On Sinai, Moses and God are having another serious meeting; let’s think of it as a Zoom meeting on Sinai between two beings who can’t really be in the same space safely. They are discussing important business matters, like who is going to lead us out of the wilderness. Moses says, ‘you have to do it,’ but God is hedging, so Moses convinces God to say, “OK, enough with this, I’ll go in front.”
At the end of the First Book of Samuel, we find King Saul, near the end of his life and rule, the Philistines are massing on his borders, and he doesn’t know what to do. He is afraid, overwhelmed, and needs to make a plan, but when he consults with the High Priest and with God, there is no answer. He becomes so desperate to know what will happen, to know how to plan that he disguises himself and goes to the town of Endor to consult the Witch of Endor who will raise up the ghost of Samuel to give him advice. Samuel’s ghost is furious for having been disturbed and only tells him, to paraphrase Larry David paraphrasing Bernie Sanders, “you’re doomed!”
I wrote my Rabbinic Dissertation on this part of the Bible…
This week, we finish reading the book of Breishit, Genesis. Think, for a moment, about how much of the world’s literature is rooted in the stories of Genesis. In many ways, the stories in Genesis with their heroic but deeply flawed characters, messy family dynamics, dashed hopes and rising from adversity – these capture so much that is fundamental about what it means to be human.
But there is one aspect of Genesis that feels particularly touching today…
As you know, Hanukkah is not a holiday found in the TaNakh, the Hebrew Bible. The Mishnah, the first collection of Jewish law after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, barely mentions Hanukkah, and then in oblique ways. The early rabbis that preserved and transformed Judaism in this period, especially those living under Roman occupation, might not have thought celebrating a holiday of violent rebellion was a good strategy. And yet the holiday persisted and grew, and over time gained special prayers in the Amidah, and the holiday prayers called Hallel are recited.
First of all, I want to congratulate David Shiman, chair of our Social Action Committee here at Sinai, who was recently awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from Human Rights Educators U.S.A.
This week’s Torah portion is Vayeitzei, from Breishit, or Genesis. It starts in medias res after Jacob has stolen Esau’s birthright and tricked Isaac into getting the blessing for the first born. Both of Jacob’s parents have told him he needs to go immediately to Abraham’s old home in Harran, but for completely different reasons. Rebecca tells him to flee because his brother Esau might kill him for stealing the blessing.
In Genesis, when God creates humankind, it reads:
הִ֖ים בָּרָ֣א אֹת֑וֹ זָכָ֥ר וּנְקֵבָ֖ה בָּרָ֥א אֹתָֽם׃ הִ֤ים ׀ אֶת־הָֽאָדָם֙ בְּצַלְמ֔וֹ בְּצֶ֥לֶם אֱ וַיִּבְרָ֨א אֱ
And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. It is a curious line, that God creates man, and then it says, “male and female He created them.” Is it him or them? Is it one or more?
This week’s Torah portion might be the one with the most well‐known stories packed into it. It includes the two stories we read at Rosh HaShanah each year, Sarah kicking out Hagar and Ishmael, and Abraham almost sacrificing Isaac, “the Akedah.” But it also has Sarah laughing when her angelic visitors tell her she is going to be pregnant at age 90, and it has Abraham arguing with God about destroying Sodom if he can find just ten good people. It has Lot’s wife turning to salt. It has Lot’s daughters…
“WE ARE FORBIDDEN TO BE OLD” – HAPPY 90TH TO BEV BETTEMANN
Psalm 90 tells us: Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures;
So Bev, and all you others that are near or over 90, what is your secret? I think you are the superheroes that Marvel hasn’t made a movie about… yet.
But don’t get too full of your age-power. Remember that Sarah was 90 when she found out she was pregnant with Isaac…
“It is not in the heavens” This is a revolutionary statement!
Ancient religions of that time tended to see law as very much being in the heavens, and only a demigod, a mythic hero with superhuman strength or superhuman allies and power could possibly retrieve it. But here we have a radically different view of the source of the knowledge of justice.
Ya Ana Emtzaacha – WHERE WILL I FIND YOU?
This may shock you, but Jews tend to be very open in sharing our opinions. We talk about all sorts of subjects that others might shy away from, from politics to Israel to very personal relationship issues. But there is one subject that I find liberal Jews are very shy about and avoid talking about if at all possible; the love that dare not speak its name: Love of God.
But it is Yom Kippur, and after all, I’m a rabbi, so tonight, I want to touch on that third rail of liberal Judaism, God and the longing for connection with the Divine.