resources and sustainability, but these days, we have many more people trying to share such resources and the entire land is not before us. Pretty much all inhabitable land is inhabited at this point. So rather than move to a place that can sustain our individual possessions, better we should reassess and share those possessions, particularly in the land that Avraham’s descendants were promised.
            May we all find a way to live in harmony with each other and our land, to share our possessions, our precious land and water resources, and behave as if we are all equally children of Abraham and Sarah. Amen and Shabbat Shalom.   

Friday, October 19, 2012

Parashat Noah

            The Tower of Babel was always my favorite Bible story growing up. It’s a funny little story, nestled into Parashat Noah. What I really liked best about it when I was young was how much it was like Greek mythology I learned at school. Even if you think, as many modern progressive Jews today do, that the Bible is essentially a set of myths for our own faith tradition – most of our stories don’t read as “myths” in the same way. Most of the Torah, anyway, if not the whole Bible, explains behavior, the lessons are about morals. They are narratives that we must study and read into in order to get the full meaning of. They make little to no attempt to really explain the unexplainable (or things that were unexplainable at the time, but science has since explained) the way some myths from other traditions did. A lot of myths were as such: “Oh here’s this thing we have; how did it get here?” and then the myth directly explained, we have fire because Prometheus gave it to us, and here’s a whole story about what happened to him for that. Our Torah probably has more in common with ancient, no longer religiously believed mythologies than is obvious at first glance, but generally speaking, I’d say our stories are not like theirs. Except Babel. Here’s a story that tells us [Dramatic Reading]: The entire world spoke one language, but they used their common tongue for a terrible arrogant deed, and so they were punished with babble and forced to disperse, and thus to this very day different languages are spoken across the world, and that place was called Babel! [End Dramatic Reading]
            So then, if generally our stories are meant to be about moral lessons, and here we have this anomalously straightforward factual explanation of language, what are we to take away from this? The Torah says, “And so, the whole world was of one language and uniform words.” Genesis Rabbah offers a few examples of what those “uniform words” might have been, but the point of all of the examples are that “uniform words” meant that not only were all the people of the world speaking the same language, but they used that language to articulate the same idea: to build a tower so high it would reach the heavens and they would all make a name for themselves. This was not the crazy idea of one egomaniac that others followed, this was a plan everyone was in on. Unfortunately, it was an ill-conceived plan for self-serving, fame-mongering reasons, and potentially also with the intent of overthrowing and replacing G-d with themselves, according to one Midrash on “uniform words”. 
            People need to be able to communicate and work together for society to function. However, sometimes we have to work with people who speak a different language, via an interpreter. Sometimes we work with people who speak our language, but as a secondary learned language, rather than a naturally absorbed first language, and so there may still be complications with the translation. And sometimes, even when we work with people who do speak our language just as well as we do, they have a different point of view, and so communication is difficult in a different way. If we give in to how difficult it is, the project won’t get done well, and we will make ourselves crazy! If we learn to work effectively and patiently with those different from us, anything is possible. Working on a school project with someone who has a different vision? Talk it out, work through why you don’t like their way – respectively – and maybe you will come to a compromise, or an entirely new idea that the two of you came up with together, and there is the great possibility that it will be worlds better than your first idea. Not because your first idea was bad, but because you were given the opportunity to see it through various lenses, and allow it to evolve. On a much bigger scale, if everyone were able to do this, than we would have world peace.
            But not everyone is able to do this. And when we all share one idea, are of “uniform words,” who will speak out and say, “Hey, let’s not build this tower or we might end up confused and lonely”? It’s not always easy to be the one to speak out, but it’s important. And when it is our own idea being spoken against, it is just as important to listen, and just as hard. But we can all learn from our mythic ancestors who had no one to hold a contrary view, that they can indeed be really useful, no matter how hard. Regardless of what language – whether it is the literal language of their tongues or the ideological language of their hearts – anyone speaks, may we all find a way to still communicate and work alongside them as equals, in order that we may always have someone to tell us when we’re being fools. Amen. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Parashat Bereishit

