Posted in D'var Torah, Decisions

How Do I Pass the Test?

Once again this week’s Parsha test many of the characters. We have Sara being tested by being barren and figuring out how to deal; what to do when she gives over her servant Hagar, who almost immediately becomes pregnant; what to do when Hagar’s son is intimidating (or playing with inappropriately) the child she is bares; being told that she will give birth even in her old age, and actually becoming a mother.

We have Hagar being tested of how to deal with Sara; what will she do with her new power of being the one who gets pregnant; what to do when she is banished from the house, not once by twice; how to care for her son in times of pain.

Yishmael is the first-born, but was probably aware of his family situation. He had to figure out how to live after being cast out of his family’s home, and living in the desert. It seemed that his mother had a lot of hopes and dreams for him, and was quite close (not that it is a bad thing), so he had to figure out how to keep up her spirits as well.

Yitzchak has to hold his own while having the tense family home around him; who knows what his brother Yishmael was doing to him, but he had to potentially stand up to a bully, as well as learn how not to act like him. And as for the most famous story, how to just follow his father, allow himself to be bound to an altar, and potentially sacrificed to God.

Abraham has to figure out how to deal with his wife who is in pain; how to have a relationship with a woman who was given to him, but is also the mother of his first-born; how to love his children even if there are greater problems; running out to greet the “angels” that came to his house; Lot and Sodom, and fighting for the rights of others; and obviously the most well-known test, the akeida.

Looking at life today, the question is what are our tests and how will we live up to them. How are we supposed to act towards people who are out to hurt us? How can we learn to be angry only at the ones who are acting instead of anyone that might be part of the community? What can I do to make my community/country/the world a better place? When should I fight? How do I deal with big changes in life, that mean moving to another country? How do we show love and care to people when then need it? Can I ever notice if an angel comes to visit me?  What do I do with any pain/suffering/hurt/frustration that might come my way? How do I know that I am following in the right path/doing what I am meant to be doing?

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Posted in Dating

Saying No to a Date Shouldn’t Equal Being TOO Picky

I rarely get asked out. I rarely get set up. People are surprised by that fact, but it really is my life.

I have signed up for online dating, and have gotten only really inappropriate messages. I have signed up for the apps and actually had NO ONE that also chose me.  Most of the time that it seems like a guy is interested, nothing happens. And yes, I have made the “first move” and have been told no, or have them just disappear. And on the other end, the few times I actually am set up with someone, they are not appropriate at all. The last date I went on (almost 6 months ago), a friend saw me on the date, and on the next day and wanted to know who in their right mind-set us up (he was a giant schlub, and on top of that he told me how he has no friends and spends all day on the computer).

I feel like I need to say yes, even if I am not at all interested in the guy, or find him physically repulsive, or if he doesn’t seem interesting to me. If I say no, then I am told that I am too picky or that I can’t blame anyone else except for myself that I don’t date.

This makes me so angry and frustrated!!

I should be able to say no, no matter what my reasoning is. I should be able to ask for a picture to make sure that he is not repulsive to me, without feeling vain. I should be able to ask about his personality and what he does, and then make a decision, to see if I agree that he is a good match for me.

I am not THAT desperate (yet). I should not have to settle for something that I don’t think is fitting just because I am 30. I should still be able to have an opnion. And to be honest I would hope that my friends who are trying to set me up, they actually think about me as a person and not just someone single that needs a partner.Maybe if that is done, I won’t feel hurt by meeting someone who is SO not appropriate for me (which actually just feels sad, worse than just not dating at all).

Posted in D'var Torah

How to Separate from Your Community While Still Living in it

Imagine deciding to live your life away from everyone, although you are not really away from them. You live amongst the community, but you are not allowed to participate like everyone else. You can’t cut your hair. You can’t drink wine or eat any grape products. You can’t go to anyone’s funerals.

This would have been the life of a Nazir. I can only imagine how isolating this might be. People chose to become a Nazir for many reasons, and there are very few who did it for longer than a month at a time. But even with that, there are many laws that followed this new idea of life. I am not sure if the people who chose this way thought they were getting closer to God or if they wanted a bit of a break from things or if they wanted to be different from everyone else.

