rabbi samuels

D’var Torah: Rabbi Benjamin Samuels (Tzav)

The Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 7:3) asserts that when we begin to teach our children Torah, we should begin with Sefer Vayikra, the Book of Leviticus. This is surprising. The first half of Leviticus presents the sacrificial order of worship and concentrates on purity; the second half introduces many ritual and moral laws and focuses on holiness. This material brings to our awareness sublime, but difficult theological ideas, and legally complex religious and ethical imperatives.  Surely, the stories of Bereshit – Genesis will capture the attention and imagination of children better than the arcana of Leviticus. Furthermore, shouldn’t children’s Jewish education commence with the beginning of the Torah? The aforementioned Midrash explains: “Let those who are pure come and occupy themselves with the acts of the pure.”

I believe we can learn three important pedagogic principles from the approach of the Midrash. One, environment matters. As parents and teachers, we all aim to find the right balance between protecting our children from the brokenness of our world, and exposing them to said brokenness so that we can all become partners in its repair. The Midrash says begin with wholeness, purity, holiness, and goodness, i.e., Leviticus, with its orders and sacred aspirations. Once a baseline is established, our children can better recognize brokenness when it appears, such as in the stories of Bereishit.

Two, cultivate within our children the capacity to hear the Torah’s call to purity and holiness. The book of Leviticus begins with “Vayikrah – And God called.” Children often enter early childhood with spiritual and ethical questions that are quite profound, even if stated simply. Nurture their natural attunement to such questions.

Three, the book of Leviticus taken as a whole emphasizes ritual and ethics, our relationship with God and with other people.  The book which details how to worship and come close to God, also teaches, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”  To be a Jew requires commitment to both law and spirit for Judaism staunchly believes that religious practice externalizes the internal and internalizes the external: we practice what we believe and we believe what we practice.

Whether or not we actually commence our children’s Torah studies with Sefer Vaykira, the Midrash challenges us to think more deeply about our educational goals and their implementation.

Rabbi Benjamin J. Samuels, PhD, is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Tefillah, a Modern Orthodox synagogue in Newton Center. 

D’var Torah: Rabbi Rachel Silverman (Terumah)

The very essence of Parshat Terumah holds an inherent contradiction. God instructs the Israelites to build the Tabernacle (and accoutrements) so that God may dwell among the people (ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם, make me a sanctuary and I will dwell among them). Yet we know that God doesn’t possibly fit inside the confined space of the Tabernacle. God is all around us. In fact, given the description of God’s presence as a cloud and as a pillar of fire as the Israelites were leaving Egypt, we know that God already was very physically present in the Israelite community.
What, then, could God mean when God requests a sanctuary to be built “ושכנתי בתוכם” so that “I will dwell among them”?
It is widely known that one of the best ways to built relationships among a community is to “get your hands dirty” – to work towards and accomplish a project together. Authentic connections are forged when former strangers dig deep (literally and figuratively) to build new institutions, revitalize communities, offer tangible help to those in need, and solve problems together.
The key to understanding what God is seeking here is the verb sh-kh-n, to dwell. Shakhen (שָׁכֵן), in modern Hebrew, means neighbor. From this same root we also have Mishkanmeaning sanctuary and the divine presence known as the Shekhinah. Through the project of building a home for God, it is God’s intention to create a community of neighbors, God’s self included among them.
By working together strangers become friends; and friends become family. When we work side-by-side, we begin to know one another – and ultimately, care for one another. For a budding community such as the Israelites, it is the act of caring for the other that creates a sense of togetherness.
Ultimately, when we can welcome God into our neighborhood, we elevate our lives and bring a sense of holiness to our homes. The relationship that we strive for with the Shekhinah is one of comfort, compassion, help, reassurance, and guidance. It is the same relationship that we strive for with one another.
Rabbi Rachel Silverman, Temple Israel of Sharon

D’var Torah: Rabbi Dan Liben (Mishpatim)

After the drama of parshat Yitro, in which we experienced the revelation of the Ten Commandments, the tone of parshat Mishpatim feels abruptly dry. Up until now, the book of Exodus has told the story of the Israelites’ slavery and redemption with a relentless energy and drama. Now, that narrative abruptly pauses to make place for a law code, a list of rules and regulations, both civil and criminal, that will give shape to Israelite society.

