Last year, when I spoke about this portion, I talked about the psychological drama going on in the battle between Pharoah and Moses, and the tensions between God and Moses.
There are three key moments in our portion that will remind us of all the drama going on.
I confess I never much liked Hanukkah. It seemed like a crappy substitute for Christmas trees and presents and Santa. I know my Hindu American friends felt the same way about Divali. It wasn’t until I spent Hanukkah in Jerusalem, with the smell of fresh sofganiyot everywhere, hanukkiot in every window, and the enormous flames of the […]
I know I might not have been the profile everyone had put in their “Tender for Rabbi’s” search , but that first weekend, I felt that spark of connection and it seemed like one of those rare bashert moments in life – when fate and free will come together…
Judaism only works if it makes our busy lives better, and I believe Judaism and Jewish tradition, if lived intelligently, is a technology for making our lives richer and more joyous, more connected – Our tradition is an epic life hack, if we engage it actively.
When people think of Judaism and Jews, I don’t think that ‘a culture of gratitude’ is the first thing that pops into our heads.
We remember that our people k’vetched constantly after leaving Egypt.
We know that Jonah wanted to die when God forgave Nineveh.
Moses himself said, “these people are just too much for me to handle.”
The prophets railed about, well, everything.
And Yom Kippur feels more about beating ourselves up than giving thanks.
And I’ll admit, that I have always been a bit suspicious of people are overly grateful. It’s a bit too Candide for me, a bit “it’s the best of all possible worlds and it couldn’t possibly be any better.”
As I understand it, in Latin American folk culture, there is a belief in “el mundo Bueno” and “el mundo malo” – the good world and the bad world. The two worlds exist side by side, and sometimes, if we are not careful, we can unknowingly step from the good world where things make sense and people are basically good, into the bad world, where nothing makes sense and people turn into monsters.
Sometimes lately, it seems as if we have stepped through from one world into a another, where what we thought we knew, what we thought was settled is turned upside down. We see nationalist anti-Semitic marches with the government in Poland. We see shootings in synagogues. We see openly anti-Semitic white-nationalists running for and sitting in Congress. We see the press attacked as the enemy of the people. We see “alternative facts.”
I think for many of us, the last two years and especially the last few weeks have triggered those fears, and for us as Jews, this universal fear of “the bad world” carries particular weight. It is in our living memory. We carry it in our collective epigenetics.
That is why I found the Torah portion this week to be such a gift.
This week’s Torah portion, Toledot, tells us about the conception and early lives of Jacob and Esau. It also tells us a great deal about Isaac and Rebecca’s relationship with each other and with their sons. It begins like this…