It was 1976 and I’d been alienated from Temple life for 20 years. Not that my parents didn’t try: they insisted my family and I come with them every year to High Holidays, and then lovingly guilt-tripped me into joining a synagogue “for the sake of the children.”
After the Revelation at Sinai, after hearing the divine Voice and receiving the Ten Commandments, the people returned from the mountain to find the grind of imperfect human life waiting for them below.
This week’s Torah portion (Yitro) brings the Ten Commandments, the Revelation at Sinai in which the people directly heard the divine Voice. The Ten Commandments are wow, a first collective covenant that is our ongoing blueprint for ethical living: one God, no others, no images of God that might falsify or confuse, keep the Sabbath, honor parents, don’t murder, don’t cheat, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t covet.
In this week’s Torah portion (Bo), the final plagues on Egypt — ending with the tragic death of Pharaoh’s first-born son — wrested Israel from bondage. Israel went free with a command to honor Passover forever — which is why Jews re-live the Passover story every year. But just like we asked about the Joseph story, it’s apt to ask when the slaves’ journey to freedom began.
As we open Torah’s second book, we pivot into the bondage and liberation that forged a Jewish people and our ethical covenant. This week’s portion, Shmot (“names”), begins with names of 12 tribes — descended from Jacob’s sons and grandsons — now resident in Egypt where a new Pharaoh arose “who knew not Joseph.”
In this season of gift giving, it’s good to remember that one of the best gifts we can give doesn’t cost money or come wrapped with ribbons. It is the gift of a blessing — a prayer for well being.
In this week’s Torah portion (Vayechi), Jacob — now called Israel — blesses Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Menasheh.
From history’s mythic dawn, civilization grappled with humanity’s first question that Cain asked with a haunting, guilty conscience: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” In this week’s Torah portion (Vayigash), Joseph gives us a resounding answer: “Yes.”
This week brings the once-in-a-lifetime Jewish-American spectacle of Thanksgivukkah (or maybe Chanksgiving?). This rare overlap of Chanukkah’s festival of lights and Thanksgiving’s day of gratitude comes during the week of Parshat Miketz, Torah’s pivotal telling of the Joseph story. These three cogs of the calendar – Chanukkah, Thanksgiving and Miketz – together turn an amazing spiritual confluence of consciousness.
Life is never simple, and the struggle to overcome fear and be a better person is a continuing journey of wrestling so that holy Light may prevail. We see that clearly in this week’s Torah portion, Vayishlach.
The famous story of Jacob’s Ladder opens Parshat Vayetze with a dreamscape so poignant that its words resonate in Jewish consciousness. We encounter Jacob on the run from his twin brother, Esau, whom Jacob had tricked out of his birthright: