Friday, December 31, 2010

Va'era - The strength to listen

Parshat Va-ayra - Exodus 7:22: after the water turns to blood:”… and Pharaoh’s heart remained strong, and he did not listen to them.”
Exodus 9:34: after the hail stopped: “ he continued to sin: he made his heart heavy”

When first faced with Moses’ demands, Pharaoh’s heart was strengthened. Is this not a good thing? Pharaoh had to deal with a very difficult situation, a potential rebellion, a potential revolution. He needed to respond with strength and wisdom.  But Pharaoh used his strength to not listen.  This is the sin – to not listen fully.  And because of this refusal to listen, Pharaoh’s heart became heavy with rigidity.

May we use our strength to listen even to very difficult messages, so that our heart does not become so rigid, so hard, and so heavy that we cannot go forward.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Shemoth - A path toward liberation

 Parshat Shemoth – Ex III: 13-14 -  "And God said to Moses; "Eheyeh asher Ehyeh, I Am That I Am" and He said: "Thus shall you say to the children of Israel: "I Am sent me to you."

How do we cultivate the awareness of our own enslavement?  The aleph at the beginning of the word "eheyeh" teaches that silence can  allow us to see the truth of what is.  Awareness of the presence of the timeless and infinite within us can be the beginning of the journey toward liberation.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Vayyechi - Yosef comforts from the heart

Parshat Vayyechi   – Gen 50:19-21 – “But Yosef said to them: Do not be afraid!  For am I in the place of God?  Now you, you planned ill against me, (but) God planned it over for good, in order to do (as is) this very day – to keep many people alive. So now, do not be afraid!  I myself will sustain you and your little ones!  And he comforted them and spoke to their hearts.”

Yosef, who was thrown into a pit by his brothers to be devoured by wild beasts, and later put into the dungeon by Potiphar, could have remained bitter all of his life.  Instead, Yosef was able to learn from his pain and suffering, first to gain insight to interpret dreams, later to advise Pharaoh, and finally to forgive and comfort his brothers.  How was Yosef able to do this? Over time, Yosef learned to listen to and respond from his heart, rather than his ego. While in his youth he brought an ill report of his brothers to his father. In his maturity he wept when he heard his brothers arguing over which of them was responsible for his death (Gen. 42:22-24), when he first saw Benyamin (Gen. 43:29-30), and when he revealed himself to his brothers (Gen. 45:1-2 14-15).

May we, like Yosef, open our hearts, forgive, and comfort ourselves, our families, and our communities.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Vayigash - Jacob's blessing of Pharaoh

Parshat Vayigash

Gen. Ch. 47:7. “So Joseph brought his father Jacob and stood him before Pharaoh, and Jacob blessed Pharaoh.”
Gen. Ch. 47:10. “So Jacob blessed Pharaoh and left Pharaoh's presence.”

In between these blessings, Pharaoh expresses his amazement at Jacob’s age and Jacob responds that he is not nearly so old as his fathers, and that his years have been “few and miserable.” The man who dreamed of angels ascending to heaven, who knew that “god was in this place”, who wrested a blessing and a new name from an angel, and who has just been re-united with a beloved son -- sums his life up as short and miserable. And yet from this glass-half-empty perspective, he summons not one, but two blessings for the half-god ruler in whose presence he stands. Does Jacob’s ability to bless even a Pharaoh in some way come from his embrace of the common griefs and pains that are present in all our lives? Instead of being over-awed by Pharaoh's splendor, Jacob connects to Pharaoh's ordinary, flawed human nature through the shared human experience that life is short, fleeting, and full of sorrow. It is from this empathic, compassionate, and human connection that Jacob’s blessing of Pharaoh arises.

May we also learn to hold our own mortality, shortcomings, and sorrows lightly and with compassion, so that they may empower us to connect with and bless all whom we meet.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Mikeitz - Seeking wisdom while confined

Parshat Mikeitz 
Gen. Ch. 41:33.  “So now, let Pharaoh seek out an understanding and wise man and appoint him over the land of Egypt.”  

Within the space of a few hours, Joseph emerges from two years in prison, shaves, puts on clean clothes, gives an insightful interpretation of dreams, and is elevated to viceroy of Egypt. What could he possibly have been doing while he was in prison to prepare himself to lead Egypt through the coming crisis? Exactly what he advised Pharoah – he was seeking the understanding and wisdom that resided within him. Instead of despairing or fighting against the narrow space in which he found himself, he turned inward and cultivated discernment.  

