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Drops of Torah from our members (2022-23 / 5783)

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.

A New Focus this year for 5783: Friends, for our drop of Torah this year we are inviting contributors to share an intention, kavannah, or even a short prayer that they are pulling from the Torah we are reading. See the examples below. We hope that this more open form will invite even more contributors to our weekly member-to-member Torah share!

Drops of Torah from Prior Years

  1. Bereishit by Rabbi Nathan
  2. Noah by Rabbi Linda
  3. Lekh Lekha by Mark Rosenberg
  4. Vayera by Larry Hamermesh
  5. Hayei Sarah by Phyl Perry
  6. Toldot by Naomi Yates
  7. Vayetze by Lynn Cashell
  8. Vayishlach by Harry Chen
  9. Vayeshev by Amy Strauss
  10. Miketz by Rabbi Nathan
  11. Vayigash by Richard Remenick
  12. Vayehi by Rabbi Nathan
  13. Shemot by Kathy Trow
  14. Vaera by Rabbi Linda
  15. Bo by Abby Weinberg
  16. Beshallah by Sharon Kleban
  17. Yitro by Candy Berlin
  18. Mishpatim by Dan and Stacy Beller
  19. Terumah by Benjamin Alouf
  20. Ki Tissa by Reisa Mukamal
Bereishit (Genesis 1:14 - 31) by Rabbi Nathan  (Return to Top)

May we remember that "dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the heavens, animals, all the earth" really is another way of saying deep respect for our interconnectedness with all life to ensure our mutual survival and thriving.

Comment (optional)
This week's Torah reading includes the command by God to have humans rule over all forms of life, something that has justified our destructive environmental behavior in the past. My kavannah is an attempt to help us rebalance our perspective to one of respect and humility towards our created world.  (Return to Top)

Noah (Genesis 6:9 - 11:32) by Rabbi Linda

Noah was considered righteous in his generation but  not considered to be as righteous as Abraham, who lived ten generations later. Why?

While Noah was righteous in that he took care of his family and the animals in the ark, he did not attempt to help the others in his midst and didn't argue with God on their behalf. So the innocent perished along with the guilty. Abraham showed a love for humanity and fought on behalf of others.  

As we study this story, may we set an intention to look out for one another, especially the most vulnerable among us, in order to live a righteous life. (Return to Top)

Lekh Lekha (Genesis 12:1 - 17:27) by Mark Rosenberg

May we remember that Abram and Sarai needed to leave their country because of famine.  Many immigrants today have to get out of their countries due to problems.  Welcoming borders are required for those in need.  It is our responsibility to remember our ancestors needed this then and many others still do today.

This week’s Torah portion shows that immigration may be necessary for survival.  Abram used Sarai to get him him into Egypt alive.  Should we work to make the words of Emma Lazarus  (“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”) written in 1883 and inscribed on the Statue of Liberty twenty years later still be meaningful today?  Will we still make immigrants lie, cheat, or break national laws for their survival? (Return to Top)

Vayera (Genesis 18:1 - 22:24) by Larry Hamermesh

We have been endowed by G!d with an innate sense of what is just and right, and what is not. Let us use that sense, even - or especially - when it contradicts what others or even we ourselves are telling us is the will of G!d.

In this parsha, immediately after G!d recognizes that G!d has singled out Abraham “to keep the way of יְהֹוָה֙ by doing what is just and right,” Abraham’s first act is to rely on his own endowed sense of right and wrong to question G!d persistently to account for what may be arbitrary and excessive punishment of innocent people for the sins of others. Abraham’s conduct is a model of holiness to anyone who claims to hear the word of G!d and adhere to it unquestioningly. (Return to Top)

Hayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1 - 25:18) by Phyl Perry

May we remember the importance of taking a moment from our busy lives to connect with the bereaved in a loving and compassionate manner, regardless of how well we know them or any disagreements we may have had in the past. 

