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Parashat HaShavua

Parashat HaShavua - Vayigash

"אני יוסף העוד אבי חי"
"I am Joseph. Is my father alive?" (Genesis 45:3)

Joseph, having decided he can no longer withhold his true identity from his brothers, clears the room of all others, weeps, and says two things in one dramatic moment -- he both identifies himself ("I am Joseph") and poses a question ("Is my father alive?")

The inclusion of the question at this moment is odd. Why during this dramatic turn, at this moment of profound emotion, when he can "no longer contain himself" and feels he must reveal who he is, does he also ask this question?

The question is also puzzling in that it follows a lengthy presentation from his brother Judah, explaining how significant the impact and how heartbreaking the loss of Benjamin, their brother, would be to their father, Jacob. Isn't it obvious that Jacob is alive? What does Joseph intend by asking a question whose answer was a presumed fact in this conversation?

The text redirects us back to the sheer emotion of the moment by telling us next that "his brothers were unable to respond to him, so dumbfounded were they by him."

There are two ways to interpret Joseph's question: (a) that Joseph truly needs to know about the true well-being of his father right at this moment -- the question emerges from doubt; or (b) that Joseph wasn't asking the kind of question that seeks new information -- the question emerges from wonder.

Following the first path, that this is an information-seeking question, Joseph is concerned by the great pain that Judah had just described that their father would experience if he were to lose his youngest son. In this read, Joseph thinks that Judah has not been completely forthcoming with the viceroy of Egypt about their father's health. Perhaps, Joseph thinks, things are worse than Judah reported. As he reveals himself, Joseph may also be thinking about how the report of his own death 22 years earlier would have impacted his father, and points to his central concern at this moment -- "how bad is my father's health really?"

The second interpretive path focuses on the feelings that Joseph had been withholding for so long. Joseph feels surprised and amazed at his own re-emergence as a family member after a 22-year separation: "could it be after all these years, that I will be reunited with my father?" Not seeking information, Joseph expresses how unbelievable this reunion seems -- especially with his father. Joseph, in this reading, reveals an attitude: "I feel amazed that I have arrived at this moment in time." It is a moment of blessing "שהחינו," a moment where he is taken aback by his reality. Such a moment seemed impossible for the last two decades!

Rabbi Heschel teaches that "[w]onder rather than doubt is the root of knowledge" (Man is Not Alone 11). As learners, we try to cultivate within ourselves the ability to be and feel amazed at all of our experiences, even at our very existence. "We are amazed at seeing anything at all," explains Rabbi Heschel. Perhaps the Torah shares Joseph's moment of "radical amazement" with the reader as a model of this kind of attitude toward our experiences. It is a question that neither seeks nor demands an answer. "There is no answer in the world to man's radical wonder." (Man is Not Alone 13). Joseph demonstrates the capacity to articulate the intensity and meaning of the moment he is in. He is saying "wow."

Let us be privileged to experience moments of wonder, both dramatic and ordinary. And let's hope that we recognize the gift inherent in our ability to ask questions and be surprised.

Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Benji Shiller
Co-chair, High School Limudei Qodesh Department

Parashat HaShavua - Hanukkah

This is the time of year, perhaps more than any other, that American Jews tend to reflect on the challenges of maintaining our own identity and culture while encountering others. Two very different experiences can be found in the story of Yosef, which we always read during Hanukkah, and the troubling story about Dinah and Shechem that precedes it. With Dinah, the story starts: "Dinah, the daughter of Leah, whom she had born to Jacob, went out to look about among the daughters of the land; and Shechem (the man) saw her / וַתֵּצֵ֤א דִינָה֙ בַּת־לֵאָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר יָֽלְדָ֖ה לְיַֽעֲקֹ֑ב לִרְא֖וֹת בִּבְנ֥וֹת הָאָֽרֶץ; וַיַּ֨רְא אֹתָ֜הּ שְׁכֶ֧ם" (Gen. 34:1-2). Only three chapters later, Yosef's father "sent him from Chevron valley, and he arrived in Shechem (the city) / וַיִּשְׁלָחֵ֨הוּ֙ מֵעֵ֣מֶק חֶבְר֔וֹן וַיָּבֹ֖א שְׁכֶֽמָה" (Gen. 37:14).

