Virtuosity Savored

A blog by Adam J. Rosenbaum

The Curious Case of Benjamin Busted: Miketz 2018

Pre-Game Chatter: How did you learn to hold yourself accountable for your deeds? Did certain life events help you to learn this skill? Or did you learn it more from the example of people in your life?

When Joseph’s brothers meet Joseph in Egypt but cannot recognize him, they finally begin to realize the mistakes they have made over the years:

The Pitch: “Joseph said them, ‘What is this deed that you have done? Do you not know that someone in my position practices divination?’ Judah replied, ‘What can we say to my lord? How can we plead, how can we prove our innocence? God has uncovered the crime of your servants. Here we are, then, slaves of my lord, the rest of us as much as he in whose possession the goblet was found.’” – Genesis 44:15-16

Swing #1: “Upon the discovery of the goblet in Benjamin’s possession, the brothers rent their clothes, demonstrating the pain they truly felt. Benjamin’s siblings, the same ones who ripped the coat off Joseph and caused their father Jacob to rend his garments in mourning over the loss of his son, now appear before Joseph in tattered garments. Yet, at the same time they are moving towards a greater sense of themselves. Precisely at this point the brothers collectively admit their guilt …” – Norman J. Cohen, Self, Struggle & Change: Family Conflict Stories in Genesis and Their Healing Insights for Our Lives

Swing #2: “‘What shall we say unto my Lord?’ – referring to the first money (in Benjamin’s sack). ‘What shall we speak?’ – referring to the second money (in Benjamin’s sack), ‘or how shall we clear ourselves?’ – with the cup. ‘What shall we say unto my Lord?’ – referring to the incident of Tamar, ‘What shall we speak?’ – referring to the deed of Reuben [sleeping with Bilhah], ‘Or how shall we clear ourselves?’ – referring to the deed of [pillaging] Shechem. ‘What shall we say unto my Lord?’ – what shall we say to Father in the land of Canaan regarding Joseph? ‘What shall we speak?’ – with reference to Simeon, ‘Or how shall we clear ourselves?’ – regarding Benjamin.” – Midrash Rabbah

Swing #3: “‘What is this deed you have done?’ [Joseph] asks the brothers when they are brought back under arrest to the palace, and the general terms in which he couches the accusation touch all the way back to their criminal act against him two decades past. ‘Didn’t you know’ – and of course there was all too much they did not know – ‘that a man like me would certainly practice divination [or, would certainly manage to divine it]?’” – Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative

Late-Inning Questions: Is holding oneself accountable a learned trait or a natural inclination? Did Joseph’s brothers take too long to recognize their missteps?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We are thrilled to honor Charlot Karesh for her years of service to our synagogue and community. Please join us at services Saturday at 9:30AM to celebrate her presence in our lives.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of accountability, my all-time favorite manager was Jim Leyland. I was most impressed with how he led the Detroit Tigers to an improbable American League pennant in 2006, only to lose to an inferior St. Louis Cardinals team in the World Series. After the Tigers won the pennant, he deflected credit to his players and coaches. But after losing the World Series, he insisted on taking all the blame. That’s leadership.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hanukkah!

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Say No To This: Vayeshev 2018

Pre-Game Chatter: Does “giving into temptation” have a negative connotation? Should it? Does it depend on what’s driving that temptation? Or, when we speak of being tempted, are we always referring to something that is not advisable?

We read in this week’s Torah portion that, after being sold into slavery in Egypt, Joseph is refuses the romantic advances of Potiphar’s wife:

The Pitch: “One such day, [Joseph] came into the house to do his work. None of the household being there inside, [Potiphar’s wife] caught hold of him by his garment and said, ‘Lie with me!’ But he left his garment in her hand and got away and fled outside. When she saw that he had left it in her hand and had fled outside, she called out to her servants and said to them, ‘Look, he had to bring us a Hebrew to dally with us! …’” – Genesis 39:11-14a

