empty space: Parashat Vayetze 2019

Parashat Vayetze (5780 – 2019)

Genesis 28:10 – 32:3 

Jacob has a vision of God and says – “Indeed there is God in this place, and I did not know.” (Gen. 28:16) This declaration is extraordinary and unique. Of all the Biblical figures who have heard or seen God before Jacob – in whatever place or circumstance – not one, until Jacob, has ever said – I did not know that God was in this place.  With Jacob we encounter for the first time a crack in the Biblical assurance that it is unremarkable that God can speak or appear to anyone at any time. What is the source of Jacob’s surprise, his expression of previous ignorance and his declaration that now he knows better?
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Why, then, am I? Parashat Toldot 2019


Parashat Toldot (5780 – 2019)
Genesis 25:19 – 28:9

Our Torah portion picks up some twenty years after last week’s story. Isaac and Rebecca have been married for twenty years, but they are still childless. After Isaac entreats God on his wife’s behalf, she conceives. But Rebecca’s pregnancy is painful, torn by turmoil within. “And she said, ‘If it is thus, then why am I?’ and she went to seek out the Eternal.” (Gen. 25:22) The next verse tells us that God answered her and explained why she felt such strife within her womb.

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Going Home: Parashat Vayera (5780 – 2019)


Parashat Vayera (5780 – 2019)
Genesis 18:1 – 22:24

After the “bang!” – the traumatic story of the Binding of Isaac (Aqedah)- our Torah portion concludes with a “whimper,”  telling us that Abraham received a report of the births of a number of relatives in far-off Mesopotamia. The last names are of unknown people: Tevah, Gaham, Tahash and Ma`akhah. (Gen. 22:24) And we will never hear of them again.

This section is not completely obscure, though. Included in the birth announcements, as readers have noticed, is the name of Rebecca, later to become Isaac’s wife. The commentator, Rashi, remarks: “All these kinship lines are written only for this verse [that tells of Rebecca’s birth].” But Rashi’s comment does not explain why it was necessary to include all the seemingly superfluous information. Couldn’t the Torah have been selective, as it so often is, and only mention the birth of the one significant person? The whole section could have been reduced to one verse: “After these things, Abraham was told that Rebecca, daughter of Bethuel, was born.”
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Keep Walking: Parashat Lekh Lekha (5780 – 2019)


Parashat Lekh Lekha (5780 – 2019)
Genesis 12:1 – 17:27

Our Torah portion is accompanied by a prophetic reading – haftarah (- “concluding reading”), as is every Torah portion. Each haftarah was chosen long ago, selected from a vast prophetic literature. It devolved on later generations to try to ascertain why each  specific reading was matched with the Torah portion. Often the connection is clear and far-reaching. But sometimes the connections are less obvious.

Our Etz Hayim edition is blessed with a commentary on the haftarot by the eminent scholar, Michael Fishbane, that always discusses the relation between the haftarah and its Torah reading. The relation between the two is not only one of development of the earlier text (Torah) by the later text (haftarah). Reading the haftarah can also awaken us to themes and issues in the Torah reading that we otherwise might have passed over. Thus, aside from the connections that Prof. Fishbane points out, I believe that a reading of our haftarah this week can alert us to an element in our parashah that we might have ignored.

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Not a Word From His Lips: Parashat No`ah (5780 – 2019)


Parashat No`ah (5780 – 2019)
Genesis 6:9 – 11:32 

How he survived was a miracle. No. How he survived was by shutting his mouth and keeping quiet. No, it was still a miracle, after all. After all that criminality, after all that hatred, and that violence and that thieving and killing, it was a miracle that they didn’t take him and cut his silent throat. He saw it all, but he didn’t say a word. The wood stolen right out from under him. Silence. The neighbor’s cow slaughtered right before his eyes. Silence.  The neighbor bludgeoned. Not a word from his lips.
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The Goodness of Light: Parashat B’reshit (5780 – 2019)


Parashat B’reshit (5780 – 2019)
Genesis 1:1 – 6:8

Our biological clocks generally give us a sense of a new beginning with the morning light, and, with darkness we sense the day’s end. But our tradition has reversed this order in its definition of when a day starts and when it concludes. Instead the day begins with the onset of darkness and ends with the waning of the light. We take this order from the Biblical refrain that ends the description of the creation of each day: “And it was evening, and it was morning, one day” and “the second day,” etc. (Gen. 1:5813192331)

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Holding Tight: Sh’mini Atzeret/Simhat Torah/V’zot Ha-b’rakhah (5780 – 2019)


Sh’mini Atzeret/Simhat Torah/V’zot Ha-b’rakhah (5780 – 2019)
Deuteronomy 33:1–34:12

The beginning of the new year is marked with so many holy days. Now we are reaching their end, the end of the beginning. The annual cycle of Torah portions, begun last year also comes to an end, not at the end of the last year, but at the beginning of this new year. And then we begin once more. We are meant to pay attention to endings and beginnings and to consider how each may also be its opposite. Continue reading

Call to Action: Helping Immigrants in Essex County

Protesters have targeted the Essex County Correctional Facility, which holds about 800 people who have been arrested on immigration charges. Photo credit: Mel Evans/Associated Press

Protesters at the Essex County Correctional Facility. Photo credit: Mel Evans/Associated Press

Dear Friends:
I hope everyone is having a great holiday season. I am writing to let you know about two social actions you can take to help immigrants in Essex County.

1) Join Faith in Essex on 10/23 at 7pm at the Newark Hall of Records for the Board of Chosen Freeholders meeting to insist on ACLU-endorsed civilian oversight for Essex County Correctional Facility. This is a very important meeting where I believe the ordinance for the civilian oversight board that the ACLU is recommending will be introduced.

Please let me know (email hidden; JavaScript is required) if you plan to go to the Freeholders meeting and if so, let’s work in car pooling.

2) Send the email below to County Executive Joseph D. Vincenzo and the Board of Chosen Freeholders. Continue reading