This code is not completely divorced from what preceded it; it begins with laws that the people could relate to from their immediate experience: laws concerning the treatment of Hebrew slaves. Yet, for the most part, this catalogue of rules, concerning issues as diverse as homicide, negligence, fairness in judgement, and holiday observances, has no connection to the dramatic story that preceded it.

But not quite. There is an occasional passion that flairs up out of the text, all the more remarkable for its suddenness and its rhetoric:

“You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not ill-treat any widow or orphan. If you do mistreat them, I will heed their outcry as soon as they cry out to Me, and My anger shall blaze forth and I will put you to the sword, and your wives shall become widows and orphans.

…If you take your neighbor’s garment in pledge, you must return it to him before the sun sets; it is his only clothing, the sole covering of his skin. In what else shall he sleep? Therefore, if he cries out to Me, I will pay heed, for I am compassionate.”

Parshat Mishpatim tells us that law codes do not exist in a vacuum, and that the rules and regulations that give order to a community ultimately derive from our deepest values and our formative experiences. The entire story of the Exodus from Egypt, of enslavement and hard-won liberation, leads to this: a code of law that demands that our past prepare us for a morally and ethically responsible future.


Rabbi Dan Liben, Schechter Alumni Parent, Temple Israel – Natick


D’var Torah: Rabbi Victor Reinstein (Yitro)

As if – When the Vision and the Way become as One

Such a small phrase that holds so much promise and possibility, it is all of two words in English, and but one in Hebrew. Often spoken lightly, quickly left behind without realizing their depth and fullness, as if/k’ilu. In the realm of children, words used in relation to behavior, at times to discourage, hopefully more often to encourage, “you are behaving as if…, or, so much better to say and hear, “spread your arms and soar, as if you are an eagle.” In the realm of the positive and hopeful, these are simple words for planting seeds of imagination, as if/k’ilu.

In the fullness of imagination begins the vibrant stirrings of soaring vision. It is how we want our children to be, free to imagine, to strive and to soar. It is not only about children, though, a gift for all of us to imagine, in the way of as if . As if consciousness emerges as deep and simple teaching from this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Yitro (Ex. 18:1-20:23). Standing at Sinai, a time and place apart, yet ever near, the Ten Commandments are given. The fourth commandment is to make Shabbos, Remember the Sabbath day to make it holy/Zachor et yom ha’Shabbat l’kadsho. And then we are told: Six days shall you serve and do all your creating work/sheshet yamim ta’avod v’asita kol m’lachtecha. The rabbis focus on that little word, all, and ask so simply, as fully aware of time and its challenges as we are, is it possible for a person to do all of their work in six days? It is our question too, how can we ever be finished with all there is to do? The rabbis then answer, rest on Shabbos as if/k’ilu all your work was done (Mechilta).

From this profoundly important teaching, we learn to live in the realm of k’ilu/as if consciousness. Of two realms, in relation to our selves and in relation to the world all around, it is a way of creating a sense of place and possibility, of rest and renewal from which great things can emerge. In order to receive the gift of Shabbos and be refreshed, we need to be able to breathe with fullness of breath and being, unfettered by all that remains yet to be done. In the way of k’ilu consciousness, we learn to let go, to step back and pause as if all were complete. It is beautiful advice as it comes to us through time, a way of softening the rough edges of our own lives. It is also about the future, though, a gentle challenge and guide toward softening the rough edges of the world and imagining another way, another time, a challenge to behave as if that other time had already arrived, k’ilu.

Shabbos offers a model of the world as it might be, setting before us the vision and the way. Stepping back in order to be more fully present, relationships are deepened, meals are shared, words of prayer rising as one from many hearts. Putting aside money and ways of competition and strife, even anger to be avoided on Shabbos, another way begins to emerge. It is not the way of day to day, and yet it is meant to be. We pray on Shabbos for the day that is all Shabbos, yom she’kulo Shabbos. One seventh of all of our days are lived as if/k’ilu it is another time, as if we are already there. Rehearsing the ways of another time, we become familiar with what it is like, with what could be. If we can do it for one day, then why can we not do it every day? With Havdallah at the end of each Shabbos, we draw from the essence of a day its way of shalom, seeking to infuse that essence into the days of the coming week. As ripples flowing out in time, we come ever closer to the day that is all Shabbos.

