Friday, December 26, 2014

The December Dilemma

A few days ago, I read a comment made by the creator of "Mensch on a Bench." He said he was "inspired by his son's elf envy." There are FB posts and articles about people feeling left out at this time of year.

It's so sad that people feel left out. But I wonder, are they so empty of their own traditions and confused in their beliefs that they need to observe someone else's? And why not look to one's own traditions for fulfillment? Juxtapose this to Keren messaging with friends a few weeks ago. She was sharing that Christmas was unimportant to her. Yes, she pulled out that old fall-back, "Hanukah lasts eight days, and I get presents every day." This has never been true for her. We open all the presents the first night. The next seven are just about the holiday, that is eating lots of fried food and enjoying time with friends and family. I called her on this. She just shrugged, and changed tactics. "We have a holiday every month," she typed. Then, with a gleeful look in her eye, she listed them: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur ("Okay, that one's not fun, except for break fast which is great!") Sukkot ("We get to build and decorate a whole building in the yard!") Hanukah, Tu B'Shevat, Purim, Passover ("That's my favorite.") Shavuot, Yom Ha'atzmaut, Yom Hazikaron and Yom Hashoah, Yom Yerushalayim (I think she went a bit far here), 17 Tammuz, 9 Av ("Those aren't so good.) Tu B'Av, and the entire month of Elul ("which is all about getting ready to celebrate the new year.")

There is a point in every parent's life when s/he must explain to a child that "This is Stacey's birthday party. Those are Stacey's presents. In a couple of months it was be your birthday. Then you will have a party and get your own presents." Why can't we do his with traditions and holidays. Just say, "This is Stacey's holiday. Soon it will be Purim. Purim is our holiday. We'll bake hamentaschen. You'll pick your costume. We'll go hear the megillah, deliver mishloach manot, and have a Purim seudah. Then, a month later, we'll be celebrating Pesach."

Love what you have. There's great beauty in every tradition. Embrace it. If you do, then there will be no dilemma.

We'll be eating take-out and watching the Dr. Who marathon on BBCA.  Happy (insert holiday here) to you!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas to All, and to All a Good Night

Today is Christmas. I've been humming the Carol of the Bells. I'm walking around around with a Chinese takeout menu. I've eaten take out (actually deli. Chinese is being saved for another day.) I'm watching Dr. Who Christmas specials in a Dr. Who marathon. I'm eating peppermint Hershey's kisses.

I love Christmas. I love Christmas everywhere, but especially in New York. I love the way New Yorkers change. They make eye contact, and smile at strangers. They slow down a bit. I love the windows in the stores and the tree at Rockefeller Center. I love when there's a white Christmas. I love Christmas movies. I've been looking for "A Christmas Carol" all day, but it's hard to get the remote away from by children, who are watching Dr. Who.

I love how everyone, no matter what religion, critiques the tackiness of the decorations in the neighborhood. My aunt's neighbor has a pile of presents in the front yard. During the day they are lovely, but at night they light up, and are a bit over the top. (Okay, a whole lot more than a bit.)

I have my own Christmas traditions that include eating things I shouldn't- candy canes (I'll get there), egg nog (waiting in my fridge at home), chocolate (done), and Chinese food (tomorrow). Whatever your traditions, enjoy them.

Merry Christmas to all, and a happy and healthy New Year. Let us pray for peace.

Language & Regional Differences

I have been blessed to live in a number of different places, and to travel to even more. I was well aware, from early on, that not everyone was like me. Those difference were often more regional than related to religion, race, gender, etcetera. At college I lived with an Italian Catholic from New York. With the exception of insisting that I get up at an ungodly hour to decorate a Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving, we were very much alike- in attitude, dialect, and body language.

In the last 6 months we've done quite a bit of traveling. I have been in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Muskoka, Virginia, New Jersey, Ottawa, and Toronto. I've visited at least 31 States in the US, plus Washington DC. If I take a dialect quiz, I am most like New York, NY, and least like Akron, OH. Born and bred New Yorker that's me. Still, I've picked up bits and pieces from many friends and acquaintances over the years. I say "y'all" for second person plural. Unfortunately I use it incorrectly. "Y'all" can refer to one person, as in, "Y'all want to come over for a cuppa tea?" I can't head south, listen to too much British TV, or go to Israel without it affecting my accent.

Still, no matter where I go the differences from home are noticed. In Texas everyone called me "hon." In New York that could get you slapped. In North Carolina I was "Ma'am." In Hawaii I was "Auntie." These titles came not from people I knew, but from strangers. Only in New York do strangers get my father's weird joking. For example: the owner of a local deli bringing my father coffee (pronounced  caw-fee), "Watch out. This is very hot." My father- "Oh good. If you spill it on me I'll sue." Owner- "I don't have any insurance." Hahaha. This is not actually funny, but in the moment it somehow is. In Texas everyone was nice, and willing to share their guns. (Okay, it was the one guy, but it's still strange to wear a holster to shul.) In North Carolina, people make all their turns at right angles and very, very, very (did I mention very) slowly. In New York, people are friendly and happy to help you, but they're moving so fast, and they don't make eye contact, so how would you know?

Toronto's multicultural nature suits me. I feel at home, but can enjoy everyone else too. And when I'm back in New York, with its bigger than life, over-whelming New York-ness, I can appreciate when I get to go home too.

Vayigash- From Out of the Darkness

Dabeir aleihem ko-amar Adonai Ehlohim hinei ani lokei’ach et-eitz Yoseif asher b’yad-Efrayim v’shivtei Yisrael chaveirav v’natati otam alav et-eitz Y’hudah va’asitim l’eitz echad v’hayu echad b’yadi.
Say to them, “Thus says Adonai God, ‘Behold I will take the tree of Joseph that is in the hand of Ephraim and the tribes of Israel, his companions, and I will put them together with the tree of Judah, and I will make them one tree, and they will be one tree in my hand.’” (Ezekiel 37:19)
In Egypt, Judah becomes the force behind the reunion with Joseph. As Benjamin is to be taken from them, Judah steps forward, emotionally pleading with the disguised Joseph to keep what is left of his family together. However, Joseph reveals that it was God’s plan behind their split, “Ki l’michya sh’lachani Elohim lifneikhem.” “For God sent me before you to preserve life.”
The Haftarah for Vayigash is attributed to Ezekiel, who was part of the Babylonian exile. His vision sees a reunification of the tribes of Israel. Just as in our parasha, the tribe of Joseph has been separated from the Judah. Like Joseph he was torn from his home in painful circumstances. His vision seeks to understand and provide a context for his suffering and the suffering of our people.
It’s a difficult idea- that everything happens for a reason. We know this not always to be true. Bad things happen to good people. Suffering does not always serve a purpose. What we can learn from Ezekiel’s research is an eternal optimism. Jews have always been ready to move. We have been forced from so many countries, and endured such horrors, that, when difficulties arise, we can no longer afford to sit back and wait for them to pass. Instead we are ready to mobilize. Some would say that this makes us a pessimistic people, controlled by fear from the past. I prefer to see it as that eternal optimism. Even in the shadow of the Babylonian exile, Ezekiel looked toward a better time. Jews had been spread throughout the Babylonian Empire. We had lost our country and our unity. Somehow in that horrible time we built a new religion. Our leaders looked past the confines of the destroyed Temple to see our homes as the new focus. They built synagogues and the great yeshivot, out of which came the Mishnah and Babylonian Talmud, the foundation for our modern Judaism. They were not immobilized by fear. They were mobilized with hope.

Our darkest times have obviously produced our darkest memories, memories that are burned into our collective consciousness. They have also produced our shining stars and our heroes. We should always remember that.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Miketz- Forgiveness is Not Forgetting

Ul’Yoseif yulad shnei vanim b’terem tavo shnat hara’av asher yaldah-lo Asnat bat-Poti Fara kohein On. Vayikra Yoseif et-sheim ha’b’khor M’nasheh ki-nashani Elohim et-kol-amali v’et kol-beit avi. V’et sheim hasheini kara Efrayim ki-hif’rani Elohim b’eretz anyi.
And Joseph bore two sons in the year before the famine arrived that Asnat, daughter of Poti Fara, priest of On, bore to him. And he called the name of the oldest Menasheh, because Elohim made me forget all my toil and all my father’s house. And the second he called Ephraim, because Elohim has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction. (Breishit 41:50-52)
Joseph’s experiences in Egypt are interesting. He arrives as a slave, seemingly the lowest of the low. Bought by Potiphar, he quickly rises to a privileged state in his household; only to be thrown even lower than when he arrived by unfounded accusations made by Potiphar’s wife. In jail he again rises to favoured status, not only among the prisoners, but among the guards as well. When Pharaoh’s butler leaves the jail, Joseph seems forgotten. Then come Pharaoh’s dreams, and Joseph finds himself in royal attire, wearing Pharaoh’s own ring. In all this he acquires a wife and has two sons.
Joseph’s story in Egypt seems the stuff of epic fairytales. He has gone from being hated brother and a slave to Pharaoh’s right hand. Under his administration so much grain is collected for Egypt that he stops counting. He is blessed in Egypt. So much so that Joseph says, “I have forgotten my toil and my father’s house.”
Joseph has always been praised for his righteousness in realizing his tribulations were necessary. He was able to perceive a purpose for his suffering. How is it then that he could “forget his father’s house?” I believe this forgetting was what allowed him to discern the need in the negative. It’s not that he truly forgot. It’s that he forgave. He forgot the hurt and the anger, the frustration and the envy, not the familial connection or obligations. Perhaps he forgot the haughty attitude that he was meant for more, and instead recognized he was no better than others. Whatever it is, Joseph remains connected. His children bear Hebrew names. Although he leads Egypt just under Pharaoh, he recognizes that he is still a slave. While blessed, he is still in the “land of my affliction.”
Joseph’s righteousness comes from his ability to put his past behind him. He is blessed in his ability to pull himself out of the depths, and to recognize blessing even within the suffering he must bear. May we all be blessed with the gift of perspective.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

You Know You're In Texas When...

Keren & I just spent a long weekend in Texas for a bat mitzvah. It was a wonderful visit. We left Toronto just ahead to the snow, and arrived in Houston in weather much warmer than we expected. There's much I want to write about this experience, and I will, later. But, as it is late, I want to get just a few thoughts down. So here goes.

You know you're in Texas when...

  • at the airport, staff keep calling you "hon"
  • you see cattle when driving from the airport to your hosts' home
  • Texas Longhorns are walking next to the rockets at NASA
  • your tour guide is talking about the Attwater Prairie Chicken
and finally...

You know you're in Texas when someone at synagogue has a glock in his holster, and offers it to you for protection.

More on this later.

Laila tov.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Vayeshev- Rebirth Through Struggle

Vayomer Yehudah el ehchav mah betza ki naharog et achinu v’chisinu et damo. L’chu v’nim’ch’renu laYish’m’eilim v’yadeinu al t’hi vo ki achinu b’sareinu hu vayish’m’u ehchaiv.
And Judah said to his brothers, “what do we gain by killing our brother and covering up his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, but let us not do away with him ourselves. After all, his is our flesh, our brother.”
Of all of our ancestors, Judah goes through the most struggle and change. He has not always been the stellar example of a role model. He sleeps with his father’s concubine. He sells his brother into slavery. He keeps his son from marrying Tamar, leaving her as an agunah, neither able to marry nor to be free. He then fathers a child with her, in the guise of a prostitute, and accuses her of the wrongdoing. This is the final straw. Judah, realizing he is not only mistaken in his accusation, but the one at fault, begins the struggle to rise from the depths and achieve his potential. For this reason we are known as Jews, Yehudim.Vayomer Yehudah… and Judah said…” “Jews” from the name Judah. We are known by our ancestors- b’nei Avraham, the sons of Avraham, b’nei Yisrael, Israelites, and Yehudim, the descendents of Judah.
It can be said that the best mentors are those who have been where we stand, and have come out positively. Avraham, Jacob/Israel, and Judah, none were perfect, yet from all we have much to admire. It may be difficult to accept this from the verses above.  Just prior to this the brothers had thrown Joseph into a pit and sat down to eat. Their anger at Joseph was so great that they were indifferent to his needs or cries.  Just beyond is the story of Judah and Tamar, the point of rock bottom. But this is also a turning point. Perhaps Judah acts in this way because he does hear Joseph’s cries. Maybe he is not as indifferent as he seems. Perhaps he feels he could not live with the sure knowledge of Joseph’s death. We could focus upon “what do we gain…” or upon “let us not do away with him ourselves. After all, he is our flesh, our brother.” 
Frederick Douglass said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” In parashat Vayeshev Judah is struggling, but out of the struggle comes great progress. Judah is growing.  He is emerging as the leader, moving beyond the influence of anger and hatred, working to become better.  The path to righteousness is never a straight line.  There are bumps and mistakes. If we seek to move ever forward, to improve ourselves, and to help others where we can, perhaps we too will be lucky enough to live on through the righteousness of our descendents.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Why Can't I Skip to the End?

