Genesis

Trust That Inner Voice Even When You Think “This is a Crazy Idea!”

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In my Podcast last week I talked about Faith. And I want to continue that conversation. In Last week’s Torah portion God instructs Noah to build an enormous Ark. On faith and faith alone Noah does as God has instructed and he builds an enormous Ark, out of Gopher wood, keep in mind that no one knows what kind of wood that is.

Noah built this Ark even though he probably thought “This is a Crazy Idea!”This week we have another story about going out on faith. This week we have another story about going out on faith. This week we read Torah portion Lech Lecha which means to Go forth or let’s Go.

This is the story where God instructs Avram to leave the comfort of his home, everything he trusts, everything he knows and God says “Lech Lecha, Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you and I will make you a great Nation.” Think about it Avram with his wife Sarah in tow, leave everything and strike out into the unknown. Since Avram is willing to strike out into the unknown and embrace it fully he will become a source of blessing for all. Like Noah Avram probably thought “This is a Crazy Idea!” I sure he was scared, I’m sure Sarah was scared, and all of this reminds us that out of our own fears insecurities and uncertainty for the future, faith can guide us. I know many of us are uncomfortable with the word faith, so I will just say to trust that inner voice, trust that inner voice even when we think “This is a Crazy Idea!”

Later in the text God tells I Avram I will establish My covenant between Me and you, and I will make you exceedingly numerous.” God changes Avram’s name to Avraham and says I will make you the father of a multitude of nations. Now at this time Avraham is 99 years old he as no children with his wife Sarah. He does have one child from his slave Hagar and God is telling him that he will have lots of offspring. Then God tells this 99 year old man that he will circumcise his foreskin as a sign of the covenant between Avraham and God. Avraham probably thought This is Nuts! “This is a Crazy Idea!” But Avraham put his trust in God he had faith and because of his faith he became the father of a great nation.

I think it’s hard sometimes for people to do things on faith or they find it hard to listen to that inner voice. And one of the challenges is building the confidence to trust your faith. As said last week faith is about the courage. The courage to live with the uncertainty and the courage to trust in your gut, in your heart and in God that you are on the right path.

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

 

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.

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