If we are to get there, we need to bring k’ilu consciousness into the turning of world and time. We cannot rely on the old ways that block the way. In our own lives, it means to live as if we are already there, using ways of conflict resolution that serve to join rather than to divide. It means to be in the world as if it really is the garden it was and ever is meant to be. It means to find ways of pause, of stopping long enough to see and affirm God’s face in our selves and in each other. It means to cry out and act to end the way of war and weapons as the way of peoples and nations. It is to cry out against all that denies humanity, and to live with love and in the way of harmony as if we are already there, when such Shabbos peace shall be the way of every day. If we live each day as if/k’ilu, then some day what seemed for so long to be as if shall be as it is. When the vision and the way become as one, we shall have arrived.

Rabbi Victor Reinstein is the rabbi and founder of Nehar Shalom Community Synagogue in Jamaica Plain and a Schechter alumni parent, teacher and school rabbi.


D’var Torah: Dan Savitt (Beshallach)

Music to My Ears (Parashat B’shallah)

There’s a song that they sing when they take to the highway

A song that they sing when they take to the sea

A song that they sing of their home in the sky

Maybe you can believe it if it helps you to sleep

But singing works just fine for me.

“Sweet Baby James” (song) (1970)1


James Taylor poignantly captures the ubiquity of song—whenever or wherever we are singing is fitting.

What we see with our eyes can stir up powerful memories, and the power of our olfactory senses can bring back memories, but I would argue that the power of music can stir up perhaps some of our most powerful memories, and allow us to recreate emotions experienced long ago.

From time immemorial music has existed. In antiquity, music would have been used for a variety of purposes. For example, while engaging in strenuous or monotonous work such as digging wells or raising a new house “musical chants could be used to help maintain the rhythm of the workers and speed completion of the day’s toil.”2 Another common use for music was in celebrations. Music was used to commemorate major events in the life of the people.

Two major events in the life of the Jewish people are read this coming Shabbat, Shabbat Shira: the Song of Miriam and the Song of Deborah. These two songs were composed between the 12th and 9th centuries BCE.3 “[Professor David Noel Freedman] identified them as the two oldest things in the Bible. They were composed close to the time of the events that they portray.”4 We must also keep in mind that both the Song of Miriam (recited daily during p’sukei d’zimrah) and the Song of Deborah (chanted annually as a haftarah) are integral parts of our liturgical calendar.

On this Shabbat Shira, let us bear in mind that these songs, composed approximately 3,000 years ago, are two of the oldest compositions in the Tanakh, and that both were included as part of our liturgy. And on this Shabbat Shira let us sing, sing, sing—not with the sound of silence, but with the sound of music!


  1. “The Yale Book of Quotations”, ©2006 by Fred Shapiro
  2. Matthews, Victor H. “Music and Musical Instruments: Music in the Bible.” Ed. David Noel Freedman. The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary 1992: 931. Print.
  3. Cross, Frank Moore, and David Noel Freedman. Studies in Ancient Yahwistic Poetry, 2nd ed., Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997, p. x.
  4. Friedman, Richard Elliott. The Exodus: How It Happened and Why It Matters. New York, NY: HarperOne, 2017, p. 36.

D’var Torah: Ari Gordon – Grade 7 (Bo)

In this Parsha, Parashat Bo, the Egyptians and the Israelites are dealing with the last three plagues: locusts, darkness, and the killing of the firstborn. God spares the people of Israel’s first born, but kills off the Egyptians’ firstborn. These awful deaths cause Pharaoh to break down, and he tells the Israelites to go. Fast. The Israelites had to rush, so there was no time to let their dough rise. You know that whole tradition of eating matzah on Pesach? It all begins with Bo.

While reading the Parsha, I thought, “Why did God kill all the Egyptians’ first born? He must have known that some of them were innocent!” It also made me think about what God really is, and how God functions in the world.