I think about the life of a Nazir in relation to the life of an orhtodox female rabbinical student (or at least my experience). I’m not growing out my hair, and I am not abstaining from grape products, but still there is something to how I need to dress and act, and more noticeably how people interact with me. I need to make sure that I look the part, because I never know who I will meet. There are some cases that I am the first orthodox female rabbinical student that people meet or at least the first from my school, and there is a lot of pressure to represent that world, even in my times of doubt. I need to be careful of my opinions and who I share them with and how they are shared.

People talk to me differently. They assume a certain religious way of life without trying to actually get to know who I am and what I do. There is also a form of isolation. No one knows what to do with me. In some circles I am too liberal, while in others I am not liberal enough.

This life path is also my choice. I think (I hope) that this is my calling and path. In some ways it has to do with God, in others it has to do with community. But this choice makes me live in a community, but also always be separated.

At the end of the time that a person is a Nazir they shave their head. I was once speaking to friends about why are they so interested in hair when it comes to the Nazir. I said that hair is something that we as humans have control over and also don’t have control over. We are able to cut and style our hair in many different ways. But at the same time it is not in our control how much hair we have or how fast it grows. By saying that I won’t cut my hair says that I will leave it to God to have it do what it needs to. By cutting my hair at the end I am leaving the world of fully trusting God, I am going to go back to the mundane world and wait for my hair to grow back so I can do what I want, back to where I have control.

I hope that for those of us studying to be clergy, we find ways to actually be part of the community. That our time is not that of isolation and only part of God, but rather a place that we too have bits of control over who we are and how we show ourselves.

הֲדַרַן עַלָךְ מַסֶּכֶת נזיר וְהֲדַרַך עֲלָן, דֲעֲתֵן עֲלֵך מַסֶּכֶת  נזיר ודֲעֲתֵך עַלָן. לָא נִתֽנַשֵׁי מִינָךְ מַסֶּכֶת [שם המסכת] וְלֹא תִּתֽנַשִׁי מִינַן, לָא בְּעָלְמָא הָדֵין וְלֹא בְּעָלְמָא דְאַָתֵי.

יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ ה’ אלקי, כְּשֵׁם שֶׁעֲזַרֽתַּנִי לְסַיֵים מַסֶּכֶת נזיר כֵּן תּֽעַזְרֵנִי לְהַתְחִיל מַסֶּכְתּוֹת וּסֽפָרִים אַחֵרִים וּלְסַיֵימָם, לִלְמֹד וּלְלַמֵּד לִשְׁמֹר וְלַעֲשׂוֹת וּלְקַיֵּם אֶת כָּל דִּבְרֵי תַלְמוּד תּוֹרָתְךָ בְּאַהֲבָה וּזְכוּת כֹּל הַתָנָאִים וְאָמוֹרָאִים וּתַּלְמִידֵי חֲכָמִים יַעֲמוֹד לִי וּלְזַרְעִי שֶׁלֹא תָּמוּש הַתּוֹרָה מִפֽי וּמִפִי זַרְעִי עָד עוֹלָם. וַיִתְקַיֵים בִּי בְּהִתְהַלֶּכְךָ, תַּנְחֶה אֹתְךָ, בְּשָׁכְבְּךָ, תִּשְׁמֹר עָלֶיךָ, וַהֲקִיצוֹתָ, הִיא תְשִׂיחֶךָ. כִּי בִי, יִרְבּוּ יָמֶיךָ, וְיוֹסִיפוּ לְּךָ, שְׁנוֹת חַיִּים. אֹרֶךְ יָמִים, בִּימִינָהּ, בִּשְׂמֹאלָהּ, עֹשֶׁר וְכָבוֹד. ה’ | עֹז, לְעַמּוֹ יִתֵּן; ה’ | יְבָרֵךְ אֶת עַמּוֹ בַשָּׁלוֹם.

