Archives for October 2012

Torah Reflections Oct. 21 – 27, 2012

Lech Lecha

Genesis 12:1 – 17:27

Abraham: A Promise For The Future

This week’s Torah portion marks the beginning of the Patriarchal story in the Book of Genesis. Abraham receives God’s call to leave his home and travel to an unknown land with the assurance of God’s promise:

I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you shall be a blessing…through you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” [Gen. 12:3] And then, as Abraham arrives in the land of Canaan, God appends His promise to him saying: “I am giving this land to your descendants.” [Gen. 12:7]

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Torah Reflections – Oct. 14 – 20, 2012

Noah

Genisis 6:0 – 11:32

Noah:  A Righteous Man in His Generation?

There is a thought-provoking Midrash about Noah from this week’s Torah portion that details a debate between two rabbis as to why the biblical author begins with introducing Noah as “a righteous man in his generation.” [Gen. 6:9] Why, the rabbis ask, insist on specifying “in his generation?”

Rabbi Yehudah said: Only in his generation was he a righteous man [by comparison]; had he flourished in the generation of Moses or Samuel, he would not have been called righteous: in the street of the totally blind, the one-eyed man is called clear-sighted… Rabbi Nechemiah said: If he was righteous even in his generation, how much more so [had he lived] in the age of Moses.[Midrash Rabbah – Genesis XXX, 9]

We recall from Noah’s story that – in his generation – corruption, violence and lawlessness reigned supreme in the world, which prompted God to decide to wipe the human race from the face of the earth through a great flood. Compared to the rest of humanity, the Torah tells us that Noah was a “tzadik:” the embodiment of justice. He was “tamim:” wholehearted, innocent and humble. His name itself means peaceful, quiescent, and equanimous. Our text goes so far as to specify that “Noah walked with God.” [Gen. 6:9] This is who Noah was, so God spared him.
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Torah Reflections Oct. 7 – 13, 2012

Bereshit

Genesis 1:1 – 6:8

Cain And Abel: A Teaching on Generosity

Abel was a Shepherd and Cain tilled the soil. And it was, after the passing of days, that Cain brought some of the fruit of the soil as an offering to the Eternal; and as for Abel, he too brought [an offering] from among the choice firstlings of his flock… The Eternal had regard for Abel and his offering, but had no regard for Cain and his offering. Cain was filled with rage; his face fell. The Eternal One said to Cain, “Why are you so angry? Why your fallen face? Surely, if you do right, there is uplift. But if you do not do right, sin is a demon crouching at the door; you are the one it craves, and yet you can dominate it.”… But then it was, when they were out in the field that Cain turned on his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Eternal said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” And he replied, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?

[Gen. 4:2-9]

 

There is no doubt that Cain’s fratricide deserves our most forceful condemnation. Cain is warned by God not to yield to the demon of jealousy, but he miserably and most devastatingly fails, and kills his brother without, it seems, the slightest sense of remorse. And if we limited ourselves to the literal reading of the text, our case against him would be closed just as fast as we opened it. But do we ever? Going a little deeper, we find that this story is not as black and white as it seems; that there may be attenuating circumstances to Cain’s actions that we need to consider. For one, God seems to bear some responsibility in the matter. Not only did He disregard Cain’s offering, but He created an explosive antagonistic situation by approving his brother’s. Any book on sibling rivalry would tell you that this is a big “no-no.” The fact that Cain has a temper tantrum following the incident should have been a red flag for God. Instead, His infuriating response (“Why are you so angry?“) followed by a lecture that seems to be blaming Cain for what happened, only added fuel to Cain’s inner fire. It wouldn’t be a stretch to conclude, therefore, that Cain was provoked, that he was set up by God; and that while he remains guilty, God Himself should be sentenced as well as accessory to murder. [Read more…]

