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Vayigash

Mon, 12/10/2018 - 12:00am

Genesis 44:18–47:27 


BY ZOHAR ATKINS for JTS


Hearing Our Own Stories


Although we know how it ends, this week’s Torah reading can be, by turns, anxiety-provoking, cathartic, and unsettling. We know a reconciliation between the brothers will take place, but we don’t fully understand how. We know a peace deal will be reached, but we suspect that, like all new agreements, its character will be tenuous, fragile, and ad hoc, its consensus constructed atop a minefield of lingering resentments and fundamentally conflicting narratives.

Read & Listen. 

Miketz - Rosh Chodesh Hanukkah

Mon, 12/03/2018 - 12:00am

Genesis 41:1−44:17 


BY ARNOLD M. EISEN, JTS


Joseph, Hanukkah, and the Dilemmas of Assimilation


Ruminations about assimilation come naturally to Jews in North America during the winter holiday season. How much should a parent insist that Hanukkah is part of public school celebrations that give students a heavy dose of Christmas? How often should one remind store clerks who innocently ask Jewish children which gifts they hope to receive from Santa this year that there are other faiths observed in our communities, and other holidays? Intermarried couples are familiar with conversations about having a Christmas tree at home, or going to midnight mass, or allowing their kids to open gifts Christmas morning under the tree at their cousins’ home. The Hanukkah story is the perfect stimulus for such reflections, especially when read, as some historians do, not as a conflict between Jews and a tyrannical government, but as a dispute among Jews themselves over which Greek customs are acceptable and which cross the line to assimilation or apostasy.

Read & Listen.

Vayeshev

Mon, 11/26/2018 - 12:00am

Genesis 37:1–40:23 


BY EITAN FISHBANE, JTS


Yosef: A Light in the Darkness


Parashat Vayeshev takes us deep into the pain and alienation of being human, of yearning from a low place of darkness and suffering. And yet the narrative also conveys the power of hope—a longing for God and redemption, for spiritual and moral healing in our human relationships.

This week’s parashah crystallizes the dysfunctional family dynamics that are evident throughout the book of Genesis—the fraught father-son relationships, the painful intergenerational wounds of favoritism, the anger and resentment between siblings, and, deep down, the simple desire to be loved. Although we may cringe at the violence of the brothers toward Yosef, the narrative of Vayeshev also opens our hearts to the pain these sons felt at their father’s rejection—his greatest love reserved for Yosef:   וְיִשְׂרָאֵל אָהַב אֶת יוֹסֵף מִכָּל בָּנָיו (“Yisrael [i.e., Ya’akov] loved Yosef most of all his sons”) (Gen. 37:3). 

Read & Listen.

Vayshlach

Mon, 11/19/2018 - 12:00am

Genesis 32:4−36:43 

 

BY JONATHAN MILGRAM, JTS


Wrestling the Angels and the Demons within Us


In this week’s Torah reading, Parashat Vayishlah, we read of the patriarch Jacob’s journey home with his family after freeing himself and his entire clan from his father-in-law, Laban’s, control. Along the route, Jacob prepares himself for his eventual reunion with his older twin brother Esau, whom he fears to be vengeful. Right in the middle of the parashah, in between the description of Jacob’s preparations and his actual meeting with Esau, Jacob is involved in a transformative experience: a physical struggle with a stranger. He comes out of the encounter newly named “Israel” and, at least temporarily, limping.

Read & Listen.

Vayeitzei

Mon, 11/12/2018 - 12:00am

Genesis 28:10−32:3 


By Dena Weiss for Hadar


ONCE UPON AN EYELASH


When we meet our foremothers, Leah and Rachel, we immediately learn about their appearance. The verses tell us specifically that Rachel was beautiful and Leah, less so. What motivates these verses and descriptions?  Why does the Torah need to testify to how unattractive Leah is? The answer helps teach us a crucial lesson about Leah and through her story, about the nature of lashon ha-ra, of harmful speech, itself.  

Read & Listen. 

Toldot

Mon, 11/05/2018 - 12:00am

Genesis 25:19−28:9 


BY DANIEL NEVINS, for JTS


A Family of Covenant


The stories of Genesis are presented as family portraits, but simultaneously they describe the origins of a religious civilization. How did the people of Israel acquire and maintain its distinctive religious mission? Genesis offers not only a window into Israel’s past, but a blueprint for its future. Implicit is an invitation to contribute to this unfolding narrative, attaching the threads of our lives to the tapestry woven by our ancestors.

Read & Listen. 
 

Chayei Sarah

Mon, 10/29/2018 - 12:00am

Genesis 23:1−25:18 


BY ELIEZER B. DIAMOND, JTS


Leaving Home


To the best of my knowledge, Hayyei Sarah contains the only instance in Tanakh of a parent asking his child’s wishes. Laban and Betuel cannot come to an agreement with Abraham’s servant—who we’ll call Eliezer—about whether Rebecca should remain in Haran for a time or depart immediately to Canaan. And so, they ask Rebecca to state her preference. Contrary to her family’s express wishes, Rebecca decides to leave immediately.

Read & Listen. 

Vayera

Mon, 10/22/2018 - 12:00am

Genesis 18:1–22:24 


BY AMY KALMANOFSKY, JTS


Women of Faith


Abraham passed God’s litmus test of faith. God commands Abraham to take his beloved son Isaac to the land of Moriah and kill him. Faithful Abraham does not hesitate. Genesis 22 may be the most loved and hated story in the Torah by every reader, no matter what their faith. Certainly, generations of Jews have struggled to make sense of this story, and of the father and God it portrays. Rashi, the 11th-century French commentator, cannot bear to think that God intended Abraham to kill Isaac. He writes: “God did not say ‘kill him [שחטהו],’ because the Holy One Blessed Be He did not want him to kill him. Rather, God commanded Abraham to “bring him up [להעלותו]” with the intention to give Isaac the status of being an offering” (on Gen. 22:2).

Read & Listen.