Posted in Women in Judaism

Playing Judaism Part 2: Hafrashat Challah Parties

Over Shabbat I was talking to a friend about the new fad of “Hafrashat Challah.” We spoke about the giant Hafrashot Challah that were happening the days before for the Shabbat Project, the shuls and communities that are doing them as programming for the women in the community. And then she told me that a friend of hers wants to do one for her bachelorette party. My initial reaction was one of sadness and slight anger.

What are we doing to Jewish women? Why are we telling them that there are “magical” powers in taking challah? And why are we pushing it so much that it is a woman’s mitzvah?! In reality, anyone who uses that much flour in anything they make (so if you are making industrial amounts of pie).

I’ve been trying to figure out why this makes me so upset. I don’t necessarily know exactly. It hurts me that in order to get women involved in religion we have to make up rituals. Instead of finding ways to get women involved in actual rituals of Judaism, we need to find ways to take things that everyone allows them to do and then make a really big deal out of it. And not only make giant events, but also getting people to do it in their home as parties- because this is the way that God will listen to you.

I am not against women taking their mitzvah seriously. I’m not against women socializing around religious events. But once again we are playing at Judaism. We are unable to find a way to actually bring them into community, and so we find a way to make them feel special.

Posted in D'var Torah

Lech Lecha- Follow Me, Go to My Land, Go Into Yourself

Lech Lecha…

Thinking about this Parsha, I come up with many of the different meanings of these two seemingly simple words and how they are relevent to my life, right now.

Avraham should to go to the land that God will show him. Avraham just goes on blind faith that God will bring him somewhere and then something good will happen. I think about this idea, and I wonder what it is like to know exactly what one’s mission on earth is. I think that in some ways it would be so nice to know that the choices that one made are the right ones.

With the switching of schools, there has been so much more change than I expected there to be. My stipend is lower. I am learning more on my own because the person that was supposed to be my chevruta can’t be. The learning feels like it is at a lower level. I need to move to another country for at least a year, but at the same time it is an indefinite amount of time.

Last year in the midst of all the pain and hardship, it felt like the switch was the right thing to do, even with some of the variables that I knew. Now being back in it, there have been many times that I question if I actually made the right choice, or if I just gave up.

This past week gave me the chance to look at it from both sides. One the one hand, I went to the Chag Hasmicha. I saw my friends, women I have been learning with for three years, who I know I won’t see as often anymore, if at all. I heard my teacher teach, and missed his classes and insights. I saw the younger girls who were my students, and realized how important having that interaction is. I had the realization that I will not be standing on that podium in a year, and that I won’t be giving any speech in Hebrew, because I left that world. On the other hand, I saw the administrator and saw how he interacted with people- reminding me of why I left. I was doing work later in the week and say a teacher/colleague of mine, and we had a chance to actually speak. After telling her about the past year and I mentioned that it was an abusive relationship, her comment was “that is what it sounds like, I’m glad that you put it that way. It’s good that you had somewhere else to go.”

So yes, I’m out of that abusive relationship, but I still have other paths to fight. If this is really want God wants me to be doing, shouldn’t it be easier?

Lech Lecha is also the promise to go to the Land of Israel. This is the verse that anyone who makes Aliyah quotes. Yes, I have fulfilled this quote. I followed in the footsteps of Avraham, and I too have moved to Israel. Into this wonderful, yet crazy country. To a land that is not where my family lives. To a land that for the past three weeks there have been daily stabbing, stoning, people getting run over. To a land that people are worried about one another. To a land where the random person on the bus is going to wish me “Shabbat Shalom.”

I have been her now for over 5 years, but at the same time I know that I might have to leave. As of now it is just a year, but with jobs and the such, I know there is a chance that it can be for much longer. It is hard that where I want to be doesn’t hold a place for me to do what I want to do. And if I move, am I a failure?

Another idea of Lech Lecha is the literal translation of “go into yourself”. I have to say that after last year I feel lost. I don’t actually know where or what I should be doing. I used to be so sure, and knew what I wanted and needed, and now I don’t. I feel like I am going through the motions- because at least that I know what to do.

My brother keeps on telling me to go and sit and listen, and God will guide me. I have no idea what that actually means, I wish I did. I wish I was able to hear God in as clear a way as Avraham. I wish I was able to look into myself and see what I need and how to achieve that.