A “Days of Awe” Retreat – Day 9

 Putting Our Name on The List – Day 9

If these Days of Awe have revealed anything to me this year so far, it is — above all — that the work has to start with us. Doing the work of forgiveness is far from easy, far from comfortable; yet if we commit ourselves to healing, to living our lives with a more open heart — and manifest this commitment in such tangible ways — then I believe that we will inspire others who — by witnessing our actions — will be moved to do the same. This is where true Tikkun Olam awakens, where the Healing of our World is allowed to truly take place. When enough of us are able to shift the energies in our lives to be more loving, more inclusive, and more forgiving, we can’t help but watch these energies begin to ripple in the life of our communities and in our world. Our individual work is the most important work. It is, therefore, critical that we put our name on our list as well, and begin our journey by forgiving ourselves. This is your final assignment on this Day 9; to take the list from Day 4 and simply add your name there. [Read more…]

A “Days of Awe” Retreat – Day 8

Making Amends – Day 8

Making amends is truly when the rubber meets the road. We have done all this work forgiving others, and now we have to go out there and repair the damage we have done. If we worked on our letter yesterday, and rehearsed our conversation, we might feel ready. Yet pride, fear and procrastination can stand in the way of healing. How will we be received? Is the person going to retaliate? Perhaps we are still pining for a certain outcome, or secretly hoping we can be absolved of our responsibilities? But like Nachman ben Aminadav of the famous midrash, we have to walk through our fears, let go of our expectations, and trust that the seas will part for us. [Read more…]

A “Days of Awe” Retreat – Day 7

Preparing to Make Amends – Day 7

On Day 5 of our “Days of Awe” Retreat, we made a list of the people we have hurt. We selected one person from that list and went through a little writing exercise about our hurting this person. Today we prepare ourselves to make amends to this person. Before actually and personally making amends, we have to lay the groundwork for an optimal conversation. One of the ways to do this is to write out how we imagine the conversation taking place, including what we will say. I offer that we write the words we will be sharing as a letter. Here are a few guidelines for this exercise: [Read more…]

A “Days of Awe” Retreat – Day 6

I Now Forgive – Day 6

On this Day 6 of our personal retreat, we come to a place where we might be ready to forgive. On Day 4 we brought to mind and wrote about a person who has mildly hurt or offended us. I invite you to have what you wrote in front of you for this exercise. As we begin, I would like to remind you that forgiving is not of the mind but of the heart. We cannot think our way to forgiveness, we can only open our heart to being forgiving.
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A “Days of Awe” Retreat – Day 5

Searching The Heart (part 2): A Practical Exercise – Day 5

Like I promised yesterday, we are trading places for this exercise and will now be looking at the people we have hurt. The first few steps of the process are similar to what we already did: [Read more…]

A “Days of Awe” Retreat – Day 4

Searching The Heart: A Practical Exercise – Day 4

This is the time in our retreat when we get to practice. We can hear about forgiving, we can read about forgiving, but all the books and the talks in the world won’t help if, at some point, we don’t roll up our sleeves and get to work.

Now, your mind might come up with a million excuses to delay, postpone or refuse to do this work altogether. It might try to lure you into doing more “fun stuff” instead, or bring up that “to-do” list of all the things you “should” be doing rather than “wasting your time” with forgiveness. That’s normal. That’s what the mind does. Remember that the mind is afraid of change and will bring up a thousand thoughts to maintain the status quo. But here is the thing; you don’t have to believe in these thoughts. They are just thoughts. They come and go. And if you don’t get attached to them, they’ll soon be gone, replaced by other thoughts.
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A “Days of Awe” Retreat -Day 3

What Does it Mean to Forgive? Why do we Resist it? – Day 2

 

Forgiving does not come easy to us. Let’s be honest, the ego is not one to easily give up the past hurts, affronts, painful incidents, and grudges it holds onto in its memory bank. All of these past experiences have impacted us greatly, taught us a great deal, and helped mold us into the person we are today. And so the ego is afraid, because it equates forgiving with erasing parts of the past that has made it who it is. But we can’t erase what was. Forgiving is not about forgetting or denying; making the past “go away.” Forgiving isn’t either about revising or putting a positive spin on the past. What happened happened. End of story.
But that’s exactly the problem, isn’t it? The story doesn’t end there. It is the stories we have created about our past hurts, the unexamined “truths” we have made up about the people in these stories, the anger, the resentment, and the upset, that we continue to carry around with us today; sometimes years later. Forgiving is about releasing these stories, letting go of our need for the past to have been any different than it was, the people in our past to have been any different than they were then or are now.

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