Sons and Fathers: Parashat Vayigash

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Parashat Vayigash
Genesis 44:18 – 47:27

What would Father do?

This is a question that sometimes faces a person when they need to make an important and difficult decision. The influence of a father on a child can be enduring, overcoming time and space and even life itself. In a time of need a son or daughter – no matter how old they are at the moment – may reach back toward their parent for guidance and support.

After Joseph and his brothers are all reunited and reconciled in Egypt, it is time for the beloved son to be reunited with his beloved father. So Joseph sends for his father Jacob, beckoning him to descend to Egypt so that he may enjoy Joseph’s support and protection.
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Fly on the Wall: Parashat Miqetz/Hanukah/Rosh Hodesh


Parashat Miqetz/Hanukah/Rosh Hodesh
Genesis 41:1 – 44:17

What makes a person speak up instead of keeping silent? What makes a person remember after years of forgetting? What makes a person keep a promise when it is so easy to betray it?

The Chief Butler in Pharaoh’s court has been silent and forgetful. It has been two years since he was restored to his position of authority and since he made a promise to use his restored position to benefit the forlorn Joseph, stuck in a dungeon. It has been two long years for Joseph, waiting to be remembered, while, for the Butler, time has just breezed by as he has gone about his duties to the monarch and the court.

But, when Pharaoh has a dream that he cannot understand, this somehow changes the Butler’s consciousness and brings him to remember Joseph and speak up on his behalf. What was it that changed the Butler’s mind and soul?
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Overcoming Jacob: Parashat Vayeshev


Parashat Vayeshev

Genesis 37:1 – 40:23

The longest story of any of our early founding ancestors, the story of Joseph and his brothers, begins in this week’s Torah portion and continues to the very end of the book of Genesis. It is a very rich and complex story, with many parts. After Joseph is disposed of by the brothers, sold into slavery, conveyed down to Egypt, the Torah’s attention shifts to tell of an adventure – or mis-adventure – of Judah. (We have dealt with this story before. See Sparks for last year and for 2012.) This episode seems to be a tangential sub-plot. After telling this episode will the Torah return to Joseph’s story in earnest.
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Hammering it Out: Parashat Vayishlah


Parashat Vayishlah
Genesis 32:4 – 36:43

And he said, ‘No longer will your name be said to be Jacob, but, rather, Israel. For you have striven with the Almighty and with people and you have prevailed.
(Gen. 32:29)

Jacob’s name is changed to “Israel” by a heavenly angel, who seems to say that the name Jacob will fall away and be replaced. Yet, immediately following that dramatic statement our Patriarch is referred to by the name “Jacob,” and the text continues to use the Jacob-name for quite a stretch of narrative. I have suggested (- see last year’s Torah Sparks for this portion) that the effect of getting the name of Israel is to change the meaning of the name Jacob. The name no longer connotes deception. Jacob/Israel is the one who struggles and prevails.

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Two Camps: Parashat Vayetze


Parashat Vayetze 
Genesis 28:10 – 32:3

The beautiful story of Jacob’s dream, in which he sees a ladder reaching from earth all the way to heaven, with God’s angels streaming up and down upon it, has captured the imagination of readers for millennia. That story opens our Torah portion. Less noticed is the story of Jacob’s meeting with angels that closes our portion. After Jacob endures a stressful encounter with his father-in-law, Laban, he is able to resume his journey home: “And Jacob went on his way, and angels of the Almighty encountered him (va-yifg`u bo). And Jacob, when he saw them, said, ‘This is the encampment of the Almighty!’ And he called that place Mahanayim (Two Camps).” (Gen. 32:2-3)
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Dream of Fields: Parashat Toldot

Parashat Toldot 

Genesis 25:19 – 28:9

And Esau became a man knowing the hunt, a man of the field…And Isaac loved Esau.
(Gen. 25:27-28)

Where do blessings come from? Where do they go? What is their source of power? What is their effect?

While our tradition mandates that we pronounce blessings of all kinds and for all kinds of reasons, the blessings that we utter, as we bless God, invariably begin “Barukh attah Adanai… – You, Eternal God, abound in blessing.” Thus, the blessings originated by our tradition proclaim God to be the origin of blessing. And we pray incessantly that we may be the ones blessed.
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Win-Win: Parashat Hayyei Sarah


Parashat Hayyei Sarah 
Genesis 23:1 – 25:18

– Well, he’s going to need a grave now. That’s for sure. It’s a shame about the old lady, Sarah. Dying all alone like that. Now I hear that Abraham is coming in to Hebron. He’s heard that she died and whaddaya bet that he’s going to want to bury her right here? He’ll want a grave. The question is, do we, as the Elders of the Sons of Het, let him have one? We’ll go around the circle. What do you say?

– I say – Why? He’s not one of us. He’s a stranger. He’s strange, in general. He moves around and leaves his wife all alone?

– You’re right, he moves around. He’s never really learned our ways. He’s never settled anywhere permanent. He’s a drifter. He doesn’t have a piece of land to his name.

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Rescue: Parashat Vayera

Parashat Vayera 

Genesis 18:1 – 22:24

“For what is the world without rescue, but a wasteland and a worthless peril?”
-Sebastian Barry

If you ask me why I did it, I really couldn’t tell you.

We were watching the storm. It was like nothing we had ever seen before. Like all hell had broken loose. Sin City, as we call it, was burning and melting away. And Gomorrah, too. Like two flaming torches in the midst of a sandstorm.

We saw the winds and the sulfur downpours moving right toward us. Screaming was all around us, man and beast alike. We did our best, some of us, to take everything inside. But my neighbor just crouched down and wailed that it was no use. It was all over. Couldn’t we see the great market of Sodom pulverized just a little ways from us? And we were next. What good would our locked doors and shutters be?

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Blood and Guts: Parashat Lekh L’kha


Parashat Lekh L’kha 
Genesis 12:1 – 17:27

The story of the Jewish people begins with God’s call to Abram to journey to an unknown land in order to fulfill a mission – to be a blessing. While the move from Mesopotamia to Canaan is swiftly and uneventfully reported, once Abram and Sarai get to the Promised Land, life gets complicated. The pioneering couple have to meet many challenges – physical, spiritual and moral.

Abram’s faith is tested again and again. But, after Divine reassurance, the Torah reports: “And he (- Abram) had faith in the Eternal, and He (- God) accounted this for him as a righteousness.” (Gen. 15:6) Yet, right after we learn of Abram’s steadfast faith in God, the text continues: “And He said to him, ‘I am the Eternal Who took you out of Ur of the Chaldees to give this land to you to inherit it. And he said to Him, ‘My Lord, Almighty God, by what means shall I know that I will inherit it?” (vv. 7-8)

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Saving the Rest: Parashat Noach



Parashat No`ah 
Genesis 6:9 – 11:32

We introduced, on Sh’mini Atzeret, the prayer praising God for bring rain. And now we read a Torah portion that tells of the Flood. Invariably we make jokes any time it rains in our parts during this time. But these days the rains are no joke. Florida is being hit by devastating rains as I write. Scientists explain that global warming will tend to produce ever greater storms of ever greater destructive impact. The levels of the oceans will rise and cause terrible flooding. The United Nations has just released a report sounding the urgent alarm that we have very little time to turn things around so as to save the entire planet.

And our country is run by people who refuse to listen and who, in the name of economic profits, actively seek to negate any effort to save this planet.

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