From there, however, their experiences diverge dramatically. Shechem rapes Dinah. Jacob opts to reconcile and absorb him and his people, but Jacob's sons Shimon and Levi instead wreak revenge. Jacob is displeased, saying to them: "You have troubled me, to discredit me among the inhabitants of the land..., I am few in number, and they will gather against me, and I and my household will be destroyed / עֲכַרְתֶּ֣ם אֹתִי֒ לְהַבְאִישֵׁ֨נִי֙ בְּישֵׁ֣ב הָאָ֔רֶץ...; וַֽאֲנִי֙ מְתֵ֣י מִסְפָּ֔ר וְנֶֽאֶסְפ֤וּ עָלַי֙ וְהִכּ֔וּנִי וְנִשְׁמַדְתִּ֖י אֲנִ֥י וּבֵיתִֽי" (Gen. 34:30). Jacob's support for Dinah seems inadequate, Dinah's brothers jump to her defense, and Jacob fears for their lives. His stance towards others is defensive, even from the beginning it seems, no matter their offense. Or is it that he is open to others no matter their offense?

Yosef's experience is the mirror image of Dinah's. He has his father's full love and devotion. When he goes out towards Shechem to find his brothers, a stranger sees him wandering and offers him directions. When he finds his brothers they attack and sell him to random merchants, who sell him to an officer to Pharaoh, who throws him in jail, and then Yosef rises to become Pharaoh's second in command. Though laced with difficulty, Yosef's journey through Egypt is ultimately redeeming and rewarding. Along the way he is quick to credit God with his success, but doesn't seek to reconnect with his family. He takes the name "Tzafnat Pane'ach / צָֽפְנַ֣ת פַּעְנֵ֒חַ֒" (Gen. 41:45), or "the revealer of hidden things," and is himself so concealed and integrated in Egyptian society that when his brothers arrive, he "recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him / וַיַּכֵּ֥ר יוֹסֵ֖ף אֶת־אֶחָ֑יו וְהֵ֖ם לֹ֥א הִכִּרֻֽהוּ" (Gen. 42:8).

Two very different experiences, starting from a similar point: an encounter with the outside world. Hanukkah is also the story of our encounter with the outside world of Hellenism. To some, this was akin to the rape of Dinah, a violation and contamination of us as a people, one warranting a violent response. To others, this was another nation offering to show us - a wandering Yosef - the way, one that offered opportunities for success and growth despite significant challenges as part of the encounter. Tellingly, the stories of Dinah and Yosef are also both fraught with internal family tension, which rings true for Chanukah as well; it is clear that the events forming the basis for our holiday today involved significant internal differences of opinion about what it meant to be a Jew.

In Pirkei Avot we learn: "Who is wise? One who learns from every person / איזהו חכם? הלומד מכל אדם" (P.A. 4:1). Maimonides similarly says in his introduction to his commentary on Pirkei Avot, "the truth must be heard from whoever speaks it / ושמע האמת ממי שאמרו." May we, in our conversations inspired by Dinah, Yakov, Yosef and Chanukah about encountering other peoples and cultures, reflect on what it means to feel safe in those encounters, and be careful to listen closely to one another; and when we do feel safe, to think carefully about what it means in such encounters to maintain one's own identity.

Shabbat Shalom, Hanukkah Sameach and Chodesh Tov!

