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By now years old, Abraham dies and, like Sarah, is buried in the Cave of Machpelah. A New Generation It is a truism of human nature that we often denigrate our own abilities while extolling those of the generations before us. Events in the past look bigger, more romantic, more heroic than the puny happenings of the present.
That reverence is to be found in Judaism too. That same impulse lies behind the practice of most Orthodox poskim legal decisors to treat the rulings of the Talmud as no longer open to refutation or reversal.source
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That same temptation must have faced Isaac and his generation as well. Imagine how they revered Abraham, the man who introduced the world to ethical monotheism, the one whom God consulted before acting in the world, the one who passed every test God posed to him. Abraham was a giant among men, a leader and a tzaddik. There had been no Judaism before him; was it possible for Judaism to survive after his death?
It must have looked to Isaac and his contemporaries that without the shining example of Abraham and Sarah, it would be impossible to maintain adherence to the lofty values and holiness of the newly founded faith. And how could his wife possibly live up to the sterling example of the matriarch Sarah? Even if the leaders of our generation are as small as Jephtah and Samson, the Talmud instructs that we must treat them with the same reverence we would reserve for Moses.
God gives each generation the wisdom and skill needed for the tasks at hand, but it is we who must supply the courage and the resolve. Yes, there is a tradition within Judaism of venerating and deferring to earlier generations. That is why most Conservative poskim claim the same level of authority as our Talmudic forebears. We will never escape the tension between our childlike perception of earlier generations as greater than we are and our adult assertion of the need to act with equal authority.
God does provide for a new generation of leaders. Are we willing to lead? Genesis 31 Sunrise, Sunset Almost every Jew who is involved in communal Jewish living can recall an older Jewish relative or neighbor who provided precious memories of Jewish holy days, Sabbaths, and festivals. Whether we were born Jewish or have chosen to be Jewish, we have all been touched by a grandparent, an in-law, or a dear friend and mentor who invited us over for a Pesach seder Passover service , showed us how to bake a challah, or took the time to explain and share the lighting of Hanukkah candles.
The stands of Jewish belonging are built one-on-one. The personal touch of rav teacher and talmid student has been the vehicle for the transmission of Torah and Jewish identity from its inception. That person-to-person transmission makes good psychological sense, as we are drawn to communities in which we feel loved, welcomed, and valued.
Particularly if the community also offers profundity and beauty to enhance our lives and goodness and values to enrich our morality and our families, we are more likely to respond by drawing near. Such is surely the case for Judaism.
Shabbat Divrei Torah - Congregation Shaarei Tefillah
But the individual connection makes theological sense too, and this parashah speaks of that human linkage. Sarah died in Kiryat-Arba. But the meaning is that before the Holy Blessing One causes the sun of one righteous person to set, God causes 32 The Everyday Torah the sun of another tzaddik to rise. Knowing that the health of the Jewish community could not continue without a loving embodiment of its warmth and wisdom, God made sure that a new matriarch was ready before allowing the old one to journey on. So it is in our journeys through life. We are Jewish today because of the loving Jews we encountered along the way: grandparents, rabbis, parents, siblings, family friends, neighbors, and acquaintances.
With their willingness to reach out to us, to include us in their holy day celebrations, to seat us inside their sukkah, to feed us at their seder, and to teach us the fundamentals of Torah and its values, they are the reason we know from the inside how wonderful it is to be a Jew.
Because someone cared enough to give us the experiences of Jewish living, our hearts can resonate to the sacred cycles of the seasons and of the Sabbaths. How can we ever repay them? How can we show our deep gratitude and appreciation for those feelings and festivities that add so much to our lives, providing comfort in our grief and adding form to our joy? By passing their gift on to someone else. Perhaps you know someone who is interested in becoming Jewish. Maybe you know a Jew who has never experienced the warmth and beauty of a Shabbat service and meal afterward.
Exodus 13 lesson
Before the sun sets, the new sun rises. Now, today, it is your light that shines. And now is the time to reach out to someone younger, someone new, someone estranged from their Jewish heritage. Your warmth can yet light their path.
Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra observes that the blessings that constitute human richness are riches, possessions, honor, longevity, and children. Abraham was blessed in all of these areas. A second stream of insight sees the blessing in a more radical light. It erupts with an irrepressible mixture of joy and sorrow, achievement and defeat, vitality and illness, connection and isolation.
To focus only on part of that mix would be to produce a caricature of the fullness of life, and God is not found in caricature.
The energy that it takes to edit out the unpleasant aspects of life can only suck out our passion and our ability to live enthusiastically. Such denial requires ever-greater amounts of energy to sustain the illusion yet still results eventually in defeat. By allowing ourselves to dwell in the suffering and the ecstasy, to embrace the disappointment and the hurt along with the delight, we can experience the fullness of being alive, the holiness of being itself.
All living beings suffer. But remaining open to see the blessings amid the suffering is the key inner work that allows us to be with God and each other even in our pain. To see blessing ba-kol is the task of a lifetime and the opportunity of every moment. Scenes from this parashah are among the most famous in the Bible. The saga begins when Isaac is forty and Rebekah is experiencing a difficult pregnancy. Learning from God that she is pregnant with twins who will become ancestors of different peoples, Rebekah is also told by the Divine that the older of the twins will someday serve the younger.
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Impetuous from birth, Esau, a hunter, returns one day from a hunt so hungry that he agrees to sell his birthright to his younger brother in exchange for a bowl of the lentil stew that Jacob is preparing. The scene changes, and what follows is a series of incidents that echo nearly identical ones from the life of Abraham, again involving Abimelech and the attempt to pretend his wife is his sister; once more the Hebrew patriarch is protected by the king and grows rich.
Then forced from place to place by avaricious Philistines, Isaac leads a nomadic life. Next comes one of the most powerful incidents in all of Torah. Blind and frail, Isaac decides the time has come to bless his elder son, and so he sends him out to hunt game and to prepare a dish for Isaac to eat before he bestows the blessing. Esau returns and discovers that his younger brother has stolen his blessing; distraught, he begs his father for a blessing as well and plans to kill Jacob as soon as Isaac dies.
Rebekah sends Jacob away to safety with her brother Laban, telling her husband that Jacob needs to find a non-Canaanite bride. Agendas filled to bursting keep us bustling from one activity to another, always on the run, always a little late. And yet, there is always a price to be paid for the choice of how we spend our time.
If we occupy ourselves with too much work or with too much public service, then the ones who pay the price are often our families and our friends.
Absentee fathers, distracted mothers, and latchkey children are the silent sufferers in our struggle for attention, prestige, and status. All of us pay a price for our misguided priorities.