Vayeishev: Dare to Be Different

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Last year during this week’s torah Portion I got a very random text message from my father. In this text message he told me a story about my great grandfather. My dad said that my great grandfathers motto equated to dare to be different. My dad told me that I reminded him a lot of his grandfather. So that’s what I want to talk about today “dare to be different”

Joseph is described by our great sage Rashi as someone who dressed his hair, he touched up his eyes so that he should appear good-looking. So Even Rashi thought Joseph was different and Joseph was someone who dared to be different. Not only that this bad boy Joseph dared to dream but his dreams got him into trouble

In this Torah portion, it is clear that Jacob favors Joseph, and this angers Joseph’s brothers. Joseph has a dream where he predicts reigning over his brothers. This pisses them off and  The brothers decide to sell Joseph into slavery in Egypt. Because Joseph dared to be different he finds himself imprisoned not once but twice.

Can you imagine sitting in prison for daring to be different and for daring to dream big. But  Joseph never lost sight of his dreams and he never lost faith in God’s plan for him. And he eventually he becomes the most powerful man in Egypt second only to the pharoh and I would argue more powerful than pharaoh.  He saves his family and the jewish people from starvation and famine. My point here, simple dare to be different and Dream big because you never know it may be part of God’s plan.

Sometimes it is really hard to see the plan that God has in store for us.  Before I close I want to ask you In what ways are you like Joseph and how do you dare to be different?

Vayetze: God is in this Place

Jerusalem 2015

Jerusalem 2015

At the beginning of this week's Torah portion, Vayetze, Jacob camps for the night and he rests his head on a stone. He dreams of a ladder planted in the earth stretching up to heaven, with angels ascending and descending constantly. I see the angels as a metaphor for how we pray. Our prayers start here on earth and then flow upward to God, and God's attention and love and blessing flow back to us. 

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In this dream, God is standing next to Jacob. God tells Jacob Remember, I am with you: I will protect you wherever you go...I will not leave you …

When Jacob awakes from his dream he cries out "Surely, God is in this place, and I -- I did not know it!"

We are often reminded of the awesomeness of God in the spectacular moments in our lives and those are moments when we may find ourselves especially open to a connection with God

But it's also possible to experience God's presence in the mundane everyday moments our lives. And we can exclaim  God is in this place,

Wherever we go in life God is with us but sometimes life gets in the way and we do not realize that God is very much a part of our lives. This torah portion says that God is with us all the time and all we have to do is be in the moment and be aware and when we do that, we open our hearts and our minds to the presents of God

 

Never Seek Your Siblings Blessing

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A Monday Morning reflection on this week's Torah Portion. This week’s Torah portion Toldot is challenging one. There are a lot of things that happened in this week’s Torah portion. First off, Isaac and Rebecca have difficulty conceiving a child. Miraculously Rebecca’s prayers are answered when she finds out she’s pregnant. Then she has a very difficult pregnancy

As she struggles with her pregnancy God tells her that “there are two nations in your womb,” and that the younger will prevail over the elder.”

The two children in her womb struggle up until Rebecca gives birth. Esau emerges first with Jacob clutching at his heel. The two boys could not grow up any differently Esau grows up to be “a hunter, a man of the outdoors,” he I think he smells bad and he’s Isaacs’ favorite. Jacob is described as the wholesome, mild man who stayed home and loved to learn and he’s Rebecca's favorite.

One day, I because Jacob stayed home and learned how to cook, he’s making some soup. Esau walks in and is like, "give me that food, I’m hungry, I’m so hungry I’m gonna die and I don’t know how to cook!" Jacob turns to him and says, "yes I’ll give you the soup but first you must sell me your birthright. Esau is like, "whatever. What good is it going to do me, I’m going to die if you don’t feed me." Esau sells his birthright (his rights as the firstborn) to Jacob for a pot of red lentil stew. The end of this story is this: Rebecca and Jacob deceive Isaac and Jacob gets the birthright.

This is a really hard text and it’s hard for me. I understand sibling rivalry and like Jacob and Esau I think my brother is my mother’s favorite and I am my dad’s favorite and that’s ok, it wasn’t ok when I was younger but it’s ok now.

I close this reflection with a quote from Jonathan Sacks “Never seek your brother’s blessing. Be content with your own.

Vayeira and Hospitality

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Let's talk about hospitality and what it means to be a good host. In this week's Torah portion Vayeira we have two iconic examples of hospitality; one is a good example of how to be a good host and the other not so good.