Rabbi Jack Nahmod
Middle School Judaic Studies Head
Rabbinic Advisor N-8

Parashat HaShavua - Vayeshev

וַיַּכֵּ֣ר יְהוּדָ֗ה וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ צָֽדְקָ֣ה מִמֶּ֔נִּי כִּֽי־עַל־כֵּ֥ן לֹא־נְתַתִּ֖יהָ לְשֵׁלָ֣ה בְנִ֑י וְלֹֽא־יָסַ֥ף ע֖וֹד לְדַעְתָּֽה׃׃(בראשית לח:כו)

Judah recognized them, and said, "She is more in the right than I, inasmuch as I did not give her to my son Shelah." And he was not intimate with her again. (Genesis 38:26)

What's in a name? As any high school student can tell you, "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." Juliet advances the position that our names do not define us; rather, every human being has an essential nature that is separate from and not influenced by the names we are given by others. This is not the prevalent perspective in the Torah, nor the one that is generally held by our rabbinic sages.

The Talmud teaches: You will be called by the name that is right for you.

The characters in the story of Yehuda and Tamar, from this week's parasha, provide a case study in the significance of names. After Tamar's husband and his brother both die, Yehudah does not offer his youngest son as her new groom, which as he well knows is the Levirate duty of the remaining brother. Instead, Yehuda hides his son from Tamar, leaving Tamar in an extremely compromised position from the perspective of Israelite society, with no prospects for a future as a mother and wife. The Torah makes clear its disregard for Yehuda's actions with the name given to this son -- Shelah, means, "he is hers." Yehuda may want to hide his son from Tamar, but the Torah is very clear about her rights.

Yehuda's own name also has important implications for his character. As Rabbi Sam Feinsmith points out, the root of the name Yehuda, י-ד-ה, means, among other things, to acknowledge. The story of Yehuda's relationship with Tamar hinges on Yehuda's ability to acknowledge what is true. When Tamar presents him with his own cord and staff saying, I am pregnant by the man to whom these belong, she asks him, "הכר נא," -- please identify or acknowledge. In the moment when Yehuda finally acknowledges Tamar's claim, saying ״צדקה ממני״ -- she is more righteous than I, we see that he has grown from a peevish boy capable of selling his brother as a slave into a man capable of taking responsibility for his actions.

And what about Tamar? What does her name signify? The Maggid of Mezritch employs a folk etymology to claim that Tamar's name is actually a combination the word between "tam" -- simple or perfect and the word "mar" or bitter. He asserts that sometimes the things that seem to be only "mar" or bitter, like Tamar's choice to act as a prostitute with Yehuda, turn out to also be, in the most surprising way, the right thing to do. Yehuda acknowledges that Tamar's actions are justified and the Torah adds its approval by including a genealogy which shows that Tamar's line will ultimately lead to the birth of King David.

Rabbi Anne Ebersman
EC/LS Director of Jewish Programming
Director of Hesed and Tzedek


Parashat Hashavua - Vayishlach

It is obvious from even before they are born, that Yaakov and Esav are opposites. Physically, psychologically, and even in their careers, these two brothers are foils of one another. When Esav and Yaakov reunite in this week's parasha for the first time after decades of separation, their conversation continues to reveal how significantly different they are from one another.

Yaakov initiates their reunion through sending gifts. Yet Esav rejects these gifts, saying, "I have a lot, my brother. You have what is yours (33:9)." Though at the surface this seems a kind and generous statement, it is clearly contrasted with Yaakov's response, "Take my blessing that I have brought to you, for God has favored me and so I have everything (33:11)." These words are not simply passing niceties. They in fact reveal the brothers' drastically different world views.

In Pirkei Avot 5:10, the mishna records 4 different middot- temperaments or attitudes- towards monetary wealth. "The one who says, 'What is mine is mine, and what is yours is yours'-- that is an average temperament. And there are some who say that is the temperament of Sodom... [One who says] 'what is mine is yours, and what is yours is yours' – that is a pious person..." With a close reading of our text, it becomes clear that Esav displays the former temperament, whereas Yaakov displays the latter.

