Shabbat Shalom! – Vayetzei

This week’s Torah portion is Vayetzei, “And he left.” Jacob leaves his ancestral home in a hurry, fleeing the rage and despair of his brother Esau. In last week’s portion, he tricked his twin Esau out of his birthright and their father’s blessing. In this portion, he will learn what it is like to be tricked out of something rightfully his.

Jacob’s uncle Laban is a tricky fellow, too, and Jacob will suffer at his hands in this portion. Readers often gloss over the degree to which the sisters who will become Jacob’s wives are complicit in Laban’s deception. Leah knew that Jacob expected to marry Rachel, but when her father substituted her for her sister under the wedding veils, she went along. Rachel said nothing either. Thus Jacob, who wore animal skins to deceive his father, was himself deceived in his wedding bed by the women he married!

A hagiography is a piece of writing that makes its subjects seem to be saints. Torah is often the opposite of a hagiography. The writer(s) tell us stories about the family of Abraham that most families would bury and never tell.

This week’s interpreters:

The Mouth of the Well by Rabbi Amy Scheinerman

Rachel and Leah Show Us a Thing or Two by Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild

Regarding a Ladder by Rabbi Jordan Parr

The Power of Persuasion by Rabbi Rafi Mollot

A Midshipman’s Torah: Dealing with Dishonesty by Rabbi Nina Mizrahi

As Only God Knows by Rabbi Marc Katz

Communication for Good or Bad by Miriam Jaffe

Vayetzei: A Broken Family

Image: A pile of stones. Photo by Mathias_Beckmann/Pixabay.

Towards the end of Parashat Vayetzei, after the drama between Jacob and Laban has played itself out, we find an account of a treaty between the two men.

They don’t like one another. Each believes himself to have been cheated by the other. Laban tricked Jacob into marrying Leah, then got seven more years of labor from him to earn the hand of Rachel. Then Jacob, angry at his father-in-law, used trickery to enrich himself by means of Laban’s flocks. Laban resents it, believing Jacob’s wealth is stolen from his pocket.

Both men see themselves as the victim of a cheating scoundrel.

Finally, Jacob sneaks away with his wives, his household, and his flocks, and Laban follows in hot pursuit. He whines that Jacob crept away secretly, robbing him even of a chance to say goodbye to his daughters, even robbing him of his household gods.

Jacob roars back at Laban, and the twenty years of resentment pour out of him. And then, just at the moment we expect the two men to come to blows, Laban points out that like it or not, they are family: Laban’s daughters are Jacob’s wives. They have more in common than their grudges.

“Come, let us make a pact, you and I, that there may be a witness between you and me.” (Gen 32:44) Jacob sets up a pillar, and they make a pile of stones and share a meal. And in a telling detail, they call the place by two different names, words that mean the same thing, one in Aramaic and one in Hebrew. As alike as Laban and Jacob are in many ways, ultimately they do not understand one another at all.

Sometimes, when families or individuals cannot get along, peace looks like a boundary line, respected by both, though they cannot understand one another at all.

Shabbat Shalom! – Toledot

Image: Logo of Hasidah, a nonprofit organization that supports Jewish couples suffering with infertility.

Toledot – “Generations” – Another eventful parashah carries us beyond Abraham and Sarah to the generations that follow. It begins with a situation that repeats again and again in Torah: a couple have trouble conceiving.

Isaac pleaded with the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and the LORD responded to his plea, and his wife Rebekah conceived. – Genesis 25:21

This verse will be achingly familiar to many modern readers, although most situations of difficult conception or infertility are not so easily remedied. There is a wonderful organization, Hasidah, which supports and assists Jewish couples who experience infertility. They describe themselves thus:

Hasidah is the voice of hope and compassion that raises awareness of infertility, connects people to support resources, and reduces financial barriers to treatment in the Jewish community.

That last item is significant: infertility treatments, while effective, are horrifically expensive and are usually not covered by insurance. If you have tzedakah money available, sending a donation to Hasidah is a mitzvah, indeed. I serve as a rabbinic partner to Hasidah, and know it to be a well-run organization.

Rebekah conceived, and she delivered twins after a difficult pregnancy. Toledot takes us through that story, and the stories of Jacob and Esau that follow.

Our teachers this week:

When Isaac Speaks: Infertility and Spiritual Awakening by Rabbi Idit Jacques

Toldot, a story of siblings by Rabbi Eleanor Steinman

Peace with Security by Rabbi Aryeh Klapper

Toldot: No More by Anita Silvert

Then why am I? by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

Bless me too! by Rabbi Nina J Mizrahi

More generations and more branches in our family tree than we notice by Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild

What’s With Those Wells? by Rabbi Amy Scheinerman


Shabbat Shalom! – Chayei Sarah

Image: Hebron. The Tombs of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob and Leah are in caves beneath the large building at the lower left. Photo by See The Holy Land via Wikimedia. Some rights reserved.

