Friday, October 12, 2007


Well, this Shabbat we will read about Noah and the flood. This is my bar mitzvah sedrah some “I really don’t care to think about how many” many years later. I have always been fascinated by the sedrah. One thing which is commonly talked about is the meaning of Noah being a righteous man in his generation.

There are those who feel Noah was ONLY righteous in his generation and had he lived in another team, he would not have been looked upon in such a favorable light. I see things differently and agree with other commentators who feel the words “in his generation” emphasize that even during such a terrible time, with no positive influences around, Noah still was righteous.

What I like most about Noah is, he takes care of his family. He may not argue or bargain with G-d; he may not try to save the world, but he does make sure to have his family on the ark with him, so that they too remain safe.

The book of Genesis, of Breishet, is filled with many stories about sibling rivalry, about parents and children not treating each other fairly, trickery, bribery, all sorts of thing. I actually find it refreshing to read about a man who puts family first.

I think there is an important lesson here. Before we go out to save the world, we have to take care of ourselves and our families. It is also important to focus on the importance one generation has of helping another generation. If there is no Noah, then no one after him comes along since the entire world is destroyed. Noah, by saving himself and his family, literally did save the entire world.

To me, that is the lesson of Noah, that is the greatness of Noah, that is what should be taken out of this week’s Torah reading.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Cain And Abel

The string of Jewish Holidays are over. As much as I enjoy them, I am certainly glad to be able to get back to the regular routine and have the Holidays come to an end. The last in this string marks the Jews finishing the book of Deuteronomy, the fifth and final book of the Torah, of the Five Books of Moses. We then go back to the book of Genesis and start all over again. This week we read the first portion. One of my favorite parts of this is the story of Cain and Abel. My take may be a little different and I cannot guarantee that you will not be stricken by lightening, so read at your own risk.

The story starts off with Cain bringing an offering to G-d. G-d has not asked for one but Cain decides to do it and G-d is gracious, although not overly thrilled. Seeing this, Abel decides to bring an offering to G-d as well, an offering that G-d likes and G-d, in effect says to Cain, now this is an offering more to my liking.

Let’s examine this from the point of view of a parent and two siblings. The first one remembers the parent’s birthday and brings a gift. The parent says thank you. Only after seeing the older child bring a gift does the younger child remember the birthday. The younger child goes out and buys a different gift and gives it to the parent. Upon opening it, the parent says, “This is exactly what I wanted,” and then, turning to the older child says, “Why couldn’t your gift be more like your sibling’s. That is really what I want”.

Is it any surprise that Cain resents Abel? In fact, it is G-d who creates the very conflict. Of course Cain needs to take responsibility for his own actions. Of course Abel is still dead. Still, G-d helped to create the tension.

To me, this story serves as a reminder. In effect, G-d is telling us not to play favorites with our children, not to pit one against the other. G-d shows us, when taken to the extreme, what the parents are capable of creating, on the negative side, when it comes to children. Hopefully, we as parents have learned that lesson and appreciate each child, each person, each member of society, for his or her own contributions and individuality.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Having Faith

I am currently listening to a very interesting lecture on CD. The lecture is about comparative religion. I am fascinated by it. It talks about various religions, including some that pre-date Judaism, and talks about similarities and differences.

I have often wondered if this, coupled with yesterday’s post makes me appear like a skeptic or non-believer. I do not fall into either category. I do have my differences and I am willing to talk about the problems I have with certain stories. Still, we can learn from them.

I think back to a class I had in college called Religion, Myth and Magic. The instructor was talking about Bishop Codrington. Codrington, a Bishop in the Catholic Church, was also considered one of the most scholarly of anthropologists. One of Codrington’s disciples one asked him how, considering all he knew, he could still be a Bishop, a man who had faith in G-d. Codrington replied to the effect, “It is precisely because of what I do know that I can believe this way.”

In other words, Codrington was suggested that the true test of his faith was to believe, even when all the evidence, evidence that he was helping to find, pointed elsewhere. I understand that approach. From a Jewish perspective, can there be faith without doubt?

What is faith? I think Dan Brown, in the DaVinci Code, does an excellent job explaining it. To paraphrase, he is saying that faith is to believe in something regardless of what the evidence shows. Therefore, anyone who believe in something, often times will continue to believe even if the evidence says otherwise.

To that extent, at least to a degree, I understand and agree. Despite having issues, despite speaking publically, despite not automatically accepting what all the commentators say, I still have faith, I still believe. I think that is extremely important.

Starting Over

With all the Jewish Holidays, it has been crazy and I have not been able to do much writing. This coming Wednesday night thru Friday marks the end of this season of Holidays. It is a fun Holiday, but it is exhausting having so many different holidays in a row, taking the time off from work, making sure things are set ahead of time, etc. Unfortunately, I feel more of a relief when they are over than a feeling of sadness, sorry to see them go. Still, it is a fun Holiday and with the end of this Holiday, we will begin the book of Bresheit, Genesis all over again.

There are so many interesting things that happen in that book that I will not be at a shortage of things to discuss. There are times where I find myself getting frustrated with the traditional commentaries, although often times I do find lessons in them. Still, I think they often do too much to explain everything. What they tell us for one instance to make things fit, they say the exact opposite of in another instance.

As an example, when Abraham passes Sarah off as his sister because he fears for his life (I will have a lot more to say about that in future posts), we are told, through the commentary, that you do not wait on, or assume, a miracle from G-d, it is important to take matters into your own hands. Later on, when Joseph is in jail in Egypt and does that, tells the servant who is set free (and whose dream he successfully interrupts), to tell Pharaoh about him, the servant forgets and it is two years later before he remembers. The commentary says this is Joseph’s punishment for not having faith in G-d, and seeking the help of a mere mortal to get him out. But, for Abraham, this was a good thing. Still, I find this all fascinating.

I do have to confess, I am often surprised I have not been struck down by lighting for my next thought, and something I have occasionally talked about. If you look at the entire book of Genesis, forget the commentary, just look at the text, I think the character that comes out looking “the worst”, or at least pretty bad, is The Almighty himself. I will have thoughts on that to.

All this being said, I still find it important, I still believe and I still go to Shul. I just find some of my own lessons as well and I enjoy some of the inconsistencies that are there, or that those who are on a higher level than I would say, “appear to be there”.

I love the fact that on Simchat Torah, as soon as we finish reading the end of the last book, the book of Deuteronomy , we go right back and start the book of Genesis all over again. We are anxious to begin anew, we are anxious to find a new understanding of things we have read numerous times. I think that is a wonderful lesson to follow for life, no matter how many times you do something, you can always gain a new understanding, insight and approach to doing it again. I look forward to once again going through my favorite book of the five books of the Torah (I am not alone there) and seeing what new insights I gain.