Torah

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.

Noah and Faith

I love it when my Jewish Anniversary falls on the Torah portion Noach. On October 13, 2004, I converted to Judaism and the Torah portion for that week was Noach. So, there is a special place in my heart for this week’s Torah portion.

In this week’s Torah portion God tells Noah to build an enormous Ark. God instructs Noah to build this Ark because God is going to destroy the world with a massive flood. Now keep in mind that Noah probably lives nowhere near water and I’m sure he thought “This is a Crazy idea!” but on faith and faith alone Noah builds the Ark as God has instructed him to do so.

That’s what I want to discuss about today. The idea of Faith. The idea that when you know in your heart that you must do something, or you must go somewhere or even if it seems as crazy as building an enormous Ark.

Faith is to have the courage to pioneer to do something new, to venture out into the unknown, and to maybe be the first from your group to take the road few have traveled on. Faith is the courage to take a risk, to begin a journey to a distant destination knowing that there will be hazards and road blocks along the way, and knowing also that God is with you along the way and giving us strength. Strength to forge ahead.

I think it is hard sometimes for people to listen to their inner voice or to do things on faith because faith is not about certainty but the courage to live with uncertainty.

Noah had faith, enough faith to build a large ark even though he knew, “This is a crazy idea!” I converted to Judaism I

Think about it, I’m queer, black, a convert to Judaism and wanted to become a rabbi. Yes a queer, black, female, convert to Judaism rabbi and like Noah I went on faith and faith alone that I would be shown the way and I have been.

Shabbat Shalom

Family Forgiveness and Vayechi

This week we are in the last Torah portion of the book of Genesis and the last story of Joseph.  And in this weeks Torah portion the patriarch Jacob dies. And Joseph's brothers are worried that Joseph may still hold a grudge for all the pain they caused him. So the brothers go to him and they fling themselves before him and they say and say, "we are prepared to be your slaves," but Joseph says to them "have no fear, although you intended me harm, God intended it for good, so as to bring out the present result which is the survival of many people. 

Torah portion gives a very clear message on the importance of family forgiveness. I’m sure we have all had times in our lives where someone in our family has angered us. Family is forever, and there are not too many people in our lives who love us unconditionally. Forgiveness is important and by taking ourselves less seriously, it becomes easier to forgive another.

When it comes to family, the ability to forgive is crucial. Family is permanent, and having the strength to forgive is rewarding for all.

In this weeks portion we are reminded that, years earlier, Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery and told their father that Joseph had been killed. Jacob, Joseph’s father, was devastated, and Joseph became a slave in Egypt before ultimately rising to extreme power.  Joseph forgives his brothers for their cruel act. Jacob also forgives all his sons for their cruel deception. This is a powerful Torah story with a very relevant message for life today.

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. 

Listen here or continue reading

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.