While two women, Rachel and Leah, are central to this week’s Torah portion, it is not until the middle of the narrative, once they are both married to Jacob, that we hear either of their voices.
How many times a day do you say “I feel blessed” or “God bless you” after a sneeze, or “you are a blessing to me”? Some of these phrases have been part of our speech since we were children and some have been added in more recently. What are we really saying when we use the word “blessing” and what is the power that it holds?
The name of this Torah portion refers to “The Life of Sarah” and yet only shares the experience of her death and subsequent burial. So why not name the parsha, “The Death of Sarah”?
If you were to inquire of one of the members of “my” synagogue about reflections on their rabbi, among those items likely would be something to the effect that Rabbi Zedek would regularly assert that such and such a Torah portion (whatever one it might be) is a favorite passage in our endlessly rich and rewarding tradition.
Numbers in the Torah are an odd thing. We love that people lived such a long time in that world, but our rational selves don’t buy it because science tells us that, back then, folks probably only lived into their mid-30s. It’s reasonable then to assume that this age was ascribed to him either because Abraham looked older than he really was, or that he became quite renowned for his remarkable vigor and strength in old age.
Storytelling is an art. You know how you feel after hearing – or reading – a good story. You also know when a story strikes you as overly contrived or incomplete. The satisfaction felt upon receiving a well-crafted story does not require analysis, but you sense that there are some elements and qualities involved that made the story work.
Like all of us, we wish to know where we came from. Our portion begins in relationship, a sacred relationship between God and humanity. It is the complexity of relationships that, in many ways, is the motif that finds its way through the portion, and, as many of you know, in the Torah as a whole. Consider, if you will, the fact that the entire Torah can be viewed as examples of evolving types of relationships.
In retrospect, of course I became a rabbi; who else attends services voluntarily while a high school and college student? At the time though my entry into Hebrew Union College felt very coincidental. The school happened to be in Cincinnati, my parents happened to want me back at home for a while before I went off to law school in Israel, and various romantic entanglements of my then young life pushed and pulled.
The Torah reading for this Shabbat, Haazinu, is a song with which Moses ends his final instructions to the Jewish People. (…) Haazinu is an unusual Hebrew term for the command Listen, which is usually expressed by the word Sh’ma. In the King James Bible, Haazinu is translated as “Give me your ear”, which Shakespeare appropriated in his play Julius Caesar. Both the Biblical term Haazinu and Shakespeare’s usage of it are literary ways to call upon the reader and listener to pay special attention to what is to follow.
At 30 verses, Vayeilech is the shortest Torah portion. In it, Moses delivers an encouraging message to the Israelites, while acknowledging he will be unable to join them in the Promised Land. He says in Deuteronomy 31:12, “I am now one hundred and twenty years old.” For many people, old age is the ideal time for retrospection.