            There’s a popular video now on YouTube called “First World Problems Anthem.” It’s put out by, is a collection of people in third world countries reciting complaints often heard here in America, and is meant to remind us how dumb and ungrateful we often are, in the hopes of encouraging us to donate toward clean water resources for these people with real problems. Some of the people in the video are smiling or look bored, although I can’t tell if it’s because they are truly appreciating the irony or if it’s because they don’t understand the English, but there is one woman in particular who looks like she understands the irony and hates us for it, as she recites the line, “I hate when my neighbors block their Wifi.” The look on her face, the disgust or despair that this is even a sentence, is very sobering.
            This is not to say that there is no such thing as a real problem in the first world, but so often we do take for granted so much of what we have, without considering how or why it exists for us.  This week, since we are reading B’reishit, let’s take a minute and reflect on creation. Whether you believe that creation was a completely random act of particle explosion, or carefully formed by G-d, or some combination of the two, believing in science being dictated by Divine Intelligence, none of it is really about us. In the Torah, G-d creates heavens and earth, separates light from darkness, separates water from dry land, creates the sun, moon, and stars, and creates vegetation, then animals, and lastly humans. At no point does the Torah say, “And G-d saw that this would be good for humans.” It just says, “And G-d saw that this was good.” The Torah does not even say this about humans, really. After most creations, G-d acknowledges their goodness: 4. And God saw the light that it was good, 10. And God called the dry land earth, and the gathering of the waters seas, and God saw that it was good, 12. And the earth gave forth vegetation, seed yielding herbs according to its kind, and trees producing fruit, in which its seed is found, according to its kind, and God saw that it was good, etc. After creating humans, G-d blessed them, instructed them to watch over everything else, to be fruitful and multiply, and then G-d steps back and 31. And God saw all that G-d had made, and behold it was very good. There’s another whole d’var Torah on why G-d did not say that the creation of humans was good by itself, but for now let’s just focus on the fact that clearly, the universe is not all about us. It’s not all about us as humans, and it is certainly not all about us in the first world and our problems such as “I hate when I ask for no pickles, and they still give me pickles.”
            According to the Talmud (Chulin 60b), we’re not alone in our whining. When G-d created the great luminaries, initially the sun and moon were the same size, but the Moon said, “Can two kings wear the same crown?” And G-d saw that the moon was right, so G-d made the Moon smaller and left the sun to brighten our days. Rashi expands this Talmudic idea, by explaining that because the moon was upset to have to be the one to diminish, G-d created the stars to be its entourage. My first world guilt is comforted by this story. We all may complain about silly things, and need to have our egos diminished or have things put into perspective, but when that happens we may be compensated with more friends and brighter surroundings. May we focus on the positive, appreciate all that we have, and try to help others access essential creations, such as food and water, so that we can all have a better world. And may G-d see that this is very good. Amen and Shabbat Shalom.