This week’s Torah portion is Chayei Sarah, “The Life of Sarah.” While the portion is named in the usual way (with the first distinctive words in the portion,) in this case it is ironic, for the first thing that happens in the portion is the death of Sarah, Abraham’s wife and our first matriarch.

In this portion, Abraham negotiates to buy a burial place for Sarah, and then sends his servant to negotiate a wife for Isaac. One of the striking things in the portion is that Isaac’s role in his own marriage is passive (Abraham sends a servant to find Isaac a wife,) Rebekah is a much more active participant, deciding the timing of her departure from her father’s tent.

The portion concludes with a brief look into the life of Ishmael, the other son of Abraham. He has 12 sons who will become chieftains of 12 tribes, stretching from Havilah, near Egypt, to Asshur (Mesopotamia.) We know them today as the Arabs.

Our divrei Torah this week:

The Crown of Aging – Rabbi Marc Katz

On Death and Land – Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

The Blessed Burden – Rabbi Menachem Creditor

Getting On With Life – Rabbi Don Levy

Plan Ahead! – Rabbi Jordan Parr

Sarah – Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild

Rebekah, Woman of Contradictions – Rabbi Ruth Adar



Shabbat Shalom! – Vayera

Image: A ram in a thicket. Photo by dennisflarsen via

Parashat Vayera is dense with rich narrative.  The portion is packed with famous stories: Abraham’s hospitality, Sarah’s laughter, Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot’s Wife, the birth of Isaac, Sarah’s treatment of Hagar, and the binding of Isaac. We may think we know the stories, but every year there is something to surprise us.

Let’s see what our darshanim have to say about Parashat Vayera:

The Green-Eyed Monster – Rabbi Amy Scheinerman

Lot: a cautionary tale of superficial success and the victimisation of the powerless – Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild

Hurry! – Rabbi Jordan Parr

Harnessing Holiness – Rabbi Nina J. Mizrahi

The Story of Isaac, in memory of Leonard Cohen z”l – Rabbi Dan Fink

The Miracle of a Child – Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

The Care of Visitors – Rabbi Ruth Adar



Shabbat Shalom! – Lech Lecha!

Image: A man with a backpack walks down a footpath. Photo by Hermann via pixabay.

“Lech lecha” – “Get yourself” or “Go, you!” or “Go forth” is from the first line of this week’s Torah portion:

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהוָה֙ אֶל־אַבְרָ֔ם לֶךְ־לְךָ֛ מֵאַרְצְךָ֥ וּמִמּֽוֹלַדְתְּךָ֖ וּמִבֵּ֣ית אָבִ֑יךָ אֶל־הָאָ֖רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר אַרְאֶֽךָּ׃

The Eternal said to Abram, “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” – Genesis 12:1

As often happens, the ambiguity of translation gives us lots of room for interpretation. This is a story about a leap of faith, about a journey, about a dream. What does it say to you, in this particular year, in your particular situation?

Some words from our online darshanim [preachers]:

“To Boldly Go:” on Lech Lecha and Star Trek – Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

Smashing Idols – Rabbi Dan Fink

A Post Election Prayer: The Journey Ahead – Rabbi Andy Gordon

Sojourners for Justice – Rabbi Nina Mizrahi

Sarah: Blinded by her outward appearance… – Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild

Go Forth – Rabbi Kari Tuling, PhD.

Lech Lecha and the 2016 Election – Rabbi Joe Black

Shabbat Shalom! Noach

This week’s Torah portion is Noach. It contains two famous stories: Noah’s Ark and the Tower of Babel. It might be tempting to think, “Oh, I know those!” and skip right over, but it would be a mistake.

The great thing about Torah stories is that even though the words do not change, every year when we come back around to them, we are in a different place in our lives. When I was little, I was fascinated by the thought of all those animals: it seemed wonderful! When I was a young mother, I thought about Mrs. Noah: poor woman, all those animals and children to care for! This year, I think about the Flood itself: I feel overwhelmed – almost drowning! – in the U.S. elections, and I also worry about climate change.

So take a look at these famous stories: read the parashah for yourself! Here are some writers with different points of view on the stories in Parashat Noah:

Whence Evil? – Rabbi Amy Scheinerman

Naamah, Wife of Noah, Sings as She Goes About her Work – Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild

Righteous In His Time – Rabbi Jordan Parr

End Violence and Stop Maelstrom Flooding – Rabbi Nina Mizrachi

And God Created Diversity, And God Saw That It Was Good! – Rabbi Stephen Fuchs

The Scary Side of Noah’s Ark – Rabbi Ruth Adar

Individual and Collective Responsibility – Rabbi Jonathan Sacks