Archives for October 2013

Torah Reflections – Oct. 20 – 26th, 2013

Chayei Sarah

Genesis 23:1 – 25:18

Where Life Hangs by a Thread                            

The cry of the shofar is the tears of Sarah, says a midrash.  This midrash comes to fill-in the blank space between the end of last week’s Torah portion and the beginning of this week’s. It describes Sarah being told that Abraham had taken her son Isaac, and had slaughtered him; offering him up on an altar as a sacrifice: “Sarah began to cry and moan the sounds of three wails that are the three blasts of the shofar. And her soul burst forth from her and she died.” Thus begins our weekly reading: with Sarah’s sudden death.

I found an arresting footnote in the Etz Chayim Chumash (Torah book) on this first verse; a statement attributed to commentator Avivah Zornberg. Sarah’s death, according to the note, “is a reflection of her inability to live in a world as dangerous and unreliable as she has found this world to be, a world where life hangs by such a fragile thread.” Zornberg’s statement is one of existential nature par excellence. It points to this fragile place within us that seems to require that there be meaning, predictability and safety in our life. Sarah, faced with such dreadful fate, is robbed of all three all at once, and finds herself unable to sustain such a loss. The emotional pain is so unbearable that “her soul burst out forth from her.”

Torah Reflections – October 13 – 19, 2013

Vayeira

Genesis 18:1 – 22:24

The Spiritual Aim of Circumcision

The subject of circumcision has engendered much controversy over the past few years. Should we or should we not, as a Jewish people, continue to honor this millennia old tradition that is said to originate with Abraham, or is it a barbaric practice that ought to be discarded? The marking of the flesh for spiritual purposes has been with humanity for millennia. The renaissance of body tattoos and piercings in our time are the latest manifestation of this age-old yearning. Some tattoos are an expression of love, some of allegiance, some of religious or spiritual beliefs. Circumcision’s purpose, I believe, includes — at least — all three expressions connected to modern tattooing. But our tradition brings yet an added dimension to this ritual; a teaching that runs deeper still. For where tattooing and piercing add something, in contradistinction, circumcision takes something away.

This deeper understanding is connected to the opening verse of this week’s Torah portion:The Eternal appeared to [Abraham] by the oaks of Mamre as he was sitting at the entrance of his tent.” [Gen. 18:1] At first our rabbis are puzzled by this verse: how could Abraham be “sitting” as God “appeared” to him? Wouldn’t it have been more appropriate for him to prostrate himself to the ground or stand? Rashi explains that the reason Abraham was sitting is that this was the third day since Abraham’s self-circumcision — which took place at the end of last week’s reading — the most painful day in the recovery process, and pain immobilized him. God appeared to Abraham as a consequence of the circumcision. Abraham awoke to the Divine Presence because of the circumcision.

How so? [Read more…]