All my life I felt that I could personally talk to God, but no one else could. I could always send him a message. I’ve never really thought about how other people felt about God, so while preparing this I kept an open mind.

While talking to David Wolf, my tutor, about my dvar, he told me about an idea that I thought explained a lot. He suggested that each person has their perception of  “God.” I thought this was an amazing idea, so I looked a bit more into it. While studying Mr Savitt’s “Yak List,” a list of words that appear the most in the Bible, one word I kept coming across was ELOHEIM, which is used as a name for God, but being the plural form, it directly translates to “Gods.” I thought it was weird that the word I have used my whole life to refer to “God,” really meant “multiple Gods.” In the beginning of the Amidah, it says “Elohey Sarah Elohey Rivkah, etc.” This means the God of Sarah, and the God of Rivkah, etc. It supports my opinion that everyone has their own perception of God, which makes everyone’s God seem different. Since God is abstract and cannot be seen or touched, everyone has their own opinion of God’s role and image. God is all about faith: if you believe your God can only watch, then your God can only watch. If you believe your God can only influence situations, then your God can only influence, and so on and so on.

As for me: I believe God does not directly make things happen. Believing in God is learning from God’s stories. God as a character is less important than the meaning of the Torah’s stories. When we read the stories, we become better people–that’s God at work. That’s Judaism. There’s no point in arguing about whether or not God really did free the Jews from Egypt. It’s more important that we use those stories to learn from our mistakes and our successes. My dvar is a prime example of a story with a lesson.

The second question I want to answer is: why does God find it necessary to kill all of the Egyptians’ firstborns?

At first, I thought what God did was terrible and unnecessary. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that God made the correct decision. Why? I understood that in order to really teach a lesson, you must take something, the recipient must feel loss. This applies today too. For example, if a kid is doing something wrong and a parent says, “Stop it,” the kid may not listen. But if the parent takes away the kid’s phone–not a murder exactly, but pretty horrible–99% of the time the kid will stop the bad behavior. God did not kill the Egyptian firstborns for fun. God did it to teach them a lesson.

So what about me? I’ve read, over and over again the same Torah stories every year–and each time I learn new skills that allow me to become a nicer and better person. Well, a somewhat better person. Before studying my portion, I never would thought that in order for me to change I, Ari Gordon, might have to suffer. Now I do.


D’var Torah: Professor Joseph Reimer (Shemot)

The Fascinating Daughter of Pharaoh

Of all the intriguing characters we are introduced to in the early chapters of ExodusI find the daughter of Pharaoh the most fascinating. Who is this woman? Why does she save the Hebrew infant? Is she aware of her father’s decree and does she purposely undermine that decree? Let’s read Exodus, Chapter 2 for clues to answering our questions.

We first meet Pharaoh’s daughter as she is going down to bathe in the river. She is accompanied by her girl attendants who help her bathe. While there, Pharaoh’s daughter spies the basket and sends an attendant to retrieve it. When she opens the basket, she sees the child and hears his crying. The crying arouses her mercy and she says, “This must be a Hebrew child.”

Let’s assume that bathing in the river is a regular feature of this princess’ life and the attendants shield her from the rough edges of life. And yet her eye is drawn to this basket floating down the water. She cannot know, as we readers do, that there is a baby inside and that baby’s family has sent him floating to where she regularly bathes. But she needs to be curious enough to explore this basket for our story to unfold.

She first sends an attendant to fetch the basket. I imagine even mild curiosity could motivate her to send that attendant. But significantly, it is she who opens the basket and first sees the baby within.  Many social psychological experiments have taught us this: there is no comparison between directly encountering another human versus being told by an intermediary that there is a human there. The direct encounter moves us in ways that mediated encounters do not.

Then there is the cry. It is the baby’s cry that most immediately moves this princess. She hears something in that cry that evokes her protective feelings. And then for the first time we hear her speak, “This must be a Hebrew child.”

Given her father’s decree to destroy all the male Israelite children, what are we to make of her first words? Is she distancing herself from the child by calling him “a Hebrew child?” Or is she moved to be more protective precisely because he is so endangered? The story indicates the latter. When the child’s older sister offers her a way to preserve this infant, Pharaoh’s daughter leaps at the opportunity and adopts this baby as her own. It is she who will name him Moses, saying, “I drew him from the water.”