I love stories, any kind of stories. They can be in books, movies, or on television. I love short, sappy stories portrayed in Hallmark commercials. I love to read or watch them again and again and again. I examine them. I scrutinize word choice, characterization, setting, costume, and, when possible (in the case of movies or television), direction, soundtrack, lighting, and more.

Something I love to do when reading is to skip to the end. Just as I get emotionally involved with a book, I flip to the end. I check on characters. I want to know that the characters I love make it through. I want to know the characters I think are good, really are good. I get so emotionally invested that i just can't wait. I don't read it all. I skim, checking to be sure. And then, I go back to where I was, relieved or disappointed, to discover how it all happened.

But you can't do that with a movie or a television show. I have to wait, sometimes for months, to make sure my people will continue to be my people. Writers love people like me. Every episode is a cliff hanger. Every story makes we ache for the next one.

It's the end of the fall season. My shows are ending until spring. I'm frustrated and lost, pining for the characters and the stories. In some shows I have a few more episodes, but in the end it's always the same? What will happen to Monroe and Rosalie? What about Emma? When will she discover Rumplestilskin took Hook's heart? Will Barry find the right girl for him? What will happen with Oliver and Felicity? How will Sherlock deal with life when Kitty moves on? What will happen not that Moloch seems defeated? And so much more.

For now I'll have to wait. I'll have to accept that television doesn't satisfy. I'll have to settle with my books. I've recently reread the Harry Potter series. Yes Sean; I know "Voldemort buys it in the end." I don't care. I'm reading The Maze Runner now. I'm on page 204/374. I had to jump to the end. I had to know if Thomas is bad. But I don't. Unless I read in detail, I cannot figure it out. But it doesn't matter. The book is a cliff hanger. I believe I'll have to read the next one to really know, and I am not happy. I want to know NOW!

There are others like me. There must be, for God has given us Netflix. On Netflix I can watch a whole season. Even better, I can watch season after season after season. I can watch it all, and I can skip to the end, not just the end of a book or an episode, but the end of the series.

While I wait for the spring season to start, Netflix will have to suffice- movies and television where I can watch the end. It's like eating dessert first.

And, of course, I always have my books.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Minyan is personal Solidarity

(Written Wednesday, November 19, 2014 following the attacks in Har Nof)

I went to minyan today. I don’t usually daven with a minyan. Either I’m at home getting children off to school, or I’m already at my office working. Recently, my office moved into the Beth David B’nai Israel Beth Am synagogue. It’s a different feeling coming to work in a synagogue each week. The office is separate from the synagogue offices. Each day, I walk into the lobby and up the stairs towards the sanctuary. My office is past there, up another flight. Each afternoon I walk back. I cannot walk past without noticing the sanctuary and the social hall. I see if there are signs of a recent bar or bat mitzvah. I notice if the staff is setting up for an event. Our mail comes to the synagogue office. At our previous office, the mail carrier pushed the mail through the mail slot whether we were there or not.

It can be solitary still. While MERCAZ-Canada and the Canadian Foundation for Masorti Judaism are nation-wide organizations, we run a small operation. There are just two of us, both part-time. I am often in the office alone. But, in a synagogue there is always movement. There are always people. I stop in the office to pick up the mail. We kibitz, even if only for a moment. There’s a person to greet and at whom to smile. There’s always a smile back. People drop in. They come to see the sanctuary, to plan for life-cycle events, and for lessons and lectures. There’s a school in the synagogue, and I see and hear the kids outside.

Today, I was at my desk early. My husband dropped me off at work before going work. As a congregational rabbi, going to work means starting with minyan at Pride of Israel. When this happens, I arrive at my office about 7:15 AM. There are two morning minyanim here. I arrive between them. Too late to attend the 7:00 minyan, I am usually so immersed in work and phone calls, that I lose track of the time, and miss the 8:00 minyan. Last week I was all set to go, tallit and t’fillin in hand, when the phone rang. It was a call from Israel that I needed to take. By the time I was done, minyan was over. This morning I was determined not to let that happen again. After what happened at Kehillat B’nei Torah in Har Nof, I needed to go to minyan. Minyan represents community. Minyan represents unity. Minyan represents solidarity. Today I needed to stand with my community.

And so I went. I walked in, albeit a couple of minutes late. Taking a spot near the door, I put on my tallit and t’fillin, and began to daven. The minyan is mostly men with a few older women. My voice clearly stood out against the mumble of the t’fillot. The gabbai came over to ask me if I had yahrtzeit, when I said no, he asked if I was in shiva.  “No,” I replied, “Thank you for asking.” I think he was surprised to see someone my age in the morning minyan just to pray.

And pray I did. A weekday Shacharit minyan is much more focused than the Shabbat service. People have places to be. They come. They pray. They head off to day-to-day life. I stayed through the service, and was back at my desk within 40 minutes, but so much the better for having been there.

I wrote the above piece the day after the attacks in Har Nof. The Jewish world was rocked by the pictures of blood covered tallitot and arms wrapped in t'fillin. Jewish prayer is a unique experience. It is structured to be personal and solitary within community. With the exceptions of Kaddish and Keddusha, we go at our own pace. We read privately, yet aloud- loud enough to hear ourselves, quietly enough not to disturb others. For those of us who daven with a tallit, that tallit may be used create an additional private space by placing the tallit over our heads. The concept that danger may lurk outside that holy space would never cross one's mind. 

Most days I pray in my own personal sphere, connecting with God on some days, connecting with myself on most days. But now the moment is a bit tainted. Most of the time it's fine, but sometimes, rarely, as I look down at my own arm wrapped in t'fillin, I think of that arm covered in blood, and I say my prayers for the both of us.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Pain & Perspective (Sciatica and Life)

As it often does, my blogging has fallen by the wayside. This time I blame pain. I began the summer with torn cartilage in my knee, and ended the summer with sciatica, likely brought on after hikes in damp, freezing weather over uneven ground up to Black rock (left) and down into Dark Hollow (right) at Shenandoah National Park. Of course it could have been a culmination of hiking in Israel, then working at camp, then the trip to Shenandoah, but we'll never know.

Dealing with sciatica, I have been unable to sit, unable to stand, unable to focus. For over two months I have essentially become a hermit. I work. I come home. I cannot drive. I cannot walk. Finally at the start of November, I began to emerge from my isolation. Actually I was forced, perhaps prematurely. I was scheduled to serve as Rabbi-in-Residence in Ottawa. So on October 31 I boarded a train to Ottawa. The train ride was long, but allowed me to shift positions and stand. My biggest problem was getting my shoes and socks on (I still have trouble with that). The weekend went well. There was wonderful feedback. Anyone who saw me gripping the lectern white-knuckled attributed it to my fervor, and not to the pain of sitting and standing in services.