Esav rejects Yaakov's gifts because he believes each person is responsible for their own wellbeing. "I have a lot... you have what is yours" represents the mentality of a self-made, self reliant individual. Esav, the man of the field, the hunter, lives by his own might and believes that others should as well. While this attitude – so common in our world today- seems innocuous, Pirkei Avot points out that it ultimately leads to a harsh, hyper-isolated, inhospitable society, as represented by Sodom. The city of Sodom refused guests, sharing of any kind, and oppressed the poor and needy. Such behaviors ultimately grow out of Esav's disposition- 'what is mine is mine and what is yours is yours'.

Yaakov, on the other hand, embodies the latter temperament recorded in Pirkei Avot. He wants to give to Esav and does not demand anything in return- 'what is mine is yours and what is yours is yours'. The root of Yaakov's attitude is his acknowledgment of the source of his blessing, "God has favored me, and so I have everything." He openly credits God for his prosperity, not the work of his own hands. Acknowledging the fact that everything he has is truly a blessing from God enables him to be pious and generous, for her knows that nothing he has is truly his own.

Over Thanksgiving weekend, we often contemplate the qualities of gratitude and generosity. This week's parasha reminds us that the root of a pious disposition, one of giving and sharing, is a recognition of the abundance of blessing in our lives. We have so much good, not because we have earned or are entitled to it, as Esav believed, but because it has been gifted to us. As we head into this weekend, let us reflect on the many gifts which God, our community, and our loved ones have given us. Doing so will enable us- just like forefather Yaakov- to give generously in turn.

Ora Weinbach
High School Limudei Qodesh Teacher and Grade 9 Dean


Parashat Hashavua - Vayetze

Our tradition simultaneously assumes and does not take for granted that each of us has the ability – the inclination, the interest, the vocabulary - to pray. For the Sfas Emes, this week's beautiful story of Jacob removing a heavy rock from a well is a metaphor for just how difficult prayer can be. Jacob, we read, "approached and rolled the rock off the mouth of the well / וַיִּגַּ֣שׁ יַֽעֲקֹ֗ב וַיָּ֤גֶל אֶת־הָאֶ֨בֶן֙ מֵעַל֙ פִּ֣י ״הַבְּאֵ֔ר (Gen. 29:10), a rock described as "a huge rock / אֶ֥בֶן גְּדֹלָ֖ה" (Gen. 10:2) that would normally require many people to remove.

This heroic act of Jacob, says the Sfas Emes, is what we do when we open the Amidah with "God, open our lips so my mouth can say your prayer / אֲדֹנָי שְׂפָתַי תִּפְתָּח וּפִי יַגִּיד תְּהִלָּתֶךָ" (Ps. 51:17) With this passage, he says, we are asking God to help remove the obstacles we have to expressing ourselves to God. "The rock symbolizes an obstacle," he writes, "that doesn't allow one to open one's mouth in prayer, which is service from the heart / שאינו מניח לפתוח הפה בתפילה שהיא עבודה שבלב." He goes further: "All the actions of a person affect whether one can pray / כפי עבודת האדם בכל מעשיו כך הוא יכול לפתח פה בתפילה," which ״depends on one's devotion throughout the day in all that one does / שתלוי בהשתוקקת הלב בכל יום בכל מעשיו." This standard is obviously so hard to meet that we must ask for help expressing ourselves.

This week, I found myself wanting to express myself in prayer in response to the devastating fires in California. My own words, I felt, were inadequate. Eventually, I discovered the words that for me expressed how powerful fire can be when it is described as consuming wood, stone, earth and water in the story of Elijah and the false prophets. (1 Kings 18:38) I then needed the words for asking God to stop those fires, and to my surprise I found them in the Hashana service of Sukkot. I was able seek God's help for the victims of the fire and those working to extinguish them, "For the sake of Abraham who was saved from the flames of fire"; "for the sake of Isaac who was spared from wood and fire"; "for the sake of Israel's tribes who were led by cloud and fire"; and "for the sake of Aaron who took the censer and stopped the wrath of fire." (סדר הושענות ״למען איתן״)

This prayer is also offered, of course, in memory of all those who have been killed by fires.