How remarkable that Torah would assign Pharaoh’s daughter the role of naming baby Moses. That honor would indicate that Torah holds this foreign woman in high esteem. But it is not, I would claim, because she is directly defying her father’s rule. How could she be if she then brings Moses up in the Pharaoh’s palace? Rather what is remarkable is that she remains human in the face of such overwhelming dehumanization, that she sees this child as “Hebrew” and yet is moved to act by his human cry.

Is Pharaoh’s daughter not a signal to us, her contemporary readers?

Looking back at Pharaoh’s daughter, I pray that we too may be moved by the cries of children, separated by decree from their parents, and remember that at every border lies a baby Moses waiting to be heard.    

Joseph Reimer has been teaching at Brandeis University since 1986 in the Hornstein and Education Programs

Rabbi Mendy Uminer

D’var Torah: Rabbi Mendy Uminer (Vayigash/Chanukah)

Flames have a special place in Judaism.

Consider the Shabbat candles which we light every Friday evening.

They represent a powerful dynamic:

On Shabbat, we stand back from the grindstone, disengaging from life’s tasks to focus on life’s context, meaning and goals.

On Shabbat, we take an aerial view of our lives, rising above our splintered weekday-persona to consider our more wholesome potential.

In this sense, the Shabbat lights grant us illumination and perspective; they allow us to see where we’ve been stumbling and which paths we need to pursue.

So this coming Friday evening, we’ll try to rise above our personal stress and struggles; we’ll guide the Shabbat lights’ glow inward, searching for a part of ourself that isn’t defined by the pain, a piece of us that is whole, an internal place of faith and confidence in the future.

That’s the Shabbat experience.

But tonight as the past six nights, we’ll be lighting a different type of flame: The Chanukah Flame.

Whereas the Shabbat candles foster personal/familial balance and peace, the Chanukah candles are outwardly focused.

The Talmud describes the Chanukah candles as tools to ‘illuminate the outside’. The flames need to transform the external darkness, bringing warmth and illumination to an otherwise dark place.
Finding our personal sense of wholeness, faith and confidence, isn’t enough. Chanukah instructs us to share it with others, to illuminate the ‘night’ outside our four walls and beyond our respective driveways.

At this moment, the world is experiencing a ‘perfect storm’ of terror threats and political turmoil that is accompanied by fear and uncertainty which casts a paralyzing shadow.

It’s dark. And the future isn’t yet looking brighter.

The world needs a candle, a stabilizing beacon of light.

That candle is us. Especially the children and especially those children learning at Schechter!

If we can share hope for the future, we will have brightened lives. 

If we can lend mental clarity to distinguish between rational and irrational concerns, we will have illuminated hearts.

If we can inspire faith and trust in the Divine Parent who loves us all, we will have provided warmth to a cold spirit.
We will have touched the flame of our souls to ignite another’s wick.We will have lived the Chanukah message. Happy Chanukah!
Rabbi Mendy Uminer, Chabad Center at Chestnut Hill

D’var Torah: Carolyn Bernstein (Vayeshev)

Dreams are fascinating. Our dream work is a composite of little pieces of information that form in the mind while the dreamer may sleep or do almost any other boring things in daily life. So it’s strange that we should refer something we aspire to do in the future as a “dream” because dreams are so random. But we also refer to goals as dreams because the dreams in the Torah are not as random as our dreams may seem in the world today.

The stories about Joseph begin and end with dreams. There are three sets of dreams in the Joseph narrative. However, if we stretch the definition of a dream as we do today in how we use the word, we can probably find more. Each set of dreams consist of two dreams. In the first and third set, the two dreams are really one and the same:  אֶחָד הוּא חֲלוֹם. In the second set, the two dreams are quite different.

The first set appears in Parshat Vayeshev. These dreams belong to Joseph. In the first dream, Joseph and his brothers were binding sheaves of wheat in the field, when the 11 sheaves of wheat of the brothers bow down to Joseph’s one sheaf of wheat.