What I had not realized was how much I missed being part of a Shabbat community. I missed the davenning.  I missed the people. I missed the interaction. The return trip was agony. The next day not much better. After Ottawa was a Shabbat with two b'nei mitzvah. Lots of walking- not good. Loads of friends- great! Then teaching- so good to be back, but oh so sore. Then another working Shabbat and another bat mitzvah. Next week is a working Shabbat, away again, followed by a bat mitzvah in Houston for me and my girl. Who knows what a 5 hour plane ride will do?

Still, I'm happy for all of this. Even as I type this, the pain is increasing. Meds only do so much. But there is perspective. I spent 2 months sleeping on my couch. We needed a new mattress, but, of course, I couldn't help shop for one while laid up. Shopping for a mattress with sciatica is immensely painful, but when I could stand it for a while we made 3 separate trips to look at mattresses. I am finally back in my bed. I still can't put my shoes on, but through all of this, I haven't missed a day of work. If anything, due to projects and the upcoming WZO Congress, I've put in extra hours. I've managed (including those coming up) 3 Shabbatot as a guest speaker, 4 b'nei mitzvah, one train trip, one plane trip, and teaching twice.When people ask me how I am, I say, "a little better everyday." It's mostly true. The path of healing is not a straight one. It sometimes doubles back. But slowly, slowly I am emerging back into the light. My garden is overgrown, and I still can't really drive or put on my own socks, but I can help with the laundry and the cooking. I can't do the shopping, but I can do the menu planning. I can help Jesse with his organization (when he lets me). I can bend over and kiss my children good night. When this resolves, and it will eventually, there is no reason to think it will reoccur.

The pain of sciatica is excruciating. It's amazing how many people suffer from it. I have a high tolerance for pain. And so I was amazed at how low I could be brought down by this. Given how common it is, you'd think that the medical world would find better treatments. But no-

  • Rest, not too much. It could make it worse.
  • Don't sit too long.
  • Don't stand too long.
  • No driving.
  • No walking.
  • Tylenol with Codeine
  • That doesn't work- Percoset. (My kids loved watching me on that)
  • Finally, Tylenol with Ibuprofen
  • Then, Tylenol with Naproxen
  • Now add Pregabalin for nerve pain (hopefully to stop taking so much Tylenol)
  • Acupuncture (I've become a pin cushion)
  • Laser therapy
  • Ultrasound
  • Traction
  • Electro-stimulation
  • Chiropractic adjustment
  • Massage
  • Magnesium
There's more, but I've begun to lose track. For two months I was a hermit. I went nowhere. I did nothing. I'd pace because sitting or standing was horribly painful. I couldn't sleep in my bed. But it makes you appreciate the little moments. I am happy when I get my own shoes on. I am happy when I sleep through the night. I am happy just to lie next to my husband in my bed. I am happy when I do not spend my day distracted by pain.

Soon I will take some time off work for the winter break. With stat holidays we have little time the office is open, and so we're closed the whole two weeks. It is a time for me to just enjoy and heal. No school schedules, no work phone calls, no running here, there, and everywhere. Just time to play, and maybe, just maybe, I'll leave the computer open, and the cats will again be able to sneak back onto my blog.

Vayishlach- When Torah Doesn't Have the Answer- Maybe There Isn't One

Vayomer Ya’akov el-Shimon v’el-Leivi a’khartem oti l’hav’isheini b’yosheiv ha’aretz ba’k’na’a’ni uva’p’rizi va’ani m’tei mispar v’ne’esfu alai v’hikuni v’nishmadti ani uveiti. Vayomru hakhzona ya’a’she et-achoteinu?
And Jacob said to Shimon and to Levi, “You have troubled me to make me odious to the inhabitants of the land: to the Canaanites and to the Perizzites, and I being few in number; they will gather against me and smite me, and I shall be destroyed, I and my house.” But they said, “As a harlot should he use our sister?”
Jacob is furious with Shimon and Levi. He is not incorrect. Their actions were beyond unacceptable in the ancient world. Jacob is the leader of his people. It was not uncommon that marriage was formed first from an abduction. He sees an opportunity to form a solid alliance. He looks beyond the moment to a future. Shimon and Levi’s actions could undermine the ability of the entire tribe to remain in the land they were given by God. The covenant required the actions of a people who could lay claim and maintain that claim.
But they said, “As a harlot should he use our sister?” To Shimon and Levi, that a man whom they saw as an uncircumcised heathen, could steal away their beloved sister was unconscionable. Perhaps Jacob saw only Dinah bat Leah, a girl who would need a marriage. Shekhem is wealthy and devoted. He “loved her and spoke comfortingly to her.” He is willing to pay whatever it takes to marry her. He could suit her well. Shimon and Levi do not see this. Perhaps they see a continuation of the disdain with which their own mother had been treated, both by her family and by Jacob.
The language of the text is in itself confusing. In the words of the text: Shekhem sees her. He takes her. He lies with her, and he humbles her. Dinah’s voice is absent. We have no way of knowing her mind. Rape is a crime of power and control. Was this action beyond her consent? There are those who read a seduction instead. She is dishonoured and humbled in that Shekhem does not seek her father’s permission first. It is not the way of marriage in Jacob’s tribe, but Shekhem does not seem to try to control. His heart clings to her so steadfastly he and his father are not only willing to convert themselves, but to convert their entire people. Is this the act of a rapist? Rabbi Moshe Reiss, a modern commentator, reminds us that Jacob kisses Rachel the first time he sees her, also unacceptable in their society. Maybe Jacob sees beyond the act to the feeling beneath. Furthermore, with a mother who never receives a kind word from her husband, would Dinah not wish to go with a man who does speak kind words of love? The only other description of rape in the Tanakh is the rape of Tamar by Amnon (2Samuel 13:14, 18). Amnon uses force to overpower Tamar. There is hatred. After raping her, he banishes her from the house in her torn clothes.
The story ends here. The Torah has no answer. Jacob is not wrong. The actions of Shimon and Levi were abhorrent. But neither are they wrong. There is no justice. The story ends tragically with permanent damage to the relationship between Jacob & his sons, and Dinah disappears from our narrative. It is unfulfilling and dissatisfactory. It is a story with which we are left to struggle eternally.