Posted in Israel

Being on the Side of the Ones who People are Praying For

For the past few weeks things have been crazy here in Israel, to say the least. Things (please God may they stay this way) have slowed down, but only a week a go there were averaging 5 stabbings a day throughout the country. That did not include rocks being thrown, or other acts of violence.

While all this is going on in my streets. Where my friends, family and neighbors are afraid to walk down the streets. Where the busy places are almost empty. Where when you walk behind someone they are jumpy and look you up and down. Where you never really know if the quiet is a real quiet or if it is the quiet before something happens.

While that is what is going on, I am reading articles saying that it isn’t happening. I am reading articles saying that we deserve to be knifed down by 13 year olds (which how the heck did they learn to kill another human with a knife?!). I am reading articles saying that they are not killers, that only those who kill them after they have killed are the killers. I was not reading (until the past week) articles saying for their leaders to stop promoting the killing, instead I am reading articles that say their leaders are telling them that they haven’t killed enough people, and so now they should start with bombs instead of knives.

WHAT HAS THIS WORLD COME TO?!

With all this happening, I am reading friend’s Facebook posts praying for the people of Israel; hoping their friends are safe, wanting them to check in; seeing rallies in cities around the world to fight for Israel; calling for special prayers for Israel.

I have to say that I have mixed feelings about all of this.  It is great to see that there is a feeling of connectivity amongst the Jewish community. I also know that if I wasn’t here, I would be promoting it as well. But I have to say, it is very strange to see my friend’s praying on my behalf. That people are posting about the dangers of my reality. They are posting about the stabbings, the shootings, the rock throwing– all that is happening around me, while I still go to school, work, and out with friends.

Don’t get me wrong, Israel needs all the prayers it can get. It is a very twisted situation at hand, and we just need to pray the right people are put into the right places and say the right things, to please God create peace, so uprisings like this never happen again.

Posted in D'var Torah

Tower of Babel, Peace & Pluralism

This week we read about the Tower of Babel. I feel like this is a story that gets looked over when discussing Parshat Noah, although I think that it has quite a lot to teach.

The story is relatively short.

Everyone on earth had the same language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there. They said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and burn them hard.” … And they said, “Come, let us build us a city, and a tower with its top in the sky, to make a name for ourselves; else we shall be scattered all over the world.” The Lord came down to look at the city and tower that man had built, and the Lord said, “If, as one people with one language for all, this is how they have begun to act, then nothing that they may propose to do will be out of their reach. Let us, then, go down and confound their speech there, so that they shall not understand one another’s speech.” Thus the Lord scattered them from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel because there the Lord confounded the speech of the whole earth; and from there the Lord scattered them over the face of the earth. (Genesis 11:1-9, JPS Translation)

Reading this passage this year makes me think a lot about what is going on in Israel today, as well as the idea of pluralism.

Often we speak about how to make peace and how do we create a pluralistic society. Many times I feel like we try to think of ways to make everyone the same. We want to look at the similarities that every person has, and from there we are able to relate to one another.

In some ways this might be the strongest way for people to be able to work together. Even God thinks that human kind would be too strong if they all “speak the same language”, when communication is all the same. But this can be because when we all speak the same way, we stop listening. I know what the next person is going to say. There is no place to grow, learn and change.

By mixing up the languages, yes it separates us. It makes communication difficult, sometimes so difficult that we feel like we can’t speak at all. But then we have the test to learn about the other, and learn how to speak to them. We have to learn how to embrace the differences that other people have.

We have the opportunity to learn from the other person and see their perspective on the world. There is a lot of research on how language affects the way that one perceives the world. Just by the words that we use we see and relate to the world differently. What would happen if we find a way to take the time to see the world through the eyes of someone different from me?

In order to really create a space of peace and pluralism we need to look at the differences. We need to stop for a minute and try to see the world through the eyes of the other. What do they need? What are they experiencing? And if we really want to get the story, we need to stop and talk to them. We need to listen to what their world is like, from them. If both sides find a way to listen to the other, maybe then we will be able to work together again. Together create a shared language. Together work to create a better world.