Swing #1: “It seems, on first reading, as though [Joseph] refused without any reason. As our sages have said [in Midrash Sifrei], ‘A person should not say I don’t want to eat pork, because, indeed, I’d like to. But precisely because I would, the reason I behave as I do is because God wants it so!’ It is by means of just such reverence toward being alive that one is blessed to understand the real reasons for choosing good and rejecting evil. And so it is that by means of ‘And he refused’ [without offering any reasons] that he was rewarded with the reason. For mere human intelligence is able to mislead and go astray. Whereas only wisdom that comes from reverence toward being alive is accurate and correct.” – S’fat Emet

Swing #2: “[Potiphar’s wife] was no wanton and no nymphomaniac driven helplessly to snatch at every man within reach. She was a great lady. She was a dedicated person, even as her husband, the eunuch, was. Her passion for Joseph was not a sudden and furious flare-up of lust, already sated a hundred times indiscriminately and still insatiable. It grew slowly, and it came into the open only ‘after these things.’ … And long before it came into the open Joseph was aware of it, and went through the gesture of discouraging it.” – Maurice Samuel

Swing #3: “The court-ladies told her: ‘You must break this resistance, one day, when you two are alone. He is a man like any other, and cannot long withstand your charms. Doubtless he already reciprocates your passion.’ Zuleika took their advice. Early next morning, she stole into Joseph’s bedroom and fell upon him suddenly. He awoke, broke loose, and left her lying there. She cried in despair: ‘Has so beautiful a woman ever revealed her consuming love for you? Why so churlish? Why this fear of your master? As Pharaoh lives, no harm will come to you! Only be generous, and cure me of my wretchedness! Must I die, because of your foolish scruples?’” – Sefer HaYashar

Late-Inning Questions: The Torah text doesn’t give a reason why Joseph refuses Potiphar’s wife’s advances. However, when this section of the text is chanted aloud in synagogue, one of the words is sung with a shalshelet cantillation, a long series of notes that implies hesitation. Do you agree that Joseph was tempted by Potiphar’s wife? If so, was it because he took a moral stance, or was he more concerned about Potiphar’s potential reaction? Is it better to refuse temptation or to not be tempted at all?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We are so proud of our annual Hanukkah tradition known as the “Night of Giving”, taking place this year on Sunday, December 2nd, at 6:00PM. Join us at Publix in West Ashley, Mount Pleasant, or Summerville to light the first Hanukkah candles of the holiday, and then purchase a bag of non-perishable groceries to give to the Kosher Food Pantry. It’s a great way to celebrate by giving back.

Also, we are thrilled to debut our first CinEmanu-El video, “Opening and Closing the Holy Ark”. Check it out: https://youtu.be/zo-oZsXBm5E

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of temptation, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred believes that no amount of punishment will eliminate some players’ temptation to take performance-enhancing drugs. Do you agree?

Shabbat Shalom!

Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story: Vayishlakh 2018

Pre-Game Chatter: How do we best pass our legacy to a new generation? Is it best done through stories, photographs, or other material items? To what extent is it our responsibility to leave a legacy, and to what extent must our descendents recognize it themselves?

In this week’s Torah portion, when Rachel dies in childbirth, she tries to leave a legacy to her new son by giving him a name  – a name that Jacob changes:

The Pitch: “They set out from Bethel; but when they were still some distance short of Ephrath, Rachel was in childbirth, and she had hard labor. … But as she breathed her last – for she was dying – she named him Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin. Thus Rachel died. She was buried on the road to Ephrath – now Bethlehem. Over her grave Jacob set up a pillar; it is the pillar at Rachel’s grave to this day.” – Genesis 35:16, 18-20

Swing #1: “[The] Hebrew [word] nephesh, despite its traditional translation ‘soul,’ never refers to that which continues to exist after death, through the nephesh departs when one dies. In this connection, H. W. Wolff observes, ‘man does not have [nephesh], he is [nephesh], he lives as [nephesh].’” – John H. Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible

Swing #2: “The text does not read: ‘The same is the pillar of Rachel to this day,’ for Rachel herself did not need a monument. ‘One does not rear monuments to the righteous, for their words are their memorial.’ Righteous men and women do not need pillars of stone to perpetuate their memory. Thus the pillar which Jacob set up was intended only as ‘the pillar of Rachel’s grave,’ marking the site of the grave so that those of her descendants who might wish to visit the grave and pray there might know where it is.” – Homat Esh

