Wednesday, December 6, 2017

TryTo See What's Going Down Lord, Try To Read Between The Lines (Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia - "Bertha")

On a typical weekday evening, after Mincha/Maariv (the afternoon and evening services) have been recited, and the final carpool has been driven, I usually walk in only to be inundated with every problem and issue that is plaguing my wife and our three teenagers. “This is broken”, “can you fix this”, “can you help me with my algebra”, “can you help me with chemistry”, or “can you help me study for my Talmud test”? After I perform a few minutes of triage and calm people down; we eat dinner. At that point, everyone views these few minutes of family mealtime as an opportunity to share every hurt feeling, every social slight, and “issue” that each teenager seems to be dealing with. Honestly, it seems like I am watching my wife and children’s lives as soap operas. Sometimes it can be exhausting. I try to get away from it by working out for about 45 minutes. Admittedly, they are all quite respectful of this, otherwise, they know that I won’t have the patience to help them.  For the next few hours I help with household chores, I help with essays, math problems, test, and applications. By 11pm, I am ready to sit on the sofa with a cup of tea and watch my news show and catch up with the world. Unfortunately, I encounter another soap opera of political intrigue, investigation, fragile egos, nuclear tension, and the constant venting of emotion via Twitter. I had hoped that my cup of tea, and listening to the news would have calmed me down, provided some perspective and allowed me to settle myself down for a quiet peaceful sleep.  
This morning we read from Parshah Vayeishev. The focus of the narrative now shifts from Yaakov (aka. Israel) to his most beloved son Yosef. Contextually, Yaakov is at a point in his life where he has finished his spiritual and personal struggles. He now is at a calm and settled point in his life, hence the name of the Parshah: Vayeishevand he settled. We learn that Yaakov, like his parents, played favorites. He showered Yosef, Rachel’s son, with a beautiful Kutonet PasimCoat of Many Colors. Yosef was a bit arrogant. This was manifested in his dreams that portrayed his greatness and the subjugated his brothers and his parents to his power. Needless to say, no one appreciated his dreams, neither his brothers who wanted to kill him nor his father who sent Yosef back to his brothers knowing that they were angry with him (Gen. 37:10-14). Yosef is then removed from a pit, sold as a slave and worked in the home of one of Pharaoh’s courtiers. The parsha concludes with Yosef being sent to prison.
Phew! Yosef’s life sounds like a soap opera. Yosef’s life is full of ups and downs. Yosef was up as a favored son, down when he was admonished by his father. Yosef was down when he was thrown into a pit by his brother, and then he was quite literally up when he was removed from the pit.  Soon after, Yosef was quickly down when he was sold into slavery. However, he went back up again when, as a slave, he was also the manager of the courtier’s business dealings. Yosef was then literally brought down by the courtier’s wife, and then went further down when he was thrown down into the prison. Yet even in prison, he enjoyed an elevated status because of his abilities. Yosef’s life has a certain roller coaster quality to it. He is an individual who has enjoyed success and experienced failure. Frequently, we read of Yosef going up and going down, ascending and descending in terms of direction and not only his spirituality. VaYishlcheihu M’Emek Chevron V’Yavoh ShChemaSo he [Yaakov] sent him [Yosef] from the depth of Hebron, and he arrived at Shechem. Hebron is in the south and Shechem is in the north, so from the perspective of direction, Yosef’s going from south to north would usually be categorized as “up”. However, the phrase Emek Chevron is very problematic. Rashi, the 11th century French commentator, explains that V’Eilah Chevron B’Har, “VYaalu B’Negev Ad Chevron (BeMidbar 13:22) – Hebron is situated on a mountain as it says in Numbers 13:22 ‘they ascended in the south up to Hebron’. Clearly, the language appears confusing. Clearly, the text is geographically challenged. Maybe those two simple words, Emek Hebron, and those contradictory concepts Emek Hebron are supposed to teach us something about the nature of Yosef’s life and our lives.
            Maybe it is too much for me to wish my children’s lives to be quiet and boring. While “quiet” and “boring” suggests calm and even peacefulness; the reality is that human beings are far too complex to have “quiet and boring”. We engage in relationships, we are social beings, and we are spiritual beings. We think and we feel. Life will always have its ups and downs. We don’t even need to look for the ups and downs; it will find us. Of course, this begs the question why leaders go out of their way to “make news”; to do behave and lead as if life was a soap opera or a reality TV Show. As a parent, it is exhausting when a child’s life has the ups and downs of a soap opera. As a citizen, it is exhausting to constantly read about soap opera leadership while there are serious news stories and serious issues that need to be dealt with. Yosef, a spoiled son, a dreamer, a leader and an incredibly talented young man, demonstrates that sometimes a perceived down might really be an up and a perceived up might really be a down. It seems that the key is how we look at the ups and downs and how we handle those ups and downs. 

