David

David’s Corner – November 30, 2020

Jacob's Test

From a petulant refugee and a mama’s boy to a powerful chieftain in his own right, Jacob has finally gotten the better of his sly uncle Laban.

It’s all up to Jacob now.  What will he choose to do?  Where will he choose to go?

 

Is there really any doubt?  Jacob knows he has unfinished business with Esau. Esau represents all of Jacob’s deepest guilt and fear.  Like many secretive fearful people, Jacob prepares to meet Esau by planning contingencies that assume that Esau will do his worst.  And then, like a small child seeking approval from a tough parent, Jacob shows his plan in detail to HaShem.  “Look Daddy!  I’m going to split my forces in two in case Esau decides to go after me.  Aren’t I smart?”

 

With his family dispatched ahead of him, Jacob waits alone for HaShem’s response.  Perhaps he expects one of those lovely oozy dreams like the one that features a ladder to paradise.  Or perhaps yet another bellowing assertion from HaShem that the covenant is Jacob’s.  If so, Jacob may have been disappointed.  HaShem sends another one of those nameless men who, as we’ve seen, appear throughout Genesis.  His mission?  Give Jacob a swift kick to the backside. 

 

In this bout of wrestlemania, Jacob manages to stand on his own.  So well does he hold off this man, the man tries to cheat by wrenching Jacob’s hip socket.  Jacob could easily have limped off into the sunset, but presses on in the match until the man cries uncle.  Remarkably, without cheating or whining, Jacob has earned HaShem’s respect.  He is renamed “Israel” for he has contended with a being both human and divine, and won. (Gen. 32:29  After that growth in self-confidence, could Jacob be anything other than ready to face Esau?

 

Questions for discussion:  Why do you suppose HaShem sends a cheater to fight Jacob?  Does Jacob’s response remind you of a certain film from the 70’s?  What spiritual values does that represent?  How does Jacob’s new identity reflect an important shift in his consciousness?

David

David’s Corner – November 16, 2020

Cunning and Karma

The pain Isaac suffers when he realizes his least favorite son, Jacob, through cunning, has stolen Issac’s first born blessing from his favorite son, Esau, is palpable.  At a key moment Isaac tells Esau that he cannot undo what has been done, but can only give Esau a lesser blessing.  But can Issac really blame Jacob totally?  Can he blame Rebecca?

Or is there a feeling deep within that Issac himself is not innocent, that he has used his own cunning to gain an advantage?  Moreover, didn’t he employ his cunning in the exact same way that his father Abraham did earlier?  Recall that in a time of famine Abraham had to leave Canaan for Egypt, and for fear of losing his life and property, he instructed Sarah to pretend to be his sister.  When the Pharaoh discovered this, he was livid, and dispatched Abraham, Sarah and their retinue out of Egypt. (Gen. 12:12-20)

Later, Isaac tries a similar ploy with King Abimelech.  He puts forward that Rebecca is his sister.  When found out, he too asserts that he was afraid his wife would be taken because she is so beautiful and thus vulnerable.  But wouldn’t it have been safer to acknowledge Rebecca from the start as his wife? (Gen. 20)

Perhaps Jacob’s cheating his father is like the chickens finally coming home to roost. Is there a message here that cheaters do not necessarily prosper?  If so, why does this cheating seem to recur over and over again?

It is not as if it rewards the cheater with impunity.

Not only Issac who suffers.  From now on, Jacob will rarely experience moments of peace.  With his brother after him, he flees to his Uncle Laban.  Laban will trick Jacob into marrying Leah instead of Rachel, and forces Jacob, to work another seven years in order to “earn” Rachel.  Later, Jacob’s favorite son, Joseph, will be sold into slavery, and Jacob’s conniving sons will claim Joseph has been killed by a wild animal.  In this Hebrew clan, cunning and bad karma seem to go hand in hand.

Why do you suppose HaShem tolerates it?  Or perhaps HaShem is the instigator.  If so, why? Is it all about ending up in Egypt for four hundred years of enslavement, the ultimate karmic punishment?