Pumpkin Cutting Day

Today is pumpkin cutting day. The pumpkin autopsy proved our findings of suicide in the pumpkin leap from Sunday. Before the cutting commenced, we determined the death of the second large pumpkin as well. The pumpkin on the right, was the one which jumped. You can see how much we had to cut away. The rot had really taken hold. The pumpkin on the left had given up it top third. Its end was sad, but it will live again in yummy, yummy food.

But the cutting didn't end there. There were gourds to cut. On pumpkin picking day, Gavi had brought home two wonderful gourds. Unfortunately, they too had begun to soften. The end had been slowed by placing them in the refrigerator, but they couldn't live forever. Today was the day they would go. But they did not go gentle into that good night. No, after an hour in the oven, the first exploded at first cut, erupting seeds onto the cutting board and beyond. The seeds flew at least a foot.
The mission now is to find enough recipes to fully fulfil the destiny of these great gourds. Tonight will be pumpkin fritters in honor of National Fritter Day (about which we only just learned, but it's today).

Pumpkin recipe suggestions welcome.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Christmas Time is Here by Golly

Christmas time is here. It's a time I love. I believe Christmas should be limited to an appropriate time frame. It should not appear after Halloween. American Thanksgiving provides a perfect division of fall to winter. Fall should follow this schedule:
  • Labor Day-Canadian Thanksgiving/Columbus Day should be focused on back to school
  • mid-October-Halloween can be focused on Halloween
  • Early November should be devoted to our Veterans. I really like that there are two days in the US- Veterans Day, November 11, is devoted to honouring those vets still alive and, especially, those currently serving. It's a day to say thank you. Memorial Day is dedicated to the memory of Veterans who have died, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Yes, because it is the May long weekend, and the weather is wonderful, it has been bastardized into a day of barbecues and beaches. However, I do remember parades and special ceremonies when I was a kid, and my kids always went to a Memorial Day ceremony when we lived in the States.
  • mid-November-the end of November is harvest time focused on the end of the fall. It's all about pumpkins and apples, and hot cider or mulled wine. Thoughts turn to stockpiling wood for the fireplace and cleaning up for winter.
  • The day after America Thanksgiving-December 25 can be for Christmas. Some feel it should stick to Advent, but what's a few extra days (as long as it's not an extra month). I prefer the religious Christmas with only a little commercial thrown in. Carols and other wintry music should be played. House lights hung and lit, none of this laziness of leaving lights up all year.
I think it's all great. I love seeing the lights. I have fond memories of decorating the tree at Kelly Woods' home with her family. They always invited my brother and me. In turn, Kelly shared many a Shabbat dinner and evening in the sukkah. I remember Christmas parties at our neighbour's home. I used to squeeze behind the tree, into the corner and grab the candy canes there. We were allowed to take any candy canes off the tree that couldn't be seen from the front. These weren't little, two-bite canes. They were big, and could last a week. I'd happily sit there, petting the dog, Taffy, her head in my lap, while I ate my giant candy cane. (Okay, it was normal sized, but I was small.) I love visiting Rockefeller Center and Fifth Avenue to see the tree and the windows. I love Christmas in New York. The streets smell of fir and cedar. People smile and speak to total strangers. It's like "Miracle on 34th Street."

Speaking of "Miracle on 34th Street," I love Christmas movies (and so-called Christmas movies). My annual list:
  • Miracle on 34th Street
  • It's a Wonderful Life 
  • Love Actually (not a real Christmas movie, but associated with Christmas)
  • The Holiday (see above- I watch these two all year)
  • A Christmas Carol- the 1938 black & white version with Reginald Owen and Scrooge (1951) with Alistair Sim
  • A Charlie Brown Christmas (I showed this to my kids tonight. I believe it's a cultural touchstone they've been missing. Other cultural touchstones they need- Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, plus The Year Without Santa Claus, which I loved, but soon disappeared. Yeah Youtube. They need to know their father's words to the song "Rudolph the Kosher Reindeer" are oh so wrong.
  • While You Were Sleeping (Did I mention I like sappy, romantic chick flicks?)
  • White Christmas
  • Meet Me in St Louis (also not really a Christmas movie)
Keren & I have begun to hum carols. My favorite is "Carol of the Bells." Sean looked it up on Youtube for me by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra- great version. I also love it with just bells. I'm thinking that it'd be a great ringtone, especially in July. The guys are more likely to sing Tom Lehrer songs.

By the way, if you're ever in Hawaii for Christmas, check out the display in downtown Honolulu. Santa and Mrs. Claus have come for a vacation, and dressed the part. The decorations are great and Hawaiian themed instead of winter themed in a place without winter, which I always thought odd.

Finally, I love how people wish each other well. I don't care if you wish me a merry Christmas. The week before I'll wish everyone a happy Hanukah. I hope my December 25th is a merry day. I hope to spend it in toasty warm pajamas watching Christmas movies with my kids and drinking hot cocoa, warm cider, or maybe some irish coffee.  

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Sad Lament of the Forgotten Pumpkin (or Pumpkin Suicide)

A sad event occurred in our home tonight. One of our pumpkins committed suicide. "Suicide?" you ask.  Yes.

Sean had just returned from minyan. The house was quiet. Suddenly, we heard a loud thud; each of us looking around trying to discern whence it came. Gavi was the first to discover the tragedy. "Who's throwing pumpkins?" he asked us. We all came running.

The pumpkin had leapt from the side table onto the living room floor, cracking open and scattering pumpkin bits as far as six feet away. At first we wondered if it had been a gourd-icide, but no one had been in the immediate vicinity at the time of death. There were two pumpkins sitting side by side. Perhaps the second had pushed the first. But no.

On examination we discovered the still living pumpkin had not budged an inch. Without arms, it could not have been involved. We had to conclude suicide. We believe an internal rot had begun to effect the pumpkin's heart. It could no longer go on as it was.

The pumpkin now sits in the kitchen awaiting autopsy. I expect tomorrow's procedure will confirm our initial findings. I also expect it to be delicious (the good parts that is).

