Thursday, December 27, 2012

"Slow Down You Must Too Fast"

There is as an old Zen teaching, "Life is so short. We must move slowly."

Of course to say something is a Zen teaching is to say it is paradoxical. And of this teaching it is no less true. I would think if life is short we must move more quickly, mindful of all the things we need to accomplish in a short period of time. Yet the opposite is true.
Our Torah this week in the parsha of Vayechi, the final parsha in the Book of Breishit, the first book of the Torah, frames for us the problem with "going too fast".

Yaakov before his death addressed each of his children. He set before them their strengths and weaknesses. To Reuvain the eldest Yaakov said:

"Reuvain you are my first born, my might and the beginning of my strength. You have excellence of dignity and power. Yet you are unstable as water. You shall not have the excellence because you went up to your father's bed and thereby defiled my marital relations."

Reuvain was entitled to special portions in as much as he was the first born. Moreover Reuvain had with in him the personal gifts and excellences that made him worthy of greatness above his siblings. The problem with Reuvain was that like "water", he was unstable. He moved too fast. He saw a situation that needed to be addressed and he rushed in to resolve it. His intentions show his unique sensitivity and capacity to lead. Yet his performance, hurried and impulsive, made his eforts futile.

Look at the stories of Reuvain. He is the one son of Leah who feels her hurt. He brought his mother a gift of the mandrakes to comfort her over the rejection she felt from her husband. Yet rather than serve to make Leah less focused on Yaakov's love the mandrakes became his mother's bargaining chip to gain another night with Yaakov. Later Reuvain is the one who saved Yosef from death by telling the brothers to throw him in the pit rather than kill him. Reuvain's intentions were excellent. He hoped to return to the pit and rescue Yosef. But there was no opportunity. Yosef was taken from the pit and sold. Again good intentions left unrealized.

And when the brothers returned from their first sojourn to Egypt to buy food and Shimon was held captive until Binyamin is brought, Reuvain tried to prevail on Yaakov to send Binyamin with him. His efforts were well motivated but poorly timed and poorly stated. Only later when Yehuda spoke did he successfully convince Yaakov to send their youngest brother. Reuvain took the lead, but again here his leadershp was compromised by his anxiety to get it done.

And finally their is the incident Yaakov made reference to in his critique of Reuvain, the story of his intervention into Yaakov's sleeping arrangements with his respective wives. Here too, Reuvain, in tradition, was well intentioned. He felt his mother's insult when Yaakov chose the tent of Bilha, Rachel's former maid, over his mother's following Rachel's death. There was no faulting Reuvain's sensitivity. He was unique in this regard from the rest of his siblings. It was his impulsive response that was at issue.

Reuvain's problem was he "moved too fast". He had not the discipline to wait for the right time and setting so as to get the results that mattered. Many of us know that truth in our own lives. We feel deeply and often correctly the hurt of another or their need. We want to make a difference. We respond immediately and impulsively.
And yet despite our passion we fail to make a difference. Our feelings, though noble, and necessary to our motivation, got in the way of our ability to wait for the right time and setting to actually be effective in engendering change.

It's important to distinguish between "z'reezut", freely translated as "alacrity" and speed. Yes, in our tradition "z'reezut" is a virtue. To be "zariz" in the service of G-d and in doing mitzvot is important. But to be zariz is not about the speed with which one does something but rather with the level of intensity and fullness of self we invest in being where we are. We are called to serve G-d and do mitzvot being fully present and mindful. There is no room for laziness. But that does not mean we need to move quickly. On the contrary when we move too quickly we are often less able to be fully present in the moment. We miss being where we are because we are focused on where we have to get to.

I found myself understanding the lesson of Reuvain this week and identifying with him. For several days I had lower back pain. Besides the hurt, it made walking difficult. I am by inclination a fast walker. I struggle to be patient and go slow.
The more I tried to push myself to get to my destination this week, the more I hurt.
Only in going slow would the pain subside.

My life experience of this week and the Torah message I see in the parsha teach me to stop running. With reference to my tendency towards haste my daughter would sometimes say "I only know Daddy from the back!"
In pushing to reach the ends I often miss the vistas I am meant to see on the way. Still more, in moving too fast I may make impossible accomplishments that would be possible only with time and patience.

The lesson here for me and perhaps for you is best captured in the verse from an old Simon and Garfunkel song, "slow down you move too fast..."

Shabbat Shalom







Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Rest of the Story: A Channuka Blog

Many years ago there was a wonderful radio personality named Paul Harvey. For decades he had a syndicated 5 minute commentary in which he shared a news item, often one odd and unusual, but at first blush straightforward. Then, after a brief commercial break, he would go on to tell what he called "the rest of the story".
The "rest of the story" turned out not to be so much an elaboration on the headline, but rather to supply additional data that tended to turn the earlier headline on its head. The genius of "The rest of the story" was that it put what you thought you knew into a whole new light and made you realize you hardly knew it at all.

We are in the midst of the celebration of Channuka. It is a wonderful holiday filled with good times and hope. In lighting the chanukiya or menorah each night we recall the miracle of the Temple menora, where oil enough for but one day burned for eight, until new pure oil was available for kindling. In the prayers we recall a different miracle. We celebrate the victory of the Hasmoneans over the Syrio-greeks who sought to hellinize us by force. The victory was miraculous in that the few defeated the many, the weak subdued the strong, the pure overcame the wicked. While the miracle of the oil provides us with the mitzva of the holiday the victory of Judah Maccabee and his followers is the one that captures the imagination. And surely without the military triumph, unlikely as it was, we would not have been able to enter the Bait Hamikdash, rid it of the idols, and purify it. Without the miraculous victories in battle no menora would have been lit!

Yes, our miraculous triumph over our oppressors is central to the celebration of this festival of light. Now its time to share what Paul Harvey called "the rest of the story". Victory! what victory? Judah and his brothers engineered with the help of G-d a great triumph at the time of Channuka in 165 bce. But how long did it last? Shortly after the liberation of the Temple war again ensued. Judah was unsuccessful in ridding Jerusalem of the heathen influence. He himself was killed some 3 years after the Channuka victory in a losing battle. It took another 20 years for the Maccabbees to actually defeat the Syrio-greek army once and for all. By then all but one of the five brothers was dead or killed.

While the Channuka events were a great moment in time, they were hardly a culmination. A battle was won, not a war! Why all the partying? Why the widespread joy? Why the holiday? This is not a story of a happily ever after. This is no final chapter!

Here lies the great truth of Channuka, a truth often missed by those who don't bother to study the story in its fullness. Channuka teaches us that to live in this world is to live in the moment. There are no final victories. There are no lasting triumphs.Life is full of ups and downs. The success of today may have no bearing on tomorrow. We cannot hold on to the moment in a world that is constantly in flux.
If we wait to celebrate until we achieve the final triumph we will need to wait for Mashiach. All we have in life is gift moments, times that we can neither fix nor grasp. Yes, the immediate impact of Channuka was short-lived but that does not make it less worthy to celebrate.

Soon it will be superbowl season. Every football team and fan dreams of winning the title for themselves. It seems at first glance an ultimate win, a reason for enduring joy. But is it? Six months later training camp begins anew. And soon after begins a new season on the playing field. Last year's champion has no edge nor status. What seemed a lasting victory hardly endured six months. Yet the celebrations of the moment are wild and euphoric. That todays events will be irrelevant tomorrow does not make them less of an occasion today for the winners and their fans.

My father had many ups and downs in his life yet when asked how he was he would say "every day is a victory". Just having one more day, today, and being alive and able to make a difference, to love and be loved, is a reason to celebrate. True, tomorrow everything could change and often it does, but that does not make today's reality any less worthy of joy.

This lesson of Channuka is evident even in the miracle of the menora. The Maccabbees found only one flask of pure oil. It was enough to light the menora for one day.
They knew it would take eight until they could get new pure oil. They did not know a miracle would happen and the oil would continue to burn. In that situation it would have been undertsandable to say "Lets wait to light the menora until we have enough oil so it will not go out. After all it will be disappointing to light one day and then have the light extinguished while we await a new supply of oil".
The Jews of the day did not say that. Instead they said "Lets light now! We have the opportunity. Tomorrow will take care of itself!"

The message of Channuka is that in this world there are no final victories. We need to seize the gift moments and enter them fully, unafraid of what tomorrow will bring.
Indeed every day is a victory!

And as Paul Harvey would say "that my friends is the rest of the story".

Channuka Samayach
Shabbat Shalom


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Playing Favorites

I will confess to something I do not think I ever really admitted, even to myself.
When I was a boy I was a good child. I always tried to please my parents, in particular, my father. My younger brother was much more rebellious than I and much more inclined to follow his own heart, rather than the rules. I always thought that my father loved my rebellious brother more than me. I was the "good son" yet he got the love. It did not seem quite fair.

My father is gone from this world. I loved him dearly. Though we talked about many things through the years I never got to talk about these feelings and his attitude with him. This week in the parsha of Vayeshev, through some insight into our father Yaakov I have come to understand my father better, and perhaps to understand better the father I am as well.

At the outset of the reading, one that begins the epic story of Yosef and the brothers, we are told "...and Yisrael loved Yosef from all his children because he was the child of his elder years, and he gave him a coat of many colors."
The Torah goes on to tell us that Yaakov's actions brought on the brother's hate towards Yosef, so much so that they could not even speak together without quarrel.

We all know the drama that unfolds. The brothers nearly murder Yosef. Instead they sell him to Egypt. After some initial success, Yosef finds himself languishing in prison, only to be released to interpret the dream of the Pharoah.
The sages of the Talmud warn us never to favor one child over another. They make reference to Yaakov and point out that because he favored Yosef over his brothers, a seemingly small offence, a whole nation wound up being exiled and enslaved in Egypt.