וְהִנֵּה אֲנַחְנוּ מְאַלְּמִים אֲלֻמִּים בְּתוֹךְ הַשָּׂדֶה וְהִנֵּה קָמָה אֲלֻמָּתִי וְגַם־נִצָּבָה וְהִנֵּה תְסֻבֶּינָה
אֲלֻמֹּתֵיכֶם וַתִּֽשְׁתַּֽחֲוֶיןָ לַֽאֲלֻמָּתִֽי

The second dream that Joseph dreamt envisioned the Sun, the Moon and 11 stars, all bowing down to one star.

וְהִנֵּה הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ וְהַיָּרֵחַ וְאַחַד עָשָׂר כּֽוֹכָבִים מִֽשְׁתַּֽחֲוִים לִֽי:

I am not sure what it would look like for stars, the sun and moon to bow down, but the brothers understood its apparent meaning: Joseph’s family, including his 11 brothers, will bow down to him. Joseph’s mother Rachel had died at his brother Benjamin’s birth, so it is unclear whom the moon represents. The Talmud actually learns from this stray dream-fact that every dream always includes some nonsense. Even so, the two dreams were enough to make the brothers angry and jealous.

The second set of dreams come when Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery. He arrives in Egypt and gets locked away in the prison of a rich man named Potiphar. In prison he meets Pharaoh’s baker and butler and interprets their dreams for them. In the baker’s dream, the baker is carrying a huge basket of bread when a flock of hungry birds swoop down from the heavens and take it. The other dream in this second set of dreams includes the butler, who is peacefully squeezing grapes into wine. Joseph predicts that these two dreams mean that the butler will live and that the baker will die. And indeed it was so.

The third set of dreams happens when people hear of Joseph predicting the butler’s and the baker’s dreams and Pharaoh wants Joseph to come and be his dream interpreter. Pharaoh has two dreams. The first is about two herds of cattle. The skinny cows eat the fatter cows but didn’t get any fatter. And in the second dream the same thing happens to two fields of wheat. The thin sheaves consume the thick sheaves without growing.  Joseph explains that these two dreams are really one –

חֲלוֹם פַּרְעֹה אֶחָד הוּא

אֵת אֲשֶׁר הָֽאֱלֹהִים עֹשֶׂה הִגִּיד לְפַרְעֹֽה

Joseph explains that the dreams mean Egypt will experience seven plentiful years followed by seven years of famine, during which the dynasty’s stores of meat and wheat will be consumed. Joseph then recommends to Pharaoh that he should build storehouses to stockpile food during the years of plenty in order to sustain the people of Egypt during the years of famine.  Pharaoh recognizes the truth of Joseph’s interpretation and the wisdom of his suggestion and appoints him as viceroy in charge of the food bank project.

Joseph gets fancy new Egyptian clothes, an Egyptian wife who is none other than the daughter of Potiphar, his old master, and a new name. He would doubtless have gotten a new iPhone too, but it had yet to be invented.

Joseph’s new name was Tzafnat Paneach. Now, maybe this was the number-one popular name for boys that year in Egypt, but something tells me that it holds special meaning.  Even the name Joseph had importance.  The Torah tells us when Joseph is born that Rachel named him saying:

וַתִּקְרָא אֶת־שְׁמוֹ יוֹסֵף לֵאמֹר יֹסֵף ה’ לִי בֵּן אַחֵֽר:

[His name is] Yosef, which is to say: “May the Lord add another son for me.” In other words, Yosef’s name was a prayer that his arrival would continue to add blessings, like more children, in the couple’s life.” Joseph’s Egyptian name, Tzafnat Paneach, means “the hidden face” and we can relate a hidden face to many things in this parashah.  First, the obvious theme of God’s face being hidden while Joseph was in prison and going through hard times. Second, the name can also hold symbolic meaning, as if to say that in all the years of Joseph’s absence, his father Yaakov is grieving over the loss of his son. We could imagine Yaakov’s hands covering his sobbing face.  In other words, the name symbolically refers to Yaakov’s face that was hidden.  However, since it is Joseph’s name, I think that it probably has more to do with Joseph than with God or Yaakov. So, I think that he is called Tzafnat Paneach because all these years later Joseph is a different person. He is Egyptian, married to an Egyptian woman, with Egyptian children, working for Pharaoh. His true face as a Hebrew is hidden, not only to the Egyptians, but also to his brothers, who don’t recognize him. Maybe his true face was even hidden to himself. Finally, maybe his name, Tzafnat Paneach simply is a poetic way of describing him as an interpreter of dreams. If dreams contain secret meanings, Joseph uncovers the hidden face of dreams.