Rav Yitz

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Gonna Scare You Up And Shoot Ya (Robert Hunter & Ron McKernan "Mister Charlie")

Our eldest daughter came home for American Thanksgiving. It was wonderful seeing all of our children sitting together, singing together, laughing together and talking with each other. At one point, our three daughters insisted on having a moment of sister bonding time and took several pictures excluding their younger brother.  While watching our three daughters, now 27,17,15 years of age pose for pictures; I experienced one of my moments of fatherly angst and anxiety. One has left our home, one is about to leave our home, and one, although several years away from leaving home, watches her older sisters and I am sure she can’t wait to get on with chosen path. All three are experiencing some degree of transition. All I can think of are two words: “boys” and “men”.   After hearing about the women who have come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against Roy Moore (Alabama Senate candidate), Harvey Weinstein (movie producer), Matt Lauer (NBC host of Today Show), Charlie Rose, Al Franken and the President; where are the fathers? Why haven’t I heard a father say anything in support of his daughter? How can a father of daughters look at Roy Moore and cast a vote for him?  I watched my daughters laughing together as they took their pictures and I wondered and worried if I have given them the necessary tools to deal with such boys and men. I wonder if I gave them the necessary tools to fend off such animal behavior if they were accosted. I wonder if I infused within them enough courage, chutzpah, and sense of self that they would tell me if such a thing happened and then, more importantly, go to the authorities, and call out the animal that would have caused them such harm.
This week we read from Parsha Vayishlach. We read about Yaakov and Esav’s reunion. We read about Yaakov’s daughter Dina and her unholy tryst with Shechem a member of the Hivvites. We learn of what many consider to be the fanatical response on behalf of her brother Shimon and Levi. Yaakov returns to Bet El, the place where he dreamt of the ladder many years before, builds and altar, and receives the covenant from God. During that process, God changes his name from Yaakov to Yisroel. And while we read about the name change at the very beginning of the Parsha, that name change was given by another being (Gen. 32:29). Rachel dies as well as a wet nurse named Deborah. Finally we read a list of Yaakov’s children as well as Esav’s.
            The narrative about Yaakov is interrupted with the disturbing one chapter narrative (chapter 34) about Yaakov’s daughter Dina, her encounter with Shechem the Hivvite, their unholy tryst and the horrible aftermath. The aftermath is horrible for a variety of reasons. The initial incident in which the Torah tells us VaYikach Otah Vayishkav Otah Va’YeANeh’Ha- He [Shechem] took her, lay with her, and violated her [Dinah] is horrible enough for Dina. Dina does not speak. At no point are we told how Dina feels or what she wants. If that’s not troubling enough, Yaakov also remains silent is there a father that, upon hearing such news, would respond with silence?  