The question arises, how is it that Yaakov could so blatantly favor one of his children over another. We are talking of our patriarch.In tradition Yaakov is the examplar of righteousness. How could he make such a foolish mistake as to show favoritism? Even bad parents today know not to play favorites. Moreover Yaakov saw the chaos in his family of origen when each parent prefered a different child.
And more specifically what does it mean that Yaakov loved Yosef from his children because "he was the child of his old age" ? What role did the time of Yosef's birth play in his special status. I would have thought Yaakov preferred Yosef because he was the child of his beloved and dead wife Rachel or maybe because of Yosef's unique character.

If I may be so bold, I think Yaakov did not favor Yosef. Yaakov would not have made such a basic mistake in parenting. Moreover if he did favor Yosef it would not have been for the timing of when he was born in Yaakov's life.
No, the Torah means to tell us something different. Yaakov did not love Yosef more than his brothers, nor did he favor him. What Yaakov did is love Yosef differently than his brothers and in truth he loved him better.

We who are parents know that we grow into the role. We do not become a 'father' or 'mother' with our first child. Oh yes, of course we do! But I mean we do not really become the role of parent in the best sense until we have had years raising children. Over time we become wise to the holy work of child-rearing and of loving.
With our first children we play the role of parent but it is not yet us. Typically we don't trust ourselves and we don't trust our children. We tend to be more strict, more going by the rule. Like someone first learning to cook, we need recipes to follow. We don't yet trust our instincts or our children's intrinsic goodness.
We hold on tight afraid a miscue will cause harm to the children we are responsible to raise.

As we mature in our role we feel more confident in ourselves and in the resillience of our children. We are more relaxed with our charge and more trusting of both them and the process. To older chidren who look at the way we parent their younger siblings it may appear that we are favoring them. We are often not as demanding,we are more able to give without fear that we are 'spoiling' the child. We may seem to love the younger in the group with a less conditional love. And that may foster some resentment. To be truthful, as I look back, my father did not really show my brother more love than he showed me. He just didn't make the love he gave him conditional on his being good!.

My sense is that the brothers of Yosef experienced that dynamic as well. They saw their father was more liberal with Yosef. While they tended the sheep he tended his hair! Yosef was a dreamer not a worker. He got the same love his brothers got but without having to earn it. The Talmud taught us that 'the ├žoat of many colors'was actually of very little real value. Yaakov gave it as a gift to Yosef without him having to have earned it. It was the gift for free, something they had not experienced with their father that engendered their resentment. Sometimes children harbor similar resentment, if unspoken, when their parents are generous with their grandchildren in a way they never were with them.

Its not that the grandparents love the grandchildren more. Its rather that the parents, now grandparents, have matured and grown in their role. They are no longer afraid to let go in acts of generosity with their progeny.

We now can understand why the Torah's explanation for Yaakov's greater love was because Yosef was a son of his old age. Yaakov's love was not more for Yosef than the brothers, but it was a greater love. It was greater in quality because indeed Yaakov was older and wiser. He knew how to love his children in a way he did not when Yosef's brothers were of similar age.The jealousy of the brothers is understandable. But Yaakov is not at fault. Every good parent becomes more able to love as they mature.
Its not about favorites. It is about becoming a better parent.

I understand my father now in a different way. He did not love me less than my brother.
He loved me differently because he had become a different father through experience and maturity. Perhaps my insight will help you too as you think on the years of your youth and your relationship with your parents. Perhaps it will help you as parent to ease the spoken or unspoken jealousies of your children over the love you gave to their younger siblings or to your grandchildren.

Sometimes all it takes to lighten our load is a new perspective.

Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Between Talent and Wisdom

Talent is the property of the young. Wisdom belongs to the mature.
Look at our world. The faces of the olympians are the faces of youth. Athletes after thirty decline. By forty they are over the hill. While the Rolling Stones may continue to perform fifty years later, no one would confuse them with their earlier incarnation. And why? Because when we are young we tend to live on the edges of our selves. We focus on our strengths and cultivate them. Our agenda is to tend the flames that burn within and to turn them into a raging fire. Youth celebrates idealism, single-mindedness. It is driven by a yearning for excellence. Is it any surprise it is so attractive?

As we age we surrender that focus on stoking the inner flame. We let go of our agenda to grow our strengths and talents. On the contrary we begin to concentrate on the neglected areas of our selves, the parts that have been in eclipse, the areas of our selves we know we will never excell in. Maturity is about reversing fields. Rather than living on our edges we instead live out of the center of our selves.
Our goal is no longer excellence but balance. Our work is one of integration. We make all of ourselve available to us. In wholeness we gain a new gift, one not available to us when we lived out of our strengths. While pursuit of wholeness is far less compelling and exciting than living on the edges and growing our strengths, the resultant blessing makes it worth the sacrifice. In maturation and integration we gain the gift of wisdom. Wisdom is always found in the center and in the balanced. Posessing wisdom does not win us gold medals. Wise people have few groupies. Yet wisdom wins us something more precious. In wisdom we gain respect, of both other and self.

Much of what I wrote above I learned through my journey. I found corroboration for these truths in the story told in this week's parsha of Vayishlach. Early in the reading we read of the dramatic rendezvous between Yaakov and Esav, twins who could not have been more polar. Yaakov had great fear that Esav would kill him over the stolen birthright. Esav made known years earlier that he planned to kill Yaakov after his parents died. Yaakov prepared himself for every eventuality including war. In the end the meeting between the brothers proved healing and peaceful. More than cordial, Esav and Yaakov embraced and kissed. It was as if there was some metamorphosis here in their relationship. How did this reconciliation come about?
Why the change in Esav's heart.

The Torah gives us one clue. Before Yaakov met Esav, indeed the very night before, Yaakov had no sleep. And why, because he spent the night wrestling with an 'ish', a "person" until the dawn. In the words of the Torah

"And Yaakov was left alone. And an "ish" wrestled with him
until the dawn. And he saw that he could not overwhelm him
and he said "let me go for the dawn has come". And yaakov said.
"I will not send you until you bless me"...."

The story of Yaakov wrestling with the "ish" is one of the most compelling stories in the Torah. Who was the "ish"? Was he angel or human?, real or imagined? And what is the wrestling about? And why the blessing? And how does the night time struggle effect the outcome of Yaakov's rendevous with Esav?"

There are many interpretations to this story. No doubt the Torah left it ambiguous so we could find what we need to in the drama, for ourselves.
In keeping with the focus of the blog, "The Torah and the Self", I want to explore the story for what it has to say to us in the context of our life and journey.
Let make this personal.

We need first to understand Yaakov and his issues with Esav, and indeed with himself.
We know Yaakov and Esav were polar opposites. Though twins, they looked different. Yaakov was smooth, Esav hairy. As they grew, Esav became the outdoorsman and hunter. Yaakov was reclusive and studious. Esav was close to his father. Yaakov his mother. At first glance no two people could seem more disparate.

Yet is that really so? Were Yaakov and Esav totally other? I think not. Yaakov's name derived from the fact that when born he was holding the heel of his brother Esav. When Yaakov gets his father's blessings he is wearing the clothes of Esav and coming disguised in his identity. And the name Yaakov means heel. Whose heal? Esav's, because Yaakov was clutching it at birth. Esav's heel is Yaakov's name-identity!

No I think Esav and Yaakov had much more in common than we recognize. What separated Yaakov from Esav is that each developed a different talent. The strength of the one was the weakness of the other. In our youth we focus on developing our talents. We live out of the edges of ourselves. Yaakov had an Esav inside. But his focus was to cultivate his excellence. Yaakov denied the earthiness of Esav within inorder to become a genius in the world of the spiritual. Indeed when Yaakov has to meet up with Esav all those years later Yaakov is afraid not only of the distance between them but of the closeness. Yaakov had denied his earthy side through so much of his life. Even when he became wealthy and prosperous in the home of Lavan it is clear that he derived no pleasure from his new found bounty. Yaakov worked day and night,
even as we read in the reading of last week. He suffered in the cold of winter and in the heat of summer tending the sheep himself.

Yaakov's excellence was in realizing himself and his G-d through abstinence. He was the one who the Torah called a "yoshaiv ohalim", "a tent dweller", rather than someone who lived in comfort. Esav represented a different idea. His way to excellence(though never attained) was through the earth, through indulgence. Yaakov had that in himself too. If he did not he could not have claimed the blessings intended for Esav.
Yet Yaakov was afraid of the Esav in him, the part of himself that was like his brother. Yaakov prayed to G-d prior to his encounter with Esav "Save me please from my brother from Esav". Its not only Esav he fears, but his "brother".

And this is the meaning of Yaakov's encounter with the "ish". With whom was Yaakov wrestling. They way I see it Yaakov was engaged with his other self, the Esav within. Before Yaakov could come to terms with his brother in the flesh he had to come to terms with the 'brother' within himself. He had to confront what Carl Jung called his 'shadow'. Wrestling and hugging look very much the same to the outsider.
They reflect intimacy, one is an intimacy designed to subdue the other an intimacy to embrace. Yaakov's 'wrestling' was an intimate encounter with the ideas he had repressed. It is intimate. It feels threatening. It compels one to face aspects of self previously denied. In being intimate with the Esav within throught the long night Yaakov comes to see that he need not flee the earthiness within.
He can embrace it and utilize it too in realizing the good and the G-dly.

The result of Yaakov's intimacy with his shadow is that he is now whole and complete. He now can live accessing all of himself not only the part of himself that is purely of the spirit. He no longer has to be afraid of Esav and what he represents. He can embrace Esav and indeed he does since he need not fear the power of the earthy as threatening.

But there is also a negative consequence, at least as compared to Yaakov prior to now becoming whole and integrated. Before Yaakov, in his one dimensional lifestyle, could sprint. He had acknowledged no complexity to hold him back. After his encounter with the Esav within, his shadow, Yaakov now limps. He needs time to process the self he has become, one whole in containing both the spirit and the earth. This is the meaning of the wound Yaakov sustains in his upper thigh as a result of the struggle.