Friday, September 28, 2012


I spent about six hours yesterday helping my brother clean his apartment. He’s in the process of moving to Colorado, and needed help clearing out years of accumulated house goods in order to be able to move with as little as possible. As we were cleaning, we put on a CD by our favorite band, The Eels. They’re a strange alternative rock band and few of their songs are what you might call upbeat. This particular album we put on while cleaning, their first ever produced, is not as dark as their second, which happened to be our introduction to the band. Still, though, it is called “Beautiful Freak,” so it’s clearly not exactly standard love songs.
Our mom worries about our shared penchant for sad songs, or at least songs she frets will foster sadness in us or distort our views of life. Life, she says, is full of sadness and happiness. There are weird moments, and beautiful moments, and bittersweet moments, and our choices of art and entertainment should reflect that.
This week’s Torah portion is a song or at least poem (we’ve long since lost the tune), that encompasses all of that. It starts out powerful and pleasing declaring both the heavens and the earth should listen to this awesome song about to come forth. “My lesson will drip like rain, my word will flow like dew, like storm winds on vegetation, and like raindrops on grass” (32:2)– such imagery and mastery commanded with those words!
And then it gets dark. Actually, most of the parasha is pretty dark. G-d, through Moses’s voice, scolds the Israelites for all the ingratitude they showed and the faith they didn’t show while traveling through the wilderness. Verse five states that destruction is not of G-d, but man. Humans alone cause corruption and blemish upon the earth. Verses seven through thirteen get bittersweet as G-d recounts all the greatness bestowed upon our ancestors, things they should have been more grateful for.
But then it gets harsh again, which is still beautiful in its way, since it’s written poetically and the meanness of it is fully justified. The Israelites were totally ungrateful and did have a complete lack of faith. Whenever I have a meaningful connection with a stranger or am fortunate enough to catch a special moment in nature, I think, “Baruch HaShem, thank G-d for small miracles.” The Israelites that left Egypt, on the other hand, saw the Red Sea miraculously part, and still complained that they had been lead out of slavery only to die far worse deaths in the desert. When G-d tries to speak to the directly, they are too intimidated by Divine power and beg Moses to go talk to G-d on their behalf, and yet weeks later they are skeptical of G-d’s complete sovereignty and they built the golden calf.
So, in this poem, G-d is sternly explaining to the next generation of Israelites why their parents wandered for 40 years and will not be allowed into the Holy Land. It is a warning for the new generation, explaining to them that it is not too late, that G-d will always protect those that keep the Mitzvot in their hearts and teach the commandments on to their children.
“It is not an empty thing” (32:47), these sad songs which our parents could not understand. My brother and I found beauty, a way to grieve when we needed it, warnings, and life lessons from our songs, just as Jews have been gleaning from this song from the Torah for thousands of years. Sometimes our parents just can’t see the lessons the way we do; each generation has its own songs to teach it. But if we choose wisely, and listen with the right mentality, they should all give each of us basically the same lessons to live our lives well.
May each of us find the right song to help us remember to open our ears not only to the lyrics but also to G-d and to each other. Amen and Shabbat Shalom. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Bereshit – 2nd Day Rosh HaShaha

