Posts Tagged ‘Weekly Torah portion’

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.


Isaac trembled violently and said, ‘Who was it, then, that hunted game and brought it to me? I ate it just before you came and I blessed him—and indeed he will be blessed!’”—Genesis 27:33

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

Toward the end of the Torah portion, Isaac wanted to give the birthright blessings to his son, Esau. But Rebekah knew better. During her pregnancy, she had been prophetically told that Esau would be unworthy of receiving the blessings, while Jacob would need them to fulfill his mission of spreading the Word of God. So Rebekah coached Jacob on how to trick his father into giving him the blessings. The plan succeeded, and then comes the moment when Isaac realized that he was duped.

The real Esau returned from a day of hunting, ready to be blessed. Isaac asked, “Who are you?” Esau answered “It’s me, your son Esau!” And then it all comes together in one crushing moment. As the Bible tells us, “Isaac trembled violently . . .” The Sages explain that Isaac didn’t tremble because he was angry. He trembled because he realized that he had been terribly mistaken. This was no ordinary shudder. This was the kind of shuddering that shakes a person to the core. Isaac’s whole outlook had been wrong, and only now did he fully understand God’s plan for his sons. All of Isaac’s hopes and dreams for Esau came crashing to the ground.

We can feel Isaac’s pain. The moment is sad and heart-wrenching, but at the same time, it is strengthening and inspiring. How many of us could walk away from a lifelong belief and humbly accept that we were mistaken? And yet, Isaac does just that.

There is a story in the Talmud about a rabbi who spent his life’s energies studying a word that appears hundreds of times in the Bible: ‘et,’ loosely translated as ‘and’ or ‘also.’ The rabbi had a theory that every time the word was used, there was an additional law to be learned about the subject at hand. He spent his life extrapolating those hidden laws – until one day he was stumped. He was forced to conclude that his theory was wrong, and he discarded what had been his entire life’s work. When his students asked him how he could do such a thing, the rabbi answered: “Just as I was given reward for expounding, so I shall be given reward for refraining.” The rabbi knew when to quit, and he wasn’t too proud to admit when he was wrong.

We all know what it’s like to find out that we have been mistaken. It is humbling and can shake our world. But there is something much worse than letting go of a long-held belief; it’s continuing with the same faulty outlook and repeating the same mistakes over and over.

We can learn from Isaac on how to confront our mistakes and let them go. Only then can we change our course and move on with grace.

“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.

He said, ’Take now your son . . .’ —Genesis 22:2

God’s command is, “Take now,” not later. It is incredible how we debate! We know something is right, but we try to find excuses for not doing it immediately. If we are to climb to the height God reveals, it can never be done later— it must be done now. And the sacrifice must be worked through our will before we actually perform it.

“So Abraham rose early in the morning . . . and went to the place of which God had told him” (Genesis 22:3). Oh, the wonderful simplicity of Abraham! When God spoke, he did not “confer with flesh and blood” (Galatians 1:16). Beware when you want to “confer with flesh and blood” or even your own thoughts, insights, or understandings— anything that is not based on your personal relationship with God. These are all things that compete with and hinder obedience to God.

Abraham did not choose what the sacrifice would be. Always guard against self-chosen service for God. Self-sacrifice may be a disease that impairs your service. If God has made your cup sweet, drink it with grace; or even if He has made it bitter, drink it in communion with Him. If the providential will of God means a hard and difficult time for you, go through it. But never decide the place of your own martyrdom, as if to say, “I will only go to there, but no farther.” God chose the test for Abraham, and Abraham neither delayed nor protested, but steadily obeyed. If you are not living in touch with God, it is easy to blame Him or pass judgment on Him. You must go through the trial before you have any right to pronounce a verdict, because by going through the trial you learn to know God better. God is working in us to reach His highest goals until His purpose and our purpose become one.

“The king then took an oath: ‘As surely as the LORD lives, who has delivered me out of every trouble,I will surely carry out this very day what I swore to you by the LORD, the God of Israel: Solomon your son shall be king after me, and he will sit on my throne in my place.’”—1 Kings 1:29–30

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

Both this week’s Torah portion and the Haftorah selection deal with important times of transition. In the Torah we read about Sarah’s death, the search for a wife for Isaac, and then the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah, who continue the mission begun by their parents.

In the Haftorah, we read about King David’s old age and the quest for a successor to his throne. One of his sons, Adonijah, appointed himself king even though Nathan the prophet had already determined that Solomon would rule. Nathan intervened and David promised that Solomon would be king.

The overall theme of transition is obviously shared by both stories. When we zoom in on a few key verses, we find another similarity between the two stories and a shared message as well.

In both stories, we find that during critical moments, someone makes a promise. When the continuation of Abraham’s legacy hinged on finding Isaac a suitable marriage partner, Abraham made his servant swear that he would find a wife for Isaac only from Abraham’s relatives. Likewise, when Solomon’s kingship was in jeopardy, David took an oath that he would make sure that Solomon would be king.

In both cases we ask the same question: Why was it necessary for people to make promises to ensure a reality that already had been promised by God? God had promised that Isaac would carry on Abraham’s legacy, and Nathan had already prophesied that Solomon would succeed David. Why didn’t Abraham and David relax in their old age and watch God take care of everything?

While Abraham and David trusted in God completely, they understood that they were not excused from doing their part. Even as they relied on God, they understood that they had to make an effort as well.

Friends, we live in a time in which we see many ancient prophecies coming true. Just as the prophets foretold, the Jewish people have returned to Israel, and the land of Israel has begun to flourish once again. Other prophecies are unfolding which involve wars against Israel and all kinds of world conflicts. But we know how the story ends. We know that God has promised the Messiah and peace in Israel.

But that doesn’t mean that we are free to sit it out and watch the scenes unfold on CNN and FOX. Like David and Abraham, we need to commit ourselves to doing everything we can to help God’s promises come true. We must promise to do our part. We stand at the precipice of another great transition in history. It our duty to play our role in every way that we can.

Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he married Rebekah. So she became his wife, and he loved her; and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.”—Genesis 24:67

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

Nothing can replace the loss of a loved one. But it’s common to feel some degree of comfort when a new love is found – like a new spouse, friend, or baby. So it’s not surprising Scripture tells us that “Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death” after he married Rebekah. However, the Sages tell us that Isaac was comforted by much more than the love of his wife. With Rebekah’s entrance into Isaac’s tent, a part of Sarah returned, too.

Jewish tradition teaches that while Sarah was alive there were three constant miracles in her home. The first miracle was that the candles Sarah lit on Friday night to welcome the Sabbath kept burning throughout the week until it was time to light them again. The second wonder was a blessing in Sarah’s dough — the bread she baked never got stale or moldy (no preservatives added!). The third miracle in Sarah’s home was that God’s Clouds of Glory always rested above her tent. There was always a palpable presence of God.

When Sarah left this world, the miracles left, too. Isaac was left with a gaping hole that wasn’t just the result of losing his mother; he had lost a mentor, a teacher, and a spiritual giant. But when he married Rebekah he found much of what he had lost. The Sages teach that when Rebekah came into Sarah’s home, the miracles came back, too.

Now, the great wonders that were present in the homes of both Sarah and Rebekah were not random gifts from the Almighty. These gifts simply reflected on the outside the spirit that lived on the inside of the home.

The lasting candlelight was the result of the light that the Matriarchs brought into their homes with their warmth, understanding, and insight. Their homes were a place where a person was welcomed, encouraged, and enlightened. The fresh bread was a reflection of the enthusiasm and vigor that the Matriarchs brought to their service of God every day. Their homes were a place of rejuvenation and inspiration. Finally, the Clouds of Glory were symbolic of God’s constant presence in the Matriarchs’ homes. They spoke of Him, prayed to Him, and managed their home according to His ways.

We can make our homes like Sarah’s and Rebekah’s, too. We can make it a place of love and light, a space where people can find rest and be revived. We can make it a godly space that reminds people of the LORD. And just as Sarah’s tent was open on all four sides, making it a welcoming place for strangers and family alike, we can also make our homes an inviting place for God and all who enter.

“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.