When Yaakov and Esav finally meet they can now achieve a real reconciliation. Yaakov is able to accept Esav and his talents even as he now accepts himself in his fullness.

And the Torah gives voice to my understanding of this powerful time of becoming in Yaakov's life when it tells us that after leaving Esav "And Yaakov came to Sukkot and there he built a house..." Yaakov, whom the Torah called "dweller of tents" now for the first time builds a house. Yaakov no longer needs to separate from the world of the material. He can embrace it as part of who he is in hisi service to G-d and man. And soon after the Torah tells us "And Yaakov came 'shalem', whole, to the city of Shechem..." For the first time, now that he has faced his shadow Yaakov is whole, complete,integrated, wise!

Integration, becoming whole, is the work of a lifetime. It happens bit by bit. Early in our life we are so busy trying to develop our gifts and the parts of our self we like that we virtually deny anything other as threatening. Yet as we mature we discover that our life is not about getting rid of our less interesting or flattering side, but rather about bringing it into the light so it may live side by side with the part of ourselves we have celebrated and endorsed.

What parts of me do I need to wrestle/embrace to become whole? What parts of you do you need to bring out of the shadow and into the light?
In the end, talent is not enough. Our life's journey is about attaining wisdom. Wisdom is always found in the center; not on the edges.
We are wise when we become balanced, and whole, and fully ourselves!

Shabbat Shalom



Wednesday, November 21, 2012

From Generation to Generation

One of the tragic characters in the Torah is our father Yaakov's first born, Reuven.
In the parsha of Vayetze we read of his birth. We also get a clue as to the root of the issues that would later comrpomise him. Why do I refer to Reuven as tragic and compromised?

It seems every effort he took, though motivated by good intentions, was either wrong or failed or both. When the brothers decided to murder Yosef it was Reuvan who told them, "no put him in the pit". He hoped to later go back and rescue him. Indeed he came back, but Yosef was already gone, sold into slavery in Egypt. Prior to that it was Reuven who earned his father's ire when he switched the marital bed, so that Yaakov would sleep with his mother Leah after Rachel's death and not with Bilha, another wife. And after when the family was suffering with famine and Yaakov did not want to send Binyamin down to Egypt for fear he too would be lost, Reuven begged Yaakov to let them go. He took responsibilty saying "Put my two sons to death if I do not return Binyamin to you".
While well intentioned, the guarantee was more fool hardy than persuasive.
The result of Reuven's failings cost him the extra portion that routinely belonged to the first born. It went to Yosef instead.

What is the root of Reuven's failings? Why did he not measure up?

The answer can be gleaned from a vignette give to us in the week's reading.
The Torah tells us that Reuven found beautiful flowers in the field, 'dudaim', translated as mandrakes. He brought them home to his mother Leah. Rachel saw the gift Reuven brought his mother and envied her. She asked for the flowers.
Rachel's request infuriated Leah. She said "is it not enough you took my husband, now you want my son's flowers too!" They came to an agreement. Rachel got the flowers. Leah got to sleep with Yaakov that night.

Lets look at the story a minute from Reuven's vantage point. Reuven was a child, no more than 4 at the time. He brought his mother flowers, and why? He saw her sadness, the rejecttion she felt that her husband did not love her. He was a first born. He wanted to protect his mother, bring her happiness. Many first borns in families where mother's are suffering at the hands of their husbands become the mother's protector. Later it was Reuven who switched the marital bed after Rachel died. There too he was seeking to defend the honor of his mother. He was offended for her that his father would make his regular domicile with Bilha, a former slave girl over Leah, his mother.

Yet what does Leah do with Reuvan's flowers. Rather than cherish them as the gift of her oldest son she barters them for an extra night with her husband. She gives them away! What feelings would you imagine that engendered in Reuvan? What effect would that have had on his self esteem?

Reuvan gets stuck trying to fix what is unfixable. He desparately wants to make it right for his mother, for the family. Why? Because he himself needs a family intact so he might get the love he needs from his mother. Leah never seems able to focus on her children. She is too preoccupied trying to win her husband's affection. Unlike Sarah and Rivka, our earlier matriarchs, who named their children for something connected to the child himself, Leah named each and every child out of her own agenda.Each was seen merely as an instrument to win Yaakov's love. Even the chidren's names are not about them but about their mother's drama.
Leah is love starved. And Reuven's efforts to give her love of a different sort don't do it for Leah.

I will tell you a secret. We tend to see the story of the enmity of the brothers for Yosef as a result of Yaakov's favoritism of Yosef over his siblings. I am sure that had an effect. The Torah tells us so. The brothers were jealous. But if they would grown up with a healthier sense of self I don't believe the jealousy would have reached the level of hatred it did. No, it was not Yaakov's preference of Yosef alone that generated the tragedy of Yosef. It was that they were raised by a mother who was unable to love them sufficiently. Leah was profoundly wounded by her husband's rejection. She felt unloved. She was constantly in search of love. She had no love to give, or certainly not enough love. The brothers, never having gotten the love they needed from their mother and feeling less-than in the eyes of their father were indeed vulnerable to feelings of hate and jealousy.

Reuvan could not become who he was meant to become because he did not get the nurturing he needed in the critical years of his development. The psychic health of parents has a direct influence on the becoming of their children. It is true, some children grow up to become fully themselves despite the lacks in their growing-up years. But most, like Reuven, are forever affected.

It is too bad Leah did not have a therapist to go to to discuss her emotional pain or a very good friend. They might have told her to give up on her husband's love, that it will never come. They might have told her instead to love and draw sustenance from other loves, like that of her children. Moreover they might have helped her see that Yaakov's lack of love for her was not reflective of a character flaw in her. They might have helped her see that despite her sense of rejection she was both good and worthy.

There is much to think about here. But let us for now take this one truth as given us from the readings. We need to take care of our pyschic health even as we take care of our physical wellness. Our psychic health has a direct influence on the emotional well-being of our children. Unless we work through our own issues with our parents and in our families of origen they will likely be passed on, in one form or another, to the next generation.

That may not be a comforting thought...but it does not make it any less true!

Shabbat Shalom

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Struggle Delayed

Have you ever noticed that often just after a person crosses the finish line, having run with supreme effort and at times a great distance, he find he can no longer move? Have you ever known a person who struggled long and hard to reach a goal and, against great odds, to succeed, only to get sick and die immediately after?
What happens? How is it that someone has near super-human energy to meet a challenge, overcoming every obstacle in his/her path, only to collapse on the other side?

My morning chavruta, Shmuel, told me that many years ago he and a group of his friends decided to climb Massada. Not climb like you and I might, but in the spirit of the youth, they were determined to run up the snake path at full gallop. Indeed they did and they scaled the top in 18 minutes. Problem was that once there they never even made it past the turnstyle. They collapsed in the waiting room for the cable car and slept for the next two hours on the floor. Afterwards, still exhausted, they simply went down, never even visiting the historic site!

It is this phenomena that explains a troubling portion in this week's parsha of Toldot. In the course of the narrative we are told that Yitzchak has a strong conflict with Avimelech the Phillistine king of Grar. Yitzchak is thrown out from the town because of jealousy over his affluence. All the wells his father dug are filled by the Phillistines making them unusable. Yitzchak's sheperds are in constant struggle with the sheperds of Grar who claim any new found water belongs to them. Twice Yitzchak digs a new well only to see the ownership contested. On the third occasion, Yitzchak digs a new well without challenge. The Torah tells us " And Yitzchak called the place Rehovot, for now G-d has made expanse ("rohav") for us that we might prosper in the land." The Torah then tells us that Yitzchak moved on from there to settle in Beer Sheva.

It is there, in Beer Sheva that G-d appeared to Yitzchak in a dream and told him "I am the G-d of Avraham your father. Do not be afraid for I am with you and I will bless you and increase your children because of Avraham my servant."

Why does G-d suddenly appear to Yitzchak here? He had made promises to him a bit earlier, as the Torah told us, before he moved to Grar. Why again the promise of protection? The Ramban explains, G-d wanted to ease Yitzchak's fears. Yitzchak had been involved in some dangerous interplay with Avimelech. The prophesy was intended to reassure him.

But the question remains, why here? why now? It makes great sense that Yitzchak was in need of reassurance but he needed it when the conflict was raging. Then he was indeed in danger. Then at every turn he felt vulnerable. Yet G-d does not appear to Yitzchak in an expression of support until after the controversy has subsided.
The last well dug caused no strife. Moreover Yitzchak left the region and moved on.
Why does G-d wait to appear until post crisis. It seems a bit late!

The Torah is teaching us something important here. When we are in crisis, when we have a goal to achieve, a mission to accomplish we often drive ourselves and supress any obstacle that might interfere with our agenda. We push aside the dangers, the risks, the threats, no matter how real. We are single minded in doing what we must.
To the world outside we look brave and courageous, entirely unafraid. Yet that is not quite so. We are in fact much afraid. But we do not let the fear enter our psyche. We can't afford to.

It is only once we reach the goal, when we accomplish that which we must, when the crisis is over, that we begin to let the feelings supressed during the ordeal come to the surface. True, the mission has been accomplished. By all accounts we should feel now safe and secure. Yet in the aftermath of the ordeal it is the exact opoposite we feel. It is then we feel the vulnerability that has been sitting there inside all the while, yet put out of mind until now. It is then that the nightmares and sweats begin, only once the crisis has past. It is then that we most need support, care and attention.

The classic manifestation of this phenomena in our day is the story of the Holocaust survivor. While in the Camps s/he was focused on survival. Fear,anger, and grief had no place. They had to be surpressed. When freed the expectation was that these survivors would in short order be able to function. After all they overcame so much.
Now should be the easy time for them. No one anticipated that survival did not mean psychic well-being. No one realized that while the danger was no longer present, until the feelings suprsessed were processed fear and dread would remain, particularly in the night dreams of these victims.