When Joseph decides to reveal himself as the son of Yaakov, and the brother of the other men of B’nei Yisrael, he too reveals his face.  God’s face, which had been hidden, also becomes visible in that Joseph can see how all of the events were really part of Hashem’s plan.  The realization that God has been involved can be described as God’s face being shown, which in turn serves as a sign of hope while in exile.  It is always important to look for a ray of hope when clouds are gray.  Maybe all it takes is a dreamer to uncover God’s hidden face amidst drought, famine and exile.

Carolyn Bernstein is a Grade 8 student at Solomon Schechter Day School.


D’var Torah: Rabbi Beth Naditch (Vayishlach)

In Vayishlach, Jacob and Esau reunite for the first time after many years, having not seen each other since Jacob stole both Esau’s birthright and blessing, and fled. The night before this momentous meeting, Jacob wrestles with a being until morning, refusing to end the struggle until blessings are granted. Usually, when I write or speak about Vayishlach, I choose to focus on one of these events, which are but two of the happenings in a parasha rich with family drama, self-reflection, struggle, and reconciliation. Because there is so much homer l’drosh, or “material on which to drash,” one key event in this parasha is usually skipped over in favor of more “pleasant” subject matter. In today’s political climate, however, I find it increasingly problematic to navigate around the harder parts of the text, rather than wrestle with them. I refer to the story of the rape of Dina, which we also read this week.

Dina is the one daughter amidst the large family of Jacob’s sons. We read “va-tetze Dina,” Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne unto Jacob, went out to see the daughters of the land. Unlike Jacob, who, when he went out from his home (vayetze Yaakov), was rewarded with a communication from God and a dream that has captured the Jewish imagination throughout the ages, Dina meets a different fate. Upon her going out, she is seen by Shechem, a prince of the land, who forcibly “took her, and lay with her, and ‘humbled her,’”

There are multiple responses to what happens next in the text. We know of three: Shechem apparently spoke words of “comfort and love” to Dina, and asked to have her as his wife. Shimon and Levi, also sons of Leah, seem to use the rape as an opportunity to attack and plunder a whole city, using revenge as their justification. Jacob, upon hearing of the rape, neither says nor does anything until his sons come in from the fields. Rashi, commenting on the text, is less than helpful as he offers a 10th century version of blaming the victim, noting that Dina herself went out into the fields as a yatzanit – implying that a young woman who goes out alone could hardly expect any other result.

Whose voice is missing from this entire episode? Dina’s. We don’t know what plans she had that day, as she “went out to see the daughters of the land.” We don’t know how or where she encountered Shechem, or what her experience was. We don’t know what it was like for her to be in his home after the rape. We don’t know what it was like for her to have her father stay silent, and we don’t know what it was like for her to have her brothers deceive a whole city, and then kill all of the men of the city, purportedly on her behalf. Leah is not even mentioned as an actor in the story. What we do know is that Dina’s silence has reverberated across the generations, and that her silence is usually reinforced in favor of the “easier” parts of the story to digest. Particularly in this political climate, it is incumbent upon us to address both active and passive messages that our children are receiving about how to behave in the world. We do not want even one more emerging adolescent or adult to believe that he or she is a prince of the land, entitled to take forcibly whatever strikes his or her fancy. Additionally, we should be trying to create communities and spaces where survivors do not have to remain silent. Our wrestling is teaching our own children how to navigate our world, how to respond to challenging and troubling events that are all too common, how to stand up for those whose voices are not heard. As we do this, perhaps we can demand a blessing for our work as well.

Rabbi Beth Naditch, ACPE Supervisor/Spiritual Care Educator at Hebrew SeniorLife, Schechter Parent