            The first trope, or chanting pattern, of the Torah is the pattern called tipcha, which is usually proceeded by a mercha, or sometimes other trope. It is rarely the first in a sequence. As I began practicing the chanting for today, it felt odd to begin a sequence with tipcha, much like trying to form a question without starting with “What” or “How”. The way I always learned the translation was, “In the beginning, G-d created the Heavens and the Earth.” Chabad offers a translation of, “In the beginning of G-d’s creation of Heaven and Earth.” Looking directly at the Hebrew, although my translation skills still need work, I’d have to say the translation I was taught is correct. Bara is a verb (“G-d created”) not a noun (“G-d’s creation”). But perhaps those at Chabad were reading into something about the trope given “Bereshit”, since their translation is not really a full sentence. Is this not really the beginning? Was there more to the sentence? Maybe in whatever came before, where we might have sung a mercha, it was explained who G-d is talking to; who is the “US” in, “Let Us make human in Our image.” There have been many experts who have tried to analyze the Hebrew phrasing in Genesis in order to determine what might be the best translation, and the jury is still out on that. I’m no linguist and I’m not going to try to go through all the possibilities, because in the end, I don’t think it matters that much. These are unanswerable questions that we need not consume ourselves with.
            You may have heard that the Torah begins with a Bet to signify that we should not go looking for answers about G-d before Torah. The Bet is shaped so that it is open to the rest of the text, but closed off to that which may have come before it, as well as on top or below. This was the sort of random information just thrown at me as a child without background, along with “Eat your vegetables, there are children starving in China.” So much like anyone looking to be a nutritionist would have to research why vegetables are good for you, or an international public health official might need to look into why children are starving in China, I investigated this Midrash and it appears to have come from Midrash Bereshit Rabbah. When we read the story of the creation of the world, many questions come to mind. What prompted creation? What preceded creation? What is the correct translation of this story? Tradition tells us that these are not questions that should be explored extensively. "Why was the world created with the letter bet?", asks Midrash Bereshit Rabbah, "Just as the bet is closed at the top and at the sides, so you may not investigate what is below, what is above, and what is before; only what is in front." 
            As we begin our new year, there may be many among us looking for a fresh start, a new beginning. One that may be marked with a Bet, so as to say, “Please, let this just be the Beginning, and do not ask me of what came before.” Although with G-d, we allow the Bet to be our barrier from questions that could never possibly be satisfactorily answered, with our fellow humans we can let that Bet be our barrier out of respect for someone’s privacy.
            This summer was a tough one for a lot of people back in my hometown, as we a lost a young member of our community, my brother’s best friend. At the wake my brother said he felt like he had put more effort into keeping his friend alive than he had ever put into anything else in his life. Since then, he hasn’t worked much or at all (he does promotional work for bands, and occasionally even books shows or puts events together, so his schedule is irregular anyway), and in the last few weeks has spent a lot more time with my parents and not with his friends. He seems to be sort of floating. He decided sometime in the last few days that he’s going to move to CO, where he hardly knows anyone, for at least six months. He’s been selling most of his possessions, and cutting back on his cigarettes in anticipation of the air change, and plans to have quit completely by the time he gets there. I will miss him when he goes so far away, but I hope that it will be the fresh beginning he needs. I hope he can move there with a metaphorical Bet and no one will need to know about what came before. I hope that he will meet new people, and not just new faces and names with the same old lifestyles.
            Conversely, as we approach Yom Kippur, and the days of atonement and forgiveness are upon us, I hope we all remember to allow fresh starts in our relationships with those who may have transgressed against us. Let us not hold grudges, or anger, or sadness of the past. This year, let us all allow ourselves and each other a new beginning, a fresh start, and no longer poke at what may have come before. Amen, L’Shana Tova v’Shalom. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Nitzavim - Kehillah Kedosha

            There are often jokes made among young adult Reform Jews that though we spend the bulk of our childhoods in “Hebrew School” we don’t actually learn much Hebrew. True to this, when I was at Kutz Camp at the age of 16 I was hearing Hebrew outside prayer for the first time ever. One evening I walked into the main meeting hall on camp singing the words to a Danny Nichols song, Hebrew words I did not really know the meaning of. A haughty son of a prominent Reform Jewish leader, having just returned from a semester in Israel and feeling very confident in his Hebrew, said to me, “You know how stupid that song is? ‘If you are you, then we’re standing’. That is what you’re saying. The lyrics don’t make any sense!” Reasoning, that the sentence just said in English did not make any sense indeed, and that this boy was clearly much smarter and cooler than me, I made some embarrassed excuse, giggled nervously, slinked away to hide for the rest of the evening.
            Hearing the words now, in light of this week’s Torah portion, it doesn’t sound so stupid. Sure, “If you are you, then we’re standing,” still doesn’t make a lot of sense, but the line of the parasha is, “אַתֶּם נִצָּבִים הַיּוֹם כֻּלְּכֶם לִפְנֵי יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם” (You are all standing this day before the Lord, your G-d.) The lyrics are, “If you are Atem, then we’re nitzavim, we stand here today and remember the dream.” Moses stood before all the people of Israel on the day of his death, declaring them now officially a single nation, and telling them the time has come to commit themselves, and all the generations to come, to the covenant with G-d, as had our father Abraham. Dan Nichols stood before a large group of Reform Jewish teenagers and reminded us that we are all still standing, and must remember the covenant. Moses told the people that even the woodcutters and water drawers, who according to Rashi might actually be non-Jews subjugated to bad jobs, are now a part of this community. A community Dan Nichols calls a “Kehillah Kedosha”. “Each one of us must start to hear.  Each one of us must sing the song. Each one of us must do the work.  Each one of must right the wrong. Each one of us must build the home.  Each one of us must hold the hope. Each one of us, each one of us!”
            Moses reminds us the Word of G-d is not concealed from us:
12. It is not in heaven, that you should say, "Who will go up to heaven for us and fetch it for us, to tell [it] to us, so that we can fulfill it?"

