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Drops of Torah from our members (2019-20 / 5780)

We all have the capacity to share our wisdom and reflections about the Torah texts we read each week. The Congregation Beth Israel Drops of Torah project provides an opportunity for people to share a brief reflection or short insight about the week's Torah portion. These short pieces are written by our members with support from our rabbis (as needed). Our plan is to have members reflect on 1/9 of a Torah portion each week so that in nine years we will have commented on the whole Torah! Beth Israel follows the Israeli Torah reading calendar which sometimes differs from the Conservative and Orthodox Torah reading calendar outside of Israel but will always sync up before the end of the Torah reading year. Consider signing up for a drop of Torah. For more information, contact Rabbi Nathan Martin.

To see Drops of Torah from prior years, click here.

  1. Bereishit by Kathy Trow
  2. Noah by Andy Coleman
  3. Lekh Lekha by Marilyn Verbits
  4. Vayera by Julia and Noah Walsh
  5. Hayyei Sarah by Me'ira Pitkapaasi
  6. Toldot by Deb Erie
  7. Vayeitze by Lynn Cashell
  8. Vayishlach by Sharon Kleban
  9. Vayeshev by Rich Remenick
  10. Miketz by Reisa Mukamal
  11. Vayigash by Jennifer Waterston
  12. Vayechi
  13. Shemot
 
Bereishit (Genesis 1:1-19) by Kathy Trow

The beginning of the Torah is the beginning of Creation. What strikes me in early Genesis is the emphasis on opposites. God creates light and darkness (Day and Night), sky and water, and land and seas. Once these "opposites" are established, God populated them; first with vegetation (And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation: seed-bearing plants, fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.”) and then with "lights in the expanse of the sky" to differentiate day from night. 

There are many aspects of life that rely on opposites. Often situations seem black and white. For example, you don't put your hand into fire or you will get burned. However, much of life revolves around the gray such that a fire warms you if you keep a safe distance from it. If the earliest creations were black and white opposites, as God continued to create there was an allowance for the gray. The variety of species of vegetation and the subtle changes as day moves to night are all graduated differences (grays) without specific boundaries like Light and Dark or black and white. 

Reading this passage is a reminder to me that although I may wish often for black and white- the Day and Night- situations, I need to embrace an often live within the gray because there is a plethora of possibilities within the gray. (Return to Top)

Noah (Genesis 6:9-7:9) by Andy Coleman

In this week's Parsha, God instructs Noah on how to build the ark. This ark was to become the way life survived on Earth. In our day, we should think of the whole earth as an ark. Just as God saw the earth as "corrupt", we humans have treated the earth badly. It is up to us to take action to reverse climate change. We can do this on an individual scale, such as using reusable shopping bags, all the way up to the national and international level by supporting and advocating for the use of renewable resources and protecting the environment. (Return to Top)

Lekh Lekha (Genesis 12:1-20) by Marilyn Verbitz 

The Lord said to Abram, "Go forth from your native land...to the land that I will show you". Now that's a life-changing order! However, perhaps to assuage Abram's fear of the unknown, he was assured that he would receive many blessings and successes. These all came true. Unlike Abram/Abraham, we don't get assurances when we go to a "new" place in our lives. There are no promises of success, no guarantees that we won't struggle with changes that might be thrust upon us. So I believe that we need to have faith that most times, as we sing in the Hashkivenu prayer, "everything's gonna be all right." (Return to Top)

Vayera (Genesis 18:1 - 22:24)) by  Julia and Noah Walsh 

From Julia: When Abraham argues with God to save Sodom from destruction did God already know the outcome, and if so, why bother arguing? Perhaps this was God's way of training Abraham and ourselves to find ways to bring our voice to issues we think are unjust and to stand up for what is right.

