Rabbi Feingold’s D’var Torah

 

| August 30, 2018 

During my Sabbatical time this summer, I traveled a great deal.  The experience began in Israel.  I rented a car and used the GPS app “Waze” as I drove to various locations in the north of Israel.  The computerized, female voice on the app became my constant companion: “At the round-about, turn right.”  “In 200 meters, turn left.”  If I zoomed out to see the entire route, clicking the Re-Center icon enabled me to return to where I was, where ever it happened to be, at that moment.

What an apt metaphor for the season we are about to enter:  The Jewish calendar is homing in on its starting point, and we are all about to “re-center” as the New Year comes into view.   How far have we veered off from the path we intended to take?  Do we need some help “re-routing?”  Have we ventured too far from our home base of who we are and who we intend to be?  And what is the meaning of “home” in our lives?  The coming Days of Awe are a time not only to re-center but to go further and press the “home” icon to return and start again from our internal, home-base.

The month of Elul, the month in which we prepare ourselves for the Ten Days of Repentance is upon us.  Are you ready to re-center?  In a few short days, we push the “home” icon of Jewish life and seek to return to our best and true selves.   Our collective journey to self-awareness and self-improvement is about to begin.  Get out your internal GPS and find your way into the New Year, 5779.

 

Ki Teitze | August 23, 2018 

Headlines Ripped from the Torah

As the horrifying details of the continuing revelations of child sex abuse in the Catholic Church dominate daily headlines, we open the Torah portion this week and read of the sexual ethics of ancient times.  In light of recent news, one example stands out:  In Deut. 22: 23-24, we read that if an engaged virgin (undoubtedly a barely pubescent girl) lies with a man that his not her fiancé and “the girl did not cry for help in the town,” she and the man are both stoned to death!  It is specifically stated that the girl is due the death penalty because “she did not cry out.”  Of course, ancient sexual mores were different than our own.  That said, the idea that a child who not speak up is guilty of a crime is an appalling statement to find in the Torah.  The fact that she did not cry when someone could have heard her is taken to mean that she consented.  Today we understand that the tragedy of child sex abuse is that children do not speak up because are threatened by their abuser or do not think they will be believed.   This sad reality plays itself out over and over again and is part of what allows the culture of child abuse to continue.  May such headlines soon fade from our world.

 

Material World | August 2, 2018 

A surprising juxtaposition presents itself in this parasha, Eikev. In Chapter 11, verse 15, Moses says that God will provide grass for the cattle and therefore the Israelites shall eat their fill. In the very next verse, he heeds the Israelites not to “be lured away” to idol-worship. The placement of these verses in succession may seem insignificant to us, but their connection gives a powerful message. As Madonna once taught, we are living in a material world. Whether or not we’re “materialistic” people, our lives necessitate stuff. And, sometimes, we take more than our fill. One could say that our society’s materialism and gluttony have become a form of idol-worship— we focus on our bounty instead of focusing on the source of our bounty. How can we enjoy our fill without falling into the traps of gluttony and materialism? A great first step is to count our blessings and cultivate an attitude of gratitude. The word “Jew” actually comes from the Hebrew word Yehuda, derived from the verb l’hodot, “to give thanks.” So, technically speaking, to be a Jew is to be a person who practices gratitude. There are so many tangible ways we can bring gratitude into our loves. We can say the “motzi” before our meals (in fact, the commandment to bless food comes from this very parasha!). Recite the Shema after you climb into your warm bed. Sing “modeh ani” when you wake up to a new morning’s light. Rabbi Meir once said we are obligated to say 100 blessings a day…we better get going!

