David

David’s Corner – October 26, 2020

Sarai and Hagar (Genesis 16:1—16)

Abram and Sarai are now old and Sarai has long not been able to bear Abram an heir.  “Consort with my maid,” she says, hoping at least that if Hagar, the maid, has a male child, Abram will have an heir. Abram heeds her request (16:1-3).

So Hagar conceives and the relationship between Hagar and Sarai has changed.  Now that Hagar is pregnant, Sarai feels that Hagar holds Sarai in less esteem (16:4).  Is this what is worrying Sarai or is she more worried that once Hagar’s child with Abram is born, that child will not be considered as Sarai’s heir?  Is this mere jealousy?  What could Abram say to Sarai to calm her down?      

How does Abram respond?  When Sarai tells Abram to decide between Hagar and her (16:5), Abram passes the buck back to Sarai.  “Your maid is in your hands.  Deal with her as you think right.” (16:6) Leaving it up to Sarai is a great idea while she absolutely hates Hagar?  Surprise, surprise, Sarai treats Hagar harshly and Hagar, in response, hits the road.  
 An angel of the Lord locates Hagar and asks her where she is going.  “I’m running away from my mistress Sarai.” (16:9)  The angel tells Hagar to go back and put up with the abuse.  Why?  Because Hagar is a servant who must do what her mistress wants?  Because it will build character?  Because Hagar’s descendants will be too many to count? (16:10)

Earlier, I asked what could be said to calm Sarai down.  Now it’s Hagar’s turn.  That last bit about Hagar’s descendants might be seen as at least partially enticing.  Then the angel tells Hagar that the child will be a boy.  The boy’s name?  Ishmael, which means, “the Lord has paid heed to your suffering.” (16:11)  One can see Hagar’s shoulders begin to relax.
 But then, the angel tells Hagar that Ishmael will be a “wild ass of a man; His hand against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him.” (16:12)  Would you go back to abuse after being “comforted“ in such a way? 

 Join a zoom discussion to discuss texts like this on the 1st and 3rd Saturday at 10:00 A.M. 

David

David’s Corner – October 19, 2020

Noach (Gen. 6:9-11:32)

I love this strange story of the Tower of Babel.  HaShem has gone to the trouble of drowning everyone but Noach and his family.  Everyone who survived into the future thus must have been descendants from Noah’s family.

As everyone at this point is one of Noah’s descendants, it stands to reason that “Everyone on earth had the same language and words.”  (Gen. 11:1)

With this seeming advantage, the survivors cheerfully learn how to make bricks and bitumen as mortar, and begin to build a large tower.  Why? To make a name for ourselves; else we shall be scattered all over the world.”  (Gen. 11:4).

This raises some questions.  Why is it so important to make a name for themselves? Are they looking for someone’s approval? Will pleasing HaShem keep them from being scattered? Why are they so afraid to be scattered all over the world?  Are they afraid their familial ties will be destroyed in another flood? 

Here’s what is so interesting.  HaShem scatters them anyway.  And not only that, but he screws up their heads.  They can’t understand each other anymore because they are all speaking different languages.  The tower goes kaput.

What is the point of this weird fable?  Why does HaShem decide to scatter these descendants of Noah?  What about their behavior has offended HaShem?  Have they been too arrogant?  Is HaShem annoyed at their fear of being scattered?  Does HaShem want them to Iive a life of more adventure?  Is he intending to create multiculturalism?

If you like discussing questions like these, come join us for our new Saturday morning discussion group, which will meet every first and third Saturday of the month.  The next session will be on November 7 at 10:00 AM.



david

David’s Corner – October 12, 2020

Genesis

Thinking about Genesis this week, has led me to ask five essential questions about the mystery of HaShem and his/her role in creation.

Does HaShem ever wonder who HaShem is?

This may sound like a flippant question, but it really isn’t. As human beings we’ve been granted the gift of consciousness.  With that gift we question ourselves and try to figure out who we are.  Is it too much to wonder if HaShem’s consciousness also encompasses self-searching?
 

Being the only one, does HaShem ever get lonely?

The universe is something to behold, but if you are insisting on being the unique, only God and refuse to have anything to do with with other Gods, with whom exactly do you speak?  (Supposedly HaShem hasn’t spoken directly to a human being face to face since Moses.)
 

For HaShem, is his/her creation a work in progress?

As humans, we have come to see creation as constant evolution and a winding forward of natural processes.   Does HaShem stand outside nature and direct those processes or does HaShem participate directly in the processes?  Also, does HaShem even consider progress as his/her intention or is HaShem’s intention merely experimentation?
 

How did HaShem’s creation get started from nothingness?

There have been lots of cosmologists over time, but the mystery remains.  The current view seems to suggest there was a “big bang.”  Maybe that was like a megaton alarm clock that woke HaShem up.  Of course, it’s tempting to also think that HaShem set the alarm his/herself.
 

