Hear the Voice of Rebecca: Toledot 5778b

My go-to expert for Parashat Toledot the past few years has been a student at JTS named Lauren Tuchman. She is a senior in the rabbinical school who teaches frequently on topics of disability and Judaism. This year she was selected to present an ELI talk, which has been recorded and will soon be released…

A Family of Covenant: Toledot 5778

[Written for the JTS Torah Commentary] The stories of Genesis are presented as family portraits, but simultaneously they describe the origins of a religious civilization. How did the people of Israel acquire and maintain its distinctive religious mission? Genesis offers not only a window into Israel’s past, but a blueprint for its future. Implicit is…

Only Two Lives to Live: Hayei Sarah 5778

When people ask me what I miss most about being a congregational rabbi, the first thing that comes to mind is nihum aveilim, comforting the bereaved. Of course I enjoyed the simhas more, but when sitting with a family in their living room, or standing with them as they huddled together by the grave, I…

Eating with the Angels: Vayera 5778

Distinguished visitors, would you care for some milk and cheese curds with your steaks? This, apparently is what Abraham offers the three angels whose visit opens our Torah portion, VaYera. There are much meatier morsels in the portion this week—the announcement of Isaac’s birth, the demolition of Sodom and Gomorrah, the incident in Gerar, the…

Listen to Sarah’s Voice: Lekh Lekha 5778

What does Sarah have to say? She and Abraham were introduced at the end of Parashat Noah, and she is a major character in chapters 12-23 of Genesis. But we hear precious little from her. What is she thinking all this time? When her husband takes their family away from not only his homeland, but…

Judah, don’t tether your donkey to a grapevine. Shabbat VaYehi 5777

In the August Wilson play, “Fences,” recently brought to screen with stand-out performances by Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, the male protagonist Troy torments his son Cory to the point of driving him from home at 17. We learn that Troy had been driven off by his own father at 14, and so the cycle…

A house divided no more? Vayigash 5777

Is it only two brothers who face off in the dramatic opening of our portion, or do they carry upon their shoulders the weight of future history—the division of their two respective kingdoms, Judah and Israel, which will vie for primacy and even engage in civil war? Why add the historical overlay? Is not the…

The Hungry Games: Toldot 5777:

A satiated person cannot understand the hungry person. This basic truth is expressed in the proverbs of many cultures (this gender-neutral version is of Irish extraction), and is the key to understanding Parashat Toldot. Hunger is the dominant emotion, and it does bad things to the judgment of the key characters. Famished Esau sells his…

I Will Fear No Evil: VaYera 5777

Fear is the sharpest of two-edged swords. In psychological terms, it triggers the fight or flight response, either clarifying the mind to organize effective action, or causing a person to flee or even freeze in place. In Judaism fear is likewise a nuanced phenomenon. It is often viewed negatively as a trait that can lead…

Moving the Matriarchs from Objects to Subjects: Lekh Lekha 5777

How dashing and heroic does Abram appear in his devotion to God! With alacrity he relocates upon command, risks everything to rescue his captive nephew Lot, and circumcises himself and all of his household males at the end of the portion. Yet there is also a moment in which Abram appears craven and insensitive, namely…

A Tale of Two Dystopias: Noah 5777

Does it feel lately that the fate of the world is at stake? If so, the Torah seems intent to validate and deepen our concern. Here we are just days before one of the most disconcerting elections in American history, and we have also arrived at Parashat Noah, the original dystopian tale. In fact, our…

Only One Immortality at a Time: Bereshit 5777

You know what demands keen knowledge? Naming things. The ability to observe and identify one’s environment is no small task, and yet Adam is capable of naming every animal, even before eating from the tree of knowledge. The Torah seems intent on clarifying that it was not knowledge in general that God sought to keep…