This week’s story is about how Abraham negotiates with the Hittites for a burial plot for his spouse Sarah who passed away. My kavannah is a reminder that so many people are suffering because they miss a loved one. A smile, kind word, hug or text from a friend or acquaintance can mean a lot! (Return to Top)

Toldot (Genesis 25:19 - 28:9) by Naomi Yates

May we remember as parents to try to treat our children equally and with respect, honoring their unique contributions, so that we do not repeat the missteps of Jacob and Esau's parents.

Rebecca favored Jacob, the studious one, and Isaac favored Esau, the hunter. Their parents did not try to hide their favoritism at all, which made the relationship between the brothers that much worse. If Isaac and Rebecca had treated their children with the same kindness, many problems might have been avoided. This was an episode I felt we can still continue to learn from today. (Return to Top)

Vayetze (Genesis 28:10 - 32:3) by Lynn Cashell

May we always try to move from a stance of judgment to one of understanding when it comes to evaluating the actions of family and loved ones.

Growing up as the youngest and only girl in my family, there was a bit of a double standard. My brothers mowed the lawn and took out the trash, I helped with the cooking and cleaning. The same was true of Jewish rituals. My brothers both had a bris, were given godfathers, Hebrew names, and became Bar Mitzvah. I did not have a Bat Mitzvah or a Hebrew name, but recalled asking my father if I had one, what it would have been. He responded, "Leah," I think because it was close to my own name, Lynn. When I had an adult Bat Mitzvah, I remembered this conversation, so I took the name Leah. 

At that time, I was not as familiar with the Torah as I am now, so when I learned that Laban deceived Jacob by offering Leah and not Jacob's beloved, Rachel, I was not as enamored with my Hebrew name. The text indicates that while Laban was the one who sent Leah in place of Rachel, it feels that Leah was a willing participant in the ruse, and continued to compete with Rachel throughout their relationship.

While there have been times in my life when I was disappointed by the outcome of an event when it was not clear, or the players changed the rules midstride, I have always tried to understand the motivation and find a positive consequence. So I decided to embrace my Hebrew name and the woman who it represents. Leah is a matriarch and the mother of 6 of Jacob's sons. That definitely warrants merit to be raised up. (Return to Top)

Vayishlach by Harry Chen

In the midst of conflicts in our family may we hold out for, like Jacob and Esau, the possibility for resolution with time and healing. 

In this week's Torah portion, Jacob felt fear and guilt returning to his family in Canaan. He had deceived Esau to give up his birthright and blessing (Gen 25, 27) leading him to flee his brother's wrath. Expecting the worst, Jacob even divided his family and herds into 2 equal groups, to preserve the greatest chance for one group to survive if the other was attacked. In actuality, Esau embraced Jacob when they met.

Why did that happen? Maybe Esau didn't enjoy the responsibility of leading in Jacob's absence? Maybe Esau felt guilty for driving his only brother away? A guilt that could only have been intensified by his parent’s displeasure that Jacob left when it was discovered that Esau had planned to take revenge on him. Or it could have been forgiveness by Esau, that Isaac, Rebekah and perhaps God may have directed Esau to avoid taking revenge on the future ruler of Israel based on God's prophetic words to Rebekkah when Esau was in-utero. Perhaps the message here is that while family dynamics a conflictual and convoluted - there is still the possibility of harmony emerging. (Return to Top)

Vayeshev by Amy Strauss 

As we take on the challenges of leadership in our lives may we remember that it is not always our job to complete the task but may we also hold the importance of our ability to make a difference.

In this Torah portion, Jacob favors Joseph and this angers Joseph's brothers. Joseph dreams that he is reigning over his brothers. The story of Joseph is the story of a solitary man driven by vision, dreaming, ambition and is the object of disdain.  It is the story of a leader who is heroic and  tenacious. Many contemporary leaders can relate to this. Leadership by its very nature is a battle between one's desire to make a difference in history and to meet the immediate needs of the people they serve. Most leaders feel that they are called to achieve something important. To be driven by this need, it can be very lonely.  