יב. לֹא בַשָּׁמַיִם הִוא לֵאמֹר מִי יַעֲלֶה לָּנוּ הַשָּׁמַיְמָה וְיִקָּחֶהָ לָּנוּ וְיַשְׁמִעֵנוּ אֹתָהּ וְנַעֲשֶׂנָּה:
13. Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, "Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us and fetch it for us, to tell [it] to us, so that we can fulfill it?"

יג. וְלֹא מֵעֵבֶר לַיָּם הִוא לֵאמֹר מִי יַעֲבָר לָנוּ אֶל עֵבֶר הַיָּם וְיִקָּחֶהָ לָּנוּ וְיַשְׁמִעֵנוּ אֹתָהּ וְנַעֲשֶׂנָּה:
14. Rather,[this] thing is very close to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can fulfill it.

יד. כִּי קָרוֹב אֵלֶיךָ הַדָּבָר מְאֹד בְּפִיךָ וּבִלְבָבְךָ לַעֲשֹׂתוֹ:
Dan Nichols explains it’s all in “how we help. It’s how we give.  It’s how we pray.  It’s how we heal.  It’s how we live.” May you all remember our covenant with G-d and find your place in our KEHILLA KEDOSHA, KEHILLA KEDOSHAAAAA!

Friday, September 7, 2012

First Sermon of the New School Year!

Ki Tavo Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8

 This week’s Torah portion speaks about the expectations of the Israelites to maintain the covenant with G-d. We learn of the blessings we will receive if we keep to the ways of the Torah, and learn of the disturbing specificity of all the many, many curses we may incur for a variety of transgressions, including: (28:47). [B]ecause you did not serve the Lord, your God, with happiness and with gladness of heart, when [you had an] abundance of everything…

 I initially read this to mean that it is not enough to uphold our covenant with G-d, but we must also do this with a smile. Maimonides affirms my understanding: “Even though you served G-d, you did not serve him with joy -- that is the source of all afflictions”, but other great rabbis had other views on what this statement means. Rashi says the problem is that “you” forgot to serve G-d when you were happy with your lot, and turned to G-d only when you were in need (of guidance, forgiveness, etc). Maayanah Shel Torah plays with syntax a little: it was with happiness and with gladness of heart that you did not serve the Lord, which does indeed sound punishable. We all slip up sometimes, but to do so with glee signals intention, and depending on the transgression, that can be downright mean.

 This is a great example of the beauty of Torah study. This is essentially why we are so happy to be bringing in a new year of religious school. Why we are so excited to begin again teaching the next generation the complexity and richness of learning in our Jewish traditions. This is a three chapter Parasha, and here we can focus on just one little verse, with the help of three (among others!) great teachers. I could splinter off from here into three different sermons, because although my initial understanding of this line agrees with Maimonides, once reading the viewpoints of Rashi and the Maayanah Shel Torah, I can very much reread the Torah verse with their understandings in mind. It all fits! Now, I’m not going to go into all the great lessons we could learn from this one line from three different viewpoints, because it would take too long, but I invite you all to turn to each other, or approach me, after the conclusion of services and work out which lens you see this through. Because that’s why we’re here! To learn and pass on our traditions to a new generation.

