Taste of Torah
••• WEEKLY DRASH •••
Parshat Ki Tisa
Questions to Consider:
- What or who are the idols in our lives?
- When are we like Moses, late in coming down the mountain?
- When are we like Aaron, bullied into action by others? When and how can we take a stand- and when must we simply protect ourselves?
- When are we like G?d, disappointed at our people?
- When are we like the Israelites, wanting comfort and certainty, even when it will inevitably be false?
- How do we balance between serving ourselves and serving others? How should we balance between serving ourselves and serving others?
When do we break idols?
When do we break the tablets?
Below: February , 11, 2022
Towards Dignity and “Drippiness”
Inspired by Parshat Tetzaveh
The other day, when I was subbing for one of the sections of Reflective Practice Walking, we started the experience by doing a one-word check-in. One student shared the word, “happy,” another shared the word, “tired,” and still another said, “calm.” Towards the end of the circle, one of the students shared the word, “drippy.”
On that day, before a wonderful walk filled with blue skies and the sounds of bird chirps as well as Kehillah students rapt in conversations, I learned that the word, drippy, in contemporary teen slang, means “fashionable,” or “stylish.”
In this week’s Parshah, Tetzaveh, one verse specifies an instruction: “Make holy wear for Aaron, your brother, for kavod (dignity) and tiferet (adornment).” (Exodus 28:2) In this moment, the audience is called to literally “style” Aaron, the priest, with appropriate clothing. One might think that spirituality and the holy life has nothing to do with clothing. After all, we often hear the phrase, “It’s what’s on the inside that counts.” Surely, one’s behavior is more important than how one looks. Nonetheless, here, we encounter the notion that clothing matters.
The way we present ourselves and others to the world matters. The literal fabrics we put on ourselves and others matters. The text is telling us to think about how to dress- and how to live- with dignity and adornment (dare-I-say drippiness?)
When we think about fashion, We want to get the basics set- dignity- and to also have that something extra- that flair. Let’s focus on that flair- that drippiness factor, as it were.
Life is meant to be lived in color and in colors. Exodus 28:6 specifies that the priestly ephod garment (a kind of apron or religious dress) is to be made “of gold, of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and of fine twisted linen, worked into designs.” (Exodus 28:6)
This week, I was struck by all the colors in the parsha. Fair or not, I tend to expect drab and dull descriptions from ancient texts, and, to be honest, I don’t look to Torah for funky fashion ideas.
To end this Parsha reflection, I want to call to mind what our students do in Knitting Reflective Practice. They master yarn arts to create beautiful, multi-colored garments. Then, they give these garments away to others- bestowing dignity and adornment on their wearers.
As we go forward, let us wear our values on our sleeves.
Below: January , 21, 2022
10 Big Questions for Shabbat Dinner Conversation
Inspired by Parshat Yitro
Submitted By: Dr. Josh Krug
- – Have you ever been away from home, and on a journey through a wilderness?
– Who is your “Yitro”? In other words, who is your mentor, and what do they do to mentor you?– What are you especially knowledgeable about and where can you let others help you?– How do you get along with family?– How do you relate when others- especially family members- try to give you advice?– What does a just legal system look like? What makes justice work?– The Israelites are said to have said, when given the opportunity to accept the Torah, “We will do and we will gain understanding” in this week’s parsha. Do you take action in order to learn or learn in order to take action?– What does it mean to be “holy”? What does it mean to be holy people?– What are the 10 Commandments?– Where is your “Sinai”? Have you ever had an experience that was so powerful that it scared you?
Below: December , 6, 2021
ARE WE OUR BROTHER’S KEEPER?
Genesis 45: 1 – 4
By: Dr. Josh Krug
“Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone withdraw from me!” So there was no one else about when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. His sobs were so loud that the Egyptians could hear, and so the news reached Pharaoh’s palace. Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, so dumbfounded were they on account of him. Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come forward to me.” And when they came forward, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, he whom you sold into Egypt…”
In this week’s parshah, Joseph, at long last, stops the charade. He tells his starving brothers that he is their long-lost brother.