What does HaShem do on HaShem’s day of rest? 

Mystery of mysteries:  does HaShem, like us, have trouble resisting the temptation to work?  For fun, does he/she enjoy Marx Brothers films?


Let me know what you think:  drosett676@gmail.com

David

David’s Corner – October 5, 2020

Shimini Atzeret Deuteronomy. 14:22 - 16:17

Shimini Atzeret is the last wisp of the High Holidays, the last day of Sukkot, which terminates with the celebration of Simchat Torah.  Simchat Torah has as its primary readings the death of Moses and Bereshit, the end and the beginning once again.

What happens when Shimini Atzeret happens to fall on a Saturday?  What torah portion is read that day?

As it turns out, some aliyot from Re’ieh are read.  A few weeks ago, when I wrote about that parasha, I focused on the treatment of slaves, which for the times, seemed radically generous and enlightened. Slaves were expected to be freed in the seventh year, and if they chose to remain with their masters, the masters were expected to take care of them for life.

From the excerpt from Re’ieh that we read on Shimini Atzeret, it becomes apparent that the flow of the portion revolves around being conscious and being generous.  Tithes are to be consumed in a big party.  Yet the Levite, who has no hereditary portion, the stranger, and the widow are also to be invited to enjoy the blow-out. (Deut. 14:22-29)

Every seven years, debts are to be remitted.  No kinsman is to be dunned. Further, no one is to be needy.  If a kinsman is in need as the seventh year approaches, he is to be given something.  “Give to him readily and have no regrets when you do so, for in return the Lord your God will bless you in all your undertakings.  (Deut. 15:1-10)   

And, in reiteration, during the Feast of Booths, “You shall rejoice…with your son and daughter, your male and female slave, the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless and the widow in your communities.”  (Deut. 16:14) 

With this tone of inclusiveness, having atoned and celebrated, the people of Israel are ready to face the challenge of a new year with love of torah, spiritual work, and generous, conscious deeds.

David

David’s Corner – September 28, 2020

Sukkot 2020

Even before this year’s pandemic, Lakeside attendance for Sukkot has been light.  Some of this is understandable.  By the end of Yom Kippur, the High Holidays have left many of us in an enervated state.  Too much shul already! 

But it is a little sad. The commandment to sit in your sukkah and have a meal as you look up into the starry night is one of the best commandments HaShem has come up with.
 
The Israelites had spent a lifetime wandering around the arid desert, kvetching, and eating the tasteless mana to sustain themselves.  When the Israelites complained about not having any meat, HaShem responded by making them sick to their stomachs as they gobbled down the first meat they had tasted in quite some time.

With the return to Canaan, the land of milk and honey, the Israelites now had a home and a fuller diet.  Sukkot celebrates the harvest and tacked to our sukkah are various fruits and vegetables, over which we say blessings. Plus, having atoned for missing the mark during Yom Kippur, in our purified state we sigh with deep contentment as we eat in our sukkah.

We cannot enjoy our sukkah this year, of course, for health reasons, but that needn’t stop our celebration of the harvest altogether.  Erev Sukkot, the first night of Sukkot, falls on this Friday, when we can augment our usual brief Shabbat service with a celebration of the harvest. 

When you shop this week, pick up a fruit or vegetable and bring it to the Friday Zoom service.  Bring especially those fruits and vegetables that are indigenous to Mexico.  Then we can say blessings over them in gratitude to God, who, despite everything, makes the harvest possible.
David

David’s Corner – September 14, 2020

Rosh Hashana 1st and 2nd Days: Genesis 22:1-24

Seven months ago we felt we were in great shape.   Synagogue was a place we looked forward to being and all we had to do was show up.

Then the unexpected happened.  A pandemic reared its ugly head and we lost our bearings.  Synagogue?  It has existed on a computer screen where people talk to each other through a rough app called zoom.  We can see and hear one another, but it pales in terms of what we had before.  

Should we just give up?  That would be the expected thing, right?

But wait a minute. Think of Sarah.  Her deepest wish was to have her own child.  Now at a late menopausal age, when it would seem impossible for this to occur, she is told by HaShem that she will indeed have a child.  She laughs her head off and, as a result, her newborn son gains a name:  Itzhak.

A little too cheerful for your taste?  The very next portion, which we read on the second day, has unexpected happenings to the fourth degree.  First of all, out of the blue, HaShem tells Abraham to take his son up the mountain and sacrifice him.  Secondly, Abraham, with heavy heart, agrees.  And thirdly, what of Yitzhak?  Does he resist?  He does not.  So there we all are expecting the worst.  

But it doesn’t happen.  HaShem sends an angel (who else?) to tell Abraham to cease and desist.  All of a sudden a ram appears and so for the fourth time in this story, the unexpected happens:  Abraham gains a special status from HaShem for himself and for his descendants.  