Jacob’s silence is palatable. First the Torah says: V’ Yaakov Shama Ki TiMei et Dina Vito  U’Vanav Hayu et Mikneihu BaSadeh VHeCherish Yaakov Ad Bo’AmNow Jacob heard that he had defiled his daughter Dina, while his sons were with his cattle in the field; so Jacob kept silent until their arrival (34:5). When the brothers returned and heard the news about their sister, VaYichar Lahem M’OdThey became very hot with anger. When Shechem and Hamor meet with Jacob and Shimon and Levi proposing marriage, VaYa’Anu V’Nei Yaakov et Shechem v’Et Chamor Aviv B’Mirmah V’Yidabeiru Asher Timei et Dina AchotamJacob’s son’s answered Shechem and his father Hamor cleverly and they spoke (because he had defiled their sister Dina). Jacob doesn’t speak. The Torah seems to suggest that Jacob is too upset to speak so the sons respond to Shechem’s proposal of marriage and political alliance between the families. We don’t read about Jacob seeing his daughter, consoling his daughter, even crying and yelling and screaming at her. He is silent. When the perpetrator shows up at his door, Jacob does nothing.  The man that “defiled” his daughter, the man that “violated” his daughter is standing in front him and Dina’s father doesn’t do a thing. His sons speak up for him and in a sense usurp Jacob’s paternal authority. No, this seems like the silence of weakness and timidity. The Yalkut Shimoni, a comprehensive midrashic anthology from the 13th century makes a very simple and powerfully sad insight. Commenting on V’HeCherish Yaakov (Jacob kept silent) – Hada Hu Dichtiv ‘V’Ish Tevunot YaCharish’- It is written there (in Proverbs 11:12) ‘a man of understanding will be silent’. Just as Dina is remarkably and tragically silent, perhaps Jacob’s silence is empathy for his daughter or maybe he is too upset to speak, or maybe he doesn’t know what to do. Certainly, he knew of Shimon and Levi’s plan because at the end of his life he despised them for their response. Maybe Jacob kept silent because he may have felt responsible, or that he failed to protect his daughter. Because the Torah uses the name Yaakov (the name which invokes clinging and therefore weakness) rather than Yisroel (a name that invokes struggling and vanquishing); Yaakov has become too spiritually weak to respond and to negotiate.
            I don’t know what I would do if it were my daughter but silence? I might have been like Bonasera, the mortician from the Godfather, when he said: “For justice, we must go to Don Corleone." Or I would seriously think about purchasing a gun and the shooting the animal that hurt my daughter. As a father, I now can hear the silence of the fathers of all these women who have spoken out against the unacceptable behavior. Perhaps a father’s silence is due to his being complicit in the dynamic. Maybe the silence of these fathers is because they neglected to provide tools for their daughter to deal with this, a strong voice to speak out sooner and louder, or just the quiet support and sustaining love that fathers should provide their daughters so that they are strong and independent people.