In Genesis chapter 18 our hero Abraham is sitting at the entrance of his tent in the hot, hot sun. Squinting into the bright sun, as he sees the hazy shadows of three people approaching. He doesn’t wait until he knows who they are, or which tribe they belong to, or if they are Jewish, but at ninety-nine years old, and remember just 3 days after his own circumcision surgery, he jumps up to welcome them into his and Sarah’s tent. We soon find out that these people are angels and it is from this story that rabbis of the Talmud (Shabbat 127a) state that “hospitality to strangers is greater than an encounter with the Shechinah (the Divine presence).”

In our world, we are often suspicious of others rather than being welcoming to the stranger. We too often define “the other” as a threat than as a potential new friend. The irony is that our tradition has a deep connection to hospitality at its core. 

The second example of hospitality is in Chapter 19. Abraham's nephew Lot who learned the importance of hospitality from Avraham offers hospitality to three visitors. Lot lived in the city of Sodom and the idea of hospitality was contrary to the selfish values of Sodom. Lot tries to protect these three visitors from a local mob. He offers his own two daughters to the mob instead (this is nuts and a story for another day). This is an example of hospitality gone mad. Lot is not using good judgment and somehow thinks that being hospitable to strangers means he has to give up his own daughters. Crazy!! My guess is that he has allowed a rigid interpretation of a religious demand to cloud his sense of humanity.

I believe that many of us need a spiritual base to ground ourselves because without a spiritual base we might be inclined to make selfish decisions and to have a selfish outlook. In the end being a good human to other humans is what God really wants of us.

Like Avram, It's Time to Go

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This week’s Torah Portion Lech Lecha (go, or leave), opens with God’s command to Avram to leave everything he has known—his birthplace, family and the culture he grew up with—and move to a land “that I will show you.” He is asked to leave behind his family and embrace an unknown future in order to create a new world. He has complete trust in God and that God will show him the way. 

This weeks portion reminds me of my own journey to becoming a rabbi. I had complete faith that I would be shown the way and I have been. And now as my studies are coming to an end I hear outside voices constantly worrying about the state of the Jewish community.

As I have stated before, I believe this is an exciting time to be Jewish and to be a rabbi. As someone who converted to Judaism, I have not inherited Jewish trauma from the past or anxiety about our future. In fact, I feel that Judaism has liberated me, and made me free. Since converting I have become a better activist, a better ally and have been able to live up to my potential. Please don’t misunderstand, I am well aware that antisemitism still exists in the United States.

I also fill fortunate that my rabbinic training at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College has made me a very forward thinking rabbi. My training has taught me to bring in the past, use our traditions but not to be stuck in the old ways of doing things just because we have always done them that way.

So As God tells Avram in this week’s Torah portion Lech Lecha and Avram trust God to go. I too believe that it’s time for me to go, to leave rabbinical school, and head out on my own adventure and I too have trust that God will show me the way.

Was Noah a Righteous Dude?

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This week we enter into the story of Noah. The story of Noah comes right after the story of creation. We learned in last weeks Torah portion that God created the world and declared it was very good. Then by the end of the portion, it seems as if God has what a friend of mine called a bit of buyers remorse. God says that people are evil and God wants to wipe out not only people but all living things on the planet. But... the Torah says "Noah found favor in the eyes of God" Then the portion ends with a bit of a cliffhanger.

This week we learn “Noah was in his generations a righteous and a wholehearted dude and Noah walked with God.” But what does it mean to be a righteous dude in Noah’s time? Noah was around during a time when the world was crap and people were just not nice and treated each other like ...well... you can insert the rest.

Noah was righteous for his generation but how would he stand up next to people from other generations?

I would argue that Noah is righteous but not a leader. Noah doesn’t even speak in this weeks Torah portion. In an age, when all is corrupt when the world is filled with violence when even God has “regretted that God made people on earth, and it pained God at God's heart.” Noah, in God’s eyes, justifies God’s faith in humanity, the faith that led God to create people. Noah is, after all, the man through whom God makes a covenant with all humanity, and as a queer person, I can thank Noah for the rainbow.

Noah is to humanity what Abraham is to the Jewish people. Noah was a good man in a bad time. Some would argue there are two types of righteous people. Some who do what they are supposed to do and nothing else and those who look around and try to do more. Noah was the type of guy who did what God told him to do, he built an ark and did not tell anyone or try and save anyone.