This is the story of Yitzchak. G-d waited to appear to him until after the crisis was past. During the confrontation with Avimelech he did not need G-d's reassurance.
He was in survival mode, too busy fighting to feel. Only after, now that Yitzchak's ordeal was done, did he need support. The personal problems for life's combatants only begin after they leave the battlefield!

We need to take this to heart when caring for others. We need to know that often the other needs us much more after an ordeal than during. We need to know that just because someone looks like they have it together and in fact tell us they are coping quite well it does not mean they have no struggle. It only means their struggle is delayed! To be sure they will need us, only not right now!

And we need to recognize this truth even for ourselves. We may find that we have incredible strength to meet the challenges of life that confront us. At times, in moments of crisis, we can feel almost invincible. Yet we should not be surprised when post-challenge we feel a whoosh and sense of depletedness, perhaps sadness, fear, or despair. Truth is we never were invincible. We carried the feelings of vulnerability. We just kept them hidden, even from ourselves.

Self care, care for others, demands we not take things at face value. We need to know that the love we show ourselves and other after a crisis can be far more important than that shown before or during.

In the words of the immortal Yogi Berra, "Its not over til its over."

Shabbat Shalom



Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Road to Comfort

In life for most of us there are losses that we never get over. Usually the loss we can not get past is one that we not only feel sad about, we also feel guilty.
When parents sustain the death of a child, while both parents grieve, it is more typically the mother who cannot reconcile to the reality of her child's death, and for long long years. Why? Why the mother more than the father? Because the mother feels it her responsibility to protect her child. She is the nurturer, the one who is meant to safeguard her young. For her there is not only the deep and painful sadness, there is also a sense of guilt, even if often irrational, that she should have prevented his/her death. With time sadness usually becomes less oppresive.
Guilt never goes away!

It is for this reason Yaakov, our father, could never reconcile himself to the presumed death of Yosef, even after 22 years. Yaakov was a man of faith. Hhow is it he could not accept the will of G-d relative to his son and rise up from his mourning? The answer is, Yaakov had not only the sadness over the presumed death of his beloved son. Yaakov felt guilty for having sent Yosef out on the mission to seek out his brothers, a mission that to the best of his knowledge, brought on Yosef's death at the hands of a wild beast. The guilt he could not get past even after 22 years!

This reality also shows up in the Torah reading of this week, that of Chayai Sarah. The bulk of the parsha, after initially telling us of the death of Sarah and her burial, shares the story of the finding of a wife for Yitzchak. Yitzchak was 40 when he married Rivka. His mother had died at least 3 years earlier. Yet the Torah tells us that when Eliezer, Avraham's servant brought back Rivka to Yitzchak for a wife " And he took her for a wife and he loved her. And Yitzchak was comforted on the death of his mother."

Why did Yitzchak need comfort? Sarah died years ago. He was not boy at the time. To still be in need of comfort and grieving three years later is most surprising.
And if he was still grieving how did Rivka and their marriage bring him comfort?

Here too I think we need to consider the story of Sarah's death, at least as told in the Medrash. According to tradition Sarah died when she learned that Avraham had taken Yitzchak to Mount Moriah for the offering. She had a fatal heart attack thinking Yitzchak, her only son was about to be slaughtered. If we understand the death of Sarah in that way it is not surprising Yitzchak struggled to get past his loss. It was not the sadness over her absence he could not accept. It was the guilt he felt that he was in some way the cause of his mother's demise. Had his drama not been, his mother would not have died or at least not in so awful a manner, alone and in shock!

Okay, so now we know that grief and guilt are a toxic combination that can easily leave us unable to escape. How do we come to terms? Is there no relief? Are we who feel guilty over a loss condemned to a life of unending sorrow and despair?

The Torah in the story of Yitzchak tells us how to get to the other side of grief even when that grief involves guilt. What brought comfort to Yitzchak? The love of Rivka! Yitzchak could not undo the past. He could not be convinced that he was not responsible for the sad story of his mother's end. No, trying to talk someone out of guilt, especially when it concerns one they love, is usually pointless. Yitzchak got past the guilt when he started to love another. It was the new loving initiative that brought him comfort. It's not that he forgot his mother and his sense of failure. It is that his investment in loving another changed his focus and gave him life, with his guilt.

The lesson here for us is so compelling. How many of us live with a brokenness because we were not there to comfort a loved one when they were dying?
How many a parent feels a heaviness that won't go away for harm done to a child, harm that is irreparable and engendered a loss of one sort or another? Who has not failed to prevent an occurrence that meant hurt to ones we love? How many of us live with the loss of a divorce and its consequence on a family. Even if we get over the sadness over the loss of our once intact family, how do we ever get over the sense of guilt? If we have lived and loved invariably we sustain not only loss but guilt. How do we heal?

We heal by doing as Yitzchak did, by investing in new loving relationships or by re-investing more profoundly in old ones. We cannot make the past better. Nor can we rationalize our disappointment in ourselves. What we can do is take the energy that brings us down and use it to care for and benifit another. Will that make us happy again?
I think not...not as we once were. Forever our life will be bitter sweet.
We will be healed but with scars that endure!

I wish there was a way to make the world perfect again, to have the means to return to the Garden of our youth. Sadly, the Garden gate if forever closed to us.
We can no longer know the pure happiness of a world lost.
But we can know meaning...and moments of joy. And that can be enough!

Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Distance and Change

This week, through our Torah portion of Vayaira, we spend a considerable amount of time with our Uncle Lot. You remember Lot. He was Avraham's nephew, son of his brother, whom Avraham virtually adopted as his ward when his brother died prematurely. Lot travelled with Avraham from Haran to Canaan. He lived in his illustrious uncle's shadow for many a year. Finally, last week we read, Lot achieved considerable wealth of his own, and he and Avraham decided to part ways. Lot settled in Sodom, the city of wanton corruption.
Even after their parting, Avraham needed to come to his nephew's rescue when he was taken captive in Sodom's defeat at the hands of the four kings.

This week again we meet Lot. Now he is living in Sodom, indeed a judge there and man of note. Problem was Sodom was about to be destroyed by G-d for it's wickedness.
Again Lot needed to be rescued. This time G-d sent angels to tell Lot to quickly get out of town. We read that Lot, thinking the angels were weary travellers, extended hospitality to them. The people of the town were enraged at Lot's act of welcoming the stranger. Lot sought to appease the mob that was banging on his door and clamouring for the strangers to come out and be abused, but to no avail. Only a miracle saved Lot from that pending catastrophe. Finally on being told to leave Sodom by the travellers, now revealed to Lot to be angels, Lot cannot convince his sons-in-law and married daughters to leave. They are swept up in Sodom's destruction. So too is Lot's wife, who after leaving the city looks back, and becomes a pillar of salt.

If that were not enough drama and loss, the Torah concludes its story of Lot with what happens in the aftermath of the devestation. Lot fled with his two daughters to a cave. They, the daughters, assumed the whole known world ended with the fires of Sodom, not just the immediate area. Rather than ask their father, they took matters into their own hands. They got Lot, their father, drunk on successive nights and slept with him inorder to get pregnant and start a new world. Each had a son from their father. Lot added the ultimate sense of disgrace to his awesome losses.
His tragedy was complete. He had now lost everything!

Okay so that's the story. Now I ask you what can we learn from it for ourselves? The Torah is telling us Lot's tale for a reason. Where can we find ourselves in the story? How does it speak to us? How are we like Lot?

I want to share with you how I experience Lot's powerful drama in a personal way.
How Lot speak's to me.

Let's understand Lot. To my way of thinking Lot lived much of his life as a junior Avraham. He was the side-kick, never the star. At some point Lot got tired of being a supporting cast member in his uncle's story. He wanted to make a mark of his own in the world. When he finally achieved the financial means and stature he moved out.
Yet Lot was influenced by Avraham. How could he not have been? Avraham was all about teaching the world of the one G-d and of ethics. Lot too wanted to be part of that mission but in a way even more outstanding.

Why did Lot pick Sodom to live in of all the available places in the region? Why? because he saw the potential of Sodom. It was a place of great beauty prior to the destruction and with fertile lands. Lot knew the city was evil. And that is precisely what attracted him. He was determined to save Sodom. He sought to do even better than Avraham. Lot expected to influence and change the seat of evil in the world. Lot would make a mark in the world indeed, one even his great uncle would be impressed by.

The problem was that Lot sought to influence Sodom by employing a strategy Avraham never used. Lot sought to become part of the community, to settle there, and change it from within. Avraham for all the good he did and influence he brought, never settled amongst the wrong-doers. He lived apart. Others came to him, or on occasion he travelled and had encounters on his journeys. Lot used a different tact. He joined the dwellers of Sodom. The Torah tells is that he sat with the elders at the gates of the city. The Torah also tells us that he became a judge. When the mob attacked his house Lot sought to appease them. He called them "my brothers".
Lot's strategy was to say "I will become one with them and they will see how good and moral I am and over time they will change."


Lot's approach was a tragic failure. Not only did it not save Sodom but it cost Lot his family, his possesions, his very honor. And what was the great mistake Lot made?
He assumed that you can influence and inspire people to change by being one with them. Not so! In order to have influence over others one needs to have distance from them. To care for them, of course. But not to join or be seen as exactly the same. Only when we hold ourselves apart can we command the respect enough to inspire the another to change.

Life shows me this truth again and again. The father will typically have greater impact on a child's way of life and personal conduct than a mother. It's not that the father loves more, or is closer to a child. On the contrary, the mother's love is often greater and she is often closer to her children. Yet precisely because she is so close she tends to have less influence of the direction of a child's life.
The distance of the father gives him the capacity to inspire change and correction.

We live in times where we celebrate informality and the breaking down
of any form of hierarchy. Parents allow their children to talk back to them and treat them as friends and even less. Teachers encourage students to call them by their first names. In the service of relationship they are willing to surrender respect. No one feels shame anymore before authority. Everyone is made the same, no matter their difference of age, wisdom, or experience.

