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Drops of Torah from our members (2020-21 / 5781)

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.

Drops of Torah from 2019-2020
Drops of Torah from 2018-2019

 


 

  1. Bereishit by Helena Landis
  2. Noah by Randy Tiffany
  3. Lekh Lekha by Amy Strauss
  4. Vayera by Alex Shapiro-Colarocco
  5. Hayyei Sarah by Max Wilson & Dina Jacobs
  6. Toldot by Me'ira Pitkapaasi
  7. Vayetze by Rabbi Nathan
  8. Vayishlach by Andrea Apter & Harry Chen
  9. Vayeshev by Andrea Bruno
  10. Miketz by Ruthie Lefkowitz
  11. Vayigash by Laura Lee Blechner
  12. Vayechi by Andy Coleman

 

Bereishit (Genesis 1:1-19) by Helena Landis

In this week's Torah portion we encounter the story of Eve and Adam eating of the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and their subsequent expulsion from the garden. This was a moment when humans became aware of shame and guilt. A perspective I'm taking with me at this moment when it comes to reading this story is the notion of consequences. Just as the first humans did not have an awareness of the larger consequences of their behavior, sometimes we are similar. We may share an off-handed remark with someone that may have far reaching negative impact. The work of Jewish awareness practices, like Mussar, help us to become more conscious and aware of our behaviors and actions before they can become damaging. Perhaps, unlike the first humans, we can take the lesson to heart to be thoughtful in our behaviors with others and thereby create more positive consequences. (Return to Top)

Noah (Genesis 6:9-7:9) by Randy Tiffany

The premise for the Noah story is found at the beginning of the narrative when we learn “The earth became corrupt before God; the earth was filled with lawlessness” (Breisheit 6:11).  After the idyllic beginnings in Chapter 1, humans (and, according to Rashi, all creatures) had fallen to a level of immorality requiring a complete reboot and the establishment, beginning in the next parsha with Avram and continuing through the remainder of Torah, of a society based on divine law. We have been reminded multiple times over the course of American history, including our own, that when the rule of law ceases to be the norm, bad things happen. (Return to Top)

Lekh Lekha (Genesis 12:1-20) by Amy Strauss

Lekh lekha means to leave. This portion talks about the war between the kings of the city states.  Lot is forced out.  Abraham frees Lot.  Abraham went to war because the kings were stealing from the poor.  Although, we tried to avoid wars, sometimes it is necessary to help those who can’t help themselves. May we be ready for this challenge. (Return to Top)

Vayera (Genesis 18:1-22:24) by Alex Shapiro-Colarocco

In this week's Torah portion we encounter the mob of Sodom that seeks to harm Lot's angelic visitors. Rabbinic commentaries suggest that the townspeople were afraid of losing their wealth and perhaps saw themselves as above the strangers. We should remember, particularly this week, that strangers have sometimes come to our country and made important contributions to its welfare. We need to remember that we too were once strangers in the land of Egypt thousands of years ago. Instead of being like the townsfolk of Sodom, perhaps we could be more like Abraham and defend the rights of the poor and the vulnerable? (Return to Top)

Hayyei Sarah (Genesis 23:1-11) by Max Wilson & Dina Jacobs

In this week's Torah portion, Chaye Sarah, there is a theme of planning for the future. This theme was conveyed when Abraham bought the Cave of Machpelah for a place to bury his wife, Sarah and for other family members in the future. He wants to buy the land from the Hittites but at first they tell them to take it as a gift. He declined the gift and paid, because he wanted to ensure that the land would only be his and his family’s. Now nobody could take the land back or say that it wasn’t rightfully theirs because he paid the full price. In doing so, Abraham planned for the future to ensure a better life for his family.

The pandemic has taught us many lessons about needing to prepare for the future. At the start of the pandemic, there was not enough equipment or PPE (personal protective equipment) to care for people with COVID-19 or to protect front line workers. We now know much more about the infection, and we can better care for people who do contract the infection. Importantly, we now know how to better prepare for future pandemics by making certain we have an adequate supply of needed materials and equipment. We also now very much understand the need to work together as a community to take care of each other. This is the only way that we can survive and move on after crises.

