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Posted By The Stash
There is a fascinating verse often overlooked in this majestic and event filled parasha that brings us back to the beginning of the Torah reading cycle. After the powerful brevity of Chapter 1, the Torah seemingly begins a new narrative with the fourth verse of Chapter 2: “And these are the generations of the Heaven and the Earth when they were created.” The last word is written with a hey rabati, a large letter Hey. Ramban writes, following a Talmudic midrash, that the word should be read as two words “b’hei baram”—when G-d made them—the Heaven and the Earth. This very sensible reading would then introduce, as Ramban argues, a recapitulation of the account of Creation, but this time in careful chronological order.

But something else in this verse is worthy of our attention. Here the Torah speaks of generations (toldot) created by G-d. The end of this parasha will chronicle, with considerable literary repetition, the ten generations from Adam to Noah. In fact, the word toldot is used throughout the Torah to indicate familial growth over time. But only in this week’s parasha is toldot associated directly with G-d’s name.

This is not coincidental, for the subtext of Creation is the creation of Humans to accept stewardship of G-d’s world. Our text clearly indicates in the next verse (2:5) by reminding us that when the world was first created “there was no man to till the soil.” This is a reference to Adam and Eve’s first task, to work in and preserve the Garden of Eden. We read this account immediately after the close of the holy day season of Tishrei to remind us that, as the days shorten and optimism diminishes as the work and school years begin their “real grind” after the summer, it is time to renew stewardship of our intellects. It is all too tempting, as the summer fades, to want to roll over on Shabbat mornings and not come to shul. It is even understandable that some among us might feel “shuled out” after attending shul “so often” and praying “so much”.

The antidote for this is returning to the goals we set for ourselves not four weeks ago when the shofar sounded in a packed shul and the world seemed sparkling fresh. This year regular attendees at our Voices of Torah class will complete our study of Sefer Bereishit after five years of learning, discussion, debate, and analysis. That is one way to fulfill the purpose for which we were created. But there are others equally exciting. This year I want as many Megillah readers as possible for Purim. It would be wonderful to have one person for each chapter. Or perhaps you would like to lead a portion of the service you have never led—this is yet another opportunity. You may want to add a new haftara to your repertoire, or chant one for the first time. And if you are reading this parasha sheet and haven’t yet come to shul regularly—here’s the opportunity!

Without constant growth there is only stagnation. Predictability brings peace of mind in our routines, but paralysis to our intellects. I invite you all to continue your growth and the shul’s. Together we can continue to create a special place full of Jewish learning, camaraderie, (yes drinks included!) and a safe place to hone our synagogue skills—a veritable Garden of Eden.

 
Posted By The Stash
Rabbi Sacks, who just retired as Chief Rabbi, has written a terrific comment about Sukkot. I want to share his “chiddush”— his innovative insight—with you. To understand it, we need to recall the famous debate between two great Sages over the meaning of the Biblical verse commanding that we celebrate Sukkot “because I [G-d] sheltered the Israelites in sukkot when I took them out of Egypt.” Rabbi Eliezer interprets “sukkot” as a reference to the “clouds of glory”—the miraculous shield against the elements Divinely deployed in the desert. Rabbi Akiva says—get ready for this—“sukkah mammash”—a sukkah is simply a hut. The Israelites built huts and so do we. Nothing miraculous here.

On this note, I introduce Rabbi Sack’s lovely innovative reading:

The Festival of Insecurity: A message for Sukkot 5774 from Rabbi Sacks

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Posted By The Stash
Consider the following verses, which we have learned in our weekly voices of Torah class. “Now Joseph could no longer bear to hold back his emotions, and he called out to those near him: “remove everyone from my presence!” So there was no [Egyptian] in Joseph’s presence when he revealed himself to his brothers. And Joseph wept out loud, and Egypt heard, and the House of Pharoah heard. And Joseph said: “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” And his brothers could not answer him, because they were terrified. And Joseph said: “Come close to me” and they did, and he said: “I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold to Egypt.” (Bereishit 46:1-4)

A well known midrash comments: “When Joseph first spoke to his brothers, they did not recognize him. So he left the room and returned, this time dressed in the clothes he had worn when they threw him into the pit. He then called them close so they could truly recognize the clothes, and repeated his name yet again.” This midrash wishes to explain why Joseph needs to speak twice to his brothers and concludes that, considering everything that had taken place, the brothers would never have expected to see Joseph alive again. Therefore, even though the brothers recognized his voice (obviously another play on the parallel story of Jacob and Esau), they could not intellectually grasp the truth. It was only when Joseph reappeared in his original context that they saw who he was.

But Maimonides takes this midrash as the proof text to his theory of teshuva/repentance: a person can only truly repent when he is presented with the same situation as he was in when he sinned, and this time resists the temptation. As we learned in our classes, Judah has already passed this test in his speech to Joseph at the beginning of this narrative. But what of the other brothers? Maimonides argues that, by changing into his desert garb, Joseph confronts the brothers with their deed, thus offering them the same opportunity to repent. Harsh perhaps, but powerful.

Teshuva that fits Maimonides’ definition is a difficult process to engage in, let alone succeed at. It is difficult to admit fault anyway, let alone verify that we have improved our behaviour to the point that we would not fall prey to the same mistakes the second time around. Yet, this is what this Shabbat in the midst of the Ten Days of Repentance is about: a time to check in on how well we are doing at changing our behaviour to the extent that what was once negatively normative becomes impossibly irrelevant. May we improve to the point that, like Joseph, we become unrecognizable without our familiar faults!

 

 

 
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