Swing #3: “‘Son of my sorrow (Ben-oni)’ she calls her second son upon dying. She who desperately cried ‘Give me children, or else I die!’ (Genesis 30:1) ironically dies upon bearing a son.” – Ilana Pardes, Countertraditions in the Bible: A Feminist Approach

Late-Inning Questions: Are our children’s names an extension of our legacies, or more of a wish for how they will live their lives in the future? Are we responsible for maintaining the legacies of others? Or do we simply forge new paths based on what we think is best?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: In order to utilize technology for our Singing Circle Kabbalat Shabbat, tonight’s Friday night services will begin at 4:45PM. Cap off your Black Friday by joining us in song and gratitude.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of legacies, it’s curious how so many Major League teams are making statues of their all-time great players outside of their stadiums. Sometimes these statues are created while that player is still alive. Does a statue leave a lasting impression on the fans who see it? Is this the best way to maintain a player’s legacy?

Shabbat Shalom!

Angels in the Open Field: Vayetze 2018

Pre-Game Chatter: Do you consider someone to be your “guardian angel”? Do you think you play that role in someone else’s life? What are the characteristics and qualities of such a person?

As Jacob grows from a young adult to a patriarch, he periodically senses Divine protection:

The Pitch: “Jacob went on his way, and messengers of God encountered him. When he saw them, Jacob said, ‘This is God’s camp.’ So he named that place Mahanaim.” – Genesis 32:2-3

Swing #1: “There is a marked narrative symmetry between Jacob’s departure from Canaan, when he had his dream of angels at Bethel, and his return, when again he encounters a company of angels. That symmetry will be unsettled when later in the chapter he finds himself in fateful conflict with a single divine being.” – Robert Alter, The Five Books of Moses: A Translation With Commentary

Swing #2: “The presence of divine messengers does not obviate the need for human messengers. This juxtaposition suggests that, in situations of danger and interpersonal difficulty, the coalition of divine presence and human initiative and planning is important. God’s presence does not control so much that what human beings think, do, and say in such moments is irrelevant. The same time, the struggle with the ‘messenger’ [God in subsequent verses] makes clear that God may enter anew into human plans.” – The New Interpreter’s Bible

Swing #3: “God sent His angels to him to keep him safe while on his journey.” – Radak

Late-Inning Questions: Why do you think God sends Jacob angels more than the other patriarchs? Is it because Jacob’s life journey is more perilous than that of his father or grandfather? Or is it because God is less confident that Jacob can succeed on his own? Do we all need, to paraphrase the George Gershwin song, someone to watch over us?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We are so proud of our annual Hanukkah tradition known as the “Night of Giving”, taking place this year on Sunday, December 2nd, at 6:00PM. Join us at Publix in West Ashley, Mount Pleasant, or Summerville to light the first Hanukkah candles of the holiday, and then purchase a bag of non-perishable groceries to give to the Kosher Food Pantry. It’s a great way to celebrate by giving back.

The Big Inning at the End: One of the advantages of having a Major League team named the Angels is the multitude of punny possibilities there are; for instance, I continue to be amused each High Holidays when we read the line about human beings as “little less than angels.” I guess that, this year, we’re all Texas Rangers – since the Rangers were the only team in the American League West with a worse record than the Los Angeles Angels this year.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rage Against the Pristine: Toldot 2018

Pre-Game Chatter: Why is it that those who follow the rules often are undermined by those who don’t? Does this speak more to a lack of boldness by those who do follow the rules, or a society that wrongly rewards those who don’t?