Rav Yitz

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Wildflower Seed On The Sand And Stone; May The Four Winds Blow You Safely Home (Robert Hunter, Bill Kreutzman,& Jerry Garcia - "Franklin's Tower")

Well, it’s Thanksgiving in the United States. Families return home in an attempt to share a few days together, a sumptuous Holiday meal together, and of course family dysfunction together. Obviously, in order for the children to return home for what winds up being dysfunctional family reunions, they must first leave home. So, in our home, we are going through the long difficult process of preparing for our 17-year-old to leave home. As the very common process continues to unfold in our home; I had one of those Sit-Com father moments this week. You know the moment. The wise-cracking, know it all, teenage daughter looks at her father as if he is the most dim-witted, short-sighted, fool on the planet. There I was, in the kitchen, eating my dinner, minding my own business. Our seventeen year old daughter, who firmly believes that neither her mother nor I could possibly understand what she goes through because after all, we were never seventeen, never seniors in high school, never had burning desire to leave home with mixed with the trepidation of leaving home, and never thought that our own parents were as clueless and out of touch as our daughter thinks we are. So after our daughter expressed her aggravation with her mother; I committed the sin of looking up and smiling because she sounded like a typical 17-year-old, with typical 17-year-old anxiety about the questions concerning her gap year and her four years at college/university. Boy did she let me have it! She looked incredulously, sneered and told me that I was annoying and she “couldn’t wait to get out of this house.” I suppose if I was the saintly good father, I would have let it pass or made a comment about how much we will miss her when she does finally leave. However, I am not such a saintly father. So I looked up from my dinner, I smiled and said that “I can’t wait either!”. Needless to say, my comment, which I thought was particularly poignant and thoughtful, didn’t go over very well with daughter or mother. Yet, as part of our daughter’s continued spiritual, emotional and intellectual development, it is important that she leaves home. It is important that the values that we instilled in her, become her values, the code with which we raised her becomes her code, and the rules that we instituted to govern her life becomes the rules by which she governs her own life.
This week we read from Parshat VaYeitzeh- a Parsha that is replete with the Holiday Themes of Thanksgiving and “Home for the Holidays”. The focus of the narrative is upon Yaakov. He has left his mother, Rivkah, and his father Yitzchak, for the first time. In fleeing his brother Esav, Yaakov now embarks on a new phase of his life. Yaakov will meet his future wives, his cousins Leah and Rachel. He will work for his father in- law, Lavan, and he will have children. The narrative focuses on Yaakov life from young adulthood to becoming a responsible father, earning a living and all the trials, tribulation, and tensions of career and family. As Yaakov makes his way in life, hopefully, he will learn more about himself. With each event, with each adventure, Yaakov has an opportunity to become better connected, better connected to himself, and better connected to a covenant that his father bequeathed to him.
Yaakov needs to have his own experiences, and live his own life before he is capable of truly offering thanks and being thankful. After Yaakov dreams of the ladder, he has a revelatory experience. V’hinei Adonai Nitzav Alav, Vayomer: Ani Adonai Elohei Avraham Avicha v’Elohei Yitzchak and behold Hashem stood above it and said: I am Hashem the God of Abraham your father, and the God of Yitzchak (Gen.28:13). However, God does not introduce himself as “your God” but rather the God of his Avraham and Yitzchak. God appreciates the fact that any sense of a relationship that exists between Yaakov and God is merely a function of Yaakov’s father and grandfather. Although he received a blessing upon fleeing from his home, Yaakov has not experienced his own narrative. He doesn’t share a common narrative with his father or grandfather. Yaakov does not yet have his own connection to God and the covenant. Rather he must develop his connection. Va’yidar Yaakov Neder Leimor: Im Yiheyeh Elohim Imadi, v’Shamrani b’Derech Hazeh Asher Anochi Holeich, v’Natan Li Lechem Le’Echol v’Beged Lilbosh, V’Shavti B’shalom El Beit Avi, V’hayah HaShem Li LeilohimAnd Yaakov vowed a vow saying: if the God will stand with me, and guard me on this way that I go, and give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, and returns me in peace to my father’s home, then Hashem will be my God. (Gen 28:20-21).  Yaakov has now laid out the conditions by which Yaakov and God will have their own unique connection, based upon a common narrative that he shares with his father and grandfather. Like his grandfather Avraham who left home (Parsha Lech Lecha) and  developed his own relationship with God, and like his father Yitzchak who had the ties to home severed (see the Akedah/Binding of Isaac); Yaakov innately understands that he needs to leave home and he needs to have the tools and strength to be able to return home. Only after experiencing exile and returning home does Yaakov share enough common experiences with his father and grandfather that he would feel connected to the Covenant and to his family.
Part of the Thanksgiving experience is the idea that Americans return “home” for Thanksgiving. As we sit down to our family’s Thanksgiving meal, we all understand that future Thanksgivings will be different. It was different for my parents when I left home, only to return, first as a single man, then as a married man, then as a father. It will be different for me and my wife. Yes, our eldest has been returning home for Thanksgiving for ten years, but now, our next child will also be returning home for all future Thanksgivings. So yes, “I can’t wait either” for her to leave, not because I won’t miss her, not because she is an annoying teenager, but because I know that she needs to have her own covenant. I know that she needs to take ownership of the values, code, and rules which we tried to instill.  Maybe when she returns home next year she won’t think I’m such a dim-witted clueless father.
Rav Yitz

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

But All This Favour Ended When My Brother Failed At War (John Barlow & Bob Weir - "My Brother Esau")


