Posted in D'var Torah, Uncategorized

Losing

I had a very weird experience this Shabbat- while listening to the Torah and Haftorah reading, all I wanted to do was cry.

I have read Vayera many times. It is the one with Sedom getting destroyed and Lot’s daughters sleeping with him; it’s the one where Sarah get’s pregnant and has Yitzchak;  it’s the one where Hagar gets sent out this time for real because Yishmael was “playing” with Yitzchak; It’s where Avraham tells Sara to be his sister, yet again, and of course they get caught and there is confusion and anger; it is the one where Abraham both prays to not destroy Sedom and goes down the numbers; it is the one where Abraham and Yitzchak go for a “walk” and where he ties up his own son to give over to God.

So it’s pretty famous. Parts are read on Rosh Hashana. It is one of the parshiot that has all the “good” stories for when you are teaching. But this year I just sat in shul with tears forming in my eyes.

I tried to figure out why, and really I don’t even have a good answer.

I do think that it is a parsha where there are a lot of female characters and they are trying to have power, but it always seems weird. Like Lot’s daughters think that the world has ended, so they decide to get their father drunk and then sleep with him to repopulate the world. So yes, in some ways they are the ones in control – it is their decision, not their father’s to try to repopulate; they come up with a plan; for all they know they are actually the only humans left on earth, and so they will be the mothers of the new world. But then again – the world they knew was utterly destroyed; they almost were sent out to an angry mob to calm the mob down, but allowing an entire community to just rape them; and here they are and the “only” option they can think of is to have sex with their father!!

Or we can go with Sara. She finally has a child. After the years of being infertile and all the stress that means, especially is such a society, so conceives and then gives birth. She also is still married to what seems like a very important person, that still is hanging out with the greatest leaders of the time, and she gets to tag along. But what happens – well, her maidservant’s child (who she thought would be a good idea to try and repopulate their family) is doing weird things with her son that she just had – her choices are to either send that woman and boy away or to watch her son be hurt, so she has to then throw them out. Yes, there is power in that- Avraham is told to listen to everything she says. By throwing them out, she is now the woman in control of the household and her son is the only son to think about, there is no in person competition. But it will make a scene, she is throwing someone into the desert, there is no way to know if they can or will survive. And she has to throw them out because there is abuse going on in her household!

And then there is the time that she is going along with Avraham, and once again says yes to go along with his plan to “be his sister” when they go to Canaan. Ok, so maybe it would save him – but they did this plan already and it did not go the way they wanted it to. And why would it be better, to once again be brought to the kings palace and try to push off his seductions – really, because what I have learned is if you say no to the king, it’s basically off with your head. So better her head than her husband?

And then there is Avraham. He seems like he is fighting for the good of the people. He doesn’t think that a nation should just be destroyed. He believes that there MUST be some good, there can’t be complete evil in the world. Well, he learns the hard way that there were not even 10 good and decent people in Sedom (what does that say about our world today?!) and so he had to watch a nation get destroyed. In some ways he prayers failed, all of his fighting and thinking were just pushed away and thought of as nothing.

And then there is the end of the Parsha, where he is asked to go and sacrifice his son. The one that he was praying for and begging for, he now has to be the hand that will kill him. Again it seems like God is taking away the gifts that He has given, but Avraham must be a witness to the loss and destruction. It seems clear that Avraham didn’t kill Yitzchak (ok, maybe he did but then Yitzchak was revived), but he still lost him. Yitzchak goes away. They have no more conversations. They have no more in person interactions. So he might have not killed his person, but he did kill his relationship.

And then the Haftorah, was a woman who had no children – Elisha performed a miricle and she had oil (so she could then sell it for money) and she conceived. But soon after the son was born, he fell sick and died, and so she calls out to Elisha to help her once again. He is able to bring him back from the dead, but there was still that bit where her life was given and then taken away. She had to go through that craziness twice.

I am not sure what my actual conclusion is – but I do know that this Parsha made me think a lot about loss. Loss of blessings, loss of power, loss of independence, loss of control, loss of connection…

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Posted in D'var Torah, Women in Judaism

From Sara to Rivka: Unfinished Thoughts on Parshat Vayera

While sitting in shul this Shabbat I realized the amount that women in this past week’s Parsha, Parshat Va’yera.

There is Sara. First we hear about her cooking for her guest. Then her getting taken by Avimelech. Then she gives Hagar to Avraham, and eventually kicks Hagar out. Avraham is commanded by God to listen to the words of Sara. Then Sara is “remembered” and gives birth.

There is Hagar. She is given over to Avraham and conceives quickly. She is then sent out, and has a conversation and promise from God.

There are Lot’s daughters that are almost sent out to an angry mob for them to do what they please. Lot’s wife who when leaving Sodom turns around and turns to a pillar of salt. And then again Lot’s daughters deciding that the world has ended and they need to repopulate the world, so they get their father drunk and sleep with him.

At the very end of that Parsha we hear about the birth of Rivka, who will take a prominent role in the upcoming weeks.