The price we pay for this familiarity is that we have no mentors. We have so few who inspire us, who motivate us to change. The world is full of Lots, tragic figures who want to make a difference but don't want to pay the price. Only the Avraham's of the world can really engender change, and for that you have to be willing to live, to some degree, apart, to create separation, to not be the same!

Please do not misunderstand. Avraham was welcoming, gracious and kind. He extended himself to others. The purpose of his life was to give. But Avraham knew that giving is meanningful and affirming precisely when it comes from another, not from a mirror of one's self.

We too should do and care and make it a central focus of our life. But that giving should not serve to confuse the relationship between us and the one's we care for.
Only when there is distance and a sense of respect can that which we say or do matter to another and inspire them to change.

Shabbat Shalom







Thursday, October 25, 2012

"He was My Father"

Some time ago I went to a funeral here in Jerusalem. At the graveside, immediately after the burial, a grandson of the deceased gave a eulogy. He spoke with sincerity and feeling about his grandfather. He obviously had admired him very much. What struck me though was the theme of his remarks. Over and over, he insisted that his grandfather should have had a title, "Superman". In fact he refered to his grandfather as "superman" through the course of his eulogy. All his words focused on the super-human charateristics of his grandfather, a man he obviously had great affinity for, but, equally obvioulsy, did not know!

The Torah this weeks in the parsha of Lech lecha begins the story of Avraham, indeed our story, the story of the Jewish People. Almost from the outset the Torah wants to to disabuse us of the notion that our father, Avraham, was superman. Children, when young, idealize their parents. They see them as perfect, all smart, all knowing, all good. For many, in their youth, the image of G-d is in some way a mirror of the face of their parent. Tradition tells us that at Sinai when G-d spoke to the People of Israel, each heard G-d's voice as the voice of their own father.

Problem with the child's idealization of their parent is that it leaves little room for seeing the parent for who they really are so that we might be in relationship with them rather tham simply adore them. Until and unless we humanize our parent, and see the Clark Kent behind the Superman, we will be able to attach ourselves to their excellence but we will have no model for our own journey and struggle. We, who are flawed and know ourselves to be no supermen or women will have no model for becoming, with our mediocrity.

I have always found it compelling, if sad, that so many great great Tzadikim had children who abandoned the faith and assimilated, some even converting to Christianity. The list of great ones, men who influenced generations of Jews, who failed to inspire their own children is stagerring. The man perhaps most associated with saintliness and piety in the past century, the Chafetz Chaim, had children who rejected observance and a Torah way of life. The first Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Baal Ha'tanya, had a son who embraced Christianity.

I have heard some explain this troubling phenomena by comparing it to the old quip, "the shoemaker's children have no shoes". Inasmuch as the Tzadik is so busy caring for the needs of others he neglects to invest in the ones closest to him, his own children. I don't find that explanation satisfying. And I don't think it is true.
That would mean these great people had only themselves to blame for the failure of their children to maintain the faith.

No, I believe the reason too often the great Tzadik has not the success with his children that the simple devout Jew may have is precisely because he is a tzadik!
The chidren of someone so righteous may never get to take their parent off the pedestal. The parent, the tzadik, remains idealized by his children all his life. He is forever superman to his children. When we are young seeing our parents as superman is comforting and assuring. It makes us feel safe. When we get older, if our parents remains superman, it leaves little room for us. We feel so inadequate in comparison. We feel we have no place at the table with them in our flawedness.
Our only option becomes to leave and find a place where we can belong, compromised as we are.

As I began, and then got carried away, the Torah from the outset this week tells us that our father Avraham was not perfect. Early in the reading we are informed that Avraham, faced with a famine, went down to Egypt, rather than remain in Canaan, the land G-d told him to travel to. Moreover in Egypt Avraham asked Sarah to lie for him and to say she was his sister. He was afraid that if the Egyptians thought Sarah was his wife they would kill him to take her for themselves. The Ramban points out that Avraham committed a great sin here, in fact two sins. First he should have had enough faith in G-d not to leave Canaan, that G-d would care for him during the famine.
And second, he should not have put Sarah to the lie, a lie that brought about her near rape at the hands of the Pharaoh.

In telling us of Avraham's mistake in judgement the Torah is giving us a gift. Over and over in the readings we discover Avraham's greatness, his courage, faithfullness to G-d, and love for humanity. Avraham is a true giant of a human being. But he is no saint! no superman! We can aspire to be like him. We can learn from him. We can even learn from his mistakes, few though they be. In telling us of Avraham's sin we are given a place at his table. After all we too, while hardly approaching his stature, also know what it means to make mistakes, to sin.

The story with which I began of the grandson's eulogy at the graveside of his grandfather is a story of a grandchild, not a son or daughter. Many of us idealize our grandparents. But that is because we hardly really knew them for who they were as persons. If we ask our mother or father about the grandparent we idealize we often get a more realistic picture. The person the son and daughter knew in their parent is not a superman or woman but a person with both strengths and weaknesses like the rest of us. And that is a good thing, indeed a necessary thing. Only when we humanize our parents can we have a relationship with them, can we claim a place at their table.

I want to close with a quote from a movie of some years ago "Road to Perdition". It is the story from the 1930's of a man who is forced, because of life circumstances and the love of his son, to live in the world of gangsters and commit some violent crimes. The son, now an adult and long after his father's death, reflects, in the movie, on his father and their relationship.

"When people ask me if Michael Sullivan was a good man, or if there was just no good in him at all, I always give the same answer. I just tell them... he was my father."

The most important thing to we need to know about Avraham was that he was our father.
The most important thing we each need to know about our parents is that they are our fathers and mothers. We need to know we had parents who loved us and who lived lives full of meaning. Sometimes they did the right at other times the wrong. We don't need to make them into saints or supermen in order to claim them or to love them or to feel worthy ourselves . Indeed we need not!

Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Birds of Noach

This week we read in the Torah the parsha of Noach. The reading tells the story of the Deluge, the destruction of the world a mere ten generations after its creation. Further it tells the story of Noach and of the new world he founded after the Flood. It is a compelling story, one that captures the imagination.

On reading the story this year I found myself struck by a seeming small anomaly.
Noach is in the ark for about a year, a long time. He is challenged to make a life there with his family and to care for all the variety of animals he brought with him on the Ark. Its reasonable to assume that Noach had a many meaningful events occur for him and his family during that trying year, many vignettes we could learn from.
Truth is that for most of us the most meaningful moments of our lives often happen at times when we are in transition. Yet the Torah shares no Ark story. It gives us not a single experience from the journey. The only story we are given is a peculiar one. We are told that after the rains stopped and the Ark rested Noach sent out the birds, first a raven and then a dove, the later three times, to see if the waters dried and it was safe to disembark.

The Torah goes into great detail to describe Noach's testing of his environment.
It tells us how the process took near a month to complete and involved sending the raven and then the doves again and again, to finally determine it was time to emerge from the Ark.

Why I asked? Why does the Torah give us this singular story of Noach's odyssey?
What meaning does it have for us, for our life journeys? Why is it important?

I mentioned last week that I was away backpacking in the North of Israel for a few days. Something happened on that trip that helped me understand what the Torah is teaching us in the Noach's bird story or at least what I am meant to learn from it this year.
My friend and I were climbing from the Banias to the Nimrod Fortress, in the middle of a hot day with a burning sun. The Nimrod Fortress is on a high rise above the Banias, which is in the valley. I am no youngster, and the climb, especially with a 30lb weight on my back was exhausting. It took me some two hours. My friend is much younger than me, and more fit. When I struggled to get moving he would exhort me with words of encouragement. He would say, "Look up, see, Nimrod is so much closer now!"

I pushed myself and pushed myself, to get to the top. Then Avi, who was always a bit ahead of me called to me, " We are here!" Of course, he was. I was not yet!
But I was within 20 yards of the top. And suddenly it was like I could go no further.
I saw the end. It was right in front of me. Yet I found it near impossible to move.
I had to almost crawl the last few yards. Yet it made no sense. I had sufficient energy to push myself when I was at a distance from the goal and now when the goal is in reach I am immobile! How does that make any sense?

And yet on reflection I know the experience I had at Nimrod is one that has occurred many times in my life and not just for me. So often I work to achieve something, a project a task, one that takes effort and time, and just before completion, after working so hard, I lose the motivation. It never gets done.

It is a known fact that men and women who are nearly finished there probation for a crime committed, are more likely to reoffend. The hardest thing to do is not to begin, but rather to finish. When we get closest to our goal is when we are most vulnerable to relapse, failure, and surrender.

This is what the story of the birds of Noach is teaching me. Noach surmounted every obstacle put in his path. He overcame the scorn of a generation of sinners as he built his ship. He handled who knows what kind of adversity on the year-long journey at sea and with his cargo. Yet Noach's greatest challenge was to complete the journey even so near to its end. He had to have patience. He had to send the birds out four times and over the period of a month, week after week and not get frustrated. He needed to persevere and wait for the right time to take off the ark cover and disembark. No job Noach ever did was more difficult.

It is this story the Torah wants us to take to heart. It is this story we need to learn from. Beginning projects is hard.
Staying with them when the goal seems far away is challenging.
But what we most need our resolve for is to finish.
To finish what we began, particularly when the goal is in reach, requires the greatest of inner strength.

Chazak V'ematz! Be of strength! Find the resolve to finish!

Shabbat Shalom



Sunday, October 7, 2012

Original Sin: Lessons in Love

I am off backpacking in the North of Israel immediately after Chag. I therefore wrote this week's blog early. Hope you enjoy.

What makes love grow? Does love grow from the gratitude we feel for the kindness done to us by another? Or does love grow from the kindness we do for another?
Of course the truth is that both receiving from an other and giving to an other engenders love. The question is which produces the more potent love giving or receiving?

The answer would appear to be that giving to an other produces the more potent love.
All we need do is look to parents and children to find the paradigm. Parents give. Children receive. The love of parents for children is far stronger than the love of children for parents. Giving trumps receiving as a means to foster love.