May we also learn to respond to tight and narrow times in our own lives by seeking understanding and wisdom.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Vayeshev - speaking in peace

Parshat Vayeshev
 Gen. Ch. 37:4.  “When his (Joseph’s) brothers saw that it was he whom their father loved above all of his brothers – from then on they hated him, and could not speak to him in peace.”  

This week of Thanksgiving, when many of us are with family, we have a parsha about family strife.  Joseph’s brothers were so caught in their feelings of anger, jealousy and resentment that they were unable to be at peace with him.  These feelings were understandable since Joseph lauded over them and recounted to them dreams in which they bowed down to him.  Yet the brothers were enslaved by their feelings.

As we spend time with family can we notice our feelings and expectations for how we want people to be with each other?  Can we see the histories of the relationships and have compassion for where each one is, as well as for ourselves?  Can we wish each person simach (joy), chesed (lovingkindness), rachamim (compassion), and shalom (peace)?  May the holiday be a blessing. 

{thanks to Morechai Liebling for inspiration for this drash)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Vayeitzei - Waking Up

Parshat Vayeitzei
Genisis 28:16 “ And Jacob awakened from his sleep, and he said, "Indeed, the Lord is in this place, and I did not know."

When we lose touch with the holy, wondrous, creative force manifesting in each place and each moment, we are like sleepwalkers in our own lives. Seeking to know helps us to wake up.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Toldot - Making Space for Peace

Parshat Toldot:
Yitzhak and his servants dig a well, quarrel with the shepherds of Gerar, and name the well Esek/Bickering.
They dig another well, quarrel over it, and name it Sitna/Animosity.
Genesis Ch.26: 22 - “He moved on from there and dug another well, but they did not quarrel over it, so he called its name: Rehovot/Space.”

Struggling to find something as necessary as water in the desert, we risk locking ourselves in a struggle that deepens from bickering to full-blown animosity. Moving away, physically and mentally, lessens the desperate attachment, allowing spaciousness to infuse the situation. In the new space, new ways of relating are discovered, finally creating space for peace to flow.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Vayeira - Here I Am

Parshat Vayeira:   Ch.22: 1 :   “Hineni - Here I am.” (Abraham speaking to G-d)
                               Ch. 22:7 :   “Hineni - Here I am.” (Abraham speaking to Isaac)
                                Ch. 22:11:  “Hineni.- Here I am.” (Abraham speaking to the angel)

This is the highest practice: to say “Here I am” to every relationship, being fully present to what is larger than our selves, to what we care for and love, and to those who bring us connection.  

Friday, October 22, 2010

Noah - Ephemeral Phenomena, Eternal Source

Parshat Noah
Genesis 9:12-13: And God said: "This is the sign of the covenant, which I am placing between Me and between you, and between every living soul that is with you, for everlasting generations.   My rainbow I have placed in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Myself and the earth. “  

Why does  a rainbow, an ephemeral phenomena, remind us of an everlasting covenant?
Looking closely at the fleeting beauty of creation, we see that the passing away of phenomena is not the same as destruction. All experience and all creation arises and passes. Yet underneath the flux of experience we can sense something eternal, something constant, something that is the source of creation. We bless a rainbow because in blessing the fleeting, we become aware of its eternal source.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Ki Teitzei - Remembering to Forget

Parshat Ki Teitzei 
Deut. Ch. 25:19. "…blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!."

A paradox: how to remember to forget? To blot out the memory of those things that pursue us, drain life from us, and undermine our peace, we must “remember” or remind ourselves to return our attention, again and again, to that which gives us life.  This is the “effortless effort” we can use to gently train our minds by focusing on breath or God.  As the mind quiets, it expands and in the expansiveness, troubling, even horrific, memories can be seen from a new perspective.  

Friday, October 8, 2010

Shoftim - Justice within, justice without

Parsha Shoftim - Deut. Ch. 16:20. "Justice, justice, shall you pursue, that you may thrive . . . ."  

The repetition of the word "justice" can have many meanings, among them, justice in the world is nurtured and
enhanced by justice within.  Taking and allowing time to hear and reflect on our inner voices can improve the quality of our decision-making and interaction with the world.