The past few weeks have seen a lot of political turmoil. We look forward to coming together as a nation to take better care of each other for all of our futures! (Return to Top)

Toldot (Genesis 25:19 - 28:9) by Me'ira Pitkapaasi

Rebecca is a rare character in the Torah.  She is a woman that refuses to stand by and allow life to happen to her.  She faces every difficult situation with strength and determination and ensures things turn out the way she wants them to be. She chooses her husband Isaac, leading the servant Eleazar to her parents. Given the choice, she tells them she wants to make the long journey to marry her uncle Abraham’s son.  Experiencing the trauma of her unborn twins struggling inside of her, she goes personally to question God’s motives rather than asking her husband to intervene on her behalf.  When her husband makes a plan to give his deathbed blessings to his favored child, she carries out a plan to switch the boys, ensuring a blessed future for her favored child.  She insists- commands- that her son Jacob follow her plans, and even agrees to take upon herself any curse Isaac might put on Jacob should they be found out. When she hears of Esau’s plan to murder her favored son, she chooses to send Jacob to sanctuary with her brother Laban, promising to bring him back home as soon as Esau is less enraged, and puts into motion a scenario in which Isaac will send her youngest boy into safety.  As a mother, a wife, a woman, she has no power to make such a decision without the direction of her husband. She convinces Jacob that he would prefer to have Jacob marry Rebecca’s kin, and Isaac sends him off, putting him onto the path where he eventually marries Rachel and Leah, his maternal uncle’s two daughters.  There are many rabbinic discussions regarding whether Rebecca’s choices are those of a positive Biblical role model for future generations of women.  Rather than looking at her specific choices, perhaps we should first examine the idea that she was able to design a life for herself in which she was able to have choices.  No matter what decisions she might have made, Rebecca refused to allow her circumstances to control her.  She took hold of the reigns of a difficult life and directed an outcome that would lead to the life she wanted for her children and for herself. (Return to Top)

Vayetze (Genesis 28:10 - 32:3) by Rabbi Nathan

In this week’s Torah portion, in a moment of cosmic karma, Jacob is tricked into marrying Laban's eldest daughter rather than his intended marriage to Rachel. This part of the narrative is the source of the custom of unveiling the bride or bedekin at traditional Jewish weddings. Laban's and Rachel and Leah's deception of Jacob seems to parallel Jacob and Rebecca's deception of Isaac in the previous parshah, a kind of cosmic payback for how Jacob attained Isaac's blessing. What are the ways you might notice payback in your life -- positive or negative -- for your own behavior?As an additional offering we share Debbie Perlman's z"l contemporary psalm for Thanksgiving here. Wishing all blessings for this time. (Return to Top)

Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4 - 36:43) by Andrea Apter & Harry Chen

In Genesis 34, a story is told, that Dinah went out of her camp to see the women of the locality. Shechem, the local prince saw her and apparently raped her. But he wanted also wanted her to be his wife. The story continues where the sons of Jacob, knowing that there would be much pain at the third day of the circumcision, attacked the city, killing the men, seizing their wealth, their little ones, wives and all in the houses as captives in retribution for Shechem's treatment of Dinah. This story is told seemingly with firsthand knowledge of how Jacob, Simeon and Levi felt after finding out of Dinah’s rape. However, Dinah does not have a voice in this passage. That Shechem wanted to marry Dinah, rather than to keep her as a slave, may put to question whether she was raped or consented. All too often in our patriarchal (misogynistic) society, the wishes and feelings of women are attributed by men and are not expressed in the first person, by the woman. To this day, the control of women’s bodies are all too often determined by men expressing the highest of moral purpose, denying women the right to control what happens to their body. May we learn from this story. (Return to Top)

Vayeshev (Genesis 37:1 - 40:23) by Andrea Bruno 

I’m intrigued by Tamar’s knowledge of her rights and her ability to outsmart Judah.  She took a chance that Judah would do the right thing and the law would be on her side despite her social status. I’m less secure in my trust of the law in our society today.  There seem to be many loopholes and those of status and wealth are often in a better position to escape the law.

