[PCJE Dvar Torah] Parshas Toldos: Family Wounds and Holy Missions

yocheved retigParshat Toldot finds us smack in the middle of a generations-long family dynamic concerning favoritism and absenteeism that has yet to be resolved or recognized. The dynamic comes to a climax when Rivkah Imanu compels Ya’akov Avinu to deceive his father into receiving the blessing that Hashem pre-ordained for Ya’akov (כה:כג), but that Yitzchak intended to give to Esav. An act of deception enables Hashem’s will to be done, and an unassuming reader is left feeling torn: howare we to feel about the possibility that goodness of Hashem’s will, while technically being carried out, was possibly subverted through an act of trickery ח’’ו (G-d forbid)?

Before we make any final decisions about how to relate to Rivkah Imanu and Ya’akov Avinu’s actions, let us further understand both of our ancestors.

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Digesting the Indigestible

D curThis post is dedicated to the memories of Moshe Twersky, Abraham Goldberg, Aryeh Kopinsky, and Kalman Levine, that their souls should rise to the great beit knesset in the sky, where they might be able to pray in peace, and that their memories should be for a blessing.

Horrific news rocked Jerusalem again yesterday. I say “again,” because, in some ways, this was not so different from the car attacks in the past several weeks, or the stabbings, or the firebombing of schools, mosques and synagogues in the occupied territories. Not so different, because with each instance, my heart broke a bit more, the energy in this city got a bit crazier, and people went about their business as if nothing had happened. If you didn’t read the news, you couldn’t be blamed for thinking everything was normal.

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[PCJE] My personal reflection after today’s events in Jerusalem

David derinThose of you who know me well are aware of the fact that I do not like to talk about things related to politics. I personally feel that when people talk about politics it frequently leads to disagreement, yelling, and hurt feelings. At the end of the day, my opinions are my opinions and I have absolutely no issue that at times, they do not stand in line with some of those around me. Despite the fact that I do my best to avoid talking politics with people, I am finding it hard to keep quiet.

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[PCJE Dvar Torah] Chayei Sarah: I saw the sign”

MyraMeskin וַיִּהְיוּ חַיֵּי שָׂרָה מֵאָה שָׁנָה וְעֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה וְשֶׁבַע שָׁנִים שְׁנֵי חַיֵּי שָׂרָה: וַתָּמָת שָׂרָה בְּקִרְיַת אַרְבַּע הִוא חֶבְרוֹן בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן וַיָּבֹא אַבְרָהָם לִסְפֹּד לְשָׂרָה וְלִבְכֹּתָהּ:

And the life of Sarah was one hundred years and twenty years and seven years; [these were] the years of the life of Sarah. And Sarah died in Kiriath arba, which is Hebron, in the land of Canaan, and Abraham came to eulogize Sarah and to bewail her. (Bereishit 23:1)

Parashat Chayei Sarah is a bit of a misnomer – where one might assume the story to focus on the life of our matriarch, the opening lines mark her death and the number of her years (in somewhat curious formatting: “one hundred years, and twenty years, and seven years”). After Avraham’s purchase of her burial plot in Hevron, the rest of the parsha centers around the mission of Eliezer, Avraham’s servant, to find a wife for Isaac from among Avraham’s kinsman. Continue reading

The Panel

Alana BandosToday at Pardes, we had a faculty panel about the conflict and two related day trips- one to Hevron and the other a tour of 3 vastly different cities (a Charedi village, secular Kibbutz, and Arab-Israeli village). On the panel sat Meir Schweiger, Rahel Berkovits, Tovah Leah Nachmani, and Daniel Roth, four incredible teachers from incredibly diverse backgrounds. At first, the discussion seemed “parve” as Rahel put it, going over impressions from the two trips. Then, the teachers started to reveal to us opinions deeply rooted in their own emotional experiences. For a few minutes, the conversation seemed tense. The atmosphere in the room was palpably concentrated on the intense emotions each of our teachers, including Michael Hattin (joining the panel), revealed to us through their words. When the discussion ended an hour later, only two main questions had been asked to the teachers and the students were sent off to Mincha and lunch with plenty of feelings, or at least I know I was pretty confused about it all. After bearing witness to such powerful sentiments and reactions, I myself reacted strongly. I started to feel tears welling in my eyes and fled the building quickly, eager to escape before the tears started to fall.

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down the rabbi hole

evaneuFrom my blog:

i just came through a month of feeling totally disoriented by judaism and wondering what the hell i’m doing in rabbinical school. here’s what i learned:

1. sometimes what’s called for is to follow the feelings of disorientation all the way down the rabbit hole. there have been times recently where i almost felt i was losing my mind. and–going to that place of confusion rather than resisting it generated a lot of creative friction that fed my writing about my encounter with the ancient constantly regenerating swirling mass that is judaism.

The 103 Worlds

Sar MarAt Thursday’s Pardes open mic, I shared a version of the story (midrash? heresy?) below. Tonight, I wasn’t sure whether or not it would be appropriate to post it on the blog — after all, I can hear fireworks and gunshots in the distance, and I feel as though I should be writing about that instead of spinning fairy tales. But love permeates the air here as much as smoke and fury does, and in the last few days I’ve been trying to remember that. So, here’s a story about love.

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[PCJE] VaYerah: Being Human

Night Seder Chevrutas Binyamin Cohen and David Wallach
join together to reflect on this week's parshah.

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בְּרֵאשִׁית  י”ח:י”ז

וַיהוָה, אָמָר: הַמְכַסֶּה אֲנִי מֵאַבְרָהָם, אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי עֹשֶׂה

‘God said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am going to do?”’ (Gen. 18:17)

This week’s parshah is packed with stories of the lives of Abraham and Sarah. We enter the parshah with a childless (by Sarah), recently-circumcised Abraham, and leave it with him just having almost sacrificed Sarah’s son. In between, Abraham greets some visitors, is promised a child from Sarah, argues against and witnesses God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, pretends his wife is his sister (again), and exiles his oldest son and his mother. Throughout the book of Bereshit, the stories of our Patriarchs teach one main thing: values by which to live our lives. While the many stories of our parshah teach many different things, the overall message of our parshah is one of humanity of all people.

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[PCJE D’var Torah] Vayera: looking for understanding

mfWriting this blog post comes directly on the heels of a Pardes tiyul to Hebron. This was my first visit to Hebron, although far from my first difficult confrontation with or conversation about the current political situation in Israel. The soul searching, questioning, despair, and hope that inevitably follows this sort of trip (and – at least for me – essentially any contemplation on this matter) were all swirling around in my head when I read this week’s parashat, Vayera. As a general plot overview, Vayera gives the account of Abraham welcoming three visitors (secretly, angels) into his home. From these visitors, Abraham learns that his wife, Sarah, will conceive a child despite her old age and that Sedom is to be destroyed. Other highlights of the parashat include Abraham claiming Sarah to be his sister in the presence of Avimelech, Yitzchak being born, Hagar and Ishmael being banished from Abraham’s home, God calling on Abraham to sacrifice his son, and the divine intervention that substitutes a ram instead of Yitzchak for sacrifice at the last moment.

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