 I am so excited to welcome all you students for a new school year. I hope you all come to religious school and Shabbat services throughout the year to learn and pray with happiness and with gladness of heart! Amen, Shabbat Shalom, and have a great year!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Jewish 101 game for camp staff training

Jewish Boulderdash

Jewish Movies
     Fiddler on the Roof
a.       A thrilling documentary about a struggling musician who is forced to learn to live on the streets after a tragic turn of events leaves him homeless.
b.      In pre-revolutionary Russia, a poor Jewish peasant must contend with marrying off his three daughters while antisemitic sentiment threatens his home.
c.       A nomadic couple – a fiddler and an acrobat – happen upon an enchanting town in the south and learn the value of having a real home.
2.       Schindler’s List
a.       In Poland during World War II, Oskar Schindler gradually becomes concerned for his Jewish workforce after witnessing their persecution by the Nazis.
b.      A man wins the lotto and tries to track down all the girls on his “List O’ Rejection” which he has been keeping since his nerdy high school days, in hopes that they will finally see how dateable he is.
c.       Oskar Schindler crosses of names on his list, one by one…
3.       Jazz Singer
a.       A Klezmer musician dons blackface in order to go undercover in a Jazz club and steal the musical secrets of famed musician, Buster Billings.
b.      A Jewish jazz singer in Germany is on the brink of his greatest breakthrough, when sudden horrible changes begin to occur for his community.
c.       The son of a Jewish Cantor must defy his father in order to pursue his dream of becoming a jazz singer.

Jewish Religion
a.       The First Five Books of the Holy Bible
b.      A type of dance
c.       The dietary law for Judaism
2.       Talmud
a.       A game Jewish children play in which they spin a top and gamble for candy
b.      A type of dance
c.       A several volume set of books full of rules and regulations for the Jewish people
3.       Tisha b’Av
a.       A holy day which falls during the summer time
b.      The Jewish New Year
c.       A type of Dance

Jewish Geography

1.       Sephardi
a.       Jews from Southern Europe and Northern Africa
b.      The region around Southern Europe and Northern Africa
c.       A type of hat Jews from Southern Europe and Northern Africa wear
2.       Bene Israel
a.       The Eastern Region of Israel
b.      A community of Jews from India
c.       A congregation in the South Bronx
3.       Diaspora
a.       Another name for Israel
b.      The scattering of Jews to everywhere outside of Israel, following the Babylonian Exile.
c.       The scientific term for the spreading of seeds 

Friday, June 8, 2012


*This week is the last Saturday with Hebrew school for the summer, it is Teacher Appreciation Shabbat, and two of our Hebrew school teachers (Hazel and Shifra) who have been at Temple Beth Emeth for 20+ years will be retiring this year.*

Please don't leave us, for because you are familiar with our encampments
 in the desert and you will be our guide. (Numbers 10:31)
            This week’s Torah portion begins with the explanation of how Aaron and his sons will properly keep lit the menorahs in the Tabernacle. G-d tells Moses, who in turn tells Aaron, there will be seven lamps lit facing the menorah, so that its finely constructed gold will be nice and shiny, reflecting its own light. Proverbs 20:27 says: The spiritual significance of the mitzvah of lighting the menorah is that one should be a "lamplighter" who ignites that latent potential within "the soul of man, a lamp of G-d". The Lubavitcher Rebbe adds to this: Here, too, the endeavor must be to kindle the lamp "so that a flame arises of its own accord." In teaching and influencing one's fellow, the objective should be to establish him or her as a self-sufficient luminary: to assist in developing his talents and abilities so that his lamp independently glows and, in turn, kindles the potential in others.
            As the Parasha continues, Moses’s father-in-law tells Moses he will be leaving the mixed multitudes to return from whence he came. If the Prince of Egypt is any indication, Moses’s father-in-law has been a true guiding light for Moses. I mean, he has that whole song about looking at your life from heaven’s eyes, which segues into a montage ending in Moses and Tzipporah’s marriage. Life changing stuff occurs in that montage. In the Torah, there is no montage, but Moses does plead with his father-in-law not to leave: Please don't leave us, for because you are familiar with our encampments in the desert and you will be our guide. Clearly, Moses recognizes that some lights are not seven armed, are not made of gold, and are guiding lights, in addition to the way they may light up a room. His father-in-law was a light for him, as the menorah was the light for Aaron in the Tabernacle.
            Here at Temple Beth Emeth v’Or Progressive Shaari Zedek, Shifra and Hazel are such lights. They are familiar with these encampments, and have been guides. They are lamplighters that have ignited that latent potential in countless students. They are the menorah that allows the flame of their students to arise of the own accord, but support and reflect those lights.
As each of us who have been touched by the lights of our teachers continue on our way, may we reach a time when we can let our own lamps glow independently so that we may find our own chances to kindle the potential in others. Amen. 

