On Thursday night and Friday we will celebrate Simchat Torah. Amid singing and dancing, we complete the reading of the Torah and, without pause, begin the Torah reading cycle again. I have often marveled that, like a massive oak growing from a small seed, our religion has developed from a portable scroll.
There is an old story, a kind of midrash, in which the wanderings of the Jewish people are compared to the journey of a stone. Brought back to life by the mysterious modern commentator known as the Draschba, this story begins with the Akedah, the binding of Isaac, which we read during Rosh HaShanah. In the Draschba’s telling, the rock on which Abraham attempted to sacrifice Isaac was split open when the ram was substituted for the man. Those flints, impregnated with the joy of life affirmed, floated downstream into human history, distributed randomly in every direction, bubbling to the surface every time a text is split open, and its holy power ignited and revealed.
The middle book of the Torah is called Exodus in English and Shemot (Names) in Hebrew. Names play a crucial role in Torah language and thought. When God gives Adam responsibility for keeping the earth safe, Adam’s first responsibility is to name the creatures of the world, and in that way, connect with them. Know their names and not their skills.
Tisha b'Av commemorates the destruction of both the First and Second Jerusalem Temples. Our sages explain that the seeds of these tragedies took root during a much earlier event (Talmud Tractate Ta-anit, 29A).
President Barack Obama is in Israel. Our television screens are re-running Charleston Heston’s “Ten Commandments” and we are cleaning our kitchens for Seders. Soon, even Obama will celebrate Passover with Jewish members of his staff. It’s the perfect time to learn lessons from the original disability activist -- Moses -- on how to impact public policy.
Two weeks ago, we read the portion Zahor, in which we remember what Amalek did to us, attacking the weakest elements of our people when they were most vulnerable. This past week, we read the portion Ki Tissa, and how the shattered tablets of the Ten Commandments were not discarded or buried. Rather, they were placed with respect into the Ark, alongside the new set of Tablets. What is the connection?
My 8-year-old daughter and I are having a little bit of a God problem lately.
It’s not that we’re unsure whether or not to believe in him; I’m satisfied with leaving it unresolved by being agnostic, and Ellie’s OK with that as well.
It’s not even the “why do bad things happen to good people” issue, because, while the world is outrageously unfair, I don’t think God, if he exists, is micro-managing the daily lives of the world’s almost seven billion people.
When our Brooklyn synagogue recently hosted two former State Department veterans, Elliot Abrams and Robert Malley, a few congregants and even a local merchant objected to our having invited Mr. Abrams, a known “war criminal.”
Similarly, when our synagogue hosted Columbia professor Rashid Khalidi, a Palestinian academic, others claimed our pulpit now had “Jewish blood on its hands.” Another congregant asked, “How can you invite Malley? He and the president hate Jews.”