Student Rabbi Sarah Rosenbaum Jones

 

In Whom the Past Endures | July 26, 2018 

During a recent Hebrew lesson, a Hebrew student and I spoke about family memories. Her face lit up when she told me a story about her great-grandfather she never got to know, but to whom she felt close because of her family’s memories. In this week’s Torah portion, V’etchanan, as Moses continues his farewell address to the Israelites, he highlights the importance of Jewish collective memory. “Take utmost care and watch yourselves scrupulously, so that you do not forget the things that you saw with your own eyes and so that they do not fade from your mind as long as you live. And make them known to your children and to your children’s children.” This idea of Jewish collective memory pervades our liturgy, our calendar, and our communal traditions. One only need to consider the breadth of ways our daily and yearly rituals commemorate the Exodus from Egypt to recognize that we are a people who values remembrance. Why does the Jewish community focus so much energy on memory? Should we not look towards the future instead? In V’etchanan, Moses links Jewish memory to the Jewish future. He asserts that remembering the past is a tool for growth. When we remember our Jewish “family story,” we can understand how to improve our community and the world in the future. In recent months, we have seen Moses’s charge actualized. Jews from across the denominations have recalled our own communal memories of seeking refuge from slavery, violence, and persecution, and have been thus motivated to stand up for the rights of those seeking refuge in the US. Our memory is our rallying cry. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a great social activist, once said, “We are a people in whom the past endures, in whom the present is inconceivable without moments gone by.” Take time to consider: How will you harness memories of our collective past to help create a better future?

Student Rabbi Sarah Rosenbaum Jones

 

The Blessing of a Time Out | July 19, 2018 

A child comes home after school with tears rolling down her cheeks. She tells her dad about the terrible occurrence she experienced at school that day. “Don’t cry,” her father says in an attempt to soothe, “it will be okay.” But this only exacerbates her anguish, and her weeping persist. What dad fails to realize, in that moment, is the cathartic experience of shedding tears. Demonstrating sadness tangibly allows us to process our pain, disappointment, fear. This Friday we honor Shabbat Chazon (Shabbat of Vision) in preparation for Saturday evening’s observance of Tisha B’Av. Tisha B’Av, the ninth of the Hebrew month of Av, commemorates the destruction of the great temple in Jerusalem and other tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people. Why should we, a people that prioritizes joy, dwell in a negative mindset? Think of a time when you experienced sorrow and needed time to mourn before moving on. The Jewish calendar is a talented psychologist–it recognizes our need to sit with and process our historical and present pain before moving on. It gives us the gift of a “time out” each year to engage in the difficult emotional work of being human, being Jewish, and being Jewish humans.  And what comes next, when we have sat, processed, and felt these tugs of despair? On Shabbat Chazon we read the words of our prophet Isaiah who, after admonishing the community’s wayward behavior, depicts his vision of an ideal society. He tells the people to “Learn to do good. Devote yourselves to justice; Aid the wronged. Uphold the rights of the orphan; Defend the cause of the widow.” Isaiah uses his despair as a launchpad to question what is and imagine what could be. This Tisha B’Av, let us take a cue from Isaiah and learn to simultaneously process our despair and dream of a better future.

Student Rabbi Sarah Rosenbaum Jones

 

Reality Shock of Parashat Matot | July 12, 2018 

After Zelophehad’s daughters’ success story in last week’s parasha, it’s a reality shock to read this week’s parasha about the legality of women’s vows! In parashat Matot we read that, while men are responsible for upholding their own vows, a woman’s vow could be annulled by her husband (if she’s married) or her father (if unmarried). How can women be empowered in one chapter and deemed subordinate in the next? Unfortunately, biblical social order consistently placed men above women. Though later Jewish law sought to give women more legal protection, we know that gender inequality is a chronic plague in our world.

The Plaut Torah commentary brings our attention to an important detail in both of these admittedly problematic parshiot. It reminds us that God ruled in favor of Zelophehad’s daughters last week, and God forgave women whose vows are annulled by men in this week’s portion. The Plaut comments that “In matters of human dignity, faith and ethical behavior, the Bible knows only of human beings without respect to their sexual differences.” God recognized gender equality even when society failed to do so. Let us live in God’s image by continuing to amplify women’s voices and create a society that affords equal opportunity to people of all genders.

Student Rabbi Sarah Rosenbaum Jones

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