This is quite a moment and a remarkable reveal: The brothers quite reasonably think Joseph is gone for good, since they betrayed him years earlier, selling him into slavery to make a quick shekel (or, to be more exact, twenty shekels).
The brothers do not know that Joseph has- serendipitously and miraculously- beaten the odds, surviving wrongful criminal allegation and jail-time during his sojourn in Egypt. He has risen in the ranks to become Pharoah’s right-hand man and chief of staff, the quintessential VIP in the Egyptian royal court.
This, in its own right, is worthy of reflection: Joseph’s rise to power is the first example of genuine public, “secular” authority of an Israelite within the biblical narrative. Having shattered this glass ceiling, Joseph is akin to an RBG or Joseph (Note the name!) Lieberman of his time.
OK, let’s return back to the moment in question in the Genesis text:
Joseph’s brothers have come groveling to the anonymous Egyptian bureaucrat before them, hoping that he can access some reserve of mercy and help them acquire food for their family amidst a raging famine.
Thus far, in the narrative, Joseph has not told his brothers who he is, in relation to them. Rather, he has tested his brothers, and demanded that they jump through hoops to have the chance to get the food that they are after. Specifically, he plants a goblet in the bag of Benjamin, the younger of the two children of Jacob and Rachel (Joseph being the older of the two), in an attempt to see if they’ve learned their lesson in the ensuing years after their betrayal of him- of serving as their brother’s keeper.
Judah steps forth and tells this bureaucrat before him that he will go to jail, in Benjamin’s stead (Genesis 44). He beseeches, “Please let your servant remain as a slave to my lord instead of the boy, and let the boy go back with his brothers.” (Genesis 44:33)
Image found at “December 10, 2018,” Rabbi Avi Harari’s Blog: 2018.
Joseph’s sudden appreciation of the depth of Judah’s learning- and courage and vulnerability- concerning what it means to be a caring brother, leads him to respond in turn with vulnerability as well as honesty. Tears spontaneously gush forth and he suddenly cannot bear to keep the truth of his identity hidden from his brothers. He says, “I am Joseph.”
For the brothers, this is a moment of dumbfounding, disbelief, and cognitive dissonance; the situation is so fantastical as to make it seem more likely to them that the royal misspoke, an unintentional Joseph impersonator, than that he is actually Joseph in the flesh, back from the dead.
It is worth reflecting on Joseph’s introduction to them. Joseph is reintroducing himself to his brothers and reclaiming his identity as Joseph, son of Jacob. Perhaps, in this time in his life, Joseph is tempted to simply live a lavish lifestyle, to forget his roots, and to forsake his Israelite-ness. He is a public personality, an Egyptian influencer. Of what value would it be to him to revisit a troubled past and reveal who he is underneath the robes befitting Egypt’s royal?
Or perhaps, Joseph harbors anger at his brothers, and even derives satisfaction from making them grovel, if not starve. After what they did to him years before, causing them to suffer would seem to constitute both practical and poetic justice.
Nonetheless, though he has attained high station in Egypt and though he could easily harbor grudges, he chooses to affirm who he is at his core.
Joseph Recognized by his Brothers, 1789. Oil on canvas. Paris, Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts.
The biblical description of the choreography of the scene is simultaneously subtle yet profound. The staging is worth paying attention to: Judah humbly steps forward to speak before this royal figure at the beginning of the parshah. Then, after initially sharing who he is, Joseph calls for his brothers to come further forward in Genesis 45:3 (see above). When they do, he once again shares who he is. After doing so, in Genesis 45:14-15, “he embraced his brother Benjamin around the neck and wept, and Benjamin wept on his neck. He kissed all his brothers and wept upon them.” The parshah charts the gradual reintroduction of trust and intimacy between estranged brothers, through their ever-closer physical proximity to one another. As if to further emphasize the importance of small physical movements, the name of the parshah is Vayigash, meaning “And he approached.“ Seemingly unimportant gestures prove significant in the scene.
This parshah causes us to ask:
Who are we at out core?
What are our “names,” and are we able to simply and clearly articulate them?
Do we seek to reconnect with and practice honesty with people in our lives with whom we have lost touch?