May god extinguish all fires and protect all firefighters and everyone attending to the needs of those in danger, all people and all living creatures.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Jack Nahmod
Middle School Judaic Studies Head
Rabbinic Advisor N-8


Parashat HaShavua - Toldot

וּבְרָאשֵׁי֙ חָדְשֵׁיכֶ֔ם תַּקְרִ֥יבוּ עֹלָ֖ה לַיהוָ֑ה (במדבר כ״ח: י״א)

On Rosh Hodesh, bring an offering to God.

As you know, we turned back the clocks this week. For those of us who work typical daytime hours, when we leave the office, for the time being, we will be emerging into a world of darkness.

This week we also celebrated Rosh Hodesh Kislev. Soon it will be Hanukkah and we can begin adding light to the darkness, one candle at a time. A few days after Hanukkah concludes, the Winter Solstice will arrive and the balance of power between darkness and light will begin to shift.

The interplay between light and darkness is the subject of one of my favorite midrashim, from Tractate Avoda Zara (6a). It teaches that as the first human beings watched the days grow shorter and shorter during their first winter on earth, they were terrified because they believed that the pattern would repeat until the world descended into total darkness, lasting forever. They wept and prayed until finally, the season turned and the days began to lengthen. At that moment, they realized מנהגו של עולם הוא -- this is the way of the world -- and they made an offering of thanksgiving.

"This is the way of the world." What is the way of the world? Is it the way of the world that darkness and fear will always be with us? Or is it the way of the world that light will always follow darkness? The beauty of the midrash is that it teaches, truthfully but with a measure of faith, that the answer to both questions is yes.

We have certainly been witness to the power of darkness in our world over these past two weeks. The Divine light inside eleven souls has been permanently extinguished in an act of anti-semitic terrorism. And yet, even in this terrible darkness, there were also delicate glimmers of light visible. At my synagogue last Friday, people stood seven deep at the back of the sanctuary after all the seats had been taken, flocking to services to show that we will not be silenced by hatred and to find comfort in one another's company. On Tuesday, my polling place had lines longer than I have ever seen before, as New Yorkers and Americans turned out in unprecedented numbers for a midterm election, honoring their democratic right and responsibility to have their votes counted.

It may be true that darkness will always be with us. But we will also always have the ability to illuminate it with our actions. The formula is simple:

  1. Strike match
  2. Apply to wick
  3. Admire flame
  1. Open envelope
  2. Insert individualized letters written to police officers wounded in Pittsburgh
  3. Mail to Pittsburgh
    (Grade 5)
  1. Board bus
  2. Arrive at AFYA
  3. Spend the morning sorting and packing medical supplies that will be shipped to underserved communities worldwide
    (High School)
  1. Choreograph dance
  2. Travel to Jewish Home and Hospital
  3. Perform for residents
    (Grade 6)

My daughter told me that she took a Via to school Tuesday morning and the Via driver rolled down his window to ask the bus driver next to him, "Did you vote yet?"

Light can come from many different sources.

Rabbi Anne Ebersman
EC/LS Director of Jewish Programming
Director of Hesed and Tzedek


Parashat HaShavua - Chaye Sarah

What do we do, when all we can think about is death and loss? Last Shabbat, an armed gunman entered into the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, interrupting Shabbat morning tefillah with gunfire, leaving eleven Jews dead in his wake. How do we begin to process when the words we want to say always seem predicated by an ever-present sense of loss?

