Some months ago, I was asked by a group of Christian pastors to lead a series of study sessions on Jewish mysticism. We agreed to explore Isaac Luria’s late medieval kabbalistic model.
As Jews, our character and faith are defined essentially by the story of our ancient liberation from slavery in Egypt, informing our concern for the welfare of those who are similarly oppressed. But as a minority often vulnerable to the whims of tyrannical victors, we are also keenly aware of the implications for Israel’s security and that of the entire free world based on the success or failure of the events unfolding in Egypt. Worldwide Jewry seems divided at worst and uncertain at best in determining our view of the ongoing revolution, embracing either but rarely both of these two authentic Jewish concerns.
All too often, we are confronted with life’s unfairness. How could someone so kind suffer so terribly? How could someone so ruthless enjoy wealth earned at the expense of the vulnerable and powerless? How is it that with greater or lesser frequency — and for better or worse — our own fate does not align with our virtue? Our despair or relief at such moral inequities reflects our intuitive expectation of just consequences for our choices and behavior. Given the Torah’s repeated assurances that adherence to God’s mandates begets material reward — and acting otherwise begets punishment — such inequities often give rise to personal crises of faith.
People in need of assistance have approached me over the past 18 months in numbers I have not seen before in my service as a rabbi. The economic downturn, which is still very much our reality, has rendered many a giver of tzedakah (charity) a new recipient and has made the circumstances faced by many existing recipients all the more desperate.
In most instances, families relocate due to a measure of dissatisfaction with where they live currently and a degree of hope for where they might arrive. The Torah portion of Lech-Lecha presents the beginning of the epic Israel-bound family journey of the Jewish people. It is distinct in various respects from all other family relocations recorded in the Book of Genesis or elsewhere in the Torah. A journey that continues still today, it retains central purposes that date back to Abraham’s formative travels even as its unfolding, historic itinerary inspires travelogue entries and reflective commentary with each passing day of the Jewish present.
In a series of magnificent discourses on this week’s Torah portion and, more generally, upon the construction and dedication of the Tabernacle’s menorah, the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, derived two interdependent perspectives on the Jewish people, from which we can derive similar approaches to understanding humanity.
The Passover seder has evolved and changed throughout the ages. Many of us might not know that the “four questions” were originally “three questions,” and one of the three — preparation of the paschal lamb — is no longer asked.
To the contemporary reader, the story of the ancient Israelites’ exodus from Egypt is every bit as compelling as it was to readers centuries ago.