Chariots of God: Lekh Lekha 5780

Once or twice a year I walk past the statue of Atlas on Fifth Avenue at 51 ST and imagine how it would feel to bear the weight of the whole world in your arms. The thought is absurd, of course, yet sometimes when one is overwhelmed it can feel that way. Many people experience…

Heed the Voice of Sarah: Shabbat Noah 5780

The closing lines of Parshat Noah are less dramatic and yet more remarkable than are the opening lines of Lekh Lekha. What possessed Terah and his extended family to depart Ur Chasdim and head toward Canaan? What did his sons think of the move? And what did their wives say? Did they have a say?…

Torn with grief; Turning back to life: VaYeshev 5779

The most primal ritual of grief in our tradition is the rending of garments. The word “rending” is too pretty for the violent tearing of fabric with its distinctive sound and sensation. And the timid substitution of ripping a centimeter of black ribbon is far from the original concept. If you want to know what…

We have so much: VaYishlah 5779

How much do you have? That question is never purely objective nor purely subjective. Whether discussing physical assets like money and possessions or social assets such as honor and power, our sense of wealth depends both on personal need and comparison to the possessions of others. Do we answer the question in reference to our…

What’s fear got to do with it? VaYetze 5779

Could it be that Rabbi Nachman got it wrong when he said, the world is a narrow bridge, and the key is not to be afraid at all? How many times have we sung these words, rocking to and fro, slow and then fast, soft and then loud, calling out encouragement never to be afraid?…

Peace on Earth? Toledot 5779

The story line of the patriarchs and matriarchs of Israel has moved on to the second, and soon to the third generations, but our portion begins with a curious backwards facing reference that seems entirely redundant: “These are the generations of Isaac son of Abraham; Abraham fathered Isaac.” Interpreters have long puzzled over this seemingly…

Stronger than Hate: Hayei Sarah 5779

The first thing we saw upon landing in Pittsburgh today was the instantly iconic transformation of the Steelers’ logo to integrate a yellow Magen David and the phrase, “Stronger than Hate.” The three diamonds were originally part of the US Steel logo, with yellow for coal, orange for iron ore and blue for steel scrap—the…

Facing the Rising Tide Together: Noah 5779

If you like dramatic stories, then Parashat Noah is for you. Between the ark and the tower, the flood and the dispersion, there is high drama. A teacher of mine once argued, however, that the most important element of the portion is the least dramatic one: the genealogical tables. Noah dies at the end of…

Equals in Eden: Bereshit 5779

There is much to celebrate in the Torah’s first description not only of humanity but of gender. In Genesis 1:27-28 God creates the first person(s), male and female, in the divine image, and blesses them with the gifts of fertility and dominion. There may be a hint of non-binary gender here; there is more than…

From the Depths of Hebron: Vayeshev 5778

One wonders what Jacob really knew about the relationship between his sons, just as we wonder about how attentive Isaac had been to his battling boys. Jacob does seems to be on to something once Joseph starts sharing his dreams, and “his father guarded the matter.” Did he, though? In Chapter 37:11, Jacob says to…

Diminished by Fear: VaYishlah 5778

Jacob is afraid to die. He is also afraid to kill, at least according to the Midrashic reading of Genesis 32:8, with its two verbs, he was afraid, and he was anguished. Bereshit Rabba explains, “he was afraid that he would kill [Esau], and anguished that he would be killed.” But even more, Jacob is…