This week we begin the Torah anew with the parsha of Breishit. Look with me at the story of what is often called "original sin" found in the reading. Lets see what lessons we can learn about love and relationship.

Adam and Chava were forbidden by G-d to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. G-d said to them "From all the trees of the garden you may eat. But of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil do not eat for on the day you eat of it you will die." This is the only commandment the first humans were given. Tradition tells us that had Adam and Chava not sinned the world would have already fulfilled its purpose and humankind for generations would know bliss eternal.

Yet the question we might ask is what kind of mitzva is this for Adam and Chava. They were told not to eat the forbidden fruit because it would kill them. Even if they had not eaten how does their observance of G-d's command warrant reward? It was as if G-d told them don't eat poison mushrooms because it will make you sick. Would not eating the mushrooms be an expression of devotion to G-d? Not eating the forbidden fruit, like not taking poison, is simply avoidng self harm. How can we see it as a mitzva worthy enough to fulfill the whole purpose of creation if observed?

Let me ask you something else. What was the essential failing of Adam and Chava.
Were they lacking in fear of G-d or love of G-d? A deficiency of which, love or fear, brought about the sin?

Okay so now that we have posed some things to reflect on lets go back into the story.
You know it well. The snake tries to seduce Chava into eating the forbidden fruit.
Chava said to the snake "we cannot eat of the fruit because if we do G-d already told us we will surely die." The snake does not give up. He tells Chava "No you will not die". And then explains that on the contrary if you eat the fruit "You will be like G-d knowing good and evil."

What was the snake telling Chava in arguing with her over the consequence of eating the forbidden fruit? Was he calling G-d a liar? Impossible!
No, the snake was telling Chava the truth. He was telling her that when G-d said you would die if you ate the fruit He did not mean to say your life would end entirely. Not at all. On the contrary, the snake explained that what G-d was telling Chava was that the "death" G-d spoke of as a consequence of eating the fruit was a death of the 'old' you. In its place a 'new' you will emerge, one with more spiritual capacity and stature, one who can discern between the good and the evil.

If we understand the story in this way then we can also answer the questions we posed above. Adam and Chava did not lack in fear of G-d. They feared, at least in the basic level of fear, the fear of the consequence of sin. So long as Chava thought she would actually die from eating the forbidden fruit she refused to eat it.
It was only after the snake explained to her that there were no bad consequences to eating that Chava and, in turn, Adam ate. With nothing now to fear, since the snake told them that no real death would occur to them, they had only one reason not to eat the forbidden fruit. And that was because they loved G-d and He asked them not to eat. To desist from eating from the fruit just because G-d asked them not to, with no penalty to worry about, was too much a challenge. The temptation overcame their love for G-d. They sinned.

If Adam and Chava had not eaten, now knowing from the snake that they would not die if they violated G-d's instructions but instead be reborn, it would have been a significant act indeed. So much so that it would have redeemed all creation.
Their failure was to doom all of us to a journey of redemption that's still not complete.

Adam and Chava did not lack fear of Hashem. They were afraid indeed. What they lacked was sufficient love of Hashem, that is, to do His command even when they knew that if they disobeyed nothing bad would happen to them.

You and I may not be so much better. Think about it. If G-d gave us a free pass, saying that even if we did an 'avaira' we would not get punished, would we still overcome our desire for that non-kosher cheeseburger when hungry or resist the temptation to text or call on Shabbat when we were lonely? Yes, we love G-d. We want to please Him. But is that love alone, without fear of consequence, enough to keep us from succumbing to temptation?

Adam and Chava loved G-d for all that G-d gave to them. He provided them with everything. But their love was weak, in part no doubt, because they had no experience giving back to Hashem. We began this blog pointing out that giving fosters a potent love, much more potent than the love engendered from receiving. In doing mitzvot we, as it were, give to G-d. We fulfill His will. Doing mitzvot engenders in us a feeling of love for G-d. We serve Him. Adam and Chava had no experience of 'giving' to G-d to grow their love. Their one opportunity they muffed. Without the experience of giving love cannot flourish. It remains weak and vulnerable.

You and I need to do for Hashem (to serve Him) so as to foster our love. Moreover we need to do for each other inorder to really love one another. Love may be a feeling but it cannot grow in a vacuum. If we do not practice love by surrendering ourselves through acts of giving to the ones we claim to love and abiding their will, be it spouse, chidren, parents, family, friends, or Hashem Himself, love remains a sentiment, pretty to look at but with no substance.

Its not enough to read the story of the Original Sin. We are not given Breishit as a lesson in history. We need to ask, what does the story have to teach us about ourselves? How are we like Adam and Chava? Would we do better in the Garden? Would we do better today?

I suggest that the lesson for us is clear. Unless we grow our love for G-d and others through loving acts, doing their will, not our own, we too will never love the way we are meant to, we too will fall prey to temptation.

Devotion, service, giving, these are the nutrients that makes love grow.
There are no substitutes.

Shabbat Shalom



Thursday, September 27, 2012

"To do is to be "

"Whew..we just breathed a sigh of relief as the shofar sounded to end Yom Kippur and the Days of Awe and already we are busy preparing for Sukkot with its many rituals and requirements. As I was breaking my fast I could hear the rat tat tat in the neighborhood as families began work on the Sukka. Indeed tradition mandates that immediately after the fast of Yom Kippur, that same night, we at least commence the work of Sukka building.

Why? Why is the holiday of Sukkot placed in such close proximity to Yom Kippur?
We already know that the reason for the holiday is, as the Torah tells us, to give thanks for the Divine protection in the wilderness after the exodus from Egypt when we lived a very vulnerable existence.By right the holiday should then be in the spring, at or near the time of the Exodus. The Rabbis explained that the reason the chag is in the fall is so no one should say we are simply building our sukkot for the spring and summer season, to enjoy the outdoors. We build and live in the Sukka to show trust in the Divine, even as our ancestors displayed. To highlight that point we build the sukka when the world is moving back inside in the fall where the temps are dropping, rather than spring and summer.

O'kay so now we understand why Sukkot is in the fall. But why does it need to come but 5 days after Yom Kippur. We barely have a chance to breathe. The challenge to build a sukka, purchase a lulav and etrog and make all the preparations for the holiday is typically frantic. Would it have been so bad if we had a couple of weeks to get ready?

I think the answer to our question teaches us something incredably important... the lesson is about life not just about the holidays.

Let me ask you...lets suppose you know you have a problem...say you over-eat or you get angry easily. What's the best way to correct the problem? Some might say," We need to go at our problems directly. We need to be fully aware of how serious our issue is, with no rationalizations or excuses. We need to face the consequences of our lapse. And then we need to make a resolution, with all our heart and mind, that we will not succumb to the inappropriate behavior anymore". Surely this model for changing behavior is the protoype for teshuva. We need regret the sin, confess the sin and then leave the sin behind.

But does it work? Each year we come to Yom Kippur and we feel the same remorse over the same sins, done in another year. We confess with feeling our wrongdoing. And we make a fervent resolution to get it right. Yet so little changes.
Sometimes one wonders is there a better way to get at this?

The truth is, yes there is. Systems theorists have long ago realized that where the problem shows up is not necessarily the source of the problem. Lets take a family. A particular child may be acting out, perhaps s/he is a problem at school or rebellious at home.The natural assumption is that s/he, that child has a problem. We take him or her to a therapist or find some way to change his/her behavior focusing on him/her.

Family systems therapists want us to look differently at the situation. For them we all live within systems and we are part of systems. It is a mistake to see something in isolation when in truth it's a part of a whole. When something is not working, that is the identified problem, but not necessarly it source. The source may well be a weakness in the system. The place the problem shows up is just the weakest point in the system where the malfunctioning becomes evident. The problem is with the system, not the piece that is not working well. In the case we gave of a child acting out, a family systems approach would not look to find a problem in the child, thereby making him the scapegoat. Rather we need look at the family, the system as as a whole, and ask ourselves "what's not working here? what relationship is out of sorts?" In diagnosing the family as a whole we come to see the child as expressing the systemic weakness. And rather that fixing him/her, we strengthen the family, we improve the functioning of the system, and with that the problem will disappear in the identified patient.

I believe the Torah, in providing us with the holiday of Sukkot, immediately after Yom Kippur is teaching us the truth that systems theorists came to understand 3000 years later. On Yom Kippur we became painfully aware of our sins. They are our spiritual acting-out behaviors. To admit the problem and confess is great and necessary. But that in itself will not lead to change. And why? because when we act-out in sin the sinful behavior is reflective of a systemic spiritual weakness in us. The sin is a symptom not a cause. Going at the sin and trying to fix it as an isolated phenomena is like going after the identified patient when the problem is with the system. It is usually not effective. And even if you fix the identified patient if you don't correct the system the acting-out will just show up somewhere else.

If we want to make it so we can overcome our sins we need to go at it in a different way. We need to see the sinning as a sign of a systemic spiritual weakness. Instead of focusing on the sin we need to concentrate on our over-all spiritual wellbeing and functioning. That is precisely why Sukkot follows Yom Kippur and the Days of Awe in such close succession.

Yom Kippur we became fully aware of the places we are acting-out against G-d and man. We can no longer hide from our lapses. Now on Sukkot we perform two central mitzvot. We dwell in the Sukka an we wave the lulav and etrog, the four kinds.
Both mitzvot have one thing in common. Their agenda is the whole person.
To dwell in the Sukka we need to bring all of us into the mitzva. The lulav and etrog,in tradition,symbolizes the heart and spine, the mouth and eyes.The four kinds represent four key organs of the body that we wave before G-d to symbolize our devotion and commitment to Him.

And more, Sukkot is both the holiday of joy and of community.