David

David’s Corner – November 9, 2020

Hospitality, Modesty, and Consent (Genesis 18-24)

HaShem has not enjoyed great success in his creation of man.  When HaShem is fed up with how evil man behaves, he simply drowns all but Noach’s family.  It helps initially, but surviving generations of man soon returned to evil.

Then Abram comes along professing monotheism.  There is some hope.  What would happen, HaShem wonders, if he/she sent angels to tell Sarah that she, though now quite old, will bear a son?  Would the angels be taken advantage of and treated cruelly?

As it turned out, the opposite occurs.  Abraham and Sarah go out of their way to welcome the angels with a feast. (Gen. 18:6-8). This hospitality makes quite an impression on the angels.  One tell Sarah he will return in a year and she will have child.  Why is hospitality such an important cultural and spiritual value?  What does it convey?

Fast forward to after Sarah’s death and burial.  Abraham is now quite old and worries about Isaac’s future.  How to find a wife for him?  Abraham chooses the head of his household to find a wife from among Abraham’s relatives.  So discreet is this servant, that we never even learn his name.  Humbly, when he arrives at the well he asks HaShem to indicate which young woman is appropriate for Isaac on the basis of how modest and helpful she is.  (Gen. 24:12-15). Why is modesty such an important cultural and spiritual value?  What does it convey?

The servant meets Rebecca’s parents and tells them how Rebecca has been so modest and helpful.  He tells them that their kinsman Abraham has grown quite rich and that he is looking for a bride for his son, Isaac.  The servant gives Rebecca objects of silver and gold and garments.  He tells the parents he must return to Abraham with the good news.  The mother asks the servant if Rebecca can remain for ten days and then they can go.  The servant, perhaps worried that the opportunity will slip away, again asserts his need to return immediately to his master.  The mother cooly says, “Let us call the girl and ask for her reply.”  (Gen. 24:57) Rebecca is summoned and asked if she will go with the servant.  Her reply:  “I will.”  (Gen. 24:58-59). Why is consent an  important cultural and spiritual value?  What does it convey?  How do all three values collectively establish peace rather than violence?

IMG_1101 (1)

David’s Corner – November 2, 2020

The Angel Connection

Last week we looked at how an angel of HaShem, in the form of a man, caught up with Hagar and promised her scores of descendants, and a boy named Ishmael.  Is such an angel HaShem’s way of interacting with man?

When HaShem’s original covenant is made, however, HaShem seems to speak directly to Abram, changing his name to Abraham and Sarai’s to Sarah, and instructing Abraham about circumcision as part of the covenant.  (Gen. 15,17) Yet as events progress, angels seem to rapidly appear at opportune moments with life-changing information essential for the wellbeing of the intended recipient.

Three angels show up at Abraham and Sarah’s ranch, and one says he will be back in a year to confirm Sarah has had a child.  The other two angels save most of Lot’s family from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. (Gen. 18, 19 )

When Issac is born, bad feeling over succession seems to have returned, and Sarah insists that Hagar and Ishmael disappear into the unforgiving desert.  With water gone, Hagar lays Ishmael down to die. Once again an angel appears, reminding Hagar of HaShem’s promise that “I will make a great nation of him.” (Gen. 21:9-19) and directs Hagar’s sight to a well of water.  Ishmael survives to become a bowman, and Hagar is able to find a wife for him in Egypt.  (Gen. 21:20-21)

In a remarkable symmetry, a similar scene occurs later with Issac, who has followed his father Abraham up the mountain in order to be sacrificed.  Here an angel (perhaps the same one?) stops Abraham at the last possible moment, and directs Abraham’s sight to a ram caught in a thicket.  It will be that ram that will be sacrificed, not Issac.  Further, because Abraham did not resist the order to sacrifice Issac, now HaShem’s blessing will insure that Abraham’s descendants will be “as numerous as the stars of heaven and the sands on the seashore.” (Gen. 22:11-18)

Do you believe that HaShem speaks through anonymous angels, of whom you are unlikely to meet again?  Have you met such a person and has that meeting made a difference in your life?  Join us for a discussion on Saturday November 7th at 10:00 A.M.

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!