Despite its misleading name, Chaye Sarah, this week's parsha, is completely overwhelmed by Sarah's death. First, Sarah dies. Soon after, Avraham spends a good portion of the text searching for and acquiring a burial site for Sarah. Then, even though the text seems to switch in tone to a more uplifting narrative - that of the search for Rivka and her eventual connection with Yitzhak - that uplift is undermined by Sarah's memory sharply reentering the narrative. וַיְבִאֶהָ יִצְחָק הָאֹהֱלָה שָׂרָה אִמּוֹ וַיִּקַּח אֶת־רִבְקָה וַתְּהִי־לוֹ לְאִשָּׁה וַיֶּאֱהָבֶהָ וַיִּנָּחֵם יִצְחָק אַחֲרֵי אִמּוֹ - "Yitzhak brought her to the tent of Sarah his mother, and he took Rivka as his wife, and he loved her, and Yitzhak was comforted after his mother" (Genesis 24:67). This moment seems to be about the culmination of Yitzhak and Rivka's marriage, but the pasuk itself is framed with Sarah - the whole relationship is tinged with her loss. And soon after, Avraham himself dies. There we might expect a focus on Avraham - he is, after all, the founding father of our people - but again Sarah's memory is evoked. שָׁמָּה קֻבַּר אַבְרָהָם וְשָׂרָה אִשְׁתּוֹ - "There (the burial site Avraham had acquired earlier) Avraham and his wife Sarah were buried" (Genesis 25:10).

In a parsha rich with so many other major events at play, it is Sarah's textually and narratively surprising death that comes up again, and again, and again.

In so much of our study of Tanakh, we can easily treat the text as an object to be read and discussed, to be analyzed and interpreted. But we often overlook another and more crucial aspect of Tanakh - that it serves as a living and ongoing memory. When we read, year after year, about Avraham and Sarah, we do so to bring their lives into our present; when we find meaning in their narratives, we bring their memories to life and enter ourselves into their narrative. In this week's parsha, we have an ongoing reminder that a death is not simply that; rather, the text infuses all of the lives around Sarah with her name and her memory. Our Sages comment in the Talmud צדיקים שבמיתתן נקראו חיים - "the righteous, even in death, are regarded as alive" (Talmud Bavli, Berachot 18a). While we mourn lives that have been lost - crying out as Avraham does when he finds that his wife has died in his absence - we also must bring their memories with us in every step we take, refusing to let their memories become a thing of the past. Avraham, Sarah, Yitzhak, Ya'akov, Moshe, and Aharon stay alive with us. So too do we put ourselves in the midst of their ongoing and lasting memory.

Last Shabbat, eleven righteous Jews were mercilessly killed while praying Shabbat morning tefillot at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. May the name of their killer be swept away from our memory. May the names, lives, and souls of Rose Malinger, Melvin Wax, Sylvan Simon, Bernice Simon, Joyce Fienberg, Daniel Stein, Irving Younger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Richard Gottfried, Cecil Rosenthal, and David Rosenthal stay alive with us eternally. May their lives permeate our living moments. May we forever put ourselves in the midst of their ongoing and lasting memory.

David Riemenschneider
Dean of Grade 10 Students
Limudei Qodesh Teacher

Parashat HaShavua - VaYera

Do we sometimes fear that looking back will turn us into a pillar of salt, as happened to Lot's wife? "And Lot's wife looked from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt / וַתַּבֵּ֥ט אִשְׁתּ֖וֹ מֵאַֽחֲרָ֑יו וַתְּהִ֖י נְצִ֥יב מֶֽלַח." (Gen. 19:26) The general understanding of this event is that Lot's wife was punished because the family was told "do not look behind you / אַל־תַּבִּ֣יט אַֽחֲרֶ֔יךָ" (Gen. 19:17), and then she did; she couldn't fully leave the evils of Sdom and Amorah behind. However, a dramatically different interpretation of what happened is offered by Chananel Munk in his second book about female characters in Tanach: Lot's wife wanted to become a pillar of salt in sympathy with all those left behind, those who were similarly transformed into salt as part of the destruction and desolation visited upon Sdom and Amorah. (From ותאמר גם היא בלבה: נשים מהמקרא בצומתי חיים, pp. 21-23.)