From Noah: What can we learn from the actions of the daughters of Lot when they were fleeing Sodom and their decision to make their father sire a child with them? While this is a problematic passage, some commentators stress that their motives were good. This reminds us to make sure to take a second look when we disagree or don't understand someone's actions - there may be more to learn or uncover. (Return to Top)

Hayyei Sarah (Genesis 23:1-11) by Me'ira Pitkapaasi 

When Sarah died in the land of Canaan, Abraham had no place to bury his wife. He asked to buy land from the Hittites.  They responded by giving him the best of their burial spots, and expected nothing in return.  In the Beth Israel community, when anyone is in need, if they let people know, we respond by reaching out and being there for them.  We have members who need assistance following the Hebrew in our Shabbat services; those who need rides to events and home again; those who need a friend to lean on; those who only have enough food with grocery cards donated to the Rabbi's Discretionary Fund.  It is up to us to offer what we can give, in time or money.  It is up to us to ask for what we need, to put aside any guilt we might feel in taking, and to allow the community to be there for us.  Abraham was able to accept the gift of a burial plot from the Hittites, adversaries of the Israelites.  The Hittites were able to overcome this adversarial relationship to give in the time of Abraham's greatest need. How much more so should we give of ourselves to our BI family, and allow ourselves to accept these gifts when needed? (Return to Top)

Toldot (Genesis 25:19-34) by Deb Erie

Toldot. Generations. Descendants..This parsha tells the story of Isaac and Rebekkah conceiving and giving birth to twins, Esau and Jacob.  Esau is the first born and therefore, the owner of the birthright. During this Parsha, Esau barters his birthright for a bowl of lentil soup.  And then later, Rebecca and Jacob deceive Isaac on his deathbed into giving Jacob his blessing.

In thinking about this portion, I was struck by the choices that the characters made and what choices we might bring into our own lives.  Some may say that Esau chose the present (his hunger) over the future (his birthright). Jacob made the choice of deception (lying to Isaac) over truth which led to his estrangement from his twin brother.  Rebecca also chose to support one son over the other leading to having to send away her favored son.

We must make choices in our lives all the time.  Everyday. Our lives are busy – we are often asked to decide what can we give up, what is negotiable.  It is when we make these decisions that we have to determine our priorities. By choosing wrong, we can give up much.  We might be giving up time spent with our family by working more for the money to purchase things we don’t need. We might be giving up doing the right thing for the easier path.  We might be giving up our religious community because we are too busy. 

Each of these decisions have an impact on our future generations. Toldot. Generations.  Descendants. (Return to Top)

Vayeitze (Genesis 28:10-22) by Lynn Cashell

In Genesis 28:10-22, Jacob had a dream/vision of angels of God going up and down a ladder and that God spoke to him telling him, “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac: the ground on which you are lying I will assign to you and to your offspring. ... Remember, I am with you: I will protect you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” 
     There are not many places or times in my life when I have felt such reassurance that I will be cared for and protected. I always believed that the two safest places in my world were my school and my synagogue. Events over the past several years have awakened my senses to the reality, that while the violence permeated at schools and synagogues is rare, we still have to be prepared and aware that we are not as safe or protected as we once believed. 
     Acts of violence such as these raise up the question of how God could allow these atrocities to happen. After all, didn’t God make promises to protect us? I think those are unanswerable questions and my time is better spent looking at the response to the violence. Communities pull together, people not of the impacted community offer support, and the outpouring of love is unending. That is where I think God exists. Maybe its a reminder that we need to care, protect, and love each other every day, not just when impacted by irrational acts of violence. Maybe we should not leave God until our promises to care for each other are fulfilled.  (Return to Top)

Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4-21) by Sharon Kleban

This week’s parsha Vayishlach tells the story of Jacob preparing to meet his brother Esav for the first time in many years.  The night before the meeting Jacob encountered a mysterious man, a messenger, and they wrestled all night.  Jacob refused to let the man go unless the man offered a blessing, and the man gave him a new name, Israel, “for you have striven with beings divine and human and have prevailed.”
 