The Torah teaches us that we are taught to say “Hineni”, (here I am). We are called upon to answer God's call by obeying Torah, serving God and acting with loving kindness. This can be a difficult and solitary task.  But, we must remember that our job is not to complete the task of making a better world, but do our part.  If you keep this mind, it can be very rewarding. (Return to Top)

 Miketz by Rabbi Nathan

In the face of difficult predictions of the future may we remember our agency and creativity, and ground ourselves in faith. 

In this week's Torah portion, Miketz, Pharoah's dreams and Joseph's confirmation of them portend an apocalyptic future. We too face dire predictions today - pandemic, climate change, war - which can feel overwhelming. Joseph not only affirms the prediction but is also able to offer a very concrete vision of ways to abate the worst case scenario through the construction of granary complexes. This story can be a useful reminder that we too have concrete steps we can take even if we can't stop the famine or its equivalent today, that we still have tools at our disposal to respond and make change. (Return to Top)

Vayigash by Richard Remenick

"May we work in the coming year to be less attached to our narratives as victim."

"…it was to save life that God sent me ahead of you”. This statement that Joseph
makes to his brothers reminds us to let go of our attachment to the role of victim
and to cultivate a broader more generous perspective on our circumstances,
whether good or bad. (Return to Top)

Vayehi by Rabbi Nathan

May we all be channelers of blessing and hold out for the possibility of protection and redemption.

In the process of blessing the son's of Joseph, his grandsons, Jacob says "The Messenger who has redeemed me from all harm—Bless the lads. In them may my name be recalled, And the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, And may they be teeming multitudes upon the earth.” These words have become a contemporary song and lullaby among some Jews. Here is one version of this song by Yonina, an Israeli-American musical duo. (Return to Top)

Shemot by Kathy Trow

It takes strength and confidence to disobey an order that you know is wrong and will be harmful to others, but it can change the world.

In this week’s Torah portion the Hebrew women defied the Egyptian Pharaoh by
saving the male children that Pharaoh wished to be killed. The midwives, Shiphrah
and Puah denied being present at the births so they couldn’t kill the children, and
Miriam and Jochebed sent Moses down the river in a basket to be discovered by
Pharaoh’s daughter but to be raised by his own mother. God was pleased with
their defiance and the Israelites multiplied.

Historically it has been expected that women cater to the whims of men, but even
in biblical times when women find their voices for what is moral and just, we can
change things. There are several examples throughout history of women banding
together in protest that have led to political change supporting their causes
(woman’s suffrage parade in 1913, women’s march for peace in 1976, and more
recently the million mom marches against gun violence to name a few). As a
woman, I have learned that speaking my truth and advocating for what is right
can ultimately lead to change. (Return to Top)

Vaera by Rabbi Linda

May we always remember to lean into one another for support and assistance.

In Exodus 6:12, Moses, the quintessential prophet in our Jewish tradition, expresses self-doubt in the face of his daunting mission, exclaiming: “How then should Pharaoh heed me, who gets tongue-tied!” God reassures him that he, Moses, will be in the role of God, with Aaron helping out. What does this mean?

Moses will be the leader but Aaron will help with the speaking, as elocution is not the strong suit of Moses.  If the ultimate prophet in our tradition can ask for help, so can we. Our interdependence is holy. (Return to Top)

Bo by Abby Weinberg

When hope is scarce and the fear arises inside us that things are only getting worse... May we remember that liberation is real, things get better, even if it takes a very long time. 