Now the truth is, most of these stories are not so happy. There is a lot of conflict or a bit of sadness that comes with them all. At the same time we see a lot of power given to each of these women. It is because of each of them that story is able to continue. Each one of these women acts in their own will. They do not ask for permission to act, they just act. They are spoken to by God, not through another person.

I don’t have a good conclusion (I need to work on that, these are just some intial thoughts), but there has to be something to learn from this (and not that women can’t make good choices because then bad things will happen).

 

Posted in D'var Torah

Remembering and Forgetting

Parshat Zachor is a funny thing- we are told to remember what Amelek did, and at the same time we are supposed to eradicate them from the world. How and why are we supposed to remember but also forget?

While talking about this with a friend over the weekend, it made me think about the Nazis. That they wanted to eradicate the Jews, but at the same time create a museum that showed that they once existed. Or in the opposite direction seeing memorials for great wars or tragedies, we want to remember that this event happened, while at the same time saying “never again”. We must remember, in order to make sure that it never happens again- that we are not going to be in that same situation.

Thinking about it on a personal rather than national way, I think it can also have to do with trauma. There are times that are hard or awful, and in order to continue on, there needs to be some part of forgetting, but also remembering where you came from.

I look back to where I was last year this time- how hurt I was. I still see that hurt coming into my life today- how I haven’t yet started to trust my new teachers; how going to an evaluation make me freak out, just to hear that they think I am doing well; how I still don’t want to get involved with the students; and especially not talk to some from last year. But at the same time, I want to try and move past it, and remember what it brought me. That I am doing to do well and overcome despite everything that happened.

I want to try and forget what happened, I need to, and otherwise I will never be able to trust or work. But at the same time I must remind myself, that I was stronger than they were. No matter how much they tried to put me down and kill my spirit, and even though they came very close- they didn’t actually do it, and that is a lot of power and strength that in a weird way they gave to me.

And just like Amalek- they came at the worst time, from the back just to kill Beni Yisrael in the desert. But, Beni Yisrael found the strength to fight back, and win.

May we continue to be blessed in our lives with the strength to fight back (and win) against those who want to destroy us.

Posted in D'var Torah, Uncategorized

Together and Apart

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be together with people. I love being around people. Even when I went through my very quiet phases of life, I loved being around other people. I wanted to go to big crowds. I wanted to be surrounded by other people, rather than my house- and I did everything I could to do that. Extra projects in school, plays, youth groups- you name it I tried to do it.

In college it was the same, I joined clubs, created clubs or organizations, ran clubs or organizations- in some ways that was the greatest time, because communal living leads itself to having people around all the time. Don’t get me wrong, I was really happy to go back to my single room- but during the day I wanted to feel their energy.

Today, I am constantly creating things. I desire to be around people, and at times I feel like it is difficult to find one or two people to come to something with me- but if I create an event, usually with another person- then people will have to come, and once again I will be around people.

Now, as much as I enjoy being around people- I find it very difficult to become close to people. I don’t really like sharing or making myself vulnerable (I’m working on it). Part of me just wants to be around others to have that energy. And another part of me wants something closer- something that shows me that the other person really sees me. (This could be why at parties I end up having really serious conversations- even though it is unintentional on my part.)

I was thinking about all of this for two reasons- one because I was talking to my therapist today about it. But before that conversation, I was thinking about it with regards to Parshat Pekudei. The Hoshen (breastplate) [and later the way the tribes walked through the desert] make me think about this idea of being together and being apart. In both the Hoshen and in the way the Jews walked they are all together, all the time they are held together by the metal (the Hoshen) or they are totally encompassed by God (as they walk). Even though they are together, they are completely separate entities. Each tribe has their special stone or camp to walk with. Each has their uniqueness- and in some ways does not connect with anything else around it- but at the same time they are part of the bigger picture.

So may we all find our own ways of being unique, but at the same time realizing that we are (and have what to offer) to a world greater than our own.

 

Posted in D'var Torah, Life, Uncategorized

The Beauty of the Half

This past Friday was my half birthday, and slowly I am getting into my 30’s…

People laugh that I think about my half birthday- but I do. I look at it as a half way point in the year. Where am I now? Have I started to accomplish any of my goals? Is my life starting to look the way I want it to? What do I want to do for the rest of the year?

The half way point is actually quite important marker.

This past week we also read Parshat Shkalim- the part where Beni Yisrael was commanded to bring a half a shekel for the census. Yes, just a half. Many commentaries look at this as a way to show that no person is fully whole, and so bringing a half shows that.

I know for myself, I like to see the whole picture. I plan A LOT. I go through things in my head, over and over again, just trying to figure out what will happen next. At times I want to be able to see what the outcomes will be, but even before I start (it makes decision making very difficult).

But maybe there is a beauty to the half. A way to see that there really isn’t any way to see the whole picture. One has no idea what the outcome will be until the time is experienced- and the half way point is a good place where you have the ability to both look behind you, but also look ahead. It is also something that can continue forever (if you continue marking things in the halves…).

So yes, I celebrate my half birthday, looking at the past 6 months and looking ahead at the upcoming six months. And counting in halves really does show that we are not whole, but also shows that we always have room for growth and change.

