This week’s Torah portion begins: “YHVH appeared to Abraham as he was sitting at the entrance of the tent … looking up, he saw: behold, three men standing opposite him.
Tradition tells us that the Gates of Repentance stay open until the end of Sukkot. The intensity of Yom Kippur has diminished, but we still remember the hours together, knocking on our hearts, trying to do spiritual CPR, to wake us up to the truth of our lives.
The conversation is supposed to begin like this: “Will you forgive me for anything I might have said or done this year that has hurt you?”
I was in college when I first heard the Beatles sing “When I’m Sixty-four.” The idea of getting older, losing my hair or wondering whether my partner would still need me was not my concern. But now, with Paul McCartney over 70, and me just one year away from 64, it’s a different story.
This is the week of Tisha b’Av, the 9th of Av, when we mourn the destruction of the Temples. Why are we still mourning when Israel has been reborn?
Most people try really hard to avoid having their bar or bat mitzvah on the Shabbat when we read Tazria-Metzora. I know this not only because I am a rabbi, but because this was my bat mitzvah portion.
In reflecting on the 50th anniversary of Betty Friedan’s groundbreaking “The Feminine Mystique,” Stephanie Coontz wrote in The New York Times that “readers who return to this feminist classic today are often puzzled by the absence of concrete political proposals to change the status of women. But ‘The Feminine Mystique’ has the impact it did because it focused on transforming women’s personal consciousness.”
In reflecting on the 50th anniversary of Betty Friedan’s groundbreaking The Feminine Mystique, Stephanie Coontz wrote in the New York Times that “readers who return to this feminist classic today are often puzzled by the absence of concrete political proposals to change the status of women. But The Feminine Mystique has the impact it did because it focused on transforming women’s personal consciousness.”
We approached the entrance to the Kotel Plaza a little before 7 a.m. on Rosh Hodesh Tevet. In my bag was my tallit, the beautiful purple-and-blue one that was hand woven as a gift from the students and faculty at USC more than 20 years ago, when I completed my time there as the Hillel rabbi.
The High Holy Day liturgy includes the poignant plea: "Do not cast me off b'eyt zikna," which is usually translated as "when I get old." It is a fear many of us have, but are often afraid to articulate. We live in a youth-intoxicated culture where older people are sometimes invisible.
This is a tough Torah portion. It's the story of Korach, the man who led a revolt against Moses. He gathers 250 of the most important leaders and challenges Moses: "You take too much upon yourself, Moses. Not just you, but all the congregation is holy, every one of us. Why do you raise yourself up above the congregation?" (Numbers 16:2-3).
“Boomers [people born between 1946 and 1964] are the first generation in human history … to reasonably anticipate living well and wholesomely into their 80s and 90s, if not beyond,” sociologist Steven Cohen writes. “But not only are Jews (as others) living longer, they are living in an age of meaning-seeking, with the interest and wherewithal to make living a life of meaning an ultimate and reasonably obtainable objective for any point in their lives.”
Last week’s Torah portion ends with a genealogy, a long list of names of who begot whom and how long they lived. It is one of many genealogies in the Torah. It used to be that when I encountered those lists, I tuned out; I found them boring. But then I read a book by Thomas Cahill called “The Gifts of the Jews” (Anchor, 1999).
I recently received an e-mail with the subject line “The Arab Mentality.” It described a Palestinian woman who had been badly burned and successfully treated in Israel, only to be arrested later for attempting to infiltrate Israel’s borders as a suicide bomber. The sender included the names of all those who had received the posting. My name was in the middle of the list.
In some prayer books, the opening verses of this week’s Torah portion serve as a preparation for prayer. The verses repeat over and over again that a perpetual fire shall continue to burn on the altar. Why the focus on the need to keep the fire burning? And what does it mean to us now, after the destruction of the Temple and the end of the sacrificial system, when there is no longer a literal fire?
My first encounter with Debbie was in 1986 at the Simchat Chockmah ritual for becoming an elder she helped create and lead for the feminist Biblical scholar, her friend, Savina Teubal. Two moments in the ritual took my breath away. The first was in the middle of the ceremony, when Savina put on a kittel, the traditional burial shroud. Without words, that robing communicated the powerful truth that everything changes, and that although this new stage of Savina’s life would someday end with her death, she could continue to be a blessing.