In this weeks parsha (Exodus/Shemot, Ch.12:41), we are told that after 430 years of slavery, the "legions of the Lord went out of the land of Egypt."  In the 1619 project, scholars teach us that 404 years ago the first 20 enslaved africans were brought to this land ushering in another long era of slavery and discrimination.  Just as G!d ended the terrible oppression of the Israelites in Egypt after generations, so may we have the courage and strength today to usher in a new age of liberation for all people suffering under racism and intolerance.  (Return to Top)

Beshallah by Sharon Kleban

Tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp before Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, before Baal-zephon; you shall encamp facing it, by the sea....Pharaoh will say of the Israelites, “They are astray in the land; the wilderness has closed in on them.” (Ex. 14:2-3)

May we hold onto our faith in a better future when we face the unknown.

Every one of us faces times in our life when we feel caught in a narrow place, where the familiar but painful place is behind us and the unknown is ahead.  Like the Israelites facing the sea, we need to have a little faith that the unknown is simply unknown and full of possibilities. Many of our more recent ancestors faced the sea and boarded ships in the old world that would carry them to better lives.  Just as the ancient Israelites and our grandparents and great grandparents did, we need to have some faith when facing a metaphorical sea. (Return to Top)

Yitro by Candy Berlin

There’s value in working with others in partnership or community. Sharing responsibilities can relieve individual stress, elevate relationships, build community and lead to more successful results.

Asking for assistance requires humility and accepting one’s limits which is sometimes considered a failing or weakness, but it’s actually a healthy response. And as a bonus, it places a special value on the other person(s), conveying that they are needed and trusted. The scenario in Parshat Yitro is that Moses is overwhelmed and exhausted with carrying out what he thinks Hashem expects of him. His father-in-law sees this and, unbidden, gives him advice on how save himself and delegate the work more broadly within the community. (Take note, future BI presidents!) Moses implements the suggestions with incredibly successful results. With Jethro’s guidance, Moses’ specific achievement, succinctly put by R. Nathan, is “to reorganize the judiciary.” I find it interesting, almost miraculous, that once Jethro offers advice, Moses doesn’t hesitate to listen and act. Many people stumble at this point. When they’re given sage advice on a silver platter, they aren’t able to accept it, much less act on it. A discussion for another time perhaps. (Return to Top)

Mishpatim by Dan and Stacy Beller

May we continue to examine our laws and strive for more equal justice. 

This week's Torah portion outlines a series of ritual and ethical laws for the Israelites. Reading the laws reminded us of the harshness of life in Biblical times. Many of the punishments were death or related to treating others as chattel. It inspires us to pay attention to the fairness of our current laws and look for ways to make them more just.  (Return to Top)

Terumah by Benjamin Alouf

As we carve out holy space and time for ourselves, may we be mindful of aiming for the practical as well as the beautiful.

Commentary on Ex.25:13-30
But these are holy items that hold the sacred "pact" or "testimony" depending on the translation I read. And to my understanding the space between the two cherubim is to be a seat for G-d. It is important to get it right. The Torah is full of instructions on constructing the sacred to the practical. And in this case there seems to be a bit of both. The size (somewhat on the smaller size likely to make it portable) the poles and rings for the poles (again in anticipation of it needing to be portable) seem to be by design. Add to that gold and cherubim welded into the gold cover and facing each other with outstretched wings clearly designate these as holy. As if G-d wanted to say these are sacrosanct but you are still a wandering people so we need to be practical. I don't want to be a burden to you as you carry my laws around but I want you to recognize the respect they deserve. That seemed to have been achieved here. (Return to Top)

Ki Tissa by Reisa Mukamal

Twice a day, holy incense is placed on the golden altar of incense in the Tent of Meeting. This includes the ingredient galbanum (chelbinah), a gum resin that emits a foul odor when burned.

Galbanum’s foul odor is diffused when blended with the other herbs in the holy incense—stacte, onycha, and frankincense, and makes them more pungent. Rashi teaches that this means we should be vigilant in including in our prayer gatherings people who have committed even severe transgressions. Just as the sacred formula for the aromatic incense is improved by galbanum, mingling with and appreciating everyone in our community helps us to be better versions of ourselves. (Return to Top)

Sun, March 26 2023 4 Nisan 5783