When the Esau’s blessings are taken away from him due to Jacob’s larceny, Esau’s initial instinct is, understandably, anger:

The Pitch: “Now Esau harbored a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing which his father had given him, and Esau said to himself, ‘Let the mourning period of my father come, and I will kill my brother Jacob.’” – Genesis 27:41

Swing #1: “According to another opinion, Esau approached Ishmael and told him to kill his old rival Isaac. ‘Then,’ he said, ‘I will murder Jacob, and between us, we will be able to divide up the world.’ Although these were Esau’s words, his thoughts were very different. ‘Let Ishmael murder my father, and I will take care of Jacob. But then I will kill Ishmael to “avenge my father.” In the end, everything will be mine.’” – Shtei Yadot

Swing #2: “One of these glimmers comes to light when Jacob is forced to flee his brother’s ire. We cannot help but be struck by the irony that Jacob, who is now ‘the child of promise,’ has to vacate ‘the land of promise,’ while Esau, now bereft of birthright and primary blessing, is able to remain in that same land.” – Frank Anthony Spina, The Faith of the Outsider

Swing #3: “Said Rabbi Yudan: As soon as the Israelites came to do battle with Esau, the Holy One blessed be He showed Moses that same mount where the patriarchs were buried and said to him: ‘Moses, tell the Israelites: You cannot overcome him since the reward due to the honour he paid to those buried in this mount is still due to him.’” – D’varim Rabbah

Late-Inning Questions: The ancient rabbis never forgive Esau for wanting to kill Jacob, yet they are reluctant to criticize Jacob for actually following through on acts of trickery. Yet modern commentators are far more sympathetic to Esau. Why do you think that is? Do we need years of perspective before evaluating the characters of our ancestors? Are we too quick to judge people for their decisions? If so, why are we in such a rush?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: Our Sisterhood’s annual Giving Thanks dinner takes place next Friday night, and as of this writing, there are only 11 spots left. If you haven’t already, make sure to RSVP for this wonderful annual tradition!

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of people who get ahead by cheating, is it not bothersome that Gaylord Perry, who won more than 300 games by admittedly throwing the illegal “spitball”, is in the Baseball Hall of Fame, while Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, who still maintain that they never took steroids (in spite of evidence to the contrary), are not?

Shabbat Shalom!

Comforting Those Who Mourn: Chayei Sara 2018

This Shabbat cannot, and will not, be like any other. It is the first Shabbat since the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Tonight and tomorrow, we will join congregations across the country for the AJC’s #showupforshabbat campaign, as a sign of solidarity and remembrance for those who perished in last week’s attack.

It is uncanny how often the Torah portion of the week speaks to the concerns of the moment, and this week, the portion of Chayei Sara is no exception:

“Isaac then brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he took Rebekah as his wife. Isaac loved her, and thus found comfort after his mother’s death.” (Genesis 24:67)

Responding to this verse, the Talmudic tractate of Sotah teaches us another verse from our portion: “The Holy One, blessed be He, comforted mourners, for it is written: ‘And it came to pass after the death of Abraham, that God blessed Isaac his son’ (Genesis 25:11), so you must comfort mourners.”

This Shabbat, all of us are like Isaac, reeling from loss and facing an uncertain future. But as the Talmud teaches, all of us also must imitate the Godly role of comforting one another; we cannot wait for someone else to do it for us.

Being at synagogue this Shabbat won’t eliminate the ghastly hatred of anti-Semitism, nor will it erase the wounds felt across the Jewish world. But it will remind ourselves that hatred and pain will not define us, and that we can and will move forward when we lift one another’s spirits.

If you’re in Charleston, please join us for services at Friday, Nov. 2nd, at 6:00PM, and Saturday, Nov. 3rd, at 9:30AM. On Saturday, we’ll be pleased to hear several times from Danny Siegel, our Scholar-in-Residence.

Hope to see you there.

Shabbat Shalom!

Bound For Greatness?: Vayera 2018

Pre-Game Chatter: What is the biggest risk you’ve ever taken? Were you successful? If not, would you still take the same risk if you were faced with the same circumstances again?