Speaking of names, although the text underscores, “I am Joseph,” Judah is the namesake of the Jewish people. His initial act of vulnerability is what precipates- and catalyzes- Joseph’s emotional shift (which in turn leads to the reunion of the whole family and the sharing of the bounty of Egypt.)
What does it mean to forgo the lineage of Cain and Abel and walk in the lineage of Judah and Joseph, brothers who found a way to approach and even embrace one another, despite their history and despite it all?
Below: November , 29, 2021
DARE TO DREAM
By: Rabbi Brad Shavit Artson
When we speak of dreams, we mean two different things. On the most literal level, dreams are what we do in our sleep. Psychologists tell us that our dreams reflect the workings of our unconscious mind, sorting through our fears, wishes and desires, attempting to resolve whatever wasn’t clarified in the day that just passed.
Our dreams often take the forms of weird narratives and juxtaposed images, all of which seem bizarre to our waking minds, but which adhere to a logic of their own. Dreaming is something that virtually all people do and the vast preponderance of us can remember some of what we have dreamt the night before.
But to dream has a higher meaning as well. To dream can imply a sense of a larger vision of life, a sense that things somehow could be better than they are at present and a direction for how to advance that goal. One mark of leadership is the ability to dream in that second, more profound way, and to be able to persuade others to share in that dream, to make it their own.
After tracing the arrival of the new slave, Joseph, in the land of Egypt, the Torah tells us that he winds up in the house of Potiphar, where he gets trapped by the illicit lusts of Potiphar’s wife. Condemned to prison, Joseph is more than a model prisoner; he is also an inspired interpreter of dreams. Eventually, he gains quite a reputation for the accuracy of his interpretations. What he interprets as about to happen always materializes with the passage of time.
Then the Torah relates that “Pharaoh dreamed.” The Torah could have said that Pharaoh was puzzled by his most recent dream, that would tell us something we don’t already know. But to simply tell us that “Pharaoh dreamed?”
As the rabbis of Midrash Braysheet Rabbah comment: “And don’t all people dream?” Of course Pharaoh dreamed. Everybody does. So why does the Torah waste precious words to tell us something we could guess from common experience?
Obviously, the Torah must be hinting at some deeper meaning. Our tradition must be telling us something unique about the nature of his dream. And what special message did that pasuk (verse of Torah) transmit? In the words of the midrash, it is “true (that everyone dreams), but a king’s dream embraces the whole world.”
The dreams of a monarch are different from the dreams of most of us, because the sovereign dreams about matters that affect entire populations. In our sleep, we may dream about a fight with our bosses, an upcoming simcha (joyous occasion), or someone we find attractive. But the dreams of kings are their visions. And their visions transform our lives and our world.
When the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wanted to train us to see the world through his visionary eyes, he told us, “I have a dream.” His dream was of an America in which children of all races and creeds were free to make friendships and to nurture each other without regard to the color of their skin or to the contours of their faith. By using the Biblical language of dreams, Dr. King made it impossible not to be infected by his enthusiasm, his faith and his righteousness.
The Torah uses dreams to give us new visions, to broaden our horizons beyond the limits of habit, convention and expectation. The Torah trains us, through its stories and its commandments, it’s Aggadah and it’s Halachah, to see the world not merely as a place where different species wage an endless war of evolution supremacy, but also as a place where humanity, as God’s messengers, bring all of God’s creation closer to a time of universal harmony, security and love.
In the transforming vision of another one of the great men of the Torah, Moses, we learn that the rituals of Judaism are the essential tools for integrating the moral expectations of our tradition. The rituals teach us to remember to redeem the world and to love our fellow human beings. The stories teach us who we are and from where we have come. They connect us to our most distant ancestors and unite us with them and each other in a common cause and a shared destiny.
If great men and women have great dreams, then imagine just how grand God’s dream is. Perhaps we can also read the Torah and the words of the Prophet as the expression of God’s great dream: an age in which all humanity unites in the service of God, the inauguration of an age of justice and peace, using our minds to heal the sick and comfort the bereaved, to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless.
Perhaps God’s dream, of a humanity that reflects God’s image not merely in potential but in actuality, is within our grasp. If we dare to dream.