Yes, we have sinned. Yes we want to do better. But to do better is to be better. And to be better is to become more aligned with the holy than we have been in the past.
That's the message of Sukkot.
You want to stop sinning?..fill your world with meaning and purpose, add depth and feeling to your service of the Divine. Do that and the sins, the identified spiritual problems,will disapear.

Sukkot is the remedy for the issues we identified on Yom Kippur.
The good news is that this means for self correction engenders joy rather than self recrimination.

Chag Samayach

Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Of Song and Destiny

Have you ever wondered, why is it that Rosh Hashana precedes Yom Kippur? It would make so much more sense if Yom Kippuer came first. After all Rosh Hashana is the day of judgement. We and everyone we know receive their fate for the year on this day.
Yom Kippur is the day for saying sorry and gaining atonement. It would make sense that we seek forgiveness and set our life in order prior to the judgement.
Yom Kippur and our self correction should come, by all logic, before we have to face trial!

You may have your own way to understand the sequence of experiences. I, for today, want to answer the question through an insight into the Torah portion of this week, that of Valelech.

The parsha, though most known for being the shortest reading of the Torah, is provocative and compelling. The drama of Moshe's life is at its climax. For weeks and weeks we read Moshe's admonishments. He warned the nation he loved and lead with such incredible devotion and patience of the danger before them. He urged and pleaded with them that they continue to adhere to the mitzvotHe implored them to love and fear the G-d who had been so good to them. Here, in Vayelech, Moshe is told by G-d that his time is up. He must ascend the Mountain of Nebo and die as did Aharon his brother before him.

God told Moshe two things in this final communion. First he told Moshe, as they say in Yiddish, "vet gornish helfen", "it won't do any good". In the Torah's words, "And Hashem said to Moshe "You will lie with your fathers and this nation will rise up and stray after the gods of the peoples of the land....and they will forsake me and violate the covenant I made with them."" It's hardly the news Moshe would have wanted to hear.

Then G-d, presents Moshe with the final responisbility of his life. Moshe is commanded an unusual mitzvah. " And now write down this song and teach it to The Chidren of Israel..." What song is Hashem referring to? Rashis tells us it is the song of Haazeenu, found in the reading of next week.

And why? Why write the song? Why teach the song? The Torah is explicit. G-d says that I know this nation will sin. They will be thrown out of the land because of their sins. And in the foreign land, under all that adversity, they will wonder why is all this happening to them. G-d told Moshe that when that day comes the answer will be elusive. G-d says " I will hide my face on that day because of all the evil that you have done..."

And yet even in the time when so much is hidden and so much is lost, the Nation will have this song. "And this song will be for you a witness for it will not be forgotten from the children." G-d told Moshe that this song that you will write will be part of the national legacy. It will remain long after the faithfullness is gone. The song, known and repeated, will remind us of our destiny. When all else is forgotten we will still recall the song. And by means of the song we will find our call and identity anew and be restored to our true selves and to our lost land.

I can remember sitting with the elderly in nursing homes, men and women who could not even tell you their names. Yet they could sing the Shabbat melodies of their youth. Songs we remember. Even when all else is lost the melody lives on. That is why in days gone bye all learning, including the Mishna, was passed over in song, that it be remembered.

And so we return to our question about the placement of the High Holidays. Why is Rosh Hashana, the day of judgement observed before Yom Kippur, the day we seek atonment? Why indeed?

The answer the parsha is teaching us is that in the place where most of us live our lives we don't even know who we are. How can we know the address to where we need return. Our mediocrity, fueled by the galut, is so pervasive we don't realize we are compromised. We have lost our identity. We have forgotten our destiny. What sense can be made out of teshuva, repentence and return if we do not have a sense of what we are meant for and what we are missing.

And then comes the shofar of Rosh Hashana, the sound, the song, that which is non-linear, the melody that breaks through the haze of mediocrity. We hear the melody of Sinai even when the words and the experience is all but forgotten. We feel the sacrifice of all those who went before us from Avraham and Yitzchak at the Akaida, when the ram was slaughtered, symbolized by the shofar, to those who perished in the Shoa and in the defence of the Jewish State. Their sacrifice is no longer history but alive and compelling. In the notes of the Shofar and in its visual image we connect to the buried within. We hear inner calling to commitment, excellence and sacrifice..

It is only after Rosh Hashana, after we were stirred through the song to awarenesses forgotten and after we reclaimed in the shofar's image and sound our private role and national agenda that we can come to Yom Kippur mindful of our journey home. We may pause on the road. No matter how tempting, we must never stop. We must not accept anything less than the fulfillment of the prophetic vision for us as the end of the road.

Our fathers and mothers past, our G-d and Creator, our very selves now awake to the call, will not let us rest until we have reclaimed the spiritual greatness that belongs to each of us and to our People.

Yes, now we remember. Quick, lets reach for the excellence that is our calling.
Now, before we again slip back into the haze that is the banalilty of life. Now let us become the chidren in whom our G-d delights!

G'mar Chateema Tova

Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, September 13, 2012

"Where Do I Live? "

They tell a story of an airplane pilot who radioed in to the tower the following message, "I have good news and bad news. The good news is we are making excellent time. The bad news is we are hopelessly lost."

This Shabbat we mark the last Shabbat of the year. We are on the threshhold of Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgement. This is a season of introspection. The shofar sounds we hear during this month of Elul each morning after prayers and on Rosh Hashana days are the sounds of alarm. "Wake up you who are asleep from your slumber..."
The presumption is that all of us have in some ways fallen asleep.
Like the pilot in our vignette, we live our lives hurriedly dashing from one exigency to another, seemingly making excellent time. And yet, like him, we are hopelessly lost of direction and purpose. Our lives are full of form but oh so empty of substance.

This week we read the parsha of Neetzavim. It is a fitting reading for the close of the year. A significant section of this noticeably small parsha deals with the call to 'teshuva', repentance and return. Seven times in the course of the reading the word or variation of the word, "shav", "return" is found. According to the Ramban we are given this week the mitzvah of teshuva, one of the final 613 commandments of the Torah.

The Rambam disagrees. He does not count teshuva as a separate mitzvah within the 613.
Though the Torah makes return after sin an obligation and repeats it time and time again in the reading of the week, the Rambam maintains it is not a stand-alone obligation. Only the 'viduy', the requirement to confess after sinning, does the Rambam list as a mitzvah and that he derives from the section of the sacrifices in the book of Vayikra.

And why does the Ramabam not see a unique mitzvah in repentance? It cannot be because it is not mandated. The Torah calls us to repentance over and over in the course of the portion we read this week. Teshuva is a cornerstone of Judaism.
In the words of the Talmud "...every day of our life we are meant to be invested in the work of teshuva."

The answer that has been suggested is that while for the Rambam teshuva is every bit as central to Jewish practice as it is for the Ramban, and while the Rambam gives credence to Teshuva with a whole separate section in his magnum opus, "The Mishne Torah", on the subject of Teshuva, Teshuva cannot be seen as a free standing commandment. Look at the words in the Torah this week. When it describes the spiritual return The Torah says:

" And it will be after all these things will befall you the blessings and the curses that I have placed on you. And you will take to heart your situation in your dispersion amongst the non'Jewish nations where Hashem your G-d has exiled you. And you will return unto Hashem and you will harken to His voice and to all you have been commanded this day, you and your children with all your heart and soul"

Note when the Torah speaks of Teshuva it does not contextualize it as regrets over specific failings, say, failing to keep the Sabbath, maintain the dietary laws, or give sufficient charity. No, the Torah speaks of repentance as "return unto G-d".
Any individual sin we may commit, no matter how blatant, requires return because it is a manifestation of our distance from Hashem, not because of the individual transgression. The work of our life is to cultivate an intimacy with G-d, one based on both love and reverance. When we sin, it is not the violations itself that warrants regret and requires redress, but that in transgressing we display and lapse in our relationship with the Divine.

It is for this reason that the Rambam does not enumerate Teshuva as one of the 613 mitzvot. Important? Absolutely! and indeed absolutely important! But for the Rambam the call to repentance and return is already embedded in the mitzva to love and fear G-d. The challenge to love and fear Hashem makes repentance necessary and ongoing, a part of our life. Saying sorry and making personal improvement is as core to our intimacy with G-d as it is core to cultivating a loving intimacy with our spouse.Both require constant expression of remorse and re-adjustment to restore an intimacy compromised and help it grow.

Like the pilot in the vignette with which we began, we tend to live our spiritual lives trying to make good time. We collect mitzvot as the pilot made his miles. When we fail, we tend to see our failure as committing a specific sin. When we regroup we see the correction as simply fixing the broken element. Teshuva then becomes a matter of making new resolutions, taking on different behaviors. Then all is right and we can go speeding along through life.

Problem with that model is "return" was never about getting up to speed. It was never about a specific right or wrong. The rights and wrongs are only relevant inasmuch as they symbolize a lack in love or fear of G-d.It is the lack of fear and/or love that needs constant attention in our life. Teshuva is not about repairing the part but about restoring the direction and the intimacy with the Divine.

In thinking about Rosh Hashana and these approaching holy days I found this model helpful. We are here in this world for only one reason. We are here to earn the rights to claim citizenship in the next world, the world that counts. To be a citizen there we have to love that world, the world of the spirit, the world of G-d.
No matter how many acts of doing this or that we bring with us, unless we have become the kind of persons that belong in that world, that love the spirit, that invest in the holy, we will struggle to become citizens there.

The individual mitzva or avaira, only has meaning inasmuch as it is expression of our desire for G-d or the lack of same. A "good" life is one where we place emphasis on matters of the spirit and our yearning for attachment to G-d. Collect mitzvot for any other reason and you are like the pilot, lots of miles, with no direction of purpose! You have a full house of nothing!

A _"sinful" life is where our focus is on the material, on posessing here and now , on physical pleasure and success. No matter how many mitzvot we keep if that is our agenda we thereby show disdain for the world of G-d, the world of the spirit.

The question we need to ask ourselves on Rosh Hashanah is "where do I live?"
True we all reside in this the temporal world of the material and finite. But where do I live? Where is my home?