The story of the binding of Isaac is stunning for many reasons, not the least of which is how God risks losing Abraham and Isaac’s devotion, and how, of course, Abraham risks losing his son forever:

The Pitch: “‘Take your son, your favored one, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the heights that I will point out to you.’ … Then a messenger of Adonai called to him from heaven: ‘Abraham! Abraham!’ And he answered, ‘Here I am.’ ‘Do not raise your hand against the boy, or do anything to him. For now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your favored one, from Me.’ When Abraham looked up, his eye fell upon a ram, caught in the thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering in place of his son.” – Genesis 22:2, 11-13

Swing #1: “There is an opinion that an angel cannot read human thoughts unless God reveals them to him. It was for this reason that the angel had asked, ‘Where is Sarah your wife?’ (Genesis 18:9). The angel simply did not know where she was. This is also why the angel said, ‘Now I know that you fear God.’ The angel was speaking to Abraham; before this, he did not know Abraham’s innermost motives.” – Yafeh Einayim

Swing #2: “The Akedah is an earlier version of the Golden Calf. As far as may be understood, it is a justification for the sacrifice of an entire generation in order to create a people able to fulfill its promise. The entire people – that is, Isaac – is to be offered to the God who stands for unity of the people. The risk, the Akedah instructs us, is worth taking. Dramatizing a situation in which not just one generation but all future generations are at stake – bound to their faith, risking all – makes the larger-scale activity at Sinai more comprehensible.” – Aaron Wildavsky, Moses as Political Leader

Swing #3: “There have even been attempts to separate two distinct stories in the Akedah chapter: the account of Isaac who was slain and burned on his pyre (verses 1-5, 9, 15-19), and that other version according to which Isaac was saved and a ram was offered up in his place. From the earlier story we lack the report of the act of sacrifice, the description of slaughter of the son; but the end of the story, the Lord blessing the father, has survived: ‘Because you have done this,’ ‘because you have obeyed my command,’ ‘I will bestow my blessing upon you,’ etc. … In this second story (verses 6-8, 10, 13-14) there was no mention at all of an angel calling from on high, exactly as verse 13 suggests: for had Abraham been taken by surprise and been prodded ‘from heaven,’ his eye would already have been lifted upward, and there would have been no place for ‘And Abraham lifted his eyes’ (of verse 13).” – Shalom Spiegel, The Last Trial

Late-Inning Questions: Why do you think this story is so central in Judaism? What is its moral, if any? The story begins with the notion that God puts Abraham to “the test”; should he, or any of us, be defined by how he responds to a test? Does Abraham’s willingness show that he passed the test — or failed it?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We are thrilled to welcome Danny Siegel to our congregation next Shabbat. Danny is the Conservative movement’s foremost authority on social action, and he has inspired generations of Jews to do countless acts of kindness. Be sure to be here Saturday, November 3rd, as Danny will speak before, during, and after services.

The Big Inning at the End: In baseball, as with all sports, the ultimate test is how an athlete or team responds to losing. The Los Angeles Dodgers face that now, as the Boston Red Sox are leading the World Series 2-0. I’m excited to see whether the Dodgers — clear underdogs at this point — can make the series competitive again. Something tells me they will.

Shabbat Shalom!

Who Stole the Bris Kit?: Lekh Lekha 2018

Pre-Game Chatter: What kinds of customs (religious or otherwise) make you uncomfortable? Are you able to recognize the purposes of such customs, or are you more overwhelmed by your discomfort?

Even if we are unfazed by the idea of ritual circumcision in Judaism, there’s no doubt that the subject is uncomfortable, despite the matter-of-fact way it’s introduced in the Torah text:

The Pitch: “God further said to Abraham: ‘As for you, you and your offspring to come throughout the ages shall keep My covenant. Such shall be the covenant between Me and you and your offspring to follow which you shall keep: every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and that shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. And throughout the generations, every male among you shall be circumcised at the age of eight days.’ …” – Genesis 17:9-12a

Swing #1: “The covenant imposes only one obligation on Abraham and his heirs: circumcision. That’s it. This is God’s single requirement. It’s an inspired choice. Circumcision is painful enough that no one will undertake it lightly. It’s visible, and so it obviously demarcates you from others. And it’s irreversible.” – David Plotz, Good Book