Below: November , 15, 2021
RIGHT AT ANY COST
Vayishlach Genesis 32:4 – 36:43
Submitted By: Rabbi Dennis J Eisner
In this week’s parasha (Torah portion), Vayishlach, we learn how Jacob is going to meet his brother, Esau, attempting to reconcile after many years of estrangement.The two brothers have dealt with sibling rivalry their entire lives and since Jacob swindled the birthright from Esau, their rivalry turned to real anger and therefore Jacob is very fearful of this encounter. Jacob is especially fearful after he learns that an angry Esau is coming to greet him with 400 men.
One underlying theme of this week’s Torah portion is reconciliation, of Jacob being reconciled with his brother Esau. What was it that caused Jacob to want this reconciliation? Why did Esau change his mind? The answer, I believe, to this is that many times a person can be 100% right objectively, but wrong subjectively.
Earlier in the Torah narrative, Jacob took advantage of his brother’s weakness upon buying (some say swindling) his birthright for a bunch of lentils. He knew that Esau was impetuous. He knew that Esau would trade away the birthright for almost nothing if he wanted something else, but yet Jacob took advantage of his brother. The birthright was, after all, worth something. Jacob had probably been right regarding Esau’s qualifications to receive the blessing and the birthright. Esau probably was not worthy of either of them, but the way Jacob went about obtaining the birthright and the blessing caused only grief and unhappiness and was wrong. Nonetheless, knowing his brother’s weaknesses, Jacob took advantage of his brother.
Jacob knew that he had not paid his brother fairly for the birthright even though it says in the text, “and Esau despised the birthright”. It was eating him up inside and Jacob knew that in order to be worthy of the birthright, he had to right this wrong. Jacob knew he had to reconcile this wrong with Esau. He had to pay Esau properly for the birthright. Reconciliation demanded that although Jacob was objectively right, he was subjectively wrong, and he acknowledged his tactics were false. He may have been technically right in many instances, but he was morally wrong.
Jacob learned his lesson the hard way. Jacob’s tactics splintered his family and severely damaged his relationship with his brother. Jacob learned that being right at any cost is too much to pay.
May we learn from this week’s parasha that being right at any cost can, and often does, have a negative impact. Let’s not learn the hard way
Below: November, 8, 2021
AND I DID NOT KNOW IT!
Submitted By: Rabbi Dennis J Eisner
This week’s Parasha (Torah Portion) Vayeitzei (And he (Jacob) left…) includes one of the better known stories in the Bible. Jacob (son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham) leaves Beersheva towards Haran and on the way, Jacob has a monumental dream; a revelation, and makes a vow. While Jacob sleeps, he dreams of a ladder (Sulam Yakov – Jacob’s Ladder) with angels ascending and descending from the heavens. Jacob, not yet a man of faith, wrestles with the angel as he begins his journey toward becoming the father of the Israelites; a journey that leads him to God, to his people and to a place. When Jacob awakes he utters the famous words “Truly the Eternal was in this place, and I did not know.”
While studying this week’s parasha I began to contemplate my own dreams, my own revelations, and then I decided to take a vow. For the past 14 and a half years I served our Peninsula community as a congregational rabbi in San Mateo. During those years I visited Kehillah many times, and sent countless numbers of teens and families to apply, and ultimately to attend the school. I always had an inclination that Kehillah is special but until I began my tenure as the Director of Institutional Advancement, I did not truly know how incredible this place really is.
It is not uncommon in today’s world that we journey through our days with our head down looking towards our phones, our ears clogged with sounds of music and podcasts, and our souls disconnected to the presence of the wonders that surround us. I believe parshat vayeitzei teaches us the story of Jacob’s Ladder for many reasons. This Shabbat I am particularly pondering Jacob’s message as a wake up call; a wake up call to not take for granted those places in my life that are truly remarkable, to not forget to dream about the possibilities and opportunities that surround me, and to consistently take a vow to do my best and make our world a better place for all.
I can truly say Kehillah is that place where the Eternal dwells, where the love of learning and community is revealed to me every day, and that we share in taking a vow to be part of the solution and repair our world. I couldn’t be more blessed to be a part of the dream we call Kehillah Jewish High School.