Munk's close reading of the text is compelling. When the family is told to not look back, it seems to be meant figuratively and not literally: ""Flee for your life, do not look behind you, and do not stand in the entire plain / הִמָּלֵ֣ט עַל־נַפְשֶׁ֔ךָ אַל־תַּבִּ֣יט אַֽחֲרֶ֔יךָ וְאַל־תַּֽעֲמֹ֖ד בְּכָל־הַכִּכָּ֑ר." (Gen. 19:17) No punishment, let alone one so harsh, is indicated as a consequence. And Lot's wife is not the only one reluctant to leave, as Lot himself "delayed significantly / וַיִּתְמַהְמָ֓הּ" - this word receives emphasis with the longest possible note, a shalshelet - and those sent to save them "took hold of his hand and his wife's hand, and the hand of his two daughters / | וַיַּֽחֲזִ֨יקוּ הָֽאֲנָשִׁ֜ים בְּיָ֣דוֹ וּבְיַד־אִשְׁתּ֗וֹ וּבְיַד֙ שְׁתֵּ֣י בְנֹתָ֔יו." (Gen. 19:16) Finally, Lot's wife's hesitation didn't put anyone at risk, as they had already arrived to their city of refuge before she looked back. (See Gen. 19:23)

All of this leads Munk to conclude, brilliantly and movingly in my opinion, that Lot's wife turning into salt was not a punishment, it was what she wanted. Thus her act of becoming a pillar of salt does not symbolize being stuck in a past better left behind, but rather shows caring for those who were left behind and might otherwise be forgotten, those who were stuck in the past against their will.

Avishai Margalit, in his book The Ethics of Memory, explores the connection between memory and morality. "We need morality," he writes, "to overcome our natural indifference to others. Indeed, we need morality not so much to counter evil as to counter indifference." (p. 33) Going one step further, he says the opposite of that indifference is caring, and memory is a way to care. For the sake of our closest relationships, "memory is crucial,"; it is "the ethical element that makes the relation good." (p. 106)

When Lot's wife turns into salt, she embodies the memory of those who were left behind. And she is so determined to do so that she looks back "from behind" Lot ("מֵאַֽחֲרָ֑יו"), as though to get past or around his lack of caring. Normally, Margalit observes, the responsibility to keep alive a shared memory is distributed throughout a community and does not rest with one person. After Sdom and Amorah, however, Lot's wife is the lone person left to care and remember. It is therefore no wonder that her caring transforms and overwhelms her completely.


May we have the courage to empathize with and remember the suffering of others, and may we be blessed with a community of people who do so together with caring and a shared sense of responsibility.


Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Jack Nahmod

Middle School Judaic Studies Head

Rabbinic Advisor N-8

Parashat HaShavua - Lekh Lekha

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהוָה֙ אֶל־אַבְרָ֔ם לֶךְ־לְךָ֛ מֵאַרְצְךָ֥ וּמִמּֽוֹלַדְתְּךָ֖ וּמִבֵּ֣ית אָבִ֑יךָ אֶל־הָאָ֖רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר אַרְאֶֽךָּ׃ (בראשית י״ב:א)

God said to Avram, "Leave your homeland and your birthplace and your father's house and go to the land that I will show you."

This year, the Lower School opened with an all-school read. Every grade discussed William Steig's story, Amos and Boris, about the unlikely friendship between mouse and an elephant. One of our focal points was a quote about how Amos the mouse felt after building a ship and setting out to sea: "he was full of wonder, full of enterprise, and full of love for life." Students in grades 1-5 all shared some of the things that they wonder about. Their responses were both delightful and fascinating:

I wonder if my mom will let me get a hamster
I wonder who God is
I wonder when global warming will end
I wonder why there are so many different colors in the sky at dawn
I wonder why people always draw hearts in red
I wonder what happens after we die
I wonder who invented homework
I wonder what is inside of black holes
I wonder what animals dream about
I wonder why we can't all live in peace

