Posts Tagged ‘Torah’

Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran.”—Genesis 28:10

The Torah portion for this week, Vayetze, is from Genesis 28:10–32:3 and Hosea 12:13–14:10.

This week’s Torah portion is called Vayetze, which means ‘and he left.’ The portion could have just as easily been called Vayelech, ‘and he set out,’ and indeed later on down the line we do encounter another reading with that title. But this week’s selection isn’t about going places: It’s about knowing when to leave them.

The reading begins with Jacob leaving his hometown of Beersheba in order to escape his brother’s fury. In last week’s Torah reading, Jacob was able to attain the blessings of the firstborn by tricking his father, Isaac, leaving Esau feeling cheated, even though he had sold Jacob his birthright earlier. Jacob knew that he had to leave if he was going to survive.

Jacob ended up living with his mother’s brother, Laban, where he and Laban’s daughter, Rachel, fell in love. Laban made Jacob work seven years for Rachel’s hand in marriage, and then Laban pulled a last-minute stunt and switched Leah (Rachel’s older sister) for Rachel.

Jewish tradition teaches that Jacob and Rachel had anticipated this possibility and had made up secret signs to exchange under the wedding canopy. But when Rachel realized the amount of humiliation that her sister Leah would feel if she was exposed during the wedding, she relayed the signals to Leah and the wedding went off without a hitch. After all those years of waiting, Rachel could have held her ground, but she walked away in order to spare her sister the pain. In fact, Jacob worked another seven years in order to marry his true love, Rachel.

The Torah portion ends decades after it began with Jacob trying to leave Laban’s home. Laban made his leaving difficult, but Jacob persevered. Once again, he knew it was time to leave and nothing was going to stop him.

This week’s theme is all about knowing when to walk away — physically or emotionally. So much time and energy is wasted because we stay in relationships that are hurtful, or we stay away from loved ones because we can’t let go of past hurts. It’s important to know when it’s time to move on and change directions. But leaving is hard and change can be frightening. So we stay in jobs that drain us and live in places that no longer suit us. True, the unknown is uncomfortable. But it’s even more uncomfortable to stay stooped in a space where you don’t fit and no longer belong.

This week, take the challenge of leaving something behind: a bad habit, a toxic relationship, a never-ending argument, a dead-end job, the computer, the phone – know when to walk away. While it’s important to know where you are headed in life, it’s just as important to know when it’s time to leave the place you are right now.


“Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?”Genesis 25:32

The Torah portion for this week, Toldot, is from Genesis 25:19—28:9 and Malachi 1:1–2:7.

What was Esau thinking? Why would he trade his birthright for a bowl of soup?

Let’s back up to where the scene begins. Esau had just returned from an exhausting day. He was utterly famished. He saw his brother Jacob making some red lentil soup, and he wanted some badly.

Esau: “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (Genesis 25:30).

Jacob: “First sell me your birthright” (Genesis 25:31)

Esau: “Look, I am about to die . . . What good is the birthright to me?”

And so the deal is done.

Now, was Jacob being unfair? Was he taking advantage of a dying man? The Jewish Sages explain that when Esau said that he was about to die, he wasn’t really dying. He was explaining his philosophy on life. Underlying this statement was Esau’s outlook: “Life is short, so eat, drink, and be merry. What good will a promise of some future reward do for me now? Now, I am hungry. Now, I want soup. The birthright is of no use to me now.” That is why the Scripture says, “So Esau despised his birthright” (Genesis 25:34).

This passage is priceless. It shows us the horrible consequences of instant gratification. The allure of the here and now is blinding. As observers, we can see the foolishness of Esau’s decision. He sacrificed his entire future for a few moments of pleasure. But then again, we do that all of the time.

Who hasn’t been in this situation? After just deciding to diet, you are suddenly accosted by a piece of chocolate cake (or vanilla, if you aren’t a chocolate fan). What do you do? You can eat the cake, enjoy it for ten minutes max, and then pay for it tomorrow when you get on the scale. Or, you can push the cake away and feel deprived for a few moments, reaping the benefits when the pounds slip away. We all know the right thing to do. But my guess is that many of us might eat that cake anyway. We too often sacrifice the future for the sake of the moment.

The simple example of cake is much like the bigger struggle we encounter in our daily lives. We are constantly faced with decisions that come down to what feels good in the moment and what’s better for us in the long term. We have to choose between what feels good for our temporal body and what’s truly nourishing for our eternal spirit. This week’s Torah reading reminds us that while it’s hard to adapt to the long-term view of life, it doesn’t make any sense to live any other way. The here and now is nothing compared to eternity.

“This is the account of the family line of Abraham’s son Isaac. Abraham became the father of Isaac.”—Genesis 25:19

The Torah portion for this week, Toldot, is from Genesis 25:19—28:9 and Malachi 1:1–2:7.

