Rabbi Feingold's D'var Torah

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There is a curious verse in this week’s parasha (Torah portion). Gen. 35:22 begins a new storyline and then ends abruptly in the middle of the story and also with a cantillation (trope) symbol that does not belong at the end of the verse. In English, the verse is: “While Israel went and stayed in that land, Reuben went and ‘laid’ Bilhah (the implication is by force), his father’s concubine, and Israel heard….” The next verse changes the subject. It seems as if the story-teller does not wish to speak any more of this unsavory subject. Yet, there are unabbreviated stories of the sexual exploits of other prominent biblical figures, even other rape and incest stories in the Bible. The treatment of women in these texts is troubling to our modern sensibilities, and yet to this day, our society still struggles with issues of domestic violence, rape on college campuses, in the military and more. At Shabbat services this week, we will delve into this important subject. Rest assured, the discussion will be rated “PG.”

Genesis 32:4−36:43

As the one-week anniversary of the terrorist attacks in Paris approaches, we are full of concern, questions, and perhaps anger. Why is there cruelty in the world? Why must one group seek domination over another? Why do people hate? Will wanton destruction and lack of regard for life never end? Some fear is natural, but allowing fear to overcome us and distort our basic values is not healthy or helpful. In this week’s parasha, Jacob left home in great fear and trepidation, forced to cross a border into a land he did not know. He did not know what dangers lurked along his way, but he did know that his brother Esau wanted him dead. On the very first night of his journey, God came to Jacob in a dream atop a ladder, assuring Jacob that he was safe and his life’s mission would be fulfilled. Jacob was comforted by this dream. He awoke and said: “God was in this place, and I did not know it.” (Gen 28:16) We need to look for sources of comfort and hope when facing fears. Being in the synagogue and joining with others in prayers for peace and proclaiming the values of justice and compassion that our siddur and Torah texts teach in one way to do so. Join this Shabbat.

Genesis 28:10−32:3

This week’s parasha begins with a familiar theme—the infertility of the matriarch, in this case, Rebekah. (Gen 25:21) Previously, Sarah was barren and bore Isaac in her old age. Now Rebekah has the twins, Esau and Jacob, in her later years. Later, Rachel is barren and only gives birth to Joseph and Benjamin after many years of infertility, dying in childbirth with Benjamin. What is the significance of this repeating theme of barrenness? J.H. Hertz suggests that it is to emphasize the specialness of the one finally born—that this child is a miraculous gift from God and therefore destined for greatness. (Hertz Commentary, p. 93) As we consider the advances that have been made in recent decades to treat infertility, we see scientific genius as responsible for a birth after years of infertility. But we can imagine God’s hand in it as well, with human beings as God’s partners in the ongoing work of Creation.

Genesis 25:19−28:9

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