This week, the curtain rises on the saga of the Jewish people, beginning with God's words to Avraham, "Leave your homeland and your birthplace and your father's house and go to the land that I will show you." The text is silent on the question of why Avraham is chosen for this important journey. One possibility raised in the midrash is that he was selected for his ability to wonder (in addition, of course, to his ability to wander...ba dum bum...). As Rabbi Heschel writes:

How did Abraham arrive at his certainty that there is a God who is concerned with the world? According to the Rabbis, Abraham may be compared to a a person traveling from place to place when he saw a palace full of light/in flames(דּוֹלֶקֶת/doleket). He wondered: "Is it possible that the palace has no owner?" The owner of the palace looked out and said, "I am the owner of the palace." Similarly, our father Abraham wondered, "Is it conceivable that the world is without a guide?" God looked out and said to him, "I am the ruler, the Sovereign of the universe." It was in wonder that Abraham's quest for God began.

According to the midrash (Genesis 39:1) quoted by Rabbi Heschel, Avraham looks out at both the beauty and the pain of the world around him and asks a critical existential-wondering question: Who is in charge here? Heschel plays on the dual meaning of the verb דּוֹלֶקֶת doleket, which can mean either lit up or in flames, to clarify that wonder is a response to both the awesome and the awful. "It is both the grandeur and the misery of living that makes man (sic) sensitive to the ultimate questions."

Our students' wonderings reflect their sensitivity to both the awesome and the awful, to the light and the flames in our world:

I wonder when global warming will end
I wonder why there are so many different colors in the sky at dawn
I wonder why we can't all live in peace

One way of thinking about the overarching purpose of a Heschel education is that we seek to enable our students to appreciate the light and take action about the flames in our world. And both of these activities have their root in wondering. As Rabbi Heschel wrote, "wonder rather than doubt is the root of all knowledge."

Parashat HaShavua: Noach

A generation of people does a terrible thing - something so terrible that God wants to destroy them for it, and start the generation anew from one person. This is the narrative of this week's Torah portion, in which God states, "I will blot out from the earth the men whom I created...for I regret that I made them; And Noah found favor in the eyes of Hashem" (Genesis 6:7-8). Yet it is also the narrative of the aftermath of the Golden Calf, during which God tells Moses, "Now, let Me be, that My anger may blaze forth against them and that I may destroy them and make of you a great nation" (Exodus 32:10) Both Noah and Moses were supposed to help God start over, help God hit the reset button, but only once did God actually go through with the plan. Why?

Deuteronomy Rabbah 11.3, a midrashic text, describes Noah and Moshe having an argument with each other about who was greater.

Noah said to Moses: "I am greater than you because I was delivered from the generation of the Flood." Whereupon Moses replied: "I am far superior to you; you saved yourself, but you had no strength to deliver your generation; but I saved both myself and my generation when they were condemned to destruction at the time of the Golden Calf."

The midrash strikingly captures a crucial difference between Noah and Moses. Based on their conversation, we learn that Noah took pride in the fact that he was the sole survivor of the flood. Moses, on the other hand, argues that not only did he save himself, but also his entire generation. The midrash is highlighting the fact that Noah passively accepted God's willingness to destroy his generation while Moses defended his nation and saved it. Moses didn't give up on his generation; Noah was silent.

So what made Noah and Moses so different? In my 10th grade Tanakh class, we noticed the interesting fact that the daughter of Pharoah is the one who gives Moses his name and not his biological mother Yocheved. We read in Exodus 2:10, "She named him Moses, explaining, "I drew him (Mishitihu) out of the water." This merciful act of extending her arm out to Moses and drawing his teva, his basket, out of the Nile is the moment that literally defines him. It is the moment where he learns, very early on, of the power of extending an arm, the power of extending a hand to help another in need of saving. Sometimes when you extend a hand to one, you may in fact be saving an entire generation. This is the lesson that may have made Moses far superior to Noah. This is the lesson that Noah missed. This is the lesson that our generation cannot miss.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Jonathan Klatt
High School Limudei Qodesh teacher
Jewish and Student Life Team Member