Looking forward to pie, soup, and more.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Toldot- Accepting Children For What They Are & Allowing Them to Make their Own Destiny

Vayig’d’lu han’arim va’y’hi Eisav ish yodei’a tzayid ish sadeh v’ya’akov ish tam yosheiv ohalim. Vaye’ehav Yitzchak et-Eisav ki-tzyad b’fiv v’Rivkah ohevet et-Ya’akov.
And the youths grew, and Esav was a knowledgeable hunter, a man of the field, and Ya’akov was a simple man, dwelling in tents. And Isaac loved Eisav because he ate of his venison, and Rivka loved Ya’akov.  (Breishit 25:27-28)
My father often jokes that, if only his children had become an Olympic gymnast and pro-golfer, he’d be able to live in the style to which he wanted to become accustomed. Alas this was not to be. I lack the competitive desire, and my brother preferred blocks and tools to clubs. Nevertheless, we do not doubt our parents love us.
Isaac is a simple man. Mostly he remains in the land of Israel, and is caretaker of the wells his father dug. He is not an adventurer. In spite of this, I think that he might have been a bit of s dreamer, and lived those dreams vicariously through his son Esav. Esav is a skilled hunter. The verb yodei’a reflects the innate depth of his knowledge. He is a man of the field, out and about in the world, and Isaac, literally, eats the rewards of this lifestyle. For this, Isaac loves Esav. He wants Esav to be the inheritor of the birthright. It seems likely. Esav is strong. Esav is the eldest. Esav is the one who dotes on his parents. Although all seems to point to Esav, Rivka’s prophecy tells a different tale, “And the elder shall serve the younger.” (25:23). Did Isaac know about the prophecy? We do not know. Maybe he did not. Maybe, knowing Isaac’s love for Esav, Rivka kept it to herself. “And Rivka loved Ya’akov.” With our knowledge, we may think that Rivka’s love was directed by the prophecy. The text tells another story. “Rivka loved Ya’akov.” The Torah does not give an explanation. Rivka simply loves Ya’akov because he is Ya’akov, and for no other reason.
Parents, with the best intentions, dream for their children. They look ahead, wondering what their children might become. They worry about who their friends are. They worry about education and careers. They teach, they nag, and they work hard to give guidance. Whether nature or nuture, children become who they will. Parents cannot change that. Even as youngsters they make decisions that will shape their lives. These decisions are not always what we expect. In fact they are a daily surprise. Each person has his/her own talents and skills, interests and desires. And while they may not be what we might have dreamed for them, we must accept them, and allow them to follow their own paths.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Vayetze- Blessings Go Both Ways

V’hayah zar’a’kha ka’afar ha’aretz ufaratzta yamah vakeidmah v’tzafonah vanegbah v’niv’r’khu v’kha kol-mish’p’chot ha’adamah u’v’zar’ekha.
And your descendents shall be like dust on the earth, and you will spread west and east and north and south; all families of the earth will be blessed by your descendants. (Breishit 28:14)
This idea appears a number of times in the Torah. Our blessings are many: the mitzvot of the Torah, which help us to live a conscious and holy life, numerous descendants impossible to number, and a foot in every corner of the world. Jews have been everywhere, from Mali to Panama to New Zealand. Try to imagine a country that has never had a Jewish community. Furthermore, Jews have flourished in these countries, even amidst discrimination.
Not only are we recipients of blessings, we are expected to return those blessings to the nations of the world. Isaiah would later refer to the Jews as the “light of the nations,” providing spiritual and moral guidance to the world. Recently, I was in Ottawa for a Shabbat. Rav Barry Schlesinger, of Agudath Israel, in a brief comment on Lekh Lekha, stretched this meaning to include the many and varied Jewish contributions to technology. I would expand that to tzedakah, medicine, science, literature, and beyond.
Torah, and those who follow it, has changed the world. Torah was the first to change the inequality between those with wealth and those without, to see women as more than legal chattel, to build a social order where individuals are responsible for others, and much more. These innovations in society and culture led to the formation of free-loan societies, sick benefits associations, fraternal associations, charitable organizations, and so much more. There’s little need to mention the amazing contribution to the worlds of literature and the sciences. Everyone who uses a computer, a tablet, or a cell phone uses technology given to the world by the Jewish community. Just try to imagine getting medical treatment without a connection to discoveries and innovations produced by the Jewish community. Jews are 13% of Nobel Prizes in literature, of Pulitzer Prize winners, they are 14% in fiction, 18% in poetry, 52% in non-fiction, and 34% in drama. They have been 41% of the recipients of the Tony for best play, and 54% of recipients for the best book of a musical. In the Oscars, they have been 38% of Best Original Screenplay winners and 32% of Best Adapted Screenplays. Well beyond our size, we have given back to the world from every corner of the earth, the west and the east, the north and the south. It is a legacy we bear with pride.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Hayei Sarah- Tips On Finding One's B'shert

Vayisapeir he’aved l’Yitzhak et kol-had’varim asher asah. Va’y’vi’eha Yitzhak ha’ohelah Sarah imo vayikach et-Rivka va’t’hi-lo l’ishah vaye’ehaveha vayinacheim Yitzhak acharei imo.
And the servant told to Isaac all that Rivka had done. And Isaac brought her into the tent of Sarah, his mother, and he took Rivka to be his wife, and he loved her, and Isaac was comforted after his mother. (Breishit 24:66-67)
Recently, when packing away some children’s toys, I had to make the decision of what to save and what to give away. Thinking about it I realized that, if Jesse marries when Sean & I did, we could be planning a wedding in just 5 years. I packed the toys into the basement. Sean and I have been married for over 20 years. If you look at our wedding photo we look like children. In many ways we were. It was a good time to get married. As we grew up, we also grew together.
More and more people look to finish school and be settled before getting married. They look for financial solvency. Set-ups are harder. They’re looking for their b’shert, who somehow fulfills a checklist of traits. I will tell you this is all highly over-rated. As we age and settle it becomes harder and harder to mesh lives. We become set in our ways. We are focused on jobs and routines.
When asked in rabbinical school what the husband of a rabbi is called, I would flippantly answer, “Doctor.” What I was sure of was that I would never marry another rabbi. I also thought I’d marry a blonde, blue-eyed guy, passing on my eye-colour to my future flaxen-headed children. Clearly that was not meant to be.
I met Rav Sean when my roommate and I needed help moving our furniture. He came and never left. He was, and is a good person. He offered me use of his car and a listening ear. He was kind. He was caring. We never really dated. We went from being friends to being engaged. Open more to looking at each other’s deeds and character, rather than a checklist, we found our b’shert in each other.
I will not say it’s always been perfect. Even as young as we were we had routines to which we clung. Looking back, a favourite moment found me yelling at Rav Sean that the argument couldn’t be over since I was not done yelling at him. We were still growing into who were to be. Our openness to that made all the difference. This is the benefit of a set-up or even a shiddach. The arranger knows the people: who they really are inside, not only what they look like. In communities where arranged marriages are common, the rates by which couples measure their love increase over time. Beginning with a firm foundation, and an expectation that love grows in time, couples work to make it so. As it says in the song from “Fiddler on the Roof,”
Tevye: The first time I met you was on our wedding day.
Golde: I was shy.            Tevye: I was nervous.                        Golde: So was I.
Tevye: But my father and my mother said we’d learn to love each other. So, now I’m asking Goldie… Do you love me?
Golde: I’m your wife!                        Tevye: I know. But do you love me?
Golde: Do I love him? For 25 years I’ve lived with him; fought with him; starved with him. For 25 years my bed is his. If that’s not love what is?
Tevye: Then you love me.            Golde: I suppose I do.
Tevye: And I suppose I love you too.
Tevye and Golde only knew about each other. Isaac doesn’t know Rivka. She covers herself with a veil upon seeing him. He doesn’t even know what she looks like. What he does know is her actions and what they tell him about her character. For this he is willing to marry her, “and he loved her,” and this makes all the difference. We may not wish to return to arranged marriages. However, from them we still have a lot to learn.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Vayera- Did You Ask a Good Question?