Swing #2: “Genesis 17 sends out decidedly mixed signals regarding Sarah and her status. On the one hand, Sarah’s non-circumcision seems to betoken her adjunctive quality among the covenantal people. Her motherhood is not celebrated the way Abraham’s fatherhood is celebrated. Abraham will be the father of a multitude of nations (Genesis 17:4-5), but Sarah is not given the title ‘mother of nations.’ The Torah declares, She shall give rise to nations, rulers of people shall issue from her (Genesis 17:16), but the nations and peoples that she is to bear are Abraham’s. He is the father and she is his reproductive agent; Sarah is not a covenantal person in her own right. The word berit appears 13 times in Genesis 17, but not once is the word or concept associated with Sarah.” – Shaye J. D. Cohen, Why Aren’t Jewish Women Circumcised?: Gender and Covenant in Judaism

Swing #3: “Like Philo, the rabbis also saw circumcision as fundamentally linked to issues of procreation. This connection becomes evident when the rabbis consider how Abraham knew he was supposed to circumcise the penis and not some other organ. After all, God instructs Abraham to circumcise ‘the flesh of his foreskin.’ How did Abraham know that God intended him to circumcise the sexual organ and not the foreskin of his heart or ears? … [Rav Huna says in Genesis Rabbah that] just as foreskin of trees refers to the place where it yields fruit, foreskin of man must refer to the place where he produces fruit. Another sage disagrees and suggests that the covenantal language itself signaled that God had in mind the foreskin of the penis [Leviticus Rabbah]. … Like Philo, the rabbis also saw an analogy between circumcision and horticultural practices.” – Trees, Earth, and Torah: A Tu B’Shvat Anthology, edited by Ari Elon, Naomi Mara Hyman & Arthur Waskow

Late-Inning Questions: What, according to our commentators, seems to be the most important meaning of ritual circumcision? Which meaning is most compelling to you? What are the best ways to find modern meaning in ancient ritual? Does the Jewish world today do an effective job of making such an uncomfortable practice meaningful?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: Congratulations to everyone who participated in collecting goods for victims of recent hurricanes. We feel fortunate to be able to give back to those who were not as lucky as those in the Charleston area over the last few weeks.

The Big Inning at the End: Jews are far from the only people who engage in unusual ritual. But it’s striking when those not usually associated with Jewish practice takes Jewish ideas and makes them their own. For instance, Hall of Fame third baseman Wade Boggs was known to draw the Hebrew letters of the word “chai” – life  – in the dirt before every at-bat.

Shabbat Shalom!

How Unsettling!: Noah 2018

Pre-Game Chatter: When do you prefer to be a leader? When do you prefer to be a follower? How do both leaders and followers add value to society?

At the end of the story of Noah’s descendents, we discover that a man named Terah is content establishing roots in a new place – but his son Abram will want to travel even farther:

The Pitch: “Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and they set out together from Ur of the Chaldeans for the land of Canaan; but when they had come as far as Haran, they settled there. The days of Terah came to 205 years; and Terah died in Haran.” – Genesis 11:31-32

Swing #1: “How often is it that spiritual awakening comes even to a person who is not on a high enough level of awareness to be purified and to ascend higher. Instead, in the middle of the journey, his lower instincts overcome him, render him unable to move on. There there are the pious and the righteous ones who, as we read in Isaiah 40:4, set their hearts on, ‘making the rugged level, and the crooked places a plain.’ They clear away every obstacle from the way of the Ruler who ascends to the mountain of Adonai. They do not remain frozen in the middle of the journey. Just this is the difference between Terah and Abraham. For while there was awakened in Terah the clear vision to set out for the Land of Canaan, he changed his mind in the middle of the journey. … But Abraham, our forefather, was not content to rest. He did not get cold feet in the middle of the journey.” – Moshe ben Amram Greenwald

Swing #2: “Haran dies; Abraham and his surviving brother take wives; then Terah assembles the entire clan and decamps for Canaan. They arrive in the ancient crossroads of Harran, near Syria, where they settle. Far from random, this travel pattern is consistent with the lives of pastoral nomads, who traversed the region with herds, passed time near settled lands, then migrated to other places. … [But] Abraham is not a settled man, or a wandering man. He’s a combination, who embodies in his upbringing a message he will come to represent: the perpetual stranger in a strange land, the outsider who longs to be the insider, the landless who longs for land, the pious who finds a palliative in God for his endlessly painful life.” – Bruce Feiler, Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths

Swing #3: “Why did the Torah say that Abram left Haran after his father died? The fact of the matter was that Terah lived another 60 years, but the Torah did not want Abram tarred with the accusation that he had left his 145-year-old father, instead of caring for him. So the text said that ‘Terah died,’ for sinners [like the idol worshipper Terah] are said to be dead even when still alive.” – Rashi

Late-Inning Questions: Both Terah and Abram are nomads, yet Abram’s taste for discovering new places far exceeds that of his father. According to our commentators, what character traits lead to this divergence? Why is Abram able to take the extra step? What characteristics enable us to take the extra step to pursue our dreams?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We invite you to participate in adult education at our synagogue. We hope to have an Adult B’nai Mitzvah class this year; it will meet Tuesdays at 6:45PM. Judaism 101 takes place at 8:00PM. Please join us!

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of leadership, we once again turn to Casey Stengel, who remarked: “The key to being a good manager is keeping the people who hate me away from those who are still undecided.”

Shabbat Shalom!

Regret: Bereshit 2018

Pre-Game Chatter: Are you good at changing plans at the last minute? Do you thrive when you need to be spontaneous? Or do eleventh-hour changes only frustrate and derail you?

Only 10 generations after the creation of the universe, God laments God’s boldest creation:

The Pitch: “Adonai saw how great was human wickedness on earth – how every plan devised by the human mind was nothing but evil all the time. And Adonai regretted having made humankind on earth.” – Genesis 6:5-6

Swing #1: “When there is some affliction or judgement in the space-time-soul then surely it reduces from the joy of Hakadosh Baruch Hu, as is written (Gen. 6): ‘And it grieved His heart;’ and as they said (Sanhedrin 46)): ‘What does the Shechinah say? “My head hurts” etc.,’ and this person who enters into the joy can surely know according to the matter of the joy. He can also know on what part of the structure the judgement is decreed, for he knows according to the structure of the mitzvot: If he cannot perform of the heads of the mitzvot, i.e. mitzvot that depend on the head, he knows that the judgment is decreed on the heads of space-time-soul, and likewise with the remaining structure of the mitzvot.” – Likutei Moharan

Swing #2: “While the nature of what has fundamentally gone wrong with his creation remains vague, the impact on Yahweh and his decision in the face of it are not. … The fruits of human hearts bring an ache of regret to Yahweh’s heart, and with it a marked change in his attitude toward his creations. The force of this is marked by the fact that this is one of the few direct notices offered by the narrator of just what God is feeling.” – W. Lee Humphreys, The Character of God in the Book of Genesis

Swing #3: “Therein lies the tension: The flood is beautiful but destructive. The desert is cleansing but calamitous. The people are regenerative but resistant. This struggle, I now realized, dominates the Israelites’ time in the wilderness and is the chief story line of the second half of the Five Books of Moses. In many ways, Numbers mirrors what happens in Genesis. At the beginning of the Bible, God’s task is to create humanity and he follows a vicious cycle of creation and destruction: First he gives life to Adam and Eve, then they disappoint him, and he banishes them from his garden, forcing them to start from scratch. Adam and Eve go on to spawn humanity, who also disappoint God. He destroys them and starts over with Noah.” – Bruce Feiler, Walking The Bible

Late-Inning Questions: What do our commentators learn about the text’s rare revelation of God’s emotions? Does it indicate that God’s decision to destroy the world with a flood is fueled mainly by a gut reaction? At what point should our emotion overrule our sense of logic? Is this what happens to God just before the flood?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We’re resuming Emanu-El University this Tuesday; if you’re interested in celebrating an Adult B’nai Mitzvah, we’ll meet at 6:45PM, and Judaism 101 follows at 8:00PM. Classes are free and open to the public.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of regret, legendary manager Casey Stengel spoke with bitterness – albeit with humor – when the New York Yankees fired him in 1960: “I’ll never make the mistake of being 70 again.”

Shabbat Shalom!