Things that have happened in the past 6 months:

  • Started a new school
  • Spoke in a number of shuls
  • Flew back to Israel & restarted life
  • Bought a one-way ticket to the US
  • Started seeing a therapist, learning how to talk about my feelings and not just the intellectual side

Things that I know will be happening in the next 6 months

  • Moving to the US for an undetermined amount of time
  • Starting CPE
  • Packing up and saying goodbye to my life from the past 6 years
  • Running a ball at the nursing home

Things I want to happen in the next 6 months:

  • Push myself to go to as many social things as possible
  • Start saying yes to things instead of no because lack of time (ie. Find time for fun)
  • Have some sort of relationship
  • Start to feel comfortable with my emotions
  • Allow myself to “go with the flow”
  • Go to Petra while I am still here in Israel

 

Posted in D'var Torah, Uncategorized

Waiting for the Unknown

The sin of the calf is the turning point in the book of Shmot. Everything is going great (more or less), the Jews were taken out of Egypt, they just got the commandments, Moses goes up the mountain…well, and then he comes down and sees the people doing what basically the first through third commandment says not to do. There are the people just dancing around a golden calf.

Many commentators (and regular people) are confused as to how they could do such a thing. They were actually at Sinai, they actually saw the see split, but they go to build an idol- can they really not believe in God?! Some commentators say that they came to build the calf because they miscounted, they thought Moshe should have come back already, and when he didn’t show up they were scared, and thought to worship this way again.

Thinking (as I have been for the better part of the year) how this can relate to life (or to my life at the moment), I think about the desire to know or better yet, the ill ease of the unknown.

I know that I like to know what is going to happen. I like plans. I think a lot (probably too much), and try and figure out all the possible outcomes- but there are times that I can’t do that, and it scares me. I think about my upcoming move (I finally bought tickets on Thursday and said to work when I was leaving- slowly this is getting real) and I just don’t know what will happen next. If I knew that I would be coming back after the year, I think I would be less nervous about the move. But I have no idea what will happen next.

I think that even in relationships, I like to know what is happening- I want it to make sense, even though it doesn’t always. My grandmother the other day was telling me about how my great-grandparents (my grandfather’s parents) didn’t speak the same language at all (one was Hungarian and the other was Russian)- but still got married. I am just shocked as to how that could happen- here I am thinking that verbal communication is something important, so I say that guys need to be able to at least understand English, and I speak fluent Hebrew! And the guys who I can’t tell if they are flirting or TLV that just doesn’t make sense to me that he would want to date me….

I also tend to think the worst of things, especially when it comes to school. This past week I had an evaluation- and I was sure that they were going to tell me that I wasn’t good enough, and that I had to move to the US earlier than I want. I am sure that is just residual fear from the old program, where all evaluations were bad, but also probably a bit of an exaggeration. I am not used ot people telling me good things. If I am doing well, people just ignore me- if I do badly, then they will talk.

So then what can we learn from this parsha? I don’t think that it is saying that if we don’t trust we are going to get killed by serpents… But maybe it is teaching us that at times we just too just wait and see- we need patience. That we need to not always jump to the worse conclusions- that maybe something good can still happen. That sometimes there is something good and exciting (be it also terrifying) from the unknown- and it is just up to us to sit and wait to make the unknown, known.

Posted in D'var Torah, Uncategorized

All the Small Things

Again this week’s Parsha left me only with open thoughts.

The beginning of the Parsha goes in detail to what the Kohanim wore- what fabrics, what colors, what was on them, etc. It also goes into all of the specifics of the Mishkan- not just how big things need to be, but also what color, what material, etc.

One thing we could learn is the importance of detail in communication. When we want someone else to help us create something, and we have a vision of what it should look like, it is up to us to go into as much detail as possible. There is no way for someone to reason another person’s mind- and so we should go into as much detail as we can, so that even the tiny bells at the bottom of a dress will be made in the right shape.

One could also say that when we love something or something is very important to us, we think about all of the details that go into it. We look at every small thing. Every small bit is makes up the bigger piece, but it is all important nonetheless. As someone who is a perfectionist, I know that I try to figure out each small thing, and make them all perfect. But maybe this is trying to teach us, that we should be worrying about the small things only with the things that are greatest to us?

One could also look at the idea of presentation. Why did the Mishkan and the Kohanim need to look that way? Are we being too materialistic? Or is it that we want people to see a certain thing when they look at this building or these people?

This is something I struggle with regularly. Being someone who is studying to be a rabbi, I realize that there are things that I choose not to wear because of what it might look like. That there is a certain way that, even my school, tells us we are supposed to look like. Now if I were to wear short-shorts and a tank-top, it would make people question not only my own place, but also other women who are studying to be orthodox rabbis.

As much as I understand this, it is something that I don’t like. I want to be able to wear jeans (I think that women can wear pants), but I don’t want to have an hour long conversation about why I think that I can wear them. I want to just be able to get dressed without it being reflective of my religious practices- because I don’t believe that what one wears has anything to do with how observant they are. But in society it is how it has become.

So, I don’t really have a conclusion- except for sometimes details are important, and sometimes we make details too important. So may we be blessed with being able to recognize when the small things mean something and when the small things are just holding us back.