Va’Adonai amar ha’m’chaseh ani mei’avraham asher ani oseh?
And Adonai said, “Should I hide from Avraham that which I do?”  (Breishit 18:17)
Nobel Prize winning physicist, Isidor Rabi once said, “My mother made me a scientist without ever intending to. Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school, "So? Did you learn anything today?" But not my mother. "Izzy," she would say, "did you ask a good question today?" That difference — asking good questions — made me become a scientist.”
The act of asking questions for the sake of questioning is a long-time Jewish tradition. We have never been a people to accept blindly that which is in front of us. This compulsion to ask, to delve deeper into the how’s and the why’s created generations of scholars, activists, and scientists. It is a likely contributor to the large numbers of Nobel Prizes and other accomplishments within the Jewish community, even in literature. After all, to ask so many questions a person must be creative.
Questioning is a learned response. Jewish children are taught from the start to wonder. From that first moment of learning, we encourage our children to ask and explore. We read to them; recite text- both religious and secular. We encourage them to be precocious. It’s like the old joke, “What’s the definition of a genius? A child with a Jewish grandparent.” But it really does make a difference. Not only do we encourage our children to learn, we learn. Scholarly pursuit does not end with a degree. Torah l’shma, learning for the sake of learning, is a treasured Jewish value. As a child I always knew I’d go to university, not as a means to an end, but as an end to itself.
As Jesse prepares to apply to university, I often find myself discussing my university years. It’s not the parties or the friends I am discussing, although they were plentiful and great. It’s the classes and the professors. I recently corresponded with one of my high school teachers. Mr Vought was the type of inspiring teacher everyone should have. He made us question and he made us think. Mr. Vought was a biology teacher, but taught so much more. He wanted us to learn from his actions. We called him Dad after he made us clean the lab one day. The nickname lasted the length of our schooling. He was a scientist, and like Dr. Rabi’s mother, felt questions and discussion were the road to learning. Nothing was off the table. A big news item at the time was whether creative design should be taught in science class. Ours was a school filled mostly with and Irish and Italian Catholics, although my bio class was half Jewish. Many of us went to synagogue or church at least once a month. Mr. Vought couldn’t teach this topic, and announced so. Then he leaned back, and left us to our own devices. The debate was wonderful. Mr. Vought wasn’t going to hide anything from us. We learned better, and became better people because of it.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Weird Things Couples Fight About

A while ago, during the time I couldn’t sit at a computer for more than 3-5 minutes, a very funny video circulated on Youtube.  It was a dramatization of “Dumb Things Couples Fight About.” The list wasn’t long, but it was comprehensive. The topics were:
  • Folding towels
  • Noise while eating (how someone eats)
  • Toilet paper
  • Toothpaste tubes
  • Actors
  • Leftovers
  • Ordering takeout
  • Dishwasher
  • Movies
  • The sink/dishes
  • Shoes

The video is silly, but wonderfully illustrative. And yes, Sean & I have “discussed” each of these items at some time or another.
  • Folding towels- For years I adapted our towel folding to best suit the cabinet or closet in which the towels were stored. Sean, however, folded towels in one way, and only one way for at least 15 years. Finally, in our current house, I gave up, and gave in. I started folding the towels in Sean’s way. Why try to fit differently folded towels in a cabinet. Just fold them all the same way, and figure out the best layout. In the last year, Sean, out of the blue, changed the way he folds towels. It just proves there’s no way to win.
  • Eating- The video has the couple arguing over the noise the husband makes while eating. Sean & I argue over serving utensils. I don’t care if it’s only us. Salad should not be served with your hands.
  • Toilet paper- There are two arguments. Which way does the toilet paper go on the roll? And replacing the toilet paper. The first argument is moot since I am the only one (almost) who replaces the toilet paper, and not just in my own bathroom, but the guest bathroom and the kids bathroom too.  What’s up with that?!
  • Toothpaste tubes- Again, I’ve given up. I developed a system to squeeze the tube, using the counter, that flattens it securely.  Once folded, it’s hard to squeeze from the middle. I also found an amazing little item that slides over the bottom of the tube, keeping the toothpaste at the top. 
  • Movies- Watching movies without the other and arguing over who an actor is.  Sean doesn't watch, so the first isn't an argument. The second- that's what imdb is for!
  • Leftovers- A year or two ago, Sean embarked on a mission to make sure all leftovers are finished. He eats them.  Great, except when I planned those for my work lunches that week. I try to tell him. Sometimes I forget, especially when it’s something he only sort of liked, but didn’t love. Why eat it if you don’t really like it? At least say something before finishing it.  Sometimes it’s something I DO really love.
  • Ordering takeout- This can also be deciding what to eat for dinner. Here’s the conversation, “What do you want for dinner? “I don’t care, whatever you want.” I’m going to make pasta.” “I don’t want pasta.” “So, what DO you want?” “Whatever you want.” I make 90% of weekly menus with no help from my husband or children. Why, on the rare nights I haven’t done a menu, is that the conversation?
  • Dishwasher- Why is it that I can get twice as many things into the dishwasher as my children or husband?  ‘Nuff said.
  • The sink/dishes- Is there a reason that when something needs to be put away it is instead placed within 6-12 inches of the pace it goes, but not actually away?! Why does Sean feel a compulsion to empty the dishwasher as soon as it’s done, but will leave dishes on the drain board for weeks on end, even if there is no more room on thd drain board?
  • Shoes- Why am I the only one who puts shoes in the right place. Really, it's not hard.  There's a 4.5 foot shoe rack, and in the winter, an additional boot tray.  This should be simple. But no. Instead there's a pile of shoes in the house. So, everyone's shoes get dirty or wet from the other shoes tossed on top, and worse, they get knocked out of the pile and around the house.  Then it's, "Eema, I can't find my shoes!" So not my fault!