But I don't want to sound like I'm putting most of the fault on Noah. Our great sage Rashi explains that the men of Noah's generation would see Noah building this Ark, which by the way took 120 years. If those men saw Noah working on this Ark, at some point they might ask, "Dude what are you doing?" And Noah could answer the question and tell them that "God has instructed me to build this Ark because God is bringing a huge flood that will destroy the world" According to Rashi this might give the people of Noah's generation time to repent. But as we know they never asked.

Finding God

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Every year after Sukkot and Simchat Torah I get so excited about starting the Torah over with this week’s Torah portion Breishit.  The Torah begins with,“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

There is something about the story of creation, about moving back to the beginning of it all that I find exciting.

As a student, I have been challenged by my own concepts of God. What does it mean for me as someone who believes totally in science and not a being up there in the heavens creating everything down here on earth? As a rabbinical student, I have wanted to understand not only what God means in our modern Jewish world, but what God means to me. 

As my graduation date gets closer and I move from student to rabbi. I see God in much the same way as Mordecai Kaplan (the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism) did when he wrote, "Those who possess enthusiasm for living and strive for a better world are believers in God." And to quote a modern rabbi Toba Spitzer she says “God offers us an ideal toward which we strive and God is the Power that urges us to respond to suffering, to seek our own fulfillment and to help others toward their fulfillment.”

I am becoming a rabbi to do my part to make the world a better place. The God I believe in encourages us to do Good in the world, “God is the power that makes for salvation”

This brings me back to this coming Shabbat’s Torah portion of Breishit. "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Every year we get the opportunity to start again. From the beginning and continue God’s work of creation. And to be in partnership with God, to create a better world. 

I'll close with one more quote from Kaplan:

"When we break through our narrow and prejudiced conception of religion and begin to realize that it is inevitable for the conception of God to reflect one's mental and ethical development, we will learn to identify as divine that Power in the world to make it what it should be. The name of God will stand for truth about reality, not in terms of a division between natural and supernatural but in terms of normal human experience"

Shabbat Shalom

Sandra

 

Another Introduction and My Thoughts this Morning

I love connecting with people

I love connecting with people

I'm a writer, a public speaker, future rabbi, fitness and nutrition coach and a Social Media Consultant and host a Podcast on Torah, Prayer and Jewish music I am also a proud U.S. Army Veteran and of course, like most of us there is more to my identity so let's just say I want to move through the world in a way that makes the world a better place for all. 

In June 2018 I will be ordained as a rabbi. The role of the rabbi is rooted in Torah (teaching and learning), service of the heart, and acts of love and kindness, and it is our job to adapt as the times change. And the times have changed.

Today, many Jews do not belong to synagogues, many live outside the reach of a synagogue, still others have been turned off by synagogues for a variety of reasons, ranging from dues structure, to not feeling welcomed or simply not wanting to go.

I’ve spent a good chunk of my time as a rabbinical student thinking about these kinds of issues and how my role as a rabbi can help foster Jewish community in the 21st century. The ever-evolving Jewish community challenges rabbis to meet people where they are in their lives, help people make discoveries about themselves and their place in society, and maybe even find their connection to God. What we also need to do, however, is think more creatively about how to reach out to and connect with Jews.

As an emerging rabbi, I’ve learned that people still need access to clergy, even when they don’t belong to a religious community

Here’s the Question I Ask Myself? If we create sacred spaces outside the walls of our synagogues, will Jews Participate?

I believe that Jews want to engage in Jewish life and want to be part of a Jewish community. For many, the current model of the synagogue does not work and it is time to create innovative ways to connect with those people. And to create different models of what it means to be a rabbi in the 21st century.

Since the day I entered the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College my vision has always been to find ways to connect with Jews who do not feel welcomed in Jewish institutions, find ways to connect with those who do not want to belong to a synagogue, and to build an inclusive Jewish community, one that is welcoming to all who want to come. BTW it is not enough to just say “We are welcoming.”

I want to meet Jews where they are in their lives and create sacred spaces outside the boundaries of synagogues. I want to talk and listen to Jews about Jewish life and to help them be with the God of their understanding. I think this is important because, as many of you already know, just because we built a synagogue does not mean Jews are going to come. I’ve been to some amazing synagogues and one of the reasons I’m studying to be a rabbi today is because I am a product of an amazing synagogue, and I had an amazing rabbi who mentored me and provided the best example of how I want to be in the world.