On a recent trip to Spain, Morocco and Israel called “In the Footsteps of Maimonides,” the members of our group from Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills were the honored guests at a reception at the residence of the American ambassador to Spain, which became the occasion for a gathering of many of Spain’s Jewish leaders.
“Anyone who has never read the entire Chumash with Rashi is simply not Jewishly literate,” said Rabbi David Hartman, with whom I was studying 14 years ago at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. “It doesn’t matter whether you read it in Hebrew or English, but you must go through the Five Books of Moses with Rashi’s commentary.”
This week’s portion begins a new book of the Bible, Leviticus. It is fascinating to look at the first and last words of each of the books of the Torah:
Genesis: When God began to create the heavens and the earth ... in a coffin in Egypt.
Exodus: These are the names of the children of Israel who came to Egypt ... throughout their journeys.
Leviticus: The Lord called out to Moses ... on Mount Sinai.
Numbers: In the wilderness of Sinai ... on the Jordan opposite Jericho.
Deuteronomy: These are the words which Moses spoke ... in the sight of all Israel.
Miketz is almost always read during the week of Chanukah. Is this a coincidence of the calendar or is there something to learn from this juxtaposition?
Hebrew letters, when decoded, are magical. So it was especially powerful when my adult b’nai mitzvah Hebrew class was working on the letter Bet and opened the Torah to this week’s portion to find that it’s the first letter of Torah.
After two days of Rosh Hashanah and a very long day on Yom Kippur, you’d think that Jews would be exhausted. Isn’t it enough already?
Last week we began the story of Pinchas, grandson of Aaron and great-nephew of Moses. Pinchas saw Zimri, a Jewish leader, and Cozbi, a Midianite princess, engage in a public display of immorality connected to the idol worship of the Midianites.
One of the real pleasures of my work as a rabbi is that I get to spend time with the children in our schools.
Thirteen is a difficult age. I know this as a parent, and I also know it as a rabbi who interacts with lots of 13-year-olds. I know this as well as a student of Torah. And now I know it as a moviegoer.
This week's Torah portion is called "Behar" because it begins "The Lord spoke to Moses behar (on Mount [Sinai]). Upon reflection, something seems out of order. We left Mount Sinai in the Book of Exodus.
Our Torah study was enriched by a day in Tel Aviv where we visited some of the projects supported by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles' Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership, including the Shevach Mofet School, a high school in which the majority of the students are immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
For many of us, this season is marked by being with families and sharing our family stories. In the Torah cycle it is the time of the year that we read the powerful story of a family of brothers, a story about forgiveness and reconciliation. Buried in this story about brothers is a one-line mystery about a sister.
After Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers, he sends wagons to bring his father, Jacob, to Egypt so Joseph can take care of him. The text tells us: "Then Jacob and all his offspring came to Egypt. He brought with him his sons and his grandsons, his daughters and his granddaughters -- all his offspring. And these are the names of the children of Israel, Jacob and his descendants, who came to Egypt" (Genesis 46:6-7). What follows is a very long list of men mostly, except for Jacob's daughter, Dinah, and one granddaughter: "And the sons of Asher: Imnah, Ishvah, Ishvi and Beriah, and their sister Serah" (Genesis 46:17).
This summer, I had a reunion with female cousins who are all my age. We live all around the country, so we hardly ever see each other.
"I am sure," said Sinai Temple's Rabbi DavidWolpe in his Rosh Hashanah sermon, "that in almost every pulpit inAmerica from whatever denomination rabbis are speaking about theterrible strife we are enduring -- Jew against Jew, as well as Jewagainst Arab -- in the Land of Israel."
In Leviticus, male sexual relations are considered an abomination,punishable by death. "A man shall not be with another man as if with a woman. It is an abomination," reads one passage. But, as with all things biblical and Jewish, the Torah passages are open to interpretation. And interpret they did last week at University Synagogue at a panel discussion on Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist views on homosexuality and bisexuality.