And we’re worried about Zoom working or not?  Here’s something unexpected:  we have expanded services from our usual one to seven, and in two languages.  Not only that, but some of the services  are here in the Chapala-Guadalajara area and at least three are in the United States. Enjoy!   L’shana tova!

David’s Corner – September 7, 2020

Nitzavim-Va-Lech (Deuteronomy 29:9-31:30)

HaShem works in mysterious ways…

Remember how in Ki Tavo, the last parasha, HaShem appeared to hit the Israelites with tough love?  By this I mean, if the Israelites did not obey all of HaShem’s commandments they would be destroyed by plague and disease and would be scattered to the ends of the earth, where they would lose all sense of HaShem atnd would worship only other Gods.  (Deut. 28:58-67)

In this week’s parasha, Nitzavim, HaShem, to use a phrase now popular in our time, “walks back” a bit what he had said earlier.  HaShem, instead of describing our fall as permanent, says we’ll be taken back in HaShem’s love if we return to worshipping the Lord our God.  Further, HaShem will “restore our fortunes.”   (Deut. 30:1-3). 

The key question for this week is why does HaShem amend what he has previously threatened?

One possible answer is that Moses, once again, and most likely for the last time, has persuaded HaShem to be more lenient.  

Another possible answer is that HaShem must realize that a permanent exile is a dead end.  Who would be left to worship HaShem?  What value would be all the remarkable commandments without someone to observe them?

We have, after all, established a covenant with HaShem.  And that covenant is so important, that even “the stranger within your camp” is to participate in the covenant ceremony.  (Deut. 29:9-11)

So it seems logical that HaShem decides to give wayward Israelites the opportunity to return to the covenant.  Moreover, part of that return can take place each and every year as part of the month of Ellul, when we grapple with how we have missed the mark and reflect on improving our connection with HaShem.

What do you think?  Write me at drosett676@gmail.com.

David’s Corner – El Shofar September

Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1 - 29:8)

As we are now well into the month Elul, our thoughts turn to our own lives, and how we have fallen short.  The parasha of Shoftim has been one we have turned to in lifting our expectations to do better, to be more just.  And we have not always been just, either in our relations with our close ones or with strangers.

So HaShem in this week’s parasha, Ki Tavo, challenges us in the extreme, with the toughest of love.  Beginning in Deuteronomy 28:58, HaShem pushes us to “observe faithfully  all the terms of  this Teaching that are written in this book.” (my emphasis) 

And if we fail?  Diseases and plagues will wipe us out.  “You will be a scant few, after having been as numerous as the stars in the skies, because you did not heed the command of the Lord our God.“ (28:62).  What is more, we will be scattered “from one end of the earth to the other,” (28:64) and will serve other Gods, which, in the long term, will make us despondent and useless.

It is tempting to view all this as a sort of prophecy of all that would befall the Jewish people over time.  Yet we know full well that it is next to impossible for even the most Orthodox Jews to observe all the commandments.  And truly, as more liberal Jews, we give pause to those commandments that discriminate against gender and gay people.   

So how are we to take on this harsh passage?  If we acknowledge that we are responsible for everything we do, perhaps the portion can serve as a goad, to at least wrestle with, if not totally obey the commandments laid out for us.  If we do this with sincerity and constancy, we serve both HaShem and the spirit of Elul.

What do you think?  Write me at drosett676@gmail.com

David’s Corner – August 24, 2020

Ki Tetsay. (Deutoronomy 21:10 - 25:19)

The parasha ends with the troublesome warning about Amalek.  The Israelites are to destroy the Amalekites for a surprise attack that killed off  the stragglers, the hungry and and the tired, during the march from Egypt.

Initially, this would seem straightforward enough. Amalek has acted in an unethical way on the field of battle and so the victims must be avenged.  The Israelites are instructed to “blot out the memory of Amalek from under Heaven.” (Deut. 25:19)

Over time, in the Jewish tradition, Amalek has become the symbol of murderous, genocidal anti-semites,  These include the villainous Haman in Esther, and Adolph Hitler.   On Purim, in fact, this warning about Amalek is read in synagogues.  The thought is that we are compelled to destroy those who would destroy us.

But there is a troubling question. Is it appropriate to completely destroy

a people out of self-defense, vengeance, or fear?  

Let’s take the Nazis.  The Nazis murdered millions of Europeans, including 6,000,000 Jews.  They used as a rationale the threat to their pure race posed by so called inferior races.  How to deal with this unspeakable evil?  When the Nazis were defeated in battle, their leaders were tried in the first war crimes tribunal at Nuremberg, and were hung.  In this way, the Nazi state was, and should have been, destroyed.  

But the defeated German people were not all murdered in a genocide.  Should they have been?  If so, would we ever have experienced how close Germany has become to the State of Israel?  Without forgiveness, how can there be redemption?

  What’s your reaction?  Write me at drosett676@gmail.com