Nathan was a young man in his 20s, living in Gulfport, Miss. He lived with his mother and grandmother in a small three-bedroom home a little over a mile from the Gulf Coast.
In these dark, cold days of winter, it’s so easy to lose hope. Add to this the hardships of loss, with which life seems intent on liberally sprinkling our lives, and we get something akin to paralysis. We may feel like a tree in winter, shorn of its leaves, standing still like death. Will spring ever come, and will we survive until it does?
There are a good many details about the Joseph narratives that elude ready explanation. We absorb them readily and ignore them just as readily.
Sometimes we just can’t do as God asks. Our burden is too great. I run into this often when visiting hospital patients and their families during the High Holy Days. They feel mad at God for their circumstances and conflicts.
Aware that he is about to die, Moses appoints Joshua as his successor in front of all the people. In a few short verses, he leads us on a journey through a plethora of emotions. Moses lets the people know that God is already aware of the many sins they will commit, but he is also aware that they will eventually arrive, succeed and triumph in Israel.
Dear Mom: It's been a long time coming, but I owe you an apology. There have been simply too many jokes at your expense, like the time you told your friends I was such a devoted son that I spend $150 on you every week — talking to my therapist.
He flopped down on the couch in my study, looking pale, upset. “What is it?” I asked, imagining a bad diagnosis.
Leviticus is the biblical book rabbis do not want you to read. Saturated with sacrificial minutiae and unsettling descriptions of ritual impurity, its countless sheep and goat offerings seem a more effective salve for insomnia than any woe that pains the heart. After all, what do wave offerings or incense recipes have in common with more substantive things, like wireless Internet or the smell of freshly brewed java in the morning?
At the ripe age of 8, I learned the Peter Allen song “Everything Old Is New Again.” It may have been an unusual choice for an 8-year-old to crave hearing over and over. But for me, this song was synonymous with dance class, doing the soft shoe that landed me on stage for the annual spring recital: “Don’t throw the past away, you might need it some rainy day, dreams can come true again, when everything old is new again.”
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).
Author Hillel Halkin, reviewing the Koren Sacks Siddur in the spring 2010 Jewish Review of Books, recounts a charming story that he heard from his father:
At the beginning of Shemot, when Jacob’s offspring were enslaved, oppressed and abused, where were the people who dared to speak truth to power? Where were the consumers who demanded that Egyptian products be free from slave labor? Alas, the world didn’t work that way then. Few stood up against the mighty overlords. We praise the exceptions, like midwives Shifrah and Puah, who defy Pharaoh’s deadly order (Exodus 1:15-21). Fewer still spoke out about how Egypt’s products were made; most Egyptians did not think twice about the morality of slave or child labor. Few if any cared about how much Egypt’s military-industrial complex profited from slavery, even though this cheap source of income fed the fires of Pharaoh’s ever-expanding conquests.