Tag Archives: Torah

Bringing Light into Darkness

[The drash below is written in memory of my grandmother, Joan Bluestein (z”l) who died 11 months ago today (on the Jewish calendar) and for whom we have now ended the 11 month period of daily kaddish.]

This week’s Torah portion is Bo (Exodus 10:1-13:16) and includes the last few plagues. Our tradition teaches that one of the more difficult plagues was the ninth plague, the plague of darkness. Darkness surrounded the Egyptians, spreading so extensively that “They did not see one another, nor did any of them rise from their place….” (Exodus 10:23)

The darkness halted regular life for the Egyptians.  Not only did daily activities cease, but the people were unable to connect with one another.  Physical sight impeded seeing the humanity within oneself and others.  Rabbi Isaac Meir Alter (HaRIM) illuminates the potency of the darkness in his comment on verse 10:23:

The worst darkness is that blindness in which one person will not ‘see another,’ refusing to look upon his misery and to help him.  He who will not ‘see another’ will himself become incapable of ‘rising from his place;’ that is, of growth and development.*

Darkness swallowed the ancient Egyptians, temporarily disconnecting them from their lives.  Unable to truly those around them they feel deeper into the darkness until the end of the plague.  Sometimes challenges can bring us into despair or darkness and we need others to see us and help us rise from that place.

My grandmother strove every day to truly see the others in her world and bring us light.  She did this for her parents, her brother (and his family), her husband, children, grandchildren, patients, co-workers, volunteers, friends and for herself.  She faced challenges in her life, times where she had to find a source of light.  Her strength, courage and faith helped her rise from those places.  As a wife, mother, grandmother and businesswoman she took care of those around her with dedication that brimmed with love.  As a dietician she provided her patients (and her family) with healthy food that took into account their individual needs.  As a volunteer she brought light and her strong work ethic to WGUC, a second family of friends.  As a Jew she was dedicated to the growth and development of a strong Jewish identity in her daughters (and granddaughters).  A Classical Reform Jew from birth she loved the teachings, values, traditions and foods of her heritage.  A quiet champion of hard work, family, Judaism, love and community she encouraged all around her to grow and develop, to see the potential within them and bring light into the world.  I am lucky to have known her, called her grandma and be nourished by her.  May she continue to inspire us to illuminate the world.

*Source text = Hiddushei HaRIM as presented in Wellsprings of Torah: an Anthology of Biblical Commentaries, by Rabbi Alexander Zusia Friedman, translated by Gertrude Hirschler, New York:The Judaica Press, 1980, page 127.  HaRIM was the founder of the Ger dynasty of hassidic rabbis lived from 1799 to 1866 and unfortunately knew much sadness in his own life.  Many of his thirteen children died in his lifetime.  Read more about him in the Jewish Virtual Library.

Shavuah tov – a good new week

As shabbat ended a few hours ago a new week began, filled with the potential and possibilities in front of us each week. What will the week bring and what will we accomplish with it? We will plan, we will execute and we will change when some things go as expected and others do not.

This week’s Torah portion was Bereshit, the first portion of the new Torah reading cycle. This morning our congregation read the story of creation in Genesis 1:1-2:3.

Following lunch we discussed the juxtaposition of the creation narratives in Genesis 1-2:3 and 2-3. We examined the perspectives and styles of the texts, the role of gender in the texts, the interpretation gender roles in the stories, the “job” of the snake, the blessings (and challenges) of Eve and Adam’s decision to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

Celebrating #Torah on Twitter

As I type this blog, we enter the final hours before the onset of Shavuot. In the hours to come Jews around the world will celebrate receiving the written and oral Torahs thousands of years ago on Sinai. The revelation continues to this day, as each generation makes the decision to accept, wrestle with, engage with and embrace Torah.

Throughout time we have studied and learned Torah with the tools at hand – our minds, our bodies, scrolls, books, computer screens and social media. Over the past 24 hours Jews throughout the world have tweeted about Torah. Read some of the tweets by clicking this link which searches for Torah related tweets.

May your celebration be sweet and filled with the miracles of Sinai.

See You at Sinai

A common practice when Jews meet one another is to play “Jewish geography,” a process in which we find people we know in common.  On the face this may seem like a Jewish version of 6 degrees of separation, but it goes deeper.  It is a means of finding connection.  The game often succeeds, but even when it doesn’t we sometimes have the feeling that we have met before.  When we cannot figure out how we know one another, we say that we saw each other at Sinai.

Jewish tradition teaches that all Jews throughout time stood at Sinai thousands of years ago and received the Torah.  Tomorrow night we begin celebrating Shavuot, the day G-d gave the Torah to our people.  Each of us stood there and experienced this great gift .  In remembrance of the gift of Torah (and the teaching that our people overslept the morning we received it) we will study all night tomorrow night.

I invite you to think about the place of Torah in your life.  Perhaps Torah resonates in ideas, in family, in friends, in your work, in your life decisions, in your passion to change the world or in your religious practice.  Where is Torah today and where might it be tomorrow or the next day?

Tomorrow night, wherever you are, I look forward to seeing you at Sinai.