Archive for November, 2018

What’s In a Name?

In this week’s Torah portion, Jacob wrestles with G-d and in the end, G-d blesses him saying, “Your name shall no more be Jacob, but Yisrael.”  Yisrael means one who struggles with G-d and, as I wrote in a previous D’var Torah, it is our struggle with and engagement in faith that truly makes us a part of Yisrael.  But I want to focus on something different and that is on the concepts of naming and renaming.
A name defines something, gives it a role.  Those who choose to be Jewish have the opportunity to select a Hebrew name for themselves.  Some choose to honor a deceased relative as their parents might have done.  Others honor a Biblical personality or a character trait that they admire.  In the Torah, adults often receive additional names.  But today, we change our names only through three mechanisms – marriage, the addition of nicknames (often given by family or friends with humor), or through the bestowing of titles or honorifics earned through schooling.  In changing Jacob’s name to Yisrael, G-d attaches Jacob’s struggle to his identity.  Our additional names are given to us by others, but they rarely say something truly deep about our own inner lives
If you could choose a new name, Hebrew or otherwise, what would you choose?  Who would you honor or remember?  What character traits would you want as a part of your name?  Are there other ways that you can express that identity, honor those loved ones, bring those names forward in your life?
The great Israeli poet, Zelda (1914-1984) wrote:
Each of us has a name
given by God
and given by our parents
Each of us has a name
given by our stature and our smile
and given by what we wear
Each of us has a name
given by the mountains
and given by our walls
Each of us has a name
given by the stars
and given by our neighbors
Each of us has a name
given by our sins
and given by our longing
Each of us has a name
given by our enemies
and given by our love
Each of us has a name
given by our celebrations
and given by our work
Each of us has a name
given by the seasons
and given by our blindness
Each of us has a name
given by the sea
and given by
our death.
What will be your name?

When you are just… DONE

In Genesis 25:29, we read: “One day, when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the hunting field. He was famished, and he said to Jacob, ‘I’m famished: let me gulp some of that red stuff!… Jacob said, ‘Sell me your birthright here and now.’ And Esau said, ‘Here I am going to die; what good is the birthright to me?’”

The Hebrew word that gets translated as “famished,” is ayeif – which also means exhausted. We see Esau coming in from the field at his wits end – exhausted, hungry, or just, as we would say today, “DONE.” His exhaustion is such that he doesn’t even care if he gives up everything. I think we can all relate to this at some level. The exhaustion of our family lives, our efforts at tikkun olam (repairing the world), keeping up with social media, making a living, and so much more. The exhaustion at hearing what is happening in the world and how so much of it just keeps happening, with no lessons learned. It is so easy to feel overwhelmed, to want to throw up our hands in feeling ayeif and just be DONE.

Ah, but you see, we cannot be done, because if we give up, or give in, we risk giving away our birthright for a bowl of stew. So, what do we do when we are as done as Esau was?

If Esau had taken just a moment to stop, to relax, he surely would have known the folly of selling his birthright. But he didn’t stop. Shabbat is our birthright as Jews – it is the gift of stopping, of refilling our personal, spiritual, and emotional buckets. On Shabbat we can have family time, alone time, friend time. We can take a moment for the art and music that feeds our souls. Whatever it is that helps you to face another week, relieved and ready. When you, too, are ayeif, I hope you will take that moment and take care of you.

We Shall Not Die, But Live

In this week’s Torah portion, Chayei Sarah, our matriarch, Sarah dies. “…and Abraham proceeded to mourn for Sarah and to bewail her. I imagine that the entire community must have mourned for Sarah, yet that mourning would have been different in color and weight than Abraham’s and Isaac’s.

I have been thinking a lot about communal mourning in the wake of the Pittsburgh attack. When eleven Jews are shot in cold blood as they gather to worship on Shabbat, the worst anti-Semitic attack in US history, we all mourn. Those who lost loved ones mourn the deepest. Their loss is fresh, unfathomable, and personal. But we all mourn too. We mourn sympathetically for their loss and we mourn for the hatred and antisemitism that have increased so alarmingly in the last few years. I have been so sad to see the looks on the faces of my fellow Jews, so many appearing lost and broken as we grapple together with this tragedy.

After Sarah passed, Abraham’s first task was to procure a burial place for her. He honored her memory by staking a claim in the ground that was hers, and that was his in perpetuity. We too must stake a claim in the ground, a claim to our right to be Jewish in this country. The gunman went after this particular congregation, not just because they were Jews, but because they supported HIAS, fighting for the rights of immigrants. We must respond by putting our feet to the ground – we will not be moved. We will continue to fight for the rights of others because that is what we do as Jews. We will continue to show up at our synagogues to worship, to do mitzvot, and to perform acts of loving-kindness. This is our claim in the ground. We will respond to this tragedy, by grieving and then by acting, by fighting against gun violence and against intimidation and fear. Our matriarch, Sarah welcomed all into her tent. We will honor her legacy and that of all those who died in Pittsburgh by doing the same.

We shall not die, but live, we shall not cower in fear, but show up to worship, sing, and support one another and to continue to make the world a better place.

Shabbat shalom.