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D'Var Torah

November 20, 2015

On Monday morning, I took a train from Baltimore to New York.  For the firs...

On Monday morning, I took a train from Baltimore to New York.  For the first time in my experience, armed guards were stationed outside of the station. Over a dozen more police, National Guard, and Homeland Security agents were in visible positions inside the station, including on the tracks.  Clearly, the terror attacks in Paris last Friday night have reached each of our lives.  Whether at a sporting event, in a restaurant, or at a music venue, we are all exposed to the threat of terrorism.  Not all of us are subject to the physical effects of terror, but all of us experience the psychic and emotional trauma of this extreme evil.

In this week's parashah, Vayetzei,  we continue the story of Jacob as he journeys to his uncle's home to find a wife and start the family that is the foundation of the Jewish people.  But, not all is smooth for Jacob.  He is deceived by his uncle and marries Leah before he is able to unite with his chosen, Rachel.  This deception costs Jacob an extra seven years of labor, yet he never diverts from his cause.  Jacob demonstrates the type of resilience that reflects the best of humanity in the face of the many detours that arise in life's journey.

This morning on the radio I heard an interview with a young Parisian couple. When asked what they were going to do this evening, they said they were going to a cafe with friends.  They would not let the acts of terror keep them from living their lives.  The same resilience is lived every day on the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and all over our world.  May we all continue to live resilient lives.

Shabbat Shalom.  

Lee I. Sherman
President/CEO

November 13, 2015

As I was reading this week's parashah, I started remembering the Smothers Br...

As I was reading this week's parashah, I started remembering the Smothers Brothers.  A few of you may remember them.  Tom and Dick had their own variety show in the 60's and they performed folk songs, which invariably led to humorous arguments between the brothers.  By the time the argument ended, Tommy would deliver his signature line, "Mom always liked you best!"
The difficulty of parenting is a central theme to this week's parashah, Tol'dot.  This is the story of the competitive twins, Esau and Jacob.  Jacob convinces Esau to sell his birthright and eventually deceives the dying Isaac to secure his blessing.  Isaac is exasperated by the deception and gives a second blessing to Esau, as he feels the obligation as a parent and he loves both of his sons.  Most likely, Isaac also feels some disappointment in both of his sons for not behaving in a proper and expected manner.

Rebekkah has an even greater struggle.  Even in the womb, Esau was a problem child.  She clearly prefers Jacob and nurtures him to take over his father's role as head of the family.  She even goes so far as to orchestrate Jacob's deception of Isaac for his blessing.  Is it possible that Esau had a right to his resentment of Jacob because "Mom always liked you best!"?  Parenting is never easy.

On this and every Shabbat, be blessed with all of your children as you bless them.

Shabbat Shalom.   

Lee I. Sherman
President/CEO

November 6, 2015

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure and privilege of attending the inaugural R...

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure and privilege of attending the inaugural Ruderman Inclusion Summit. Over 500 professionals and advocates gathered in Boston to share information, resources, and stories to promote the inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of our global life. There should be no debate that a fully inclusive society benefits all of its members, regardless of their individual abilities, but how we make that happen deserves our attention and diligence. We need to be active, persistent, and cooperative to build a community that reflects and includes each person.

In this week's parashah, Hayyei Sarah, we are introduced to Rebekah, the future wife of Isaac. Abraham sends his servant to his kinsman to find a wife for Isaac. The servant devises a test in which he can determine the true nature of a prospective wife for Abraham's son. Rebekah passes the test with flying colors - she offers the servant a drink from her jug and then keeps filling her jug until all of the camels have had their thirst quenched. Rebekah exudes a spirit steeped in kindness, and during the scene she also exhibits modesty, sensitivity, and responsibility. Moreover, in vigorously pursuing her goal of making certain that all of the camels are watered, Rebekah demonstrates the work ethic necessary to complete this arduous task. She is not only a worthy wife for Isaac, but a role model for all who seek to make a difference.

Ensuring a fully inclusive society is hard work. It requires a change of attitudes and a commitment to justice. But, as our matriarch Rebekah taught us, hard work is in our natures and it makes the goal possible.  Join us in working to move the inclusion agenda forward. 

Shabbat Shalom. 

Lee I. Sherman
President/CEO

October 2, 2015

Many of us were taught that the best way to improve our writing is to spend the ...

Many of us were taught that the best way to improve our writing is to spend the time to re-write and edit carefully. Working from inspiration to get the creative juices flowing is fine, but the end product requires a discerning "red pen" to best tell your story or effectively prove your thesis. As good as the final product may be, those who study literature revel in discovering the author's early drafts to discover and dissect the writing process. Even with an in depth study of the process, at times we are left to only wonder why certain changes were made while other texts were left alone.  

If you believe that Torah is God's word, then there need be no conversation of the presence or lack of an editing process. Words or passages of Torah have significance and meaning, they are there for a purpose. But, this week's parashah, Vayera, sometimes makes me wonder. As we continue the story of Abraham and his family, there are many rich stories, from his entertaining of the strangers in his tent, to Isaac's miracle birth, to the Akeda - all of which help to propel the narrative forward and inform our values and traditions. The story of Lot and his family in Sodom are more troubling. If Lot is a righteous person, how can he offer his virgin daughters to the townspeople in place of his visitors? What is it about Lot's wife that cause her to look back and turn to a pillar of salt? And, the story of Lot's incest with his daughters appears to be without redeeming features, as all parties share in the responsibility for these sins. Maybe a better editor could have moved the story along quicker by eliminating these diversions. 

We don't get an editor in life, either. When we face troubling passages, we need to work through them, learn from them, and change our behavior accordingly. Torah is a guide to living, not just a good story. So, we study all the passages, including those that make us uneasy, and we trust that this process will improve our lives and our relationships with others.

Shabbat Shalom.  

Lee I. Sherman
President/CEO