          Our tenth-grade daughter had a history test this week on WWI: the rise of militarism, nationalism, as well as Canada’s role in The Great War. Because I majored in History while in college ("university" if I am speaking Canadian), I was interested in how her teacher taught WWI.  I am always amazed how history teachers present History as a simple linear idea without any complexity or an understanding of the nature of people, tribes, and nations. As we studied our discussion moved from Nationalism, Militarism, Alliances, and WWI's aftermath and the rise of fascism. I suggested that we live in a period where fascism is beginning to re-emerge, similar to the aftermath of WWI. Two news stories, one in Poland and one in the United States went unmentioned but illustrated the complexity of the nature of people, tribes, and nations. Last week, Poland celebrated its 99th year of Independence. At the March of Independence parade in Warsaw, approximately 60,000 people were organized and gathered to march my nationalist groups. Signs were held up that read “Sieg Heil”, "Remove Jewry from power”,  and “White Europe, Europe must be White”. Some of the marchers wore masks and waved red and white Polish flags while burning flairs. Poland's interior minister Mariusz Blaszczak praised the Poles for marching and showing its national pride. In a smaller march outside of Warsaw led by Jacek Miedlar, a former priest, urged the crowd to take action against the forces of evil that threaten Polish state: "Be ruthless, be radical in the fight against evil, lies, injustice, lawlessness, the destruction of Polish judiciary and Talmudism. Only then this war will be won, and no Jewish Marxist horde will take away our flag or the cross of Christ.”  She saw connections to the events in Poland and the “Brexit”, and the elections in France and Germany and the Neo-Nazis Charlottesville, Virginia march. We talked about the role of digital media, Breitbart and Steve Bannon who happily attracts and endorses this kind of thing. I pointed out that while on the one hand he quietly endorses and supports this kind of thinking, he also wants support from wealthy Jewish donors in order to finance political campaigns against those who disagree with his politics. He managed to garner support from wealthy Jewish donors but claiming his steadfast support for Israel. I then showed her the second article, a small article about Sheldon Adelson who finally decided to stop donating to Steve Bannon because he finally realized that fascism, of any kind, destroying democratic institutions, is fundamentally against the interest Diaspora Jews as well as Israel. Our tenth grader learned a valuable lesson about the complexities of history and well as appreciating how ideas and events are connected.
This week’s Parsha is Toldot. We read of the birth of Esav and Yaakov. Even though they were twins, we learn that these boys couldn’t be any different. Esav is a hunter Ish Sadeh – a man of the field, an outdoorsman, Yaakov is Ish Tam v’Yashav b’Ohalo – a simple man who resides in his tent. Yaakov is concerned with the Birthright, receiving blessings and the spiritual world. Esav is concerned with eating, drinking, hunting and the physical world. We learn that just like his father, Avraham, who experienced a famine in the land, Yitzchak also experienced a famine in the land. Unlike his father, Yitzchak does not go down to Egypt. Yitzchak remains, grows wealthy, and re-opens the wells that had gone dry in his father's day. The narrative then re-focuses upon Yitzchak and his family. Yitzchak, sensing his imminent death, wants to bless Esav. Rivka overhears this and tells Yaakov to pose as Esav in order to receive the blessing. Yaakov listens to his mother and dresses as Esav. Yaakov receives Yitzchak's blessing. As a result, Esav is fit to be tied and threatens to kill Yaakov.
           At 40, Esav married. As different as the boys were before this, Esav’s marriages reflect his further spiritual diminishment from his mother and father. Esav’s association with these women brings out the worst in him. Va’Yehi Eisav Ben Arbaim Shanah VaYikach Isha et Y’hudit Bat B’Eiri HaChiti V’et Basmat Bat Eilon Ha’ChitiWhen Esav was forty years old, he took as a wife Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite. Va’Tiheyenah Morat Ruach L’Yitzchak U’l’Rivkahand they were a source of spiritual bitterness for Yitzchak and Rivka (Gen.26:24). There is a Midrash that tells us that once a species of bird migrated to Eretz Yisrael. The Rabbis were unable to determine whether this new species was kosher or treif. Rabbi Chiya, the leading scholar of his day, said, "Isolate one on the roof and see what kind of birds associate with it." Immediately a raven (which is not kosher) joined the new bird. The Rabbis were able to finally determine that the new species of bird was not kosher. The same was true with regard to Esav when he married both women. They brought out the worst in him, whether it was Avodah Zarah – idolatry, or degrading himself to such a point that he did not warrant receiving the blessing. Of even greater concern to Rivkah and Yitzchak was the departure of the Divine Presence. Remember that when Yitzchak’s mother, Sarah, died, the light in her tent, the holy presence diminished. When Yitzchak married Rivka, the holy presence returned to Sarah’s tent. However, when Esav’s wives became part of Yitzchak’s household, this holy light was vanquished.
Thankfully she did well on her history test. More importantly, our daughter learned a valuable lesson about alliances and connections.  Amazingly enough, it took me one evening of studying WWI with her and unfortunately it took Sheldon Adelson years to appreciate the fact that if a person endorses and ultra-nationalist agenda and is supported by neo-fascists, might not be good for the Jewish People nor for Israel. When our daughter asked why it took Adelson so long to come to that realization, I explained that sometimes people get so focused on their agenda; they only listen to what they want to hear instead of paying attention to actions and history. Our daughter then pointed out that people, groups, as well as nations must be careful who they associate with and who they attract. I suppose the next few weeks will be interesting when she studies about the Great Depression and the rise of Fascism in Europe as a prelude to WWII.

Rav Yitz