The name Israel is translated as struggles with God.  But even though Jacob received this new name, he still is called Jacob in the rest of the Torah.  This suggests that Israel was an additional name, perhaps a family or tribe name but maybe not a personal name.  
 
Our liturgy for the Yizkor services includes a poem titled “Each of Us Has a Name.”  The poem describes all the aspects of our world and lives that give us a different name.  When we are born our parents give us a name and that name has meaning.  Following Ashkenazi Jewish tradition I was named for great grandmothers who live only in memory.   My last name was passed down through the generations of my family.  My children wear the names of beloved family members who lived long ago.
 
The given names are more than a serial number.  The names tell us about our relationships.  My names include mother, daughter, sister, wife, and friend.  These names are as precious as my given name because they hint at what I am to people I love.
 
I offer that Israel is also a name of a relationship.  By taking this name, Jacob rises to a wrestling relationship with God that tells the story of his life and the history of the people who came after him.  As descendants of this story, we wrestle with the meaning of the Torah in the world and in our lives.  
 
The word Chanukah means dedication.  With this holiday approaching, we have an opportunity to dedicate ourselves again to our world, to our traditions and to our loved ones who give us our multitude of names. (Return to Top)

Vayeshev (Genesis 37:1-17) by Rich Remenick 

Over and over in Torah, we encounter the drama of sibling rivalry. The unfairness of parental favoritism is presented without apology. Certainly, Jacob’s favoring of the son of his old age, Joseph, is related in a very matter of fact manner. To make matters worse for modern readers, it seems that the effect of this favoritism on Joseph’s character is not beneficial. Joseph not only glories in his special status as the favorite son, but even naively (or cruelly?) rubs it in, by relating dreams to his brothers that hint at his future preeminence. Is this not the person we all have learned to hate – the archetypal boss’s son?

And as we know, Joseph, this somewhat bratty child,  does become great – but that greatness is not the greatness dreamt of by a spoiled child or a social climber, not the “greatness” aspired to by Pharaoh, but a greatness acquired in adversity and humility. Seen this way, there is no need for envy; we are all destined for our own greatness, just not in the way we anticipate! (Return to Top)

Miketz (Genesis 41:1-24) by Reisa Mukamal 

At the beginning of Parsha Miketz, Pharaoh has his two famous dreams about seven gaunt cows eating seven sturdy cows, and seven scraggly ears of grain eating seven healthy ears. Pharaoh is highly agitated, but all the magicians and wise men of Egypt can’t tell him what the dreams mean. When Joseph, plucked from the dungeon, is given the opportunity to interpret them, it leads to both his own rescue and the rescue of the country. 

This is the second time Joseph has been a dream interpretor in the Torah. The first time, when he was seventeen, nearly got him killed by his own brothers. Since then, he has grown up and learned to reign in his ego. Joseph is fortunate to have had a second chance to redeem himself. May we all have second chances in life to use our talents for good. (Return to Top)

* In the spirit of Hannukah and entertainment, Rabbi Nathan offers a couple of contemporary songs from Six13 to the tune of Bohemian Rhapsody and the Maccabeats Hannukah creation based on the musical Hamilton. Enjoy!

Vayigash (Genesis 44:18 - 47:31)) by Jennifer Waterston 

This parsha is ultimately about forgiveness between siblings for acts of betrayal that occurred decades before. Joseph decides to forgive his brothers when he believes that they have risen above petty jealously. There are basically three choices in dealing with a negative action or behavior - holding a grudge, forgiving them without making amends, or forgiving the transgression and healing the relationship. We all have our own threshold for what is forgivable. Sometimes we cut a family member out of our lives because the relationship is toxic and/or painful. Often with time and distance our perspective changes and what once seemed unforgivable seems petty or insignificant. Joseph was able to let bygones be bygones. But that isn't the path that everyone would or should take. Everyone of us decides which relationships to take with us and which ones to leave behind. We can only hope not to make a decision we later regret.  (Return to Top)

Mon, January 27 2020 1 Shevat 5780