I showed the video to my children. They laughed, but even more so when Sean came home, watched it, and agreed that we have “discussed” each and every one of these issues.

There are other "weird things" videos.  I can't say we do them all, but they're pretty great.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Lech Lecha- Realizing the Promise Today

VAdonai amar el-Avram… “Sa na einekha ur’eih min-hamakom asher-atah sham tzafonah vanegbah vakeidmah vayamah. Ki et-kol-ha’aretz asher-atah roeh l’kha etnenah ul’zar’akha ad-olam. V’samti et-zar’akha ka’afar ha’aretz asher im-yukhal ish limnot et-afar ha’aretz gam zar’akha yimaneh. Kum hit'haleikh ba’aretz l’arkah ulrachbah ki l’kha etnenah.”
And Adonai said to Avram, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are: north, south, east, and west. For all the land that you see, to you I will give it, and to your seed forever. And I will make your seed like dust of the earth, if a man can count the dust of the earth, then also your seed he can count. Arise; walk through the land, the length of it and the breadth of it, for to you I will give it.” (Breishit 13:14-17)
The promise made to Avram that day was an eternal promise for us, the promise of our legacy, our inheritance. The land that Avram sees, the land that Avram walks, it is not only his. It belongs to his children. It is ours. It is a promise to which the Jewish people have clung for thousands of years. It is a promise whose modern fulfilment began anew, not in 1948, but in 1897 with the dream of Theodor Herzl.
Why 1897? August 29-31, 1897 was the inaugural Congress of the Zionist Organization. Convened and chaired by Theodor Herzl in Basel, Switzerland, the Congress formulated a Zionist platform, now known as the Jerusalem Program, and founded the Zionist Organization, HaHistadrut HaTziyonit. The Zionist Organization, which evolved into the World Zionist Organization, served then, and continues to serve, with its sister organizations of Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael (JNF), Keren HaYesod (United Israel Appeal), and the Jewish Agency for Israel, as an umbrella organization for the Zionist Movement and the worldwide Jewish community.
With annual, then biennial, and now meetings every five years, the World Zionist Congress continues to work for Israel, for us, and for the assurance of our legacy as promised to Avram.
How is this our legacy? The World Zionist Organization is committed to promoting Israel as and idea and as a vital, positive, binding force in Jewish life. The Jerusalem program is dedicated to instilling the centrality of Israel within Jewish consciousness, encouraging love of Israel, building an exemplary society in the Jewish state, expanding Zionist education, settling the land, and combating anti-Semitism.
How is this accomplished? The WZO and the Congress are made up of delegates from Zionist associations around the world, such as the Canadian Zionist Federation. These associations are built from Zionist organizations: WIZO, Hadassah, Bnai Brith, the three streams of world Judaism, Maccabi, and more. Delegates to the Congress elect the WZO leadership, and set its course for the next five years. 2015 will mark the 37th Zionist Congress. Each of us with an opinion on Jewish education, anti-Semitism, aliyah, pluralism, social justice, or Israel’s relationship with the Diaspora has the right and the responsibility to add our voice to the world discussion to help shape the legacy for Israeli society and the Jewish people.
To give voice to your vision, to vote for the next Congress, you must join a Zionist organization by the end of 2014 to take part in the next Canadian Zionist Federation election in spring 2015. The CZF is made up of the three religious streams represented by Mizrachi, MERCAZ, and ARZA. This year Ameinu and others may be joining the elections. Decisions are made by those who show up. Make sure you show up. Become a member of a Zionist organization by the end 2014. Be an active part of the Jewish future and ensure the legacy promised to us today.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Parashat Noach: Realizing Your Importance

Gam mei’oaf hashamayim shiv’ah shiv’ah zachar un’keivah l’chayot zera al p’nei khol ha’aretz.
Also of the birds of the sky, seven and seven, male and female, to keep seed alive on the face of the earth. (Breishit 7:3)
Noach, one of the few righteous in the world at his time, is instructed to build an ark to save a remnant of humanity and animal life from God’s destructive power. With him, he brings his wife, his three sons, and his sons’ wives. From these eight people human life would begin again. In the parasha, only Noach and his sons are named. The women are anonymous. Mrs. Noach beyond a name, she has no personality. She does nothing. She is lost to history. It’s odd. Breishit is filled with strong women:
  • Eve, who chose Adam and partnership over paradise
  • Sara, challenger of Avraham saying, God will choose between us.
  • Hagar, who made her own way in the world, and rose above her station
  • Rivka, who ensured God’s prophecy that Jacob would gain the inheritance
  • Leah, the mother of a nation through her own determination
  • Rachel, a symbol of strength in the face of infertility
  • Devorah, Rivka’s nurse, important enough for her death to be cited
  • Tamar, who refused to stand idly by and be taken advantage of
and there are many more. Yet, the women of parashat Noach, these women who helped ensure the existence of humanity, have no names, no history, no legacy. Traditionally, the Rabbis had great difficulty with anonymity. Both apocrypha and midrash give them names. Breishit Rabba tells us, ‘Naamah was Noach’s wife. Why was she called Naamah? Because her deeds were pleasing (neimim).’ Other texts, outside the Jewish canon, give names to these women. The Book of Jubilees, found among the Dead Sea Scrolls and considered holy by the Bete Yisrael (Ethiopian Jews) and some Christian denominations, gives Mrs. Noach the name Emzerah, Mother of Seed. Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso takes up the mantle of Midrash, combining it with the name from Jubilees. In her book A Prayer for the Earth, Rabbi Sasso creates a legacy for Naamah.
Then God called out to Naamah, ‘Walk across the land and gather the seeds of all the flowers and all the trees. Take two of every living plant and bring each one onto the ark... Naamah tied an apron of many pockets around her waist and walked through all the earth’s fields and gardens… She journeyed into the forest… She placed them in the cool deep pockets of her apron, away from the light of the sun... from acacia to ziziphus… from amaryllis to zinnia… from apples to zucchini… God saw all that Naamah had planted and God said, “Because of your great love for the earth, I will make you a guardian of all living plants, and I will call you Emzerah, Mother of Seed… She saw how the seeds were carried great distances, and how they landed safely on the soft ground. As God had promised, the dandelions were everywhere…trees grew tall… Flowers sprinkled yellow, peach and lilac over the fields.
Most of us live lives that will not be mentioned in the great texts that will last through time. However, like Naamah, whose name, history, and legacy are missing from our history, each one of us, like Noach or Naamah, can make a significant impact in the world. As William Shakespeare wrote, “How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary World.” Each of us has the opportunity to be that candle