The Torah portion of Toldot, ‘offspring,’ begins almost exactly the same way that the portion of Noach began. Here we read, “This is the account of the family line of Abraham’s son Isaac.” There we read, This is the account of Noah and his family” (Genesis 6:9). In Hebrew, the phrases are identical. So the Sages are puzzled. If the opening words are the same, why aren’t the names parallel? If Noah was chosen as the title for the reading about him and his family, why isn’t Isaac’s name given the same treatment?

Let’s review. A few weeks back, we explained that the Torah portion of Noah was named for its leading man in order to teach us the power of one person’s effect on generations to come. The story of the flood was the story of mankind, but it all hinged on one individual and that person was Noah. So he gets the spotlight.

Now let’s take a look at this week’s reading. It’s the story of Jacob and Esau’s birth, Esau selling his birthright, and Jacob receiving the blessings of the firstborn. This is the story of Isaac and his family, but the emphasis is not on Isaac; it’s on his children. The story line of our portion for this week is who will continue the legacy of Abraham and Isaac?

In Jewish culture, people place a lot of value on a person’s family lineage. For example, most people with the last name ‘Cohen’ can claim that they come from the prestigious tribe of Levi and the group of priests called cohanim. Others can trace their heritage to legendary rabbis who lived decades or even centuries ago. Still, some can even trace their families all the way back to King David. But I have a friend who used to say, “That’s nice. However, more important than who came before me is who will come after me.” It’s impressive to claim a prestigious lineage, but even more impressive to be the ancestor of great men and women yet to come.

And that’s the message of this week’s Torah portion. Noach celebrates those who came before us. Toldot asks us to consider who will follow us. Noach is about the heritage that we received. Toldot is about the legacy that we pass on.

What legacy will you leave behind? Long after we have exited the stage of life, our children, with God’s help, will be playing the leading roles in the greatest story that the world has ever known.

“May it be that when I say to a young woman, ‘Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too’—let her be the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac. By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master.”—Genesis 24:14

The Torah portion for this week, Chayei Sarah, is from Genesis 23:1—25:18 and 1 Kings 1:1–31.

Abraham’s servant was sent on a very important mission. He had sworn to his master that he would find a suitable marriage partner for Isaac. What a daunting task! Where would he find the right woman? How would he know whether she was the right one? The very future of Abraham’s descendants depended upon the servant’s success!

So Abraham’s servant came up with a plan. He would go to a well in the place where Abraham’s relatives lived and the woman who offered him and his camels water would be the one for Isaac. She would have proven that she is kind and appropriate for Abraham’s home.

The Sages wonder why the servant’s test required that the worthy girl offer water to both he and his animals. What if Rebekah had only offered water to the servant, but not his camels? Would that make her a bad choice?

I once heard the following story from a psychiatrist. Early in his career, the psychiatrist used to take medical students around the psychiatric ward where he showed them classic textbook examples of psychoses in real life. One such example was a man who had been there for 52 years and who had never spoken in all that time. When he wasn’t eating or sleeping, he would stand in the corner of a room in an awkward position with his hands directed upward. No one had ever succeeded in getting the man to sit down.

One day, a student asked if he could take a shot at it. The student walked over to the patient, assumed the same contorted position and said, “I’ll stand here like this. You can go rest.” And for the first time in 52 years, the patient sat down! How did the young student do it? Everyone else had tried to help the man by thinking about what their needs would be. But the student was the first to think about what the patient’s needs might be. From that vantage point he discerned that the patient believed he was holding up the world and could only sit down if someone would hold it for him.

Abraham’s servant wasn’t looking for just any nice girl. He was looking for someone with an extraordinarily kind disposition. Many girls would relate to the servant’s need to drink. But it would be rare to find a girl who could put herself in his shoes and recognize his need for the animals to drink as well.

Take a lesson from Rebekah. When considering others’ needs, see the world from their perspective. Then you, too, will be worthy of being part of Abraham’s family.

Sarah lived to be a hundred and twenty-seven years old. She died at Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep over her.”—Genesis 23:1–2

The Torah portion for this week, Chayei Sarah, is from Genesis 23:1—25:18 and 1 Kings 1:1–31.

While it is true that the title given to each weekly Torah portion is usually found in the first few words of the reading, the title is not chosen arbitrarily. It is a one- or two-word description of the entire portion. So it is a little puzzling as to why this week’s portion is called Chayei Sarah, “The Life of Sarah,” as it begins with Sarah’s death and ends with Abraham’s demise. If the reading is sandwiched by death, why does its title speak about life?

The Sages teach that the really righteous people in the world are called ‘living’ even after they have passed on to the next world. Why? Because the righteous leave a living trace in those who come after them.

Three things happened in this week’s Torah reading after Sarah’s death. First, Abraham bought the burial cave of Machpelah; second, Isaac married Rebekah; and finally, Abraham married a woman named Keturah, but then sends her children away with gifts. Don’t these three events describe everything Sarah had lived for?

Sarah’s life’s work was to spread the Word of God, to settle in the Holy Land, and to ensure that Abraham’s legacy would continue on in Isaac. After she died, the first piece of real estate in Israel was purchased, beginning the formal acquisition of the Holy Land. Next, Isaac found a marriage partner who is committed to the same values that his parents stood for; together they continue to spread the Word of God. When Abraham sent his other children away, we are reminded of the time that Sarah sent Hagar and Ishmael away, ensuring that Isaac would be Abraham’s sole heir. Sarah’s final wish was to ensure that Abraham’s mission would be continued by Isaac alone, just as God had predicted.

While the Torah portion may begin with Sarah’s death, it goes on to describe everything that she had lived for. And that is why it is appropriately called “Sarah’s Life.”

What do you live for? What changes do you want to see in the world? In our busy and hectic lives, sometimes it’s hard to think past the next five minutes or the next few days, let alone past our entire lives. But we need to think much larger than the minutes and days that make up our lives. We need to think beyond our own lifetimes and into the lives of our family and others we impact. What can we do now that will live on through them? What legacy will we leave behind?

When we live our lives in a way that shapes the next generation, our lives never truly end.

“Then Abraham approached him and said: ‘Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?’”—Genesis 18:23

The Torah portion for this week, Vayeira, is from Genesis 18:1—22:24 and 2 Kings 4:1–37.

When God decided to destroy the city of Sodom, He informed Abraham about His plan. After all, Abraham would be God’s partner in perfecting the world; he deserved to know. Abraham didn’t want to see the death of his fellow human beings, especially the good ones. So he prayed on their behalf and tried to bargain with God. The conversation went something like this:

Abraham: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” What if there are 50 righteous people in Sodom? Will you save them all?

God: Yes.

Abraham: What if there are only 45?

God: Yes.

Abraham: How about 40?

God: Yes.

30? Yes. 20? Yes. Ten? Yes.

Abraham struck a deal. If there were only ten righteous individuals in Sodom, God would save the entire city. Unfortunately, even ten righteous people could not be found, and the city was destroyed anyway. So why are we given the details about Abraham’s attempt to save Sodom? Wouldn’t it have been enough to say that Abraham prayed on their behalf?

Like everywhere else in the Bible, every detail is provided for a reason. It has something to teach us about how we should live. In this case, Abraham’s conversation with God is a lesson on achieving goals.

Abraham approached God with great trepidation when he presented his request. He knows that he is asking a lot. But ultimately, Abraham was successful in achieving his goal. How did he do it? By breaking it down into smaller, bite-sized, mini-goals. First, Abraham’s goal was to have God agree to spare the city for the sake of 50 good men. Once he secured that agreement, he went to the next goal, 45 men. In small steps, he progressed toward his ultimate goal of ten men. Had he tried for ten in the beginning, Abraham probably thought he would not have succeeded.

Do you have a great goal that you want to achieve? Try to reach it the Abraham way. Don’t go for the whole goal right away. Instead, break it down into small, easy steps, and take the journey one step at a time. Celebrate each achievement and recognize every milestone along the way. Keep putting one foot in front of the other, and before you know it, you’ll arrive at the finish line!

Being Like God

Posted: October 30, 2012 in Holy Land Moments
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.”—Genesis 18:2

The Torah portion for this week, Vayeira, is from Genesis 18:1—22:24 and 2 Kings 4:1–37.

When the Torah portion begins, Abraham had just circumcised himself. God made a house call and visited the recovering Abraham. But did He find Abraham resting in bed? No! God found him sitting in the same place where he sat every day — at the entrance of his tent eagerly awaiting guests. “The LORD appeared to Abraham while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent” (Genesis 18:1). For Abraham, the pain of circumcision was nothing compared to the pain of not having guests.

So God sent Abraham three guests — three angels disguised as men. In the next verse we read that Abraham saw the men and ran to greet them. “When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them . . . .” But wait, didn’t we just read that God appeared to Abraham? Did we not understand that Abraham was in the middle of a conversation with God?

If you could speak to one person in the world, living or dead, who would that person be? Now imagine that your hero calls you up one day and you get to have that conversation. Suddenly, you see three strangers standing in your front yard and you say, “Can you hold on? There are some guys hanging out nearby, I’ll get back to you later!”

Sounds ridiculous? But that’s exactly what Abraham did! He had the audience of the Master of the world, but as soon as he saw the strangers outside, he drops the line. Can you imagine doing such a thing – and why would Abraham do it?

Because Abraham understood that even as we talk to God, He continues to give us opportunities (and yes, challenges), to be ever closer to Him.

As we are told from the very beginning, humans were created “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:27). The intention for humanity is that we would be God-like. And so the greatest thing we can do is to be like our Creator.

How can we be like God? The Sages offer some advice: “Just as the Lord clothes the naked as He did with Adam, so you clothe the naked; just as the Lord visits the sick as He did with Abraham, so you visit the sick; just as the Lord comforts the bereaved as He did with Isaac, so you comfort the bereaved; just as the Lord buries the dead as he did with Moses, so you bury the dead.”

Look to fit in at least one godly act a week. Visit a sick friend, the elderly, or a hospital. Donate some clothing or work in a soup kitchen. Support someone going through a difficult time or be a companion for someone lonely. And when an unexpected opportunity for kindness comes your way, be like Abraham – run to do it!