Archives for January 2013

Torah Reflections – January 20 – 26, 2013


Exodus 13:17 – 17:16


This week’s Torah portion has all the traits of a great adventure novel. We ran away, but they pursued us. We took an unexpected turn that brought us to the edge of an impassable sea; and they were closing in on us fast. But at the last minute, miracle of miracles, the seas parted, allowing us to cross on dry land. And, as the last one of us barely managed to climb to safety onto the opposite shore, our pursuers — now just a few yards away — were drowned by the waters that suddenly came crashing down on them. We had won! We were delivered! Halleluyah! 
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Torah Reflections – January 13 – 19, 2013


Exodus 10:1 – 13:16

From Pharaoh’s Slaves to God’s Slaves

There is one peculiar word in Hebrew that is used interchangeably in this week’s Torah portion. While the Torah portion itself tells of the last plagues wrought upon Egypt by God and, in the end, of the Israelites’ mass departure from Egypt; the root of the word that concerns us here is Avad. At the beginning of the portion we read:

The Eternal said to Moses: Come to Pharaoh! For I have hardened his heart and the heart of his Avadim (translated here as “servants” or “courtiers”), in order that I may display my Signs among them.” [Ex. 10:1]

However, later on, we find this same word understood very differently: “Moses said to the people, ‘Remember this day, on which you went free from Egypt, the house of Avadim’ (rendered here as “bondage” or “slaves”).” [Ex.13:3] Yet, in another place where we are given the reason why Pharaoh has to free the Israelites from slavery, we see the root of that same word used to express something different still: “Thus says the Eternal, the God of the Hebrews, ‘How long will you refuse to be humbled in My Presence? Let My people go that they may v’YaAv’duni (“worship Me”).” [Ex. 10:3]

I posit, however, that there is an intimate connection between the three verses when one reads the text beyond its literal meaning. When I come to Torah, I start with the assumption that I am all the characters of the story. I am the Hebrew slaves and the Pharaoh enslaver, I am Moses and I am God. This text, therefore, speaks to me of an inner experience of enslavement, of my stuckness in my own Egypt/Mitzrayim — from the Hebrew root meaning “narrowness.” But, most importantly, this story speaks to me of the possibility of liberation from such a place of enslavement to the exiguous worldview of my own limited belief system. Connecting our first two verses, we read the word Avadim as “slaves” in both cases, and understand the first verse to teach us that our enslavement, our stuckness, stems from our own hardened heart. Not only do we live in a confining self-constructed Egypt, but we have hardened our heart to the exclusive defense of this narrow place, in the never-abating fear that it might be attacked or upended.  [Read more…]

Torah Reflections – January 6 – 12, 2013


Exodus 6:2 – 9:35

Many Faces of God

This week’s Torah portion opens with a compelling affirmation: “God (Elohim) spoke to Moses and said to him:

‘I Am the Eternal (YHVH).'” [Ex. 6:2]

I often wonder how people read this opening: “God spoke to Moses.” It is such a common verse in Torah that we tend to skip over it. But, this time, let’s take a few moments to reflect on what it might mean.
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Saying Goodbye to Another Year – 2012

Another year is drawing to a close and, unfortunately, these past few weeks have been emotionally wrenching. My thoughts are, especially, with the families of Newton, but this past year has seen tragedies near and far, in our own city of Seattle and in the lands of Israel or Syria among many others. Nothing can ever fill the gaping hole in the hearts and lives of those who have lost loved ones, and the rest of us are left with a mix of outrage, sadness and disbelief. Hurricane Sandy helped many more of our fellow citizens wake up to the threats of global warming while the man-made disaster of poverty still goes unmet.
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