Teshuva is not so much about being sorry for this or that but rather about having lost my way home!
The work is the work of "return".
We need return to the world from which we came and to which we will someday return, this time as citizens.

May the year ahead be one of growth and meaning for you and all those you love.
May you and yours be inscribed and sealed in the book of life and blessing.
L'shana tova teekataivu v'taichataimu!

Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Commitment or Choice ?

When I was a boy my friends and I would gather each Shabbat afternoon at one or another's house for an Oneg Shabbat. The formal time together, under the supervision of an oneg leader, usually lasted an hour. It was a prelude to the real 'oneg' for us, the main event, when we got to read the latest comic books and engage in boy banter. We were a bright group and often we engaged in rather serious reflection. One topic that intrigued us was the nature of our identity. We pondered, "Are we really Jews by choice? Do we have a right to feel good about keeping Shabbat and the other mitzvot?" We wondered, "If we had been born Christian instead of Jewish would we be just as faithful to that tradition? Is our Judaism simply a product of our upbringing?"

In this week's parsha of Kee Tavo, we find Moshe again calling Israel to be mindful of its national agenda. The People are told that when they enter the land they need to take on the covenant anew at Mt Grezeem and Mt Aival in a compelling ceremony.
The blessings and punishments, the consequences of observance and waywardness respectively, are laid out before them in stark detail.The narrative is full of challenge. We can never say we were not forwarned.

One word comes up no fewer than 8 times in Moshe's powerful address. And the word is "hayom" "today". Over and over Moshes contextualizes his message by making it immediate. "Today you are commanded by Hashem your G-d to keep the statutes..."
"Today you made Hashem your G-d..." "And it will be if you will listen to the will of Hashem your G-d to keep all the commandments that He commands you today..." "And Hashem has not given you a knowing heart and seeing eyes and ears that hear until this day..."

And this portion is not unique. If one studies the Book of Devarim, this final address of Moshe before his death, repeatedly Moshe frames his imperative with the immediacy of "hayom".

Why? Why is Hayom so significant? Is it not enough if the command was given yesterday? or that the awareness in question had its roots in a tradition?

Let me go back to where I began the blog this week, to the question we ten year old boys posed to ourselves. Let me ask you, as an adult, why are you a Jew? Why do you keep the Torah, pray daily, maintain the Shabbat, eat kosher food? If you were born of another faith would you be just as likely today to be a loyal adherent to that religious expression? Is your lifestyle simply a matter of carrying on the tradition, a commitment to the past?

Explore with me a moment. We who are committed to a Torah lifestyle want our children to do likewise. We send them to Jewish schools and to Jewish camps. We seek out an environment that will foster their continuity in the path of our faith. We try to minimize the risk that they will marry out of the faith or assimilate.
I ask you, if I had a pill you could put in your child's cereal that once taken would guarentee that s/he would be a good Jew and stay faithful to Torah, would you give it to him/her? Would you protect your investment? Do you think G-d would want you to give him/her the pill? How about taking it yourself?

On reflection I think most of us would say that tempting as it might be we would not administer the pill to our kid not take it ourselves. And why? Because observance only has meaning in the context of choice! If I make no choice there is no merit to the good I do. If I make no choice I show no love of G-d nor deference to His will.
If I make no choice I do the right thing but without meaning.

So now that we have agreed that commitment without choice is empty, we may wonder how much choice do we need to make our religious expression meaningful. If we reduce the possibility that we could stray, say by taking away the options , as the Hareidim do in their isolated communities, have we done well or compromised the integrity of observance? What nachas does G-d have from those who do not waver from His law if they really don't feel they could stray if they wanted to, either because the consequences are too severe or the possibilities are removed.

I don't have good answers to these questions? But I know they beg consideration!
The Torah this week and over and over in the readings of Devarim calls on Israel to see their mandate as immediate, "hayom". Moshe rarely invokes tradition to augment his message. The names of Avraham Yitzchak and Yaakov and the loyalty to the past as a reason to be faithful is not found. Moreover the call of Devarim is a call to choice. On several occasions Moshe tells the People the good and the bad is present before them. He challenges them to choose, "uvacharta bachayeem".

It is clear from the Torah that a spiritual life only has meaning if it is fresh and alive and renewed each day. To keep the faith as a ode to the past defeats the whole purpose of observance. It neither brings pleasure to our G-d not enobles us.

As we get ready for Rosh Hashanna its not enough that we pat ourselves on the back for our "kosher" way of life. We need to be choosing anew each day. Over and over we need to be saying "yes" to the faith we were born into. Is that risky? What if one day we say "no"? The answer is, of course it is a risk. If there is no risk than one way or another, we swallowed the pill.

The danger we confront in our life is not that we will not be faithful. Rather it is that our faith has gone stale. It has lost its livining edge.
Choice keeps things alive. If you are married simply out of a commitment to the past your marriage is dead. We need to be choosing our spouse, to be parents, to be caring people, over and over. I don't mean that if we wake one day in a bad mood and would rather be single that we leave home and family. But I do mean to say that if the price of a secure marriage is that we surrender our choice to be in it instead living off the agreement of the past, then the price is too high!

We need to trust ourselves and the ones we love. We need to believe that given the right circumstances and encouragement we will make the right choices.
Even as ten year olds we knew that to give up choice it to make a mockery out of our life and loves.
There is only one commitment we need to make...that we will give ourselves the best chance to make the right choice.

It is choice that is the elixir of life!

Shabbat Shalom





Wednesday, August 29, 2012

"But It's Not My Fault"

There is a humorous anecdote I read as a boy that reflected disparagingly on liberal Judaism. A woman came to a Reform rabbi with a 'shayla', a halachic question.
She said " Rabbi on my stove I had a pot of milk and a pot of chicken soup cooking next to each other. The pot of milk boiled over and some of the hot milk fell into the chicken soup. What do I do?" The rabbi reflected a moment and then told her, "You must throw out the pot of milk." The woman was astonished. She said, But
Rabbi it was the milk that fell into the soup!". "Yes" the rabbi said "exactly! It was deffinitely the milk's fault."

The reason the story is funny is that we cannot apply moral right and wrong in the adjudication of ritual law. Halacha is not about fault and fairness, at least not in regards to Torah prohibitions. But that is not to say the Torah does not take into account issues of fairness and fault. On the contrary at the outset of this week's parsha we have example of just such a law built on doing the fair!

The Torah provides us with an interesting scenario to reveal a law of inheritance.
If a man is married to two wives, one whom he loves and the other whom he despises, the Torah tells him that he may not give the extra portion of inheritance reserved for the eldest son to the son born to the beloved wife at the expense of the true first born, a child of the wife he hates. He must give the double share to the true 'b'chor', first born, even if he is not the child of the woman he loves.

We may well ask what is the Torah teaching us here? To tell us the first born always gets the extra share no matter the father's personal preference, we don't need the whole story of the two wives! The Torah seems to want to tell us something beyond the particular law of inheritance and impart a value, one we can only glean from the story imparted.

Moreover the Seforno and other commentators raise an interesting question here. They wonder, in light of the Torah law, how is it that Yaakov gave a double portion to Yosef, the son of the beloved wife, Rachel, and took it a way from Re'uvain, the wife of the less loved wife, Leah. His actions seem contrary to the command here given. Even though he lived prior to the giving of the Torah, we are told that Yaakov anticipated its laws and already kept them. Why here did he do otherwise?

The Seforno answers our last question by making an important distinction between the case the Torah gives and the story of Yaakov and the birthright. The Torah indeed forbids taking away the inheritance of the first born under all circumstances.
But the case it gives is one where depriving the first born of his share would not only be a ritual violation of the laws of inheritance but a moral lapse.
The fact that the first born here is the son of the despised wife is not his fault.
To take away his share would not only be a ritual violation but a moral sin. The son should not pay the price of the enmity between his father and mother!

In the case of Yaakov, indeed he took away the double portion from Re'uvain but not because he was the child of the less loved wife, but because of his sin and personal lapses. The Torah already had told us how Re'uvain had inappropriately rearranged his father's conjugal bed after the death of Rachel. That Re'uvain lost the 'b'chora' was his doing and his alone.
While that too is forbidden to us now once the Torah law was given, meaning, we cannot deprive the first born of his rightful inheritance because of a lapse in judgement or some wrongful act. Nonetheless, Yaakov did not violate the moral intent of the Torah, only its ritual law since he did not take something from Re'uvain for which he was not at fault.

Once we recognize that the law of the two wives and the son born of the despised is teaching us a value as well as a ritual law of inheritance, we can take important personal lessons. How often do we dump our anger, frustration, impatience where it does not belong? How many times have we taken hostile feelings we feel for one person and displayed the resentment to someone entirely not at fault?

Parents bring angry feelings generated at the work place home and show impatience and worse to their children. Husbands and wives put on one another displaced resentments and negative feelings that neither has earned but somehow must absorb.
Over and over we get angry at institutions, perhaps a whole Shule to the point of leaving or withdrawing because we are upset at the rabbi or the gabbai. Does the organization deserve our anger and its consequence?

If we look at our lives carefully we will find that so much of the negative feelings we share are directed at the wrong people. Our attitudes confuse the other as much as ourselves. They cannot really understand why?

The Torah this week is teaching us that if we have a problem with our spouse take it up with him/her. Don't make the children pay the price! And that is true with all our feelings of frustration, disappointment and resentment. We need to take our feelings to the people who engendered them in us. We need to direct our emotional responses back to the source that brought them about!

"It's not my fault" may not be a complaint the pot of chicken soup may make to escape being tossed as unkosher. But it is a legitimate complaint when others we love or are responsible to feel unduly put upon by our behaviors.

Taking our feeling back to their source is a good paradigm for living. It is a way of being that would surely engender the blessng and gratitude of others, who so often feel, correctly, that they are not at fault.

Shabbat Shalom