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Parashat Naso

            In this week’s Torah portion, as we continue the process of taking the first census, it is determined who – or many – will do what. For example, Gershonites will carry the coverings for the tent of meeting, while the sons of Merari are in charge of the supporting beams and their sockets. The Parasha segues into the rules and consequences regarding sacred choices, and then, G-d says to Moses,
23. Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying: This is how you shall bless the children of Israel, saying to them:

כג. דַּבֵּר אֶל אַהֲרֹן וְאֶל בָּנָיו לֵאמֹר כֹּה תְבָרֲכוּ אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אָמוֹר לָהֶם:
24. "May G-d bless you and keep you.

כד. יְבָרֶכְךָ יְ־הֹוָ־ה וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ:
25. May G-d cause G-d’s face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.

כה. יָאֵר יְ־הֹוָ־ה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וִיחֻנֶּךָּ:
26. May G-d lift G-d’s face toward you and grant you peace."

כו. יִשָּׂא יְ־הֹוָ־ה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם:
27. They shall bestow My Name upon the children of Israel, so that I will bless them.

כז. וְשָׂמוּ אֶת שְׁמִי עַל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַאֲנִי אֲבָרֲכֵם:
The Midrash Rabbah explains this blessing, which we hear every week at this house of worship, thusly: G-d will cause G-d’s face to shine upon us and be gracious to us, by giving us the wisdom to shine upon one another and to each be gracious to each other. G-d will lift G-d’s face toward us, to remind us it is proper for us all to greet one another while looking at each other in the eye, not with turned faces. And most importantly, G-d will grant us peace, because without peace, there is nothing.
            The Midrash Tanchuma says that the way the Hebrew is worded when Moses tells Aaron this is how to bless the children of Israel is meant to indicate that this is a blessing that must not be blurted out hastily or haphazardly, but recited with great intention and concentration. It is a truly beautiful blessing, and I see the effect is has on those that receive it. There is a great warmth in this sanctuary when we all pray together, but there’s a look I see on many of your faces when Rabbi Heidi tells us it is time to rise, and she extends her arms as though to embrace the whole congregation and recites this blessing. But like the eternal question of who watches the watchmen, who blesses the blessers? This section ends with the verse, “They shall bestow My Name upon the children of Israel, so that I will bless them,” telling us that G-d does.
            Of course we all have our own blessings and relationships with G-d, separate from that which is facilitated by our spiritual leaders. The Torah portion goes on to explain the offerings brought to the Tabernacle by each tribe accounted for in the census of the previous Parasha. The offerings are all exactly the same, but the Torah tells each one of them separately. The Midrash Rabbah again explains this to mean that, though each family brought the same stuff, the experience of the offerings was different with each person. Though there is extra comfort in hearing the Priestly Blessing from our rabbi each week, and the Torah tells us that G-d blesses the blessers, we know that G-d also blesses us each individually. Much the way each family was responsible for different parts of the Tabernacle, each of us has our own paths, our own responsibilities, and we each carry a piece of this Temple in our own way. However that is represented, we each have our own experiences with G-d as well, which is as beautiful as hearing the blessing each week.
            As you go on your way, take the time to stop and notice when G-d is shining G-d’s face upon you, how G-d is lifting G-d’s face toward, and may you always find peace. Amen, and Shabbat Shalom.