I’m reminded of a time I trusted a mechanic by paying in advance for his service.  Youth and inexperience were my disadvantage.  My car remained in disrepair despite my win in small claims court.  Yes, the law was on my side, however, there was not a way to collect funds that did not exist.  While the mechanic was by no means of status and wealth he was likely aware he could get away with what he did.  I was not as wise or fortunate as Tamar.  Our present divided society chooses dominance over equality that is fueled by prejudice and intolerance of minority groups. How might we help pave the way for helping those at a disadvantage be heard and supported? (Return to Top)

Miketz (Genesis 41:1 - 44:17) by Ruthie Lefkowitz

In this week's parsha, a continuation of the Joseph story, his brothers start their journey back home from Egypt. On the way, Joseph stops them and accuses them for stealing his valuable item. The brothers insist that nobody stole it, but they said that if one of them did, then they would all willingly accept the punishment. So, Joseph searched all of their  bags, and they found it in Benjamin’s bag. Joseph didn’t really like his brothers after they carelessly threw him in a pit, however, he wanted to give them a second chance. He wanted to see if they had changed their cruel behaviors towards the favorite child. Joseph knew that Benjamin was the new favorite, and he wanted to see what would happen if he threatened to take Benjamin away. Would they be grateful to never see him again, or would they beg for forgiveness in hopes that Benjamin could come home with them? They ended up begging for forgiveness, which means that they have changed and we can change too! (Return to Top)

Vayigash (Genesis 44:18 - 47:27) by Laura Lee Blechner

In this week’s portion, Vayigash, after Joseph and his brothers finally reconcile, Jacob and his entire family go down to Egypt to escape the famine. On the road, God comes to Jacob in, yet another, dream and calls to him “Jacob! Jacob!” and Jacob responds “Hineni - here I am.” In the dream, God tells Jacob not to fear this trip, because God will make him a great nation in Egypt. God will go down to Egypt with him, and, also, bring him back from Egypt. 

But we know, that this is the beginning of our Exodus story, and that in a couple of generations, the Children of Israel will become slaves to Pharoah in Egypt for hundreds of terrible years. And yet, what I hear in God’s double call to Jacob, and Jacob’s Hineni response, is a foreshadowing of God’s call to Moses - also a double call - and the exact same response of “Hineni - here I am.” The seeds of hope and redemption are planted, just waiting for us to be present, to say “Hineni,” and become God’s partner in repairing the world. (Return to Top)

Vayechi (Genesis 47:28 - 50:26) by Andy Coleman

In Vayechi, the final parsha of Genesis, Jacob blesses Joseph's sons. In a recurring theme of Genesis, Jacob gives the younger son the blessing for the older. Then we read about Jacob's blessings to all his sons just before he dies. Many of the "blessings" are unflattering descriptions. Reuben is rebuked for sleeping with one of Jacob's concubines. Simeon and Levi are criticized for the slaying of the men of Shechem. Others are compared to wild or domesticated animals. Some of these are actually good. Commentators have said "Judah is like a lion" because leaders (kings) have come from the tribe of Judah.  Issachar is compared to a donkey bearing a load. Commentators have said "bearing a load" refers to "the yoke of Torah." Apparently many scholars came from the tribe of Issachar.
We have just come through a year filled with trials, tribulations and tragedies. Some of us have experienced great loss. We are certainly in need of blessings. Perhaps we can take  inspiration from our more "observant" Jewish brethren. I have heard it is a custom to say 100 blessings a day, or at least look for opportunities to say them.  We can be inspired to say a blessing for a beautiful sunrise or sunset. Blessings for family, friends and community. I, and many Beth Israelites, have expressed blessings to be a part of this community during this time. We are certainly blessed to have Rabbis Linda and Nathan and our lay leaders who have worked so hard for us. Perhaps they are from the tribe of Judah?  To all those in need of healing, I wish you a refuah shlema, a full and complete recovery. Shabbat Shalom. (Return to Top)

Tue, January 19 2021 6 Shevat 5781