rabbi-dov-bard

D’var Torah: Rabbi Dov Bard (Miketz)

Rabbi Shim’on said, “Woe to the human being who says that Torah presents mere stories and ordinary words! If so, we could compose a Torah right now with ordinary words, and better than all of them. To present matters of the world? Even rulers of the world possess words more sublime. If so, let us follow them and make a Torah out of them. Ah, but all the words of Torah are sublime words, sublime secrets!”

This teaching from the Zohar (III:152a) is an urgent reminder that we need to rescue truth from obscurity. The Yosef stories which continue this week seem particularly profane in their sharing familial conflicts, suspicions, hatreds and divisions. Where is the light of God to inspire the readers? Who needs to read about more conflict? Are there not in world literature words more sublime?

The midrash is asking the same question about these stories. The tribes were busy with the selling of Yosef, Yosef was busy with his suffering and trials in Egypt, Reuven was busy with seducing his father’s concubine and failing to return Yosef to his father, Yaakov was busy mourning for Yosef, and Yehuda was busy finding a wife among the Canaanites. However, the midrash assures us that God was busy also, in the midst of all of this family intrigue, “creating the light of the King Messiah.(Bereishit Raba 85:1) God was working on redemption – the eternal hope of humanity.

In other words, the midrash seeks a truth hidden within the text of the Torah. There is a story within a story. There is a human story in the Yosef cycle yet, with a deeper reading, we can see a story of the workings of divine Providence. It is precisely in the mundane that we can perceive intimations of the divine. We can rescue truth from obscurity. Our lives, too, are often stories of struggle and conflict, but with the study of Torah, we can hopefully detect deeper meaning and significance. And are we not to live our lives in the presence of God and not just reacting to the relentless demands of day-to-day life?

Shabbat Shalom V’Hag Urim Sameach

Rabbi Dov Y. Bard, Former Head of School, Schechter Alumni Parent

D’var Torah: Rabbi David Bernat ’72 (Vayeshev)

Parshat Vayeshev contains the first installment of Joseph’s story. We might, therefore, expect the portion’s initial sentences to mention Joseph, Torah style – “Eleh toldot Yosef … These are the generations of Joseph; Joseph was 17 years old …” or “Vayehi achar hadvarim ha’eleh … And it happened after these things that Joseph was 17 years old …” Instead, the tale commences – “Vayeshev Yaakov beeretz megurei aviv, be’eretz Kenaan … Jacob settled in the land where his ancestors lived, in the land of Canaan … Eileh toldot Yaakov … These are the generations of Jacob … Yosef ben shva esrei shanah … Joseph was 17 years old …”

Why begin with a reference to Jacob and his ancestors? These opening verses present a compact but powerful message about tradition and continuity. According to a Midrash (Genesis Rabbah 40:6), God instructs Abraham:“Tsei uchvosh et haderech lifnei vanecha – Go out and pave the way for your children.” This imperative applies to us all. From Abraham until this day and after, every Jew has and will have the responsibility to pave the way for his or her descendants.

While each of us sets our own life’s course, we also carry our ancestral legacy. While we tell our own stories, we must carry the awareness that we are setting a tone and direction for our children and their children after. As a Schechter alum and a Schechter parent, I am cognizant of the way my parents’ choice influenced their grandchildren’s educational paths. As members of the Schechter community, we all experience the force of tradition and the key role a day school education can play in promoting Jewish commitment and continuity. Like Jacob, we’ve elected to occupy the same spiritual space as our parents and to carve out that space for our children. Tsei uchvosh et haderech … Go out and pave the way.

David Bernat ’72, Executive Director Synagogue Council of Massachusetts, UMass Amherst Lecturer in Judaic Studies and Schechter Alumni Parent

D’var Torah: Rabbi Gilbert S. Rosenthal (Vayishlach)

EMERGING THROUGH CRISIS  

Jacob was terrified: he was on the eve of meeting, after many years of estrangement, his brother Esau. And now, after all these years, Esau was about to catch up with Jacob and accompanied with 400 of his men to boot (Gen. 32:7). It was a terrifying encounter because Jacob had “cheated” Esau out of his birthright for a bowl of stew (Gen.25:1ff.).

Jacob had good reason to be terrified. After all, Esau had a reputation as a man of violence whose life was stained with blood; who lived by the bow and arrow. Jacob prayed to God for salvation. Jacob was so terrified that he divided his family into two camps so that if Esau attacked one, at least that other would escape (Gen. 32:9).

But God did not forsake Jacob: Esau’s passion for vengeance abated and instead of killing Jacob they embraced and kissed. All was not forgotten—but all was now forgiven.

So Jacob returned shalem (Gen.33:18), “whole,complete, at peace.” The rabbis note the phrase and have a beautiful comment on it: “Shalem—ba-guf (whole in body); shalem be-mamon (whole in his wealth) and shalem be-Torato)—whole in his faith in God and commitment to the Jewish people (see Rashi at Gen. 33:18).

Here we have the key to Jewish survival. We endured the destruction of our two Temples; we suffered through the Crusades, expulsions, ghettos, religious persecutions and forced  conversions, martyrdom and all means of persecution. And we survived the Holocaust. How can Am Yisrael continue to march on its path to salvation? By returning to its roots, by reiterating its expectations as a Jewish people; by consecrating our wealth and possessions for good purposes—not just for levity and ostentatiousness, and by retaining, enriching and spreading our commitment to Torah (Jewish learning) and Jewish living by Jewish principles.

These three bases of Jewish civilization have enabled us to outlast our persecutors and survive as an Eternal People—Am Olam. Will we now abandon these saving, vital elements?

I pray not. In America and Israel we are blessed as no other Jewry in the past. May we always live up to the challenge!

Rabbi Gilbert Rosenthal, Schechter Grandparent

D’var Torah: Rabbi Daniel Berman (Vayetze)

My wife Sarah and I named our children Elie and Mica after members of our families whom we loved: Esther, Eileen, Meir and Max. When Elie and Mica were born, we threw festive parties and blessed them with their new names. We shared why we loved these names and how we hoped that they would bring the qualities and values of the people for whom they were named more deeply into the world. It often seems that our beloved family members whom we have lost are resting on our kids’ shoulders, guiding their way. Naming children is beautiful, full of hope and promise and love. But naming also has what we call a “shadow side.” A name can feel limiting of one’s identity. What if our Elie didn’t feel like an Elie? Or our Mica didn’t want to be Mica? It is our responsibility to help them live genuinely and truthfully.

This is a core tension in our Torah reading this week, parashat Va’yeitzeh, which includes stories of giving birth and giving names.  Torah tells us a story of the origin of the name of each of Jacob’s sons born to Rachel, Leah, Bilhah and Zilpah. The names express experiences and emotions like feeling unloved, hoping for love, gratitude, vindication, prevailing in a battle, and fortune. These are not easy emotions for a child to hold in his or her name. I read much of the rest of Sefer Bereshit, the Book of Genesis, though this lens. The stories of this family originate in these very emotional experiences of birth. The children are given an immediate identity and they struggle to both fulfill and separate themselves from their identities. Their struggle to live genuinely is at the heart of the painful, but finally redemptive and fulfilling, story of this family. In each of our lives, as parents and as children, we can join this struggle, looking to the past experiences and emotions of our families for guidance while charting out an authentic life of our own.

Rabbi Daniel Berman, Temple Reyim

Grade 7 Día de los muertos celebration

el Día de los muertos

Our Grade 7 Spanish class learned about el Día de los muertos (Day of the Dead), a multi-day Mexican holiday that focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died, and help support their spiritual journey. As part of the lesson, they enjoyed el pan de muertos and Mexican hot chocolate!

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Social Inequity in Action

Submitted by Rabbi Rebecca Weinstein:

What is social inequity? How do we understand this concept? In our 6th grade Tanakh class, students played a modified version of Monopoly where players had an unequal distribution of wealth and privileges in order to simulate social inequity and better understand the concept. Some players started with twice as much money, while other players only started with half as much, some players went directly to jail if they rolled higher than a seven, other players got to move twice the amount they rolled! Following the game, we talked about how our experience playing Monopoly this way connected to social inequity and how we felt while playing the game. During our debrief, I brought up comments I heard students saying while playing the game such as, “Here let me donate some of my money to you. This is not fair!” to reflect on. By drawing upon their experiences playing Monopoly, students were better able to answer the questions: What is